Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno (Spanish pronunciation: [maˈnwel noˈɾjeɣa]; February 11, 1934 – May 29, 2017)[a] was a Panamanian politician and military officer, and longtime CIA informant. He was military dictator of Panama from 1983 to 1989, when he was removed from power by the United States during the invasion of Panama.
Born in Panama City, Noriega studied at a military school in Lima and at the School of the Americas. He became an officer in the Panamanian army, and rose through the ranks in alliance with Omar Torrijos, becoming chief of military intelligence after Torrijos led a coup in 1968. After Torrijos' death in 1981, Noriega consolidated his power until he became the de facto ruler of Panama in 1983. From the 1950s until shortly before the U.S. invasion, Noriega worked closely with the U.S. CIA. Noriega was one of the CIA's most valued intelligence sources, as well as one of the primary conduits for illicit weapons, military equipment and cash destined for U.S.-backed counter-insurgency forces throughout Central and South America. Noriega was also a major cocaine trafficker, something which his U.S. intelligence handlers were aware of for years, but allowed because of his usefulness for their covert military operations in Latin America.
Noriega's rule in Panama was marked by repression of the media, an expansion of the military, and the persecution of political opponents. Noriega effectively controlled the outcomes of any elections, and amassed a personal fortune through drug trafficking operations. Noriega's relationship with the U.S. deteriorated as a result of these activities as well as him selling intelligence to opponents of the U.S. In 1988, Noriega was indicted by the United States on drug trafficking charges in Miami, Florida. During the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama, he was removed from power, captured, detained as a prisoner of war, and flown to the United States. Noriega was tried on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering in April 1992. On September 16, 1992, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison, which was later reduced to 30 years.
Noriega's U.S. prison sentence ended in September 2007; pending the outcome of extradition requests by both Panama and France, for convictions in absentia for murder in 1995 and money laundering in 1999. France was granted its extradition request in April 2010. He arrived in Paris on April 27, 2010, and after the re-trial that is a rule in France after any in absentia sentence, he was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in jail in July 2010. A conditional release was granted on September 23, 2011, for Noriega to be extradited to serve 20 years in Panama. He returned to Panama on December 11, 2011. Noriega died at Hospital Santo Tomas in Panama City on May 29, 2017, two months after brain surgery.
Noriega was born in Panama City on February 11, 1934, into a relatively poor family of Colombian heritage. Noriega's mother has been variously described as being a cook or a laundress: his father was an accountant. Neither had a lengthy presence in Noriega's life, and he was brought up by a godmother in the slum area of Terraplén. Historian Javier A. Galván has suggested that Noriega was in fact the illegitimate son of his father, Ricaurte Noriega, and his father's domestic worker. He was educated at the Instituto Nacional, a well-regarded high school in Panama City before winning a scholarship to Chorrillos Military School in the Peruvian capital of Lima, with the help of his elder brother Luis. He graduated in 1962 with a specialization in engineering. He returned to Panama and was given a commission as a sublieutenant in the Panama National Guard, and posted to Colón. There he made the acquaintance of Omar Torrijos, and would become an important supporter of him. Galván wrote that Noriega developed a thuggish reputation, having allegedly raped a 13-year-old girl and then beaten her brother; he was also charged with the death of a priest who was thrown from a helicopter. Galván also claims that Torrijos was able to help Noriega avoid consequences for raping a prostitute in 1963. As a first lieutenant, Noriega traveled to the United States in 1967, and spent many months taking courses at the School of the Americas at the United States Army's Fort Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone. His training there included courses on infantry operations, counterintelligence, intelligence, and jungle operations. He also took a course in psychological operations at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Noriega married Felicidad Sieiro de Noriega, whom he had met in the 1960s, and the couple had three daughters; Lorena, Sandra and Thays Noriega. All four members of his immediate family were alive at the time of his death.
In 1968 Torrijos led a coup against Panama President Arnulfo Arias. Noriega was an important supporter of Torrijos during the power struggle that followed. He received a promotion to lieutenant colonel and was appointed chief of military intelligence by Torrijos. He would also play a major role in thwarting a later coup attempt against Torrijos. Torrijos would retain power as a military ruler until 1981: during this time he negotiated the Torrijos–Carter Treaties with U.S. President Jimmy Carter, which ensured that control over the Panama Canal would pass to Panama in 1999. These treaties, as well as a new labor code that included maternity leave, collective bargaining rights, and bonus pay, made Torrijos popular in Panama despite the absence of elections. Galván writes that his relationship with Noriega was symbiotic: Torrijos provided the political acumen, while Noriega enforced his decisions when they were unpopular, with force, when necessary. Noriega proved to be a very capable head of intelligence. In that position, he had 1300 Panamanians exiled whom he viewed as threats to the government. He also kept files on a number of officials within the military, the government, and the judiciary, which would later allow him to blackmail them. Torrijos died in a plane accident on July 31, 1981, under mysterious circumstances. After a brief power struggle between various military leaders, brought on by the absence of a clear protocol for transfer of power, Noriega became the real power behind the government as the head of the security forces. Two years later, in 1983, Noriega promoted himself to colonel, giving him even more power. Among the steps he took to consolidate his control was to bring the various factions of the army together into the Panama Defense Forces. In the same year, Noriega made a deal with Rubén Darío Paredes, the leader of the Panamanian armed forces, under which Paredes handed over his position to Noriega with the understanding that Noriega would allow him to stand for President. However, after assuming his new position Noriega reneged on the deal, arrested Paredes, and made himself general and head of the Panama Defense Force, thereby becoming the de facto ruler of the country. Noriega's tenure as the head of intelligence was marked by intimidation and harassment of opposition parties and their leaders.
Noriega worked with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from the late 1950s until the 1980s. A report after Noriega's death suggested that his first encounter with U.S. intelligence was when he offered to give them information on leftist student groups. In 1967 the administration of Lyndon Johnson concluded that Noriega would be a valuable asset, as he was a "rising star" in the military. The relationship became regularized in the 1970s, when Noriega was on the CIA payroll; the CIA made its first payment to Noriega in 1971. In 1976 Noriega discovered the methods the CIA was using to spy on him, and bribed the U.S. soldiers involved to provide him with tapes of U.S. eavesdropping efforts in Panama. Although some intelligence officials wanted then-CIA director George H. W. Bush to prosecute the soldiers involved, he declined to do so, because that would have exposed Noriega's role in the matter. The CIA did not report this incident to either the National Security Agency or the U.S. Justice Department.
Noriega acted as a conduit for U.S. support to the Contra militants in Nicaragua for many years, including funds and weapons. Noriega also allowed the CIA to establish listening posts in Panama. He also helped the U.S.-backed Salvadoran government against the leftist Salvadoran insurgent Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front. Noriega has been reported to have played a role in the Iran–Contra affair in the mid-1980s, in which weapons and drugs were smuggled to support the Contras. According to Oliver North's diaries, Noriega met North during the Iran Contra affair in 1986. Noriega offered to help North assassinate or sabotage Sandinista leaders in return for North helping Noriega improve his image with the U.S. government. The CIA had valued him as an asset since the 1970s because he was willing to provide information about the Cuban government, and later about the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. On some occasions, the Panamanian embassy in Managua would be used by U.S. intelligence agents. However, the CIA was aware that Noriega was selling intelligence on the U.S. to Cuba at the same time. Noriega's trial in 1991-92 revealed that he had been paid at least $320,000 by the U.S., though journalists and historians have suggested the figure may have been as high as $200,000 per year. These payments included $76,039 as "gifts and incentives" from the CIA.
The U.S. army also paid Noriega for various services, beginning with a $10.70 payment in 1955. Noriega would continue to have a close relationship with the U.S. School of the Americas during his Presidency, partly due to the latter having an outpost in Panama. Officials from the Panamanian military were frequently given courses at the school free of charge. Noriega was proud of his relationship with the school, and would wear its crest on his military uniform. Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair would later suggest that the United States had known of Noriega's drug trafficking since the 1960s, and had been shielding him from investigation from the 1960s to the 1990s. CIA director William Webster would nonetheless describe Noriega as an ally in the U.S. government's war on drugs. Officials in the administration of Ronald Reagan stated that they had overlooked Noriega's drug-related activities because he was an ally of the U.S. in the conflicts in Central America. The U.S. was also concerned that any successor to Noriega would not tolerate the presence of the U.S. military within Panama.
A 1988 U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations concluded: "The saga of Panama's General Manuel Antonio Noriega represents one of the most serious foreign policy failures for the United States. Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, Noriega was able to manipulate U.S. policy toward his country, while skillfully accumulating near-absolute power in Panama. It is clear that each U.S. government agency which had a relationship with Noriega turned a blind eye to his corruption and drug dealing, even as he was emerging as a key player on behalf of the Medellín Cartel (a member of which was notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar)." Noriega was allowed to establish "the hemisphere's first 'narcokleptocracy'". One of the large financial institutions that he was able to use to launder money was the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. In the 1988 U.S. presidential election, Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis highlighted this history in a campaign commercial attacking his opponent, Vice President (and former CIA Director) George H. W. Bush, for his close relationship with "Panamanian drug lord Noriega".
Rather than become president, he preferred to remain behind the scenes, and avoid the public scrutiny that came with the post. He also did not have a particular social or economic ideology. The idea he used to unify his supporters was military nationalism. The Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD) was used by Noriega as a political front for the National Guard. After taking control of the country, Noriega compelled the Panamanian Congress to pass Law 20, which was supposedly aimed at protecting the Panama canal from communists, and so allowed a huge influx of U.S. weapons to the Panamanian military. The law also tripled the size of the military forces, and gave the National Guard control over immigration, customs, commercial transportation, railroads, and airports. Noriega took control of most major newspapers by either buying a controlling stake in them, or by forcing them to shut down. The government also harassed, intimidated, or exiled individual journalists and editors. The newspaper La Prensa, which remained independent and was frequently critical of Noriega, had its staff intimidated and its offices damaged; eventually, it too was forced to close. In May 1984, Noriega allowed the first presidential elections in 16 years. When the initial results showed former president Arnulfo Arias on his way to a landslide victory, Noriega halted the count. After brazenly manipulating the results, the government announced that the PRD's candidate, Nicolás Ardito Barletta Vallarino, had won by a slim margin of 1,713 votes. Independent estimates suggested that Arias would have won by as many as 50,000 votes had the election been conducted fairly. The U.S. government was aware of this manipulation, but chose not to comment on it. His rule in Panama became increasingly repressive, even as the U.S. government of Ronald Reagan began relying on him in its covert efforts to undermine the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Though he allowed elections to take place, he supported proxy candidates, or otherwise exerted considerable influence over the nominal president.
Hugo Spadafora was a physician and a political activist who had first clashed with Noriega when they were both members of Torrijo's government. He was a vocal critic of Noriega. In September 1985 he accused Noriega of having connections to drug trafficking and announced his intent to return to Panama to oppose him. He was seized from a bus by a death squad at the Costa Rican border. Later, his decapitated body was found, showing signs of brutal torture, wrapped in a United States Postal Service mailing bag. His family and other groups called for an investigation into his murder, but Noriega stonewalled any attempts at an investigation. Noriega was in Paris at the time of the murder, which was alleged by some to have been at the direction of his Chiriquí Province commander, Luis Córdoba. A conversation captured on wiretap between Noriega (in Paris) and Córdoba included an exchange in which Córdoba says "We have the rabid dog", to which Noriega responds "And what does one do with a dog that has rabies?" The murder of Spadafora was among the reasons for the U.S. beginning to view Noriega as a liability rather than an asset, despite his ongoing support for U.S. interventions elsewhere. U.S. intelligence officials believed that they had evidence of Noriega's involvement in the killing.
On 12 June 1986 Seymour Hersh published an article in the New York Times, describing Noriega's involvement in drug smuggling and money laundering. The article stated that Noriega had been involved with drug cartels in Colombia for 20 years. Hersh recorded a U.S. White House official as saying that reducing Noriega's activities could greatly reduce international drug trafficking. A report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency stated that Noriega held firm control over drug-related activities and money laundering through a groups of close associates within the military. In 1985 an opium plant was discovered on the Panama-Colombia border: Noriega was said to have a financial interest in it. The U.S. government also believed that Noriega was supplying arms to the M-19 rebel group in Colombia. On one occasion, the Panama Defense Force supplied weapons to a small band of M-19 fighters who flew to Panama from Cuba, before an attack on Colombia's west coast. A 1990 book discussing Noriega's administration stated that he had sold 5000 Panamanian passports to the Cuban government for use by its intelligence services. Noriega's direct involvement in moving weapons and drugs declined in the early 1980s; instead, he invested in legitimate businesses, and used these as a cover for money laundering operations, much of which were related to the drug trade. The U.S. intelligence service believed Noriega to have amassed a personal fortune in European banks as a result of his illegal activities, as well as owning two homes in Panama and one in France. This fortune has been variously estimated as $772 million over the years of his smuggling activities, and between $200 million and $300 million at the time of his removal.
