Manuel Noriega dead: Panama's former strongman dies in hospital aged 83

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  • Manuel Noriega
    Panamanian head of state (1934-2017)
Panamanian military strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega talks to reporters in Panama City, in this Nov. 8, 1989 - AP
Panamanian military strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega talks to reporters in Panama City, in this Nov. 8, 1989 - AP

 Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who spied for the CIA before his drug trafficking and brutal regime sparked a US invasion in 1989, has died aged 83.

President Juan Carlos Varela announced Noriega's death on Twitter late on Monday, and said his passing marked the closing of a chapter in Panama's history.

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

Noriega's life in pictures
Noriega's life in pictures

Noriega, who ruled Panama from 1983 to 1989, spied for the Central Intelligence Agency until the United States invaded and toppled his corrupt government, ending a criminal career that saw him working with drug traffickers like Pablo Escobar.

Noriega was initially sentenced in the United States in 1992 but was serving a sentence for murder in Panama when he died.

The wily military ruler of the Central American nation made world headlines as his relationship with Washington soured, culminating in the United States sending nearly 28,000 troops to seize Panama City and capture him in a house-to-house hunt.

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega is seen during his arrest by U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents in this 1990 photo - Credit: Reuters
Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega is seen during his arrest by U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents in this 1990 photo Credit: Reuters

Noriega spent the rest of his life in custody between the United States, France and Panama for crimes ranging from murder to racketeering and drug-running.

The former dictator had undergone an operation in March to remove a brain tumor but suffered a hemorrhage and had been in a coma since a second surgical intervention.

Manuel Noriega gestures while giving a speech in Panama City in this March 1988 - Credit: Reuters
Manuel Noriega gestures while giving a speech in Panama City in this March 1988 Credit: Reuters

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Noriega died at around 11 pm local time after his condition suddenly worsened.

With the knowledge of US officials, Noriega formed "the hemisphere's first narcokleptocracy," a US Senate subcommittee report said, calling him, "the best example in recent US foreign policy of how a foreign leader is able to manipulate the United States to the detriment of our own interests."

After his capture, Noriega tried to turn the tables on the United States, saying it had worked hand in glove with him.

Widely reviled when he was Panama's de facto leader from 1983 until 1989, his small cadre of remaining supporters had kept a low profile and even bitter opponents dismissed Noriega as part of a distant, shadowy past. 

The US invasion in December 1989 came soon after a botched coup that the United States could have used to capture Noriega, who was briefly held by rebel officers.

 

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