Place of birth:
Promoted himself to General.
Present in CIA payroll from 1955 to 1986.
Main target of Operation Just Cause.
General Manuel Antonio 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 United States and was regularly paid by the CIA from the late 1950s to 1986. By the late 1980s his actions became increasingly unacceptable, and he was overthrown and captured by a U.S. invading force in 1989, taken to the U.S., offered trial, and imprisoned in 1992. Up to this date, he remains imprisoned in a federal prison in Miami, Florida.
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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 orchestrated the "disappearances" of political opponents.
When Torrijos died in a plane crash in 1981, he was succeeded by Rubén Darío 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 U.S. 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, amid allegations of fraud, 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 U.S. 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 of May 1989, Noriega's candidate lost, but he stopped the electoral protest and had his opponents attacked.
On December 20, 1989 the U.S. invaded Panama with 27,000 troops in Operation Just Cause; in response to the death of the U.S. Marine and after incidents of harassment against U.S. school children and other U.S. citizens. For many weeks there was a fierce fight between Noriega's forces and the American military. According to U.S. governmental sources, several hundred Panamanians were killed (mainly civilians), and 23 American soldiers died. Latin American and international sources estimate the civilian death toll to have been more in the order of 3,000 to 10,000, with between 20,000 to 30,000 having been rendered homeless. Noriega took refuge in the Nunciature of the Vatican embassy in Panama, where U.S. troops used psychological warfare to sought him out by playing hard rock music outside the residence.  (PDF document) The Vatican complained to President Bush because of this and U.S. troops stopped the noise. A few days later on January 3, 1990 Noriega surrendered.
He was then flown to the U.S. and was convicted on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering in April 1992. His trial was held in Miami, Florida, Florida and on July 10, 1992 he was sentenced to 40 years in prison for drug and racketeering violations. His sentence was reduced to 30 years in 1999, making Noriega 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.