President Barletta was visiting New York City at the time. A reporter asked him about the Spadafora matter, and he promised an investigation. Upon his return to Panama, he was summoned to FDP headquarters and told to resign. He was replaced by First Vice President Eric Arturo Delvalle. As a friend and former student of George Shultz, Barletta had been considered "sacrosanct" by the United States, and his dismissal signaled a marked downturn in the relations between the U.S. and Noriega. Furthermore, after Torrijo's death, Noriega had made a deal with his deputy Colonel Roberto Díaz Herrera, to the effect that he would step down as military leader in 1987 and allow Herrera to succeed him. In 1987, however, Noriega went back on this agreement, announced he would be heading the military for the next five years, and assigned Herrera to a diplomatic post. Herrera retaliated by making public statements accusing Noriega of rigging the 1984 election, murdering Spadafora, and of trafficking in drugs, as well as of assassinating Torrijo with a bomb on his plane. These statements provoked huge protests against Noriega, with 100,000 people, approximately 25% of the population of Panama City, marching in protest on June 26, 1987. Noriega charged Herrera with treason, and cracked down hard on the protesters. The U.S. Senate passed a resolution asking Noriega to step down until Herrera could be tried; in response Noriega sent government workers to protest outside the U.S. embassy, a protest which quickly turned into a riot. As a result, the U.S. suspended all military assistance to Panama, and the CIA stopped paying Noriega a salary. Without the support of the U.S, Panama defaulted on its international debt, and that year the economy of the country shrunk by 20%.
The relationship between the U.S. and Noriega deteriorated further during the late 1980s, particularly after the U.S. began to suspect that Noriega was lending his support to other intelligence services, as well as to drug-trafficking groups. Hersh wrote in 1986 that U.S. intelligence officials suspected Noriega of selling intelligence to the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. In 1988 Noriega was indicted in a U.S. court on charges of drug-trafficking. The indictment accused him of "turning Panama into a shipping platform for South American cocaine destined for the United States, and allowing drug proceeds to be hidden in Panamanian banks." In the same year, there was a failed coup attempt against Noriega when Delvalle tried to remove him from power.
The elections of May 1989 were surrounded by controversy. A PRD-led coalition nominated Carlos Duque, publisher of the country's oldest newspaper, La Estrella de Panamá. Most of the other political parties banded behind a unified ticket of Guillermo Endara, a member of Arias' Authentic Panameñista Party, along with vice-presidential candidates Ricardo Arias Calderón (no relation to Arnulfo Arias) and Guillermo Ford.
According to Guillermo Sanchez, the opposition alliance knew that Noriega planned to rig the count, but had no way of proving it. They found a way through a loophole in Panamanian election law. The alliance, with the support of the Roman Catholic Church, set up a count based directly on results at the country's 4,000 election precincts before the results were sent to district centers. Noriega's lackeys swapped fake tally sheets for the real ones and took those to the district centers, but by this time the opposition's more accurate count was already out. It showed Endara winning in a landslide even more massive than in 1984, beating Duque by a 3-to-1 margin.
Rather than publish the results, Noriega voided the election, claiming "foreign interference" had tainted the results, and declared Duque, his chosen candidate, to be the winner. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, present in Panama as an observer, denounced Noriega, saying the election had been "stolen", as did Bishop Marcos G. McGrath. However, Duque knew he had been badly defeated and refused to go along. The next day, Endara, Arias Calderón, and Ford rolled through the old part of the capital in a triumphant motorcade, only to be intercepted by a detachment of Noriega's paramilitary Dignity Battalions. Arias Calderón was protected by a couple of troops, but Endara and Ford were badly beaten. Images of Ford running to safety with his guayabera shirt covered in blood were broadcast around the world. When the 1984–89 presidential term expired, Noriega named a longtime associate, Francisco Rodríguez, as acting president. The United States recognized Endara as the new president.
