Manuel Noriega: Panama Dictator, Convicted Drug Trafficker Who Worked With CIA, Dies At 83

Manuel Antonio Noriega, the notorious Panamanian dictator and convicted drug trafficker who was once on the CIA payroll, has died at the age of 83. Noreiga caught the attention of the CIA during his education at a Peruvian military college. The former dictator then became a paid informant as he rose through the ranks of the Panama National Guard, which was charged with defending the canal that cuts the country in two.

Noriega worked closely with Washington, as per NBC News, allowing U.S. forces to set up listening posts in Panama, and use the country to funnel assistance to pro-American forces in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Noriega was able to manipulate both his Panamanian and American bosses to further his own interests.

On March 7, 2017, Noriega had undergone surgery to remove a benign brain tumor in a Panama City hospital. Manuel Noriega was placed in a medically induced coma after he suffered severe brain hemorrhaging during the surgery, his attorney told a CNN affiliate. In addition to this, Noriega had suffered from prostate cancer and survived several strokes, as reported by NBC News.

Noriega’s brutal six-year reign was ended by a U.S. invasion. Noriega spent 17 years in United State prisons before he was extradited to France, then back to Panama. Noriega was the first foreign head of state to be convicted in a U.S. court.

Manuel Noriega after he had been ousted by an American invasion of Panama a month earlier. [Image by Government/AP Images]

Noriega’s Trial Reveals Relationship With CIA

Noriega served his masters in Washington while at the same time was slowly seizing power in Panama while establishing himself as a drug lord collaborating with the Medellin Cartel in Colombia. The dictator turned his Panama into a corrupt narco-kleptocracy where some of the biggest banks were used to launder drug money.

While on the CIA payroll, by 1983, Noriega had simultaneously promoted himself to the rank of general becoming the de facto ruler of Panama.

Panamanian military strongman Manuel Noriega seized power in Panama while establishing himself as a drug lord. [Image by Carlos Guardia/AP Images]

Early on, the U.S. maintained friendly relations with the country due to the location of the Panama Canal. The canal is known to be a key strategic and economic waterway between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Due to the importance of its region, CNN reported that the United States vested a special interest in maintaining friendly relations with the Central American nation. However, the dictator became a U.S. target as relations deteriorated.

The breakdown in the relationship between Panama and the U.S. in the 1980’s lead to Washington cutting off economic and military assistance from the country in addition to freezing Panamanian government assets.

Manuel Antonio Noriega, former Panamanian dictator and convicted drug trafficker who was ousted by the U.S. after a six-year reign. [Image by Unaccredited/AP Images]

By 1989, after the tragic Panama slaying in which a U.S. Marine was shot and killed, the United States had enough. President George H.W. Bush ordered in troops on December 20 of that year.

The United States invaded Panama and indicted Manuel Noriega of on charges of racketeering, laundering drug money, and drug trafficking. It was alleged that Noriega had links to Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s notorious Medellin cartel while in the process of amassing a multimillion-dollar fortune, according to CNN.

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in 1989, giving it the codename “Operation Just Cause.” Bush said Noriega’s rule posed a threat to lives in the United States and property.

Noriega was born on February 11, 1934, in Panama City, Panama. The former Panamanian dictator was abandoned by both parents at age 5 and raised by his aunt until he left to pursue a career in the military, according to CNN.

Manuel Antonio began his career as a lieutenant in the Panama National Guard and quickly rose in rank. Noriega served as head of military intelligence to General Omar Torrijos, who seized power in a military coup in 1968. Torrijos died suddenly in a plane crash in 1981.

Manuel Noriega then emerged as his successor. In 1983 Noriega took the reigns of the Panamanian Army and declared himself Panama’s leader.

The Invasion Of Panama

There were nearly 28,000 U.S. troops on Panamanian soil when Noriega took refuge inside the Vatican embassy for 10 days. On January 3, 1990, Manuel Noriega surrendered to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration officials after U.S. troops had surrounded the compound with loudspeakers playing deafening rock music.

Noriega’s trial in 1991 was dubbed the drugs “trial of the century” by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and eventually saw him found guilty on eight counts and sentenced to 40 years in jail. It was during this trial that led to the revelations that Noriega had been a paid CIA asset for many years.

“It’s wrong what people say — that you can buy him… You can’t buy him, but you can sure as hell rent him.”

Noriega had since said his relationship with the United States deteriorated when he refused to participate in anti-communist efforts spearheaded by the CIA in Central America during the 1980’s. The CIA has not commented on the validity of Noriega’s claims.

Noriega recollected in a 1992 interview with CNN, “You are a good person so long as you say yes. However, once you say no, then you become an evil guy.”

In 2007, he was due for release on parole, but he was held pending a decision on a French extradition request. In 1999, a Paris court had convicted Noriega in absentia on charges that he had laundered $2.8 million in drug money by buying property in France.

As part of an extradition deal in April 2010 and signed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, France agreed to hold a new trial. The Panamanian leader was granted prisoner of war status after his trial. Noriega’s sentence was later reduced to 30 years.

Manuel Noriega Apologizes For Offenses of His Regime

While serving his sentence in Panama he sued Activision Blizzard, makers of the popular Call of Duty video game series, after one edition featured a mission to capture him. Noriega claimed that his image “as a kidnapper, murderer, and enemy of the state” in the game damaged his reputation. Noriega alleged and insisted that he was entitled to a share of the game’s profits.

A California judge dismissed the suit.

In 2015, he apologized to his country for the offenses of his regime and his own actions that led up to the 1989 U.S. invasion.

Noriega’s passing was confirmed by Panama’s President, Juan Carlos Varela, on his verified Twitter account. A source close to his family said he passed away late Monday. Manuel Antonio Noriega is survived by his wife, Felicidad Sieiro and three daughters Sandra, Thays, and Lorena.

[Featured Image by Anonymous/AP Images]

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