World Bulletin / News Desk
The late Manuel Antonio Noriega's public persona was extinguished nearly three decades ago, when the United States toppled him in an invasion that spoke volumes about Cold War tensions at the time.
Noriega's ignominious ouster by US troops in December 1989 was a dramatic fall from power for a man who had risen through the ranks of Panama's military while working for the CIA, to become de facto ruler of a country that hosts the strategic Panama Canal.
The ex-strongman was captured and imprisoned in the United States, France and later Panama under a variety of charges, ranging from drug trafficking, money laundering and forced disappearances.
Short in stature and with a pockmarked face, Noriega was considered an unscrupulous and opportunistic officer who juggled relationships with Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, Cuba's Fidel Castro and several foreign intelligence services.
"The most surprising thing in the life of Manuel Antonio Noriega was what he did to the (military) institution, making it an instrument, a macabre combination of crime and drug trafficking," said a former National Guard general, Ruben Dario Paredes, who used to be Noriega's commanding officer and who is now a critic.
- "Pineapple face" -
Born to a poor family in Panama City on February 11, 1934, Noriega started his military career at a young age.
Reportedly recruited onto the CIA payroll in 1967, his rise through the ranks began when he took part in a 1968 coup against then-president Arnulfo Arias.
A year later one of the coup's leaders, General Omar Torrijos, promoted him to head the feared G-2 military intelligence unit.
In 1983, two years after Torrijos' death in a mysterious plane crash, Noriega took charge of the now-defunct National Guard, giving him de facto power over the country.
Noriega lived a life of luxury with his wife Felicidad and their three daughters Sandra, Lorena and Thays. They lived in a sumptuous estate that included a mini-zoo, a private casino and a ballroom.
The mansion was the scene of extravagant parties, and in the main bedroom there was a giant safe that rumors said contained millions of dollars' worth of various currencies -- a fortune that supposedly vanished when the US troops invaded.
"Pineapple Face" -- as Noriega was known due to his facial acne scars -- played various sides off each other to stay in power while civil wars fueled by US-Soviet Cold War rivalry raged across much of the rest of Central America.
In time Noriega's brutal tactics to stay in power set the foundation for his eventual ouster -- especially his defiance of then US president Ronald Reagan, who wanted him removed from office.
In 1986, a US intelligence leak to The New York Times revealed that Noriega was involved in the torture and decapitation a year earlier of a guerrilla and opposition critic, Hugo Spadafora.
Roberto Diaz Herrera, a colonel who was second-in-charge in the regime, then accused Noriega of electoral fraud, corruption and being behind the plane crash that killed the popular Torrijos.
Those and other accusations triggered public protests and unrest that sharpened Washington's determination to remove him from office.Last Mod: 30 Mayıs 2017, 17:46