Death of former dictator Noriega
Exspy, druglord’s death ‘ marks end of painful era’
PANAMA CITY — Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who spied f or the United States before his drug trafficking and brutality triggered a U.S. invasion to oust him in 1 989, has died ag ed 83.
President J uan C arlos V arela announced Noriega’s death late on Monday, saying it marked the closing of a chapter in the Central American country’s history.
Noriega, who ruled Panama from 1983 to 1989, was a longtime c ollaborator of the Central Intelligence Agency and a useful U.S. ally in a r egion that w as prone to leftis t insurgencies.
The invasion, ordered by president George H. W. Bush, brought an end t o his career of moneylaundering and cocaine smuggling, in which he worked with traffickers like Colombian Pablo Escobar. He was initiall y sent enced in the U nited States in 1992, but was serving a sentence for murder in P anama when he died.
Noriega was let out of prison under house arrest in January to have an operation to remove a brain tumour. The surgery went ahead in ear ly March, but he suffered a haemorrhage, underwent a second operation, and had been in a c oma ever sinc e.
A P anamanian g overnment official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Noriega died at around 11 pm local time in a Panama City hospital after his condition suddenly worsened.
President Varela said Noriega’s family should have the right to bury the former leader in peace. Ezra Angel, Noriega’s lawyer, said the f ormer s trongman’s thr ee daughters w ould not is sue an y public statements.
Most Panamanians had gone to bed by the time the announc ement was made close to midnight in the isthmus nation, so local r eaction was initially muted.
“We Panamanians must remember the [Noriega] era as something that cannot be repeated in Panama, it was a really painful time for the country because it ended with an in vasion,” said A urelio Barria, a former leader of the Cruzada Civilista, a civil society campaign against the dictatorship.
Born less than a mile form the U.S.controlled Panama Canal Z one in a t ough Panama C ity neighbour hood, N oriega was raised by a family friend. A poor but intelligent youth, his options were limited until a half brother helped him join the military.
Noriega became head of military intelligence under Omar Torrijos — who had seized power in a 1968 coup — and oversaw the arm y’s c orrupt off book deals, and ran the secr et polic e force.
Torrijos died in 1 981, and as ruler in his own right N oriega hit the headline s as his relations with Washington turned sour, culminating in Washington sending nearly 28 000 tr oops t o seiz e P anama City and capture him in a housetohouse hunt.
Noriega spent the remainder of his life in cus tody bet ween the U nited St ates, France and Panama for a host of crimes ranging from murder to racketeering and drugrunning.
With U.S. officials in the know, Noriega had 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”.
After his capture, Noriega tried to turn the tables on the United States, saying it had worked hand in glo ve with him.
Writing on Twitter, journalist Jon Lee Anderson said Noriega told him in an interview last year that he had made a mistake in challenging the U nited States.
According to Anderson, Noriega said: “I wouldn’t do that ag ain.” — R euters.
This January 1990, fil e pho to sho ws deposed P anamanian Gener al Manuel Antonio Norie ga in U .S. cus tody. He died on Monda y, ag ed 83.