Manuel Noriega Trial: 1991
Manuel Noriega Trial: 1991
Defendant: Manuel Antonio Noriega
Crime Charged: Drug trafficking, racketeering, and conspiracy
Chief Defense Lawyers: Jon May and Frank A. Rubino
Chief Prosecutors: James McAdams, Myles Malman, and Michael P. Sullivan
Judge: William M. Hoeveler
Place: Miami, Florida
Dates of Trial: September 6, 1991-April 9, 1992
Sentence: 40 years imprisonment
SIGNIFICANCE: This landmark trial marked the first time that a former head of a foreign government had ever faced criminal charges in an American court of law.
At 45 minutes past midnight on December 20, 1988, U.S. armed forces began the costliest and deadliest arrest mission in history, when 25,000 troops invaded Panama, all looking for one man, General Manuel Antonio Noriega, dictator of that country and suspected conduit for the flow of cocaine into America. After holing up at the Papal Embassy for two weeks, Noriega meekly surrendered and was flown to Miami, Florida, to face charges of drug trafficking.
The five-year running battle between the U.S. Government and General Noriega entered its climactic phase when his trial began September 5, 1991. Following a week given over to the demanding process of jury selection, Michael Sullivan opened for the government. He derided Noriega as a "small man in a general's uniform," who gave his "permission, authorization, and encouragement to a scheme to transform his nation into an international cocaine trafficking and manufacturing center."
In a surprise move, defense counsel Frank Rubino waived his right to deliver an opening statement to the jury, choosing instead to wait until the prosecution had revealed its entire hand before deciding what direction the defense should take.
After various academic witnesses provided some background on Panama's geopolitical history, the prosecution really got into gear when Lieutenant Colonel Luis del Cid, a close aide to Noriega for 25 years, took the stand. Like many of the prosecution witnesses, Cid was himself facing drug charges and had agreed to testify against Noriega only in return for a lighter sentence. Describing himself as Noriega's "errand boy, bodyguard and bagman," he told of suitcases stuffed with cash arriving from Colombia, either as a payoff for Noriega or to be laundered through Panamanian banks. An extraordinary interlude came when Cid, asked to identify the defendant, leapt to attention as his former boss stood up. Those in court half expected the witness to salute.
Cartel Contacts Revealed
Floyd Carnton, Noriega's personal pilot, recounted how two prominent Medellin cartel members, Pablo Escobar and Gustave Gavira, had approached him through an intermediary to "go and talk with Noriega" about an arrangement which would allow Carlton to fly cocaine to Panama under the general's authority. Carlton said that Noriega "told me he didn't want his name involved in this type of problem, and that if something happened he would know nothing about it," but, he added later, "Nothing is to be done without notifying me." According to Carlton the cartel originally offered Noriega between $30,000 and $50,000 for each flight of cocaine. When he relayed this news to Noriega the general exploded: "Either they're crazy or you are! Not for that kind of money. I won't allow it to happen for less than $100,000 a flight." Over the years, Carlton estimated that Noriega received $5 million in kickbacks.
When Rubino reproved Carlton because no one else was present at these alleged meetings, the witness snapped back, "Mr. Rubino, this was a cocaine deal, we weren't talking about cookies!" Counsel fared slightly better in getting Carlton to admit that Noriega had been angered to learn of illicit money-laundering flights into Panama.
By far the most prominent witness against Noriega was Carlos Ledher Rivas, the only founding member of the Medellin cartel ever to face charges in an American court. Amid heavy security, Ledher, whose 1988 conviction for drug trafficking brought him a sentence of life plus 135 years, said Noriega offered the cartel a cocaine pipeline to the United States." In addition to paying the general $1,000 for every kilo of cocaine that passed through the country, the cartel agreed to pay Noriega 5 percent of all profits deposited in Panamanian banks—a sum that other witnesses said often amounted to $60 million a week.
Ledher explained the cartel's plight: "We were desperately looking for new routes. We had no point of transshipment for the cocaine that was piling up in Colombia." Under questioning from prosecutor Guy Lewis, Ledher elaborated on Noriega's alleged involvement with Fidel Castro, whom he said was also dealing with the Medellin cartel. The doubtful pertinence of much that Ledher had to say aroused defense suspicions that the witness was testifying very much out of self-interest, prepared to blacken Noriega's name at all costs in hopes of getting his own jail sentence reduced.
After establishing the existence of such a quid pro quo, Rubino challenged Ledher about Medellin involvement with the Nicaraguan Contras, a line of questioning that clearly unsettled the witness. With great reluctance, he said, "To the best of my recollection, there was some contribution to the Contra anticommunist movement." When Rubino pushed for an exact figure, Ledher hedged and tried to dodge, until finally saying, "It could have been around $10 million." Rubino was prevented from pursuing this source of potential embarrassment to the U.S. government, which had also been funding the Contras, on grounds that it was not relevant.
