Death of former dic­ta­tor Nor­iega

Exspy, druglord’s death ‘ marks end of painful era’

The Witness - - NEWS -

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.

PHOTO: AP (FILE)

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.

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