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Manuel Noriega

Manuel Noriega (born February 11, 1934) was a Panamanian soldier and the de facto military leader of Panama from 1983 to 1989. He was initially a strong ally of the USA and was regularly paid by the CIA from the late 1950s to 1986. By the late 1980s his actions became increasingly unacceptable, and was overthrown and captured by an US invading force in 1989, taken to the US, and tried and imprisoned in 1992.


Born in Panama City, Noriega was a career soldier, receiving much of his education at the Military School de Chorrillos in Lima, Peru and at the School of the Americas in Panama. He was commissioned in the National Guard in 1967 and promoted to lieutenant in 1968. In that year he was part of the military coup d'etat that removed Arnulfo Arias from power. He received a promotion to lieutenant colonel and was appointed chief of military intelligence by the new leader Omar Torrijos Herrera. In his post, he conducted a ruthless campaign against peasant guerrillas in Western Panama and disappearances of political opponents.

When Torrijos died in a plane crash in 1981 he was succeeded by Dario Paredes[?], while Noriega became chief of staff. Noriega enhanced his position as de facto ruler in August 1983 by promoting himself to general. Noriega proved himself an ally to the US. Despite the canal treaties, he allowed them to set up listening posts in Panama, and aided the pro-American forces in El Salvador and Nicaragua by acting as a conduit for American money and weapons.

In October 1984 the first Presidential elections since 1972 were won by Nicolas Ardito Barletta[?] among allegations of fraud and by a slim margin of 1,723 votes. Barletta was a candidate hand-picked by Noriega and had little power. Barletta resigned in September 1985 and was replaced with his vice president, Eric Arturo Delvalle[?].

Noriega retained US support until February 5, 1988 when the DEA had him indicted on federal drug charges relating to his activities before 1984. His covert support for Cuba did him little good in Washington either. Revelations by a former colleague about his role in the killing of leading critic Hugo Spadafora led to civil unrest and increased human rights violations. When Delvalle actually attempted to dismiss him, Noriega pressured the National Assembly to replace Delvalle with Manuel Solis Palma[?]. In the elections in May 1989 Noriega's candidate lost, but Noriega stopped the electoral protest and had his opponents attacked. In 1989 Noriega declared war on the United States, and his forces shot and killed an US Marine in stationed in Panama City.

On December 20, 1989 the US invaded Panama with 24,000 troops in Operation Just Cause, in response to the death of the US Marine and after incidents of harassment against US school children and other US citizens. For many weeks there was fierce fighting between Noriega's forces and the American military. Several hundred Panamanians were killed (mainly civilians), and 23 American soldiers died. Noriega took refuge in the Vatican embassy, but later surrendered on January 3, 1990.

He was then flown to the US and was convicted on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering in April 1992. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison, reduced to 30 years in 1999, eligible for parole in 2006.

In Panama the Americans re-instated democratic rule. Guillermo Endara[?] Galimany was elected president in the 1989 elections and was confirmed by the Catholic Church, Jimmy Carter and other electoral observers.

In 1999 the Panamanian government sought the extradition of Noriega to face murder charges in Panama. He had been found guilty in absentia in 1995.



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