Judge Taken III
The much-awaited defense strategy had be put on hold when Judge William Hoeveler was stricken by illness and had to undergo open heart surgery. After more than a six-week delay, Noriega's team finally got its chance. The defense attorneys provided few surprises and none of the bombshells that had been predicted. Attorney Jon May portrayed Noriega as one of America's greatest allies in the fight against drugs. The level and quality of cooperation he gave the United States, May proclaimed "unprecedented among the leaders of Central and South American nations Over and over the U.S. came to General Noriega for assistance," when it served "our national interest to use that relationship in times of crisis."
Some evidence to support that contention came from Thomas Telles, former head of the Drug Enforcement Agency's Panamanian office. He said that Noriega had promised to help the United States in identifying cartel members' bank accounts, monitoring movements of their money, and seizing the chemicals needed to make cocaine.
Further confirming Noriega's ties to U.S. policy was Donald Winters, Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Panama from 1984 to 1986. Over a period of 15 years, he said, Noriega provided Washington with considerable information about Fidel Castro, information deemed so useful that then CIA Director William Casey made a personal visit in 1984 to thank the Panamanian dictator. Asked to characterize the nature of the meeting, Winters said, "I would describe it as something more substantial than a courtesy call."
Throughout the trial Noriega remained impassive and largely silent, He did not take the stand in his own defense. After almost seven months, closing arguments finally began on March 31, 1992. Describing Noriega as "nothing more than a corrupt, crooked and rotten cop [who] sold his uniform, his army and his protection to a murderous criminal gang called the Medellin cocaine cartel," Assistant U.S. Attorney Myles Malman said that Noriega had been responsible for polluting U.S. streets with "tons and tons of a deadly white powder." Malman admitted that many of the prosecution witnesses were less than model citizens, but as he put it, law enforcement officials must use "small fish" to catch "big fish" and Noriega was "the biggest fish of all."
It was an argument bitterly denounced by Frank Rubino. "This indictment stinks," he told the jurors, "It stinks like dead fish. It smells from here to Washington." The case against Noriega, he said, was predicated solely on the theory that "if you throw enough mud against a wall, some of it will stick." He zeroed in on the more than 20 prosecution witnesses already convicted of drug offenses. "They are the scum of the earth. These people are disgusting. What kind of morals do these people have?" He reserved his most acerbic condemnation for Carlos Ledher Rivas, whom he called "the Charles Manson of this case."
Over five difficult and often stormy days, the jury deliberated. At one point the recalcitrance of a single juror threatened to bring about a mistrial, but on April 9 they found Noriega guilty on eight charges, while acquitting him of two.
Two months later, Judge Hoeveler sentenced Noriega to 40 years imprisonment.
In the years since his conviction, Noriega has maintained that he was not given a fair trial. In 1996, he appealed his conviction on the basis that a key witness had been bribed to testify against him. Noriega's attorneys sought a new trial based on the revelation that a key government witness connected to the Cali drug cartel had been paid $1.25 million to testify against Noriega. However, a federal judge ruled that Noriega was not entitled to a new trial.
Noriega was not deterred by this ruling. In 1997, he returned to the public spotlight when his book, America's Prisoner: The Memoirs of Manuel Noriega, was published. In the book, Noriega exposed covert dealings with the U.S. government, including dealings with Oliver North and former president George Bush. Still, the book did little to help Noriega's public image within the United States.
In 1999, Noriega's 40-year sentence was reduced to 30 years. He was eligible for parole in mid-2000.
In political, criminal, and economic terms, the trial of General Manuel Noriega is without equal. By some estimates it cost $168 million to convict him. More certain is the expense in American lives: 25 killed in the invasion. What impact Noriega's incarceration has on the flow of drugs into the United States remains to be seen.
—Colin Evans and
Suggestions for Further Reading
Booth, Cathy. "The Trial Of Manuel Noriega." The Los Angeles Daily Jouwrnal (April 7, 1992): 6ff.
Dinges, John. Our Man in Panama. New York: Random House, 1990.
Kempe, Frederick. Divorcing the Dictator. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1990.
Koster, R. Medellin and Guillermo Sanchez. In the Time of the Tyrants. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1990.
McDonald, Marci. "Threat Of The Beast." Maclean's (September 16, 1991): 22ff.
Noriega, Manuel, and Peter Eisner. America's Prisoner: The Memoirs of Manuel Noriega. New York: Acacia Press, 1997.
Manuel A. Noriega
Manuel A. Noriega
First a friend, then an enemy of the United States, Manuel A. Noriega (born 1934), the strongman of Panama, was finally deposed by a U.S. military invasion, captured, and brought to Miami for trial in 1989.