Noriega's decision to void the election results led to another coup against him in 1989. A number of Noriega's junior officers rose up against him, but the rebellion was easily crushed by the members of the Defense Forces loyal to Noriega. After this attempt, he declared himself the "maximum leader" of the country. The rebels were captured and taken to a military base outside Panama City, where they were tortured and then executed.
On December 15, 1989, the PRD-dominated legislature spoke of "a state of war" between the United States and Panama. It also declared Noriega "chief executive officer" of the government, formalizing a state of affairs that had existed for six years. Noriega subsequently claimed that this statement referred to U.S. actions against Panama, and did not represent a declaration of hostilities by Panama. Noriega's forces are said to have engaged in routine harassment of U.S. troops and civilians. Three incidents in particular occurred very near the time of the invasion, and were mentioned by U.S. President George H. W. Bush as a reason for the invasion. In a December 16 incident, four U.S. personnel were stopped at a roadblock outside PDF headquarters in the El Chorrillo neighborhood of Panama City. The United States Department of Defense said that the servicemen were unarmed and in a private vehicle and that they attempted to flee the scene only after their vehicle was surrounded by a crowd of civilians and PDF troops. Robert Paz of the United States Marine Corps was shot and killed in the incident. The PDF claimed that the Americans were armed and on a reconnaissance mission.
The U.S. invasion of Panama was launched on December 20, 1989. Although the killing of the Marine was the ostensible reason for the invasion, the operation had been planned for months before his death. The move was the largest military action by the U.S. since the Vietnam War, and included more than 27,000 soldiers, as well as 300 aircraft. The U.S. forces targeted Noriega's personal private vehicles. Several slums in the middle of Panama city were destroyed in the U.S. bombing campaign. The number of U.S. soldiers that were killed in the operation was between 23 and 60; 300 soldiers were injured. Casualties among the Panamanian forces were much higher; between 300 and 845. A large number of civilians were killed in the invasion: the precise figure is a matter of debate. The U.S. government reported 250 civilian deaths; other observers estimated 3000 casualties. On December 29, the United Nations General Assembly voted 75–20 with 40 abstentions to condemn the invasion as a flagrant violation of international law. According to a CBS poll, 92% of Panamanian adults supported the U.S. incursion, and 76% wished that U.S. forces had invaded in October during the coup. Activist Barbara Trent disputed this finding, saying in a 1992 Academy Award-winning documentary The Panama Deception that the Panamanian surveys were completed in wealthy, English-speaking neighborhoods in Panama City, among Panamanians most likely to support U.S. actions.
On the fifth day of the invasion, Noriega and four others took sanctuary in the Apostolic Nunciature, the Holy See's embassy in Panama. Having threatened to flee to the countryside and lead guerrilla warfare if not given refuge, he instead turned over the majority of his weapons, and requested sanctuary from Monsignor Laboa. He spent his time in a "stark" room with no air conditioning or television, reading the Bible for the duration of his stay.
Prevented by treaty from invading the embassy of the Holy See, U.S. soldiers erected a perimeter around the Nunciature. Psychological warfare was used in an attempt to dislodge him, including blaring rock music, and turning a nearby field into a helicopter landing zone. After ten days of Operation Nifty Package, Noriega surrendered on January 3, 1990. He was detained as a prisoner of war, and later taken to the United States.
In April 1992 a trial was held in Miami, Florida, at the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in which Noriega was tried and convicted on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering. At his trial, Noriega intended to defend himself by presenting his alleged crimes within the framework of his work for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The government objected to any disclosure of the purposes for which the United States had paid Noriega because this information was classified and its disclosure went against the interests of the United States. In pre-trial proceedings, the government offered to stipulate that Noriega had received approximately $220,000 from the United States Army and the Central Intelligence Agency. Noriega insisted that "the actual figure approached $10,000,000, and that he should be allowed to disclose the tasks he had performed for the United States". The district court held that the "information about the content of the discrete operations in which Noriega had engaged in exchange for the alleged payments was irrelevant to his defense". It ruled that the introduction of evidence about Noriega's role in the CIA would "confuse the jury". One of the witnesses in the trial was Floyd Carlton, who had previously flown shipments of drugs for Noriega.
