"Manuel Antonio Noriega, the brash former dictator of Panama and sometime ally of the United States whose ties to drug trafficking led to his ouster in 1989 in what was then the largest American military action since the Vietnam War, has died. He was 83.
President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama announced Mr. Noriega’s death on Twitter early Tuesday morning.
Mr. Varela’s post read, ‘The death of Manuel A. Noriega closes a chapter in our history; his daughters and his relatives deserve to bury him in peace.’
Mr. Noriega died around 11 p.m. Monday at Santo Tomás Hospital in Panama City, a hospital employee confirmed. An official cause of death was not immediately available.
Mr. Noriega had been in intensive care since March 7 after complications developed from surgery to remove what his lawyer described as a benign brain tumor. His daughters told reporters at the hospital in March that he had had a brain hemorrhage after the procedure. He had been granted house arrest in January to prepare for the operation.
Manuel Antonio Noriega in 1989, the year the United States invaded Panama to depose him. Credit Associated Press His medical problems came on the heels of a legal odyssey that had begun with the invasion and led to prison terms in the United States, France and finally Panama. While imprisoned abroad he suffered strokes, hypertension and other ailments, his lawyers said.
After returning to Panama on Dec. 11, 2011, he began serving long sentences for murder, embezzlement and corruption in connection with his rule during the 1980s.
It was an inglorious homecoming for a man who had been known for brandishing a machete while making defiant nationalist speeches and living a lavish, libertine life off drug-trade riches, complete with luxurious mansions, cocaine-fueled parties and voluminous collections of antique guns. It was a quirky life as well: He liked to display his teddy bears dressed as paratroopers.
Playing Both Sides
Mr. Noriega, who became the de facto leader of the country by promoting himself to full general of the armed forces in 1983, had a decades-long, head-spinning relationship with the United States, shifting from cooperative ally and informant for American drug and intelligence agencies to shady adversary, selling secrets to political enemies of the United States in the Western Hemisphere and tipping off drug cartels. Whose side he was on was often hard to tell."