Pablo Escobar is one of the most revered drug lords in the history of Colombia. His cartel supplied about 80 percent of the cocaine on the U.S. market. A member of the Medellin Cartel, one of the most influential drug cartels in the world at the time, Pablo dealt with numerous high-ranking government figures, including Panama’s Manuel Noriega. Today, the Panamanian politician reportedly died following complications from brain surgery. His death was announced by Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela via a tweet.
Noriega was ousted in 1989 following an operation carried out by the U.S. government after he declared “a state of war” with America and threatened its personnel. He ruled Panama from 1983 to 1989, and during this time, he worked as a CIA informant. He also dealt with Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel as a money launderer.
According to Carlos Toro, a facilitator for the Medellin Cartel involved in carrying bribery and money laundering for the organization, Noriega was an instrumental figure in “getting monies back and forth.” He revealed this during an interview with PBS. The following are some of the details he offered in regard to Manuel Noriega’s activities, revealing that the cartel never really trusted him in handling the drugs.
“I had no personal contact with Manuel Noriega, only that we would fly to Panama, where we would meet with members of his very close allies in the banking industry. Manuel Noriega was benefiting a great deal from money laundering, even more so than from direct cocaine transportation. Manuel Noriega was always saying that he would welcome us into his country with drugs, but he never did it.
He would promise that you can bring a load, but it was empty promises. He always, at the very last minute, when we were ready to bring a load and we didn’t find any other sources, and we called Mr. Noriega, he’d say, ‘Yes, by all means. Put the deal together, let me know what the logistics are, which coordinates, where are we going to land it, and I’ll have my army take care of you.’
Yes. And Carlos would call me and says, ‘Listen, don’t worry about it. Take a couple of days off.’ I’d say, ‘Why, Carlos? Noriega is going to come through for us.” And he never did. He will make promises that, yes, we can bring the load tomorrow. So I have to go and look for alternative ways of bringing loads of cocaine into the United States.'”
Another Medellin Cartel operative, Fernando Arenas, who worked as a pilot for Carlos Lehder, also gave his account to the publication on how Manuel Noriega once tried to lure Pablo Escobar into a trap. This was just after Pablo had ordered the killing of Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, the Minister of Justice in Colombia.
The murder caused public outrage, prompting the Colombian government to actively pursue Pablo Escobar and his cartel. In the attempt to find a safe haven, Pablo and his men tried to land in Panama after negotiating with Manuel Noriega. However, his pilots became suspicious after contact with radio controllers at the airfield.
They had apparently grown accustomed to their voices, as they regularly used the facility, but this time the tone was different and seemed somewhat of an order. Pablo promptly ordered his pilots to abort the landing, choosing to hide out in Nicaragua instead. It turned out that Noriega had his soldiers ready to apprehend the Colombian drug lord after landing.
The Noriega betrayal infuriated Escobar. On why Manuel wanted to get rid of Pablo, he had just concluded negotiations with then-U.S. President George Bush to make Panama a conduit for money and weapons for the Contras. The American-backed army was fighting against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Relations with Pablo Escobar made Manuel Noriega look bad. This is according to a report by Xpatnation.
[Featured Image by Jim Ellis/AP Images]