- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Manuel Noriega was a career soldier who rose through the ranks as a CIA operative and protege of Omar Torrijos, known as “the benevolent dictator” for his work in favor of Panama’s poor.

After Mr. Torrijos was killed in a plane crash in 1981, Noriega seized the military, became Panama’s de facto leader in 1983 and held power by means of rigged elections.

In 1988, a U.S. indictment accused him of drug trafficking, and then-President Eric Delvalle tried to remove him from his post. Noriega hit back by having the National Assembly depose the president, who fled the country, fearing for his life.

After disastrous elections in 1989, in which Noriega refused to recognize the victory of Guillermo Endara, the United States invaded. Noriega took shelter in the Vatican Embassy, which the U.S. famously bombarded with loud rock music in an effort to force him out.

He eventually surrendered, was taken to Miami and sentenced to 30 years in prison for drug trafficking. Mr. Endara became the country’s new leader, and Panamanian courts convicted Noriega on charges of embezzlement, corruption and murdering his opponents.