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    • Early Life and Family
    • National Guard Career
    • Rise to Power
    • de Facto Rule of Panama
    • U.S. Invasion of Panama
    • Prosecution and Imprisonment
    • Return, Illness, and Death
    • Image and Legacy
    • in Popular Culture

    Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno was born in Panama City, into a relatively poor mestizo, or mixed-race, family with Native American, African, and Spanish heritage. His date of birth is generally given as February 11, 1934, but is a matter of uncertainty. It has been variously recorded as that date in 1934, 1936, and 1938. Noriega himself provided differing dates of birth. He was born in the neighborhood of El Terraplen de San Felipe. Noriega's mother, who was not married to his father, has been described as a cook and a laundress, while his father, Ricaurte Noriega, was an accountant. His mother, whose family name was Moreno, died of tuberculosis when he was still a child, and Noriega was brought up by a godmother in a one-room apartment in the slum area of Terraplén.Both his parents were dead by the time he was five years old. Noriega was educated first at the Escuela República de México, and later at the Instituto Nacional, a well-regarded high school in Panama City that had produce...

    Noriega graduated from Chorrillos in 1962 with a specialization in engineering. He returned to Panama and joined the Panama National Guard. Posted to Colón, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in September 1962. His commanding officer in Colón was Omar Torrijos, then a major in the National Guard. Torrijos became a patron and mentor to Noriega. In a 1962 incident Torrijos helped Noriega avoid legal trouble after a prostitute accused Noriega of beating and raping her.Soon after, Noriega's drinking and violence obliged Torrijos to confine him to his quarters for a month. Despite Noriega's problems, Torrijos maintained their relationship, ensuring they were always in the same command; he also brought Díaz Herrera into the same unit. Díaz Herrera and Noriega became both friends and rivals for Torrijos's favor. In 1964 Noriega had been posted to the province of Chiriquí, where Torrijos and Díaz Herrera were stationed. At the time, Arnulfo Arias, a native of that province, was prep...

    1968 coup

    Arias was elected president in 1968 following a populist campaign. Soon after taking office he launched a purge of the National Guard, sending much of its general staff into "diplomatic exile" or retirement. In response, Torrijos and a few other officers led a coup against him, ousting him after an eleven-day presidency. The coup was set in motion by Martínez, as the leader of the garrison at Chiriquí, and received the support of most military officers. A power struggle followed between the v...

    Head of intelligence

    Noriega proved to be a very capable head of intelligence. During his tenure, he exiled 1,300 Panamanians whom he viewed as threats to the government. He also kept files on several officials within the military, the government, and the judiciary, allowing him to blackmail them later. Noriega also held the positions of head of the political police and head of immigration. His tenure was marked by intimidation and harassment of opposition parties and their leaders. He was described as doing much...

    Death of Torrijos

    After the Nicaraguan Revolution was launched by the Sandinistas against U.S.-backed authoritarian ruler Anastasio Somoza Debayle in August 1978, Torrijos and Noriega initially supported the rebels, providing them with surplus National Guard equipment and allowing Panama to be used as a cover for arms shipments from Cuba to Nicaragua. Torrijos sought for himself the same aura of "democratic respectability" that the Sandinista rebels had in Nicaragua, and so abandoned the title of "Maximum Lead...

    Noriega preferred to remain behind the scenes, rather than become president, and to avoid the public scrutiny that came with the post. He did not have a particular social or economic ideology, and used military nationalism to unify his supporters. The Partido Revolucionario Democrático (Democratic Revolutionary Party, PRD), which had been established by Torrijos and had strong support among military families, was used by Noriega as a political front for the PDF. This party drew considerable support from low-income employees brought into the government bureaucracy by its expansion under Torrijos and Noriega. Noriega compelled the Panamanian National Assembly to pass Law 20 of 1983, which was supposedly aimed at protecting the Panama Canal from communists, and allowed a huge influx of U.S. weapons to the Panamanian military. The law also tripled the size of the military forces Noriega's period in power saw significant capital flightfrom Panama; according to Kempe, this was at least in...