Information about Noriega's connections to the CIA, including his relationship with Oliver North and his alleged meetings with George H. W. Bush were kept out of the trial. After the trial, Noriega appealed this exclusionary ruling by the judge to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the government, despite disagreeing with the lower court. It said: "Our review leads us to conclude that information regarding the purposes for which the United States previously paid Noriega potentially had some probative value ... Thus, the district court may have overstated the case when it declared evidence of the purposes for which the United States allegedly paid Noriega wholly irrelevant to his defense". The Court of Appeals refused to set aside the verdict because it felt that "the potential probative value of this material, however, was relatively marginal". On September 16, 1992, Noriega was sentenced to 40 years in prison, later reduced to 30 years.
Before receiving his permanent prison assignment, Noriega was placed in the Federal Detention Center, Miami, facility. Noriega resided in the Federal Correctional Institution, Miami, in an unincorporated area of Dade County, Florida, and had the Federal Bureau of Prisons ID number 38699-079. The facility in which Noriega was incarcerated was relatively comfortable; it was nicknamed the "presidential suite" within the prison.
Under Article 85 of the Third Geneva Convention, Noriega was considered a prisoner of war, despite his conviction for acts committed prior to his capture by the "detaining power" (the United States). This status meant that in Florida he had his own prison cell, furnished with electronics and exercise equipment. His cell had been nicknamed "the presidential suite".
It was reported that Noriega had been visited by evangelical Christians, who claimed that he had become a born again Christian. On May 15 and 16, 1990, while Noriega still awaited trial, Clift Brannon, a former attorney turned preacher, and a Spanish interpreter, Rudy Hernandez, were allowed to visit Noriega for a total of six hours at the Metropolitan Correctional Center of Dade County, Florida. Following the visit, Noriega wrote Brannon a letter stating:
On completing the spiritual sessions that you as a messenger of the Word of God brought to my heart, even to my area of confinement as Prisoner of War of the United States, I feel the necessity of adding something more to what I was able to say to you as we parted. The evening sessions of May 15 and 16 with you and Rudy Hernandez along with the Christian explanation and guidance were for me the first day of a dream, a revelation. I can tell you with great strength and inspiration that receiving our Lord Jesus Christ as Savior guided by you, was an emotional event. The hours flew by without my being aware. I could have desired that they continue forever, but there was no time nor space. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your human warmth, for your constant and permanent spiritual strength brought to bear on my mind and soul. – With great affection, Manuel A. Noriega
Noriega's prison sentence was reduced from 30 years to 17 years for good behavior. After serving 17 years in detention and imprisonment, his sentence ended on September 9, 2007.
The French government requested Noriega's extradition after he was convicted of money laundering in 1999. The French claimed that Noriega had laundered $3 million in drug proceeds by purchasing luxury apartments in Paris. Noriega was convicted in absentia, but French law requires a new trial after the subject of an in absentia sentence is apprehended. He faced up to 10 years in French prison if convicted.
In August 2007, a U.S. federal judge approved a request from the French government to extradite Noriega from the United States to France after his release. Noriega has also received a long jail term in absentia in Panama for murder and human rights abuses. Noriega appealed his extradition to France because he claimed that country would not honor his legal status as a prisoner of war. In 1999, the Panamanian government sought the extradition of Noriega to face murder charges in Panama because he had been found guilty in absentia in 1995 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
On February 20, 2010, Noriega's lawyers filed a petition with the Supreme Court of the United States to block his extradition to France, after the court refused to hear his appeal the previous month. Noriega's attorneys had hoped the dissenting opinion in that ruling, written by Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, would convince the full court to take up his case, but on March 22, 2010, the Supreme Court refused to hear the petition. Two days after the refusal, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami lifted the stay that was blocking Noriega's extradition. Later that month, after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed the surrender warrant, Noriega's attorney stated that he would travel to France and try to arrange a deal with the French government.
On April 26, 2010, Noriega was extradited to France. Noriega's lawyers claimed the La Santé Prison, at which he was held, was unfit for a man of his age and rank; the French government refused to grant him prisoner of war status, which he had in the United States.
On July 7, 2010, Noriega was convicted by the 11th chamber of the Tribunal Correctionnel de Paris and sentenced to seven years in jail. The prosecutor in the case had sought a ten-year prison term. In addition, the court ordered the seizure of €2.3 million (approximately U.S. $3.6 million) that had long been frozen in Noriega's French bank accounts.
Panama asked France to extradite Noriega so he could face trial for human rights violations in Panama. The French government had previously stated that extradition would not happen before the case in France had run its course. On September 23, 2011, a French court ordered a conditional release for Noriega to be extradited to Panama on October 1, 2011. Noriega was extradited to Panama on December 11, 2011, and incarcerated at El Renacer prison to serve time for crimes committed during his rule.
On February 5, 2012, Noriega was moved from the El Renacer prison to the Hospital Santo Tomas because of high blood pressure and a brain hemorrhage. He remained in the hospital for four days before being returned to prison. It was announced on March 21, 2012, that Noriega was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which was later revealed to have been benign.
On January 23, 2017, he was released from prison and placed under house arrest to prepare for surgery that would remove the tumor. On March 7, 2017, he suffered a brain hemorrhage during surgery to remove a benign tumor which left him in critical condition in the intensive care unit of Santo Tomas hospital in Panama City.
Noriega died on May 29, 2017, at the age of 83. Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela announced Noriega's death on Twitter shortly before midnight, writing, "The death of Manuel A. Noriega closes a chapter in our history; his daughters and his relatives deserve to bury him in peace."
Noriega's rule in Panama has been frequently described as a dictatorship, while Noriega is often referred to as a "strongman". A 2017 obituary stated that Noriega "was an opportunist who used his close relationship with the United States to boost his own power in Panama and to cover the illegal activities for which he was eventually convicted." A 2010 article in The Guardian referred to him as the best known dictator of his time, and as "Panama's answer to Colonel Gaddafi". His relationship to the U.S. has been described as complicated: though he was considered a long-time ally by that country, he also played both sides by selling intelligence on the US to its enemies, and by working with drug cartels.
An article in The Atlantic after Noriega's death compared Noriega to Castro and Augusto Pinochet, stating that while Castro had been the nemesis of the US, and Pinochet had been its ally, Noriega had managed to be both. It called Noriega the archetype of US intervention in Latin America: "The lawless, vicious leader whom the U.S. cultivated and propped up despite clear and serious flaws." The author stated that although Panama was a freer democracy for Noriega's removal, it was still plagued by corruption and drug trafficking, while Daniel Ortega, who the U.S. tried to fight with Noriega's help, remained firmly in power in Nicaragua, and argued that this demonstrated the failure of the U.S.'s approach to Latin American interventions. Similarly, Cockburn and St-Clair stated that despite Noriega's overthrow, Panama's importance in the illegal drug trade continued to grow.
Noriega used the moniker "El Man" to refer to himself, but was also known by the nickname "Pineapple Face", a name which would be the subject of a later lawsuit. He had a lavish lifestyle during his time as the de facto ruler of Panama, described in an obituary as a "libertine life off drug-trade riches, complete with luxurious mansions, cocaine-fueled parties and voluminous collections of antique guns." His bravado during public speeches was remarked upon by commentators; for instance, after his indictment by the U.S., he made a public speech while brandishing a machete, and declaiming "Not one step back!" This image contrasted sharply with the impact of a mugshot taken of him after his capture, and which became a symbol of his fall from power.
British actor Bob Hoskins portrayed Manuel Noriega in the biographical 2000 TV movie Noriega: God's Favorite. The film was described as a "political drama with profound stakes", that was nonetheless depicted with "wild humor". A reviewer wrote that "the hair-raising career of deposed Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega surpassed even the surreal creations of many Latin American novelists, thus making him a natural movie subject". Hoskins was nominated for a Satellite Award for his role in the film.
Noriega was depicted in Call of Duty: Black Ops II. In July 2014, he filed a lawsuit against game company Activision for depicting him and using his name without his permission. Noriega, who filed the suit while in prison for murder, claims he is portrayed as “a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state”. In gameplay Noriega's character is referred to as "Old Pineapple Face", by fictional character Frank Woods. The name "Old Pineapple Face" was an actual nickname for Noriega used by Panamanians. On October 28, 2014, the case against Activision was dismissed.
Rubén Darío Paredes
|Military Leader of Panama
Guillermo Endara (as President of Panama)
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