Manuel Antonio Noriega was born the son of an accountant and his maid in a poor barrio of Panama City in 1934. At the age of five he was given up for adoption to a schoolteacher. He attended the National Institute, a well-regarded high school, with the intention of becoming a doctor, but a lack of financial resources prevented fulfillment of this career choice. Instead, Noriega accepted a scholarship to attend the Peruvian Military Academy. He graduated in 1962 with a degree in engineering. Returning to Panama, he was commissioned a sub-lieutenant in the National Guard and assigned to a unit at Colon, the city lying near the Caribbean terminus of the Panama Canal.
Colonel Omar Torrijos liked Noriega and obtained for him the command of Chiriqui, the country's westernmost province. In October 1968, military conspirators overturned the civilian government of Arnulfo Arias (twice before turned out by coups). Noriega's troops seized radio and telephone stations in David, the provincial capital, and thus severed communications with the capital. Torrijos emerged from the coup as the strongman. In December 1969, when Torrijos was out of the country, a trio of rebellious officers tried to seize power, but Torrijos flew into David. The airport had no facilities for night landing, but Noriega lined up motorcars alongside the runway and Torrijos made it safely down. With Noriega's troops at his service, Torrijos retook the capital.
From that moment, Noriega's career blossomed. In 1971 he became useful to U.S. intelligence and, at the behest of the Nixon administration, went to Havana to obtain the release of crewmen of two American freighters seized by Fidel Castro's government. He was also already involved in narcotics trafficking. (Panama's National Guard had been implicated in the heroin trade from the late 1940s.) American officials learned that Noriega was the Panama "connection," and a high-ranking drug enforcement officer recommended that the president order his assassination, but Nixon demurred. Noriega was useful to U.S. counterintelligence. As head of G-2, Panama's military intelligence command, Noriega was the second most powerful man in Panama. In 1975 G-2 agents rounded up businessmen critical of Torrijos' dictatorial populist style, confiscated their property, and sent them into exile in Ecuador. Torrijos once said of him, "This is my gangster."
Torrijos died in 1981 in a mysterious plane crash. In the ensuing two-year contest for power between civilian politicians and ambitious military officers, Noriega emerged triumphant. In late 1983, following his promotion to general and commander of the National Guard, the guard was combined with the navy and air force into the Panama Defense Forces (which also included the national police). The following year Noriega's choice for president, Nicolás Ardito Barletta, won a narrow victory over Arnulfo Arias. But there was widespread fraud in the election. Barletta tried manfully to grapple with the country's growing economic woes, he failed, and Noriega forced him out. (Panama had received no windfall from the canal treaties Torrijos had negotiated with President Jimmy Carter.)
The reason had less to do with Barletta's economic policies than his alleged threat to investigate the brutal slaying of Hugo Spadafora, who had publicly accused Noriega of being a drug trafficker. G-2 agents had taken him from a bus near the Costa Rican border. In September 1985 searchers found his tortured, decapitated body stuffed in a U.S. mailbag on the Costa Rican side of the border. In June 1986 journalist Seymour Hersh reported that U.S. Defense Intelligence agents had evidence implicating Noriega in Spadafora's death and, just as disturbing, that in the mid-1970s Noriega had obtained National Security Agency classified material from a U.S. Army sergeant and had given it to the Cubans. In addition, Hersh wrote, Noriega had used his position to facilitate sale of restricted U.S. technology to Eastern European governments. In the process, he had earned $3 million.
Noriega denounced these and other allegations as a conspiracy of right-wing U.S. politicians looking for a way to undo the Panama Canal treaties before the canal became Panamanian property on December 31, 1999. It was becoming evident that Noriega had outfoxed his U.S. benefactors. During the Reagan administration's covert war against the government of Nicaragua, Noriega helped to supply arms to the Nicaraguan resistance called the Contras (Congress prohibited any expenditures to bring down the Nicaraguan government). At the same time, he received arms from Cuba and sold them to Salvadoran leftist guerrillas and supplied Nicaraguan leaders with intelligence reports. Although Noriega was a gun-runner, money-launderer, drug trafficker, and double agent, he was still useful to the U.S. government.
The furor caused by the Hersh articles diminished but revived in June 1987 when Noriega's former chief of staff, Colonel Roberto Diaz Herrera (forced into retirement), stated that Noriega had fixed the 1984 election and ordered Spadafora's killing. He also implicated Noriega in the death of Torrijos. Middle-class Panamanians organized street demonstrations, demanding his ouster. Noriega responded by declaring a national emergency. He suspended constitutional rights, closed newspapers and radio stations, and drove his political enemies into exile. A special riot squad— nicknamed "the Dobermans"—laid siege to the home of Diaz Herrera, who was captured and compelled to recant. Church leaders, businessmen, and students organized into the National Civil Crusade, dressed in white, and went into the streets banging pots and pans. The riot squads dispersed them. By now Americans were outraged, and in June 1987 the U.S. Senate called for Noriega's removal. Noriega retaliated by removing police protection from the U.S. embassy. A pro-Noriega mob attacked the building and caused $100,000 in damages.