    Genesis

    In March 1988, the U.S. government entered into negotiations with Noriega seeking his resignation. Panama was represented at these negotiations by Rómulo Escobar Bethancourt. Negotiations collapsed after several months of lengthy and inconclusive talks; according to Dinges, Noriega had no intentions of ever resigning. 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 gov...

    Invasion

    The U.S. launched its invasion of Panama 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 invasion began with a bombing campaign that targeted Noriega's private vehicles, and the PDF headquarters located in Panama City. Several slums in the...

    Capture

    Noriega received several warnings about the invasion from individuals within his government; though he initially disbelieved them, they grew more frequent as the invasion drew near, eventually convincing Noriega to go on the run. Noriega used a number of subterfuges, including lookalikes and playbacks of his recorded voice, to confuse U.S. surveillance as to his whereabouts. During his flight Noriega reportedly took shelter with several supportive politicians, including Balbina Herrera, the m...

    Prosecution in the United States

    Following his capture Noriega was transferred to a cell in the Miami federal courthouse, where he was arraigned on the ten charges which the Miami grand jury had returned two years earlier. The trial was delayed until September 1991 over whether Noriega could be tried after his detention as a prisoner of war, the admissibility of evidence and witnesses, and how to pay for Noriega's legal defense. The trial ended in April 1992, when Noriega was convicted on eight of the ten charges of drug tra...

    Prosecution in Panama

    Noriega was tried in absentia in Panama for crimes committed during his rule. In October 1993 Noriega and two others were convicted of the murder of Spadafora by the court of the Third Judicial District, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Panama's Supreme Court confirmed the sentence on December 20, 1995. In 1994, Noriega and Heráclides Sucre, an agent of his secret police, were convicted by a jury of the murder of Giroldi, who had led the 1989 coup attempt against Noriega. Though Noriega w...

    Prosecution in France

    The French government had requested Noriega's extradition after he was convicted of money laundering in 1999. It stated that Noriega had laundered $3 million in drug proceeds by purchasing luxury apartments in Paris. Noriega was convicted in absentia, but French law required a new trial after the subject of an in absentia sentence was apprehended. France had previously made Noriega a Commandeur of the Légion d'honneurin 1987. In August 2007, a U.S. federal judge approved the French government...

    In 1999, the Panamanian government had sought the extradition of Noriega from the U.S., as he had been tried in absentia and found guilty of murder in Panama in 1995. After Noriega was imprisoned in France, Panama asked the French government 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 the sentences, totalling 60 years, that he had accumulated in absentiafor crimes committed during his rule. On February 5, 2012, Noriega was moved to the Hospital Santo Tomás in Panama City because of high blood pressure and a brain hemorrhage. He remained in the hospital for four days before being returned to prison....

    Noriega's authoritarian rule of Panama has been described as a dictatorship, while Noriega himself has been referred to as a "strongman". A 2017 obituary from the BBC 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 up 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 Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi". Dinges writes that though Noriega's regime saw a number of murders and crimes, they were similar in scale to those that occurred at the same time under the authoritarian governments of Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, and El Salvador; these governments never saw the level of condemnation from the U.S. that Noriega's did. After Noriega's death, an article in The Atlantic compared him to Castro and Augusto Pinochet, stating that while Castro had been the nemesis of the...

    British actor Bob Hoskins portrayed Manuel Noriega in the biographical 2000 American television movie Noriega: God's Favorite. Noriega was depicted in the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops II. In July 2014, he filed a lawsuit against the game company Activision for depicting him and using his name without his permission. Noriega, who filed the suit while in prison for murder, claimed he was portrayed as "a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state".On October 28, 2014, the case against Activision was dismissed by a judge in California.

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    • September 19, 2021
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