Fmr. Panamanian Dictator Manuel Noriega Dies

So in December 1989, President George H.W. Bush sent American troops into Panama City to arrest Noriega - the last of several times that US military forces have directly toppled a government in the Americas.

Noriega died late Monday at age 83.

The former general - a onetime USA ally who ruled Panama with an iron fist from 1983 until 1989 - served a 17-year sentence for drug trafficking and money laundering in the United States after his ouster.

Noriega was let out of prison under house arrest in January to have an operation to remove a brain tumor.

After graduating in 1962, Noriega returned to Panama and had a chance meeting with Omar Torrijos, the future commander of Panama's armed forces, who brought him into the military.

"The death of Manuel Noriega closes a chapter in our history; his daughters and their families deserve a burial in peace", he said.

"Before the altar of my conscience I've come to express myself in the spirit of forgiveness", Noriega said.

He spent nearly 20 years in United States prisons before extradition to France and, ultimately, back to Panama. He spent the final years of his life in a Panamanian prison for the murder of political opponents during his six-year reign.

Panama's ex-dictator Noriega died Monday, May 29, 2017, in a hospital in Panama City.

FILE - In this May 2, 1989 file photo, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega walks with supporters in the Chorrilo neighborhood, where he dedicated a new housing project, in Panama City. By then, he had already started to help Colombian drug lords such as Pablo Escobar smuggle cocaine into the United States and launder bales of drug cash through Panama's banks, receiving millions of dollars in kickbacks. Ezra Angel, Noriega's lawyer, said the former strongman's three daughters would not issue any public statements.

Noriega was considered a valued Central Intelligence Agency asset and was paid millions of dollars for assistance to the US throughout Latin America, including acting as a liaison to Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Manuel Noriega had become a problem.

Noriega, who ruled Panama from 1983 to 1989, was a longtime collaborator of the Central Intelligence Agency and a useful US ally in a region that was prone to leftist insurgencies. After U, S. observers accused him of stealing the 1989 election, President George H.W. Bush launched the Operation Just Cause invasion, sending in almost 28,000 troops.

Noriega was taken to Florida and two years later he was convicted on eight of ten charges.

July 2010: A French court sentences Noriega to seven years in prison.

With the knowledge of U.S. officials, Noriega formed "the hemisphere's first narcokleptocracy", a U.S. Senate subcommittee report said, calling him "the best example in recent U.S. foreign policy of how a foreign leader is able to manipulate the United States to the detriment of our own interests". "However, once you say no, then you become an evil guy", Noriega recollected in a 1992 interview with CNN. He also served time in France for money laundering.

Following a plane crash that killed Torrijos in 1981, Noriega emerged as Torrijos' successor and in 1983 Noriega seized command of the Panamanian army and established himself as the country's military leader.

But Panama wanted Noriega to return to face in-absentia convictions and two prison terms of 20 years for embezzlement, corruption and murder of opponents, including military commander Moises Giroldi, who led a failed rebellion on October 3, 1989, and Hugo Spadafora, whose decapitated body was found in a mailbag on the border with Costa Rica in 1985.

More than 25,000 USA troops launched the December 20 invasion, bombarding key Panamanian military installations, destroying the headquarters, and killing and injuring people in a poor Panama City neighborhood. He underwent medical examinations every two months while imprisoned.

  • Leroy Wright