From that day, the administration of President Ronald Reagan began looking for a way to bring Noriega down. U.S. economic aid and military assistance ended. Noriega lamented that his erstwhile friends in Washington were deserting him. Panamanian bankers began withdrawing their support—Torrijos had transformed the country into an international banking center—and Noriega rapidly lost favor everywhere save for the Panama Defense Forces. The American strategy was to induce discontented officers in the PDF to overturn him. In this way the United States would rid itself of Noriega but not be saddled with a leftist successor to him.
Secret negotiations between U.S. officials and Noriega's representatives called for him to resign and leave the country before the 1988 U.S. presidential election, thus saving George Bush, who as director of the Central Intelligence Agency had dealt with Noriega, from embarrassing revelations in the campaign. There were dark rumors that Noriega was prepared to name high U.S. officials also involved in money-laundering and drug smuggling. As matters turned out, the Justice Department filed indictments against Noriega in federal court in early 1988, which was intended as a warning. Assistant Secretary of State Eliot Abrams went to Panama in a futile effort to get President Eric Del Valle to fire Noriega. Instead, Noriega forced out Del Valle and named a puppet president, Manuel Solis Palma.
Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis tried to make an issue of the "Noriega connection" in the 1988 U.S. presidential campaign, but Bush suffered no apparent damage. After assuming office, President Bush increased pressure. Economic sanctions severely hurt Noriega but did not bring him down. In May 1989 Noriega declined to run in the election but chose yet another puppet candidate, Carlos Duque. The opposition Panameñista Party nominated Guillermo Endara. Sensing opportunity, the Bush administration provided Endara with $10 million. Former President Jimmy Carter and other foreign representatives went to Panama to monitor the election. But as soon as Noriega realized that Duque was losing, he ordered the PDF to seize ballot boxes. When the opposition took to the streets in protest, "dignity battalions" of Noriega goons assaulted them. Endara and a vice-presidential candidate, Guillermo Ford, were severely beaten.
Noriega declared the election void, installed another puppet as provisional president, and, in October 1989, survived a coup hatched among discontented PDF officers and openly supported by U.S. forces. In the aftermath, Noriega was vengeful and boastful; President Bush, humiliated. In this despair over the nation's declining international image and concern that Noriega was in a position to name a crony as canal administrator, Bush acted. Using as pretext Noriega's declaration that U.S. actions had created a virtual state of war, fear that Noriega would jeopardize the security of the canal (which was untrue), and the firing on U.S. soldiers passing the PDF headquarters, the United States launched a full-scale attack (Operation Just Cause) with 24,000 troops on December 20, 1989.
Fighting continued for four days, at times heavy, with U.S. casualties running into the hundreds and Panamanian into the thousands. Noriega evaded capture for a few days but ultimately took refuge in the Papal Nunciature. Under pressure from Vatican officials, Noriega surrendered to the Vatican Embassy in Panama City on January 3, 1990. In a deal worked out with the U.S.-created government headed by Guillermo Endara, U.S. authorities brought Noriega to Miami for trial. However, legal obstacles and technicalities delayed the trial into the early 1990s. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking, racketeering and money laundering. He was sentenced to 40 years in a Miami prison, and was ordered to pay $ 44 million to the Panamanian government. The trial was not without controversy, however. In late 1995 charges of bribery were brought about. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was told that the Cali drug cartel had paid a witness, Ricardo Bilonik, to testify about Noriega's ties to the Medellin cartel, Cali's rival. Federal prosecutors have determined that the bribery charges are not enough to justify a new trial.
For more on Manuel Noriega consult Steven Ropp, Panamanian Politics: From Guarded Nation to National Guard (1982); Walter LaFeber, The Panama Canal (1978); David Farnsworth and James W. McKenney, U.S.-Panamanian Relations, 1903-1978 (1983); William C. Jorden, Panama Odyssey: From Colony to Partner (1983); Frederick Kempe, Divorcing the Dictator: America's Bungled Affair with Noriega (1990); and, especially, John Dinges, Our Man in Panama: How General Noriega Used the United States—and Made Millions in Drugs and Arms (1990). □
First a friend, then an enemy of the United States, Manuel Noriega, the strongman of Panama, was finally taken down by a U.S. military operation, captured, and brought to Miami for trial on drug charges in 1989.
Manuel Antonio Noriega was born the son of an accountant and his maid in a poor section of Panama City, Panama, in 1934. At the age of five he was given up for adoption to a schoolteacher. He attended the National Institute, a well-regarded high school, with the intention of becoming a doctor, but his family could not afford to send him to medical school. Instead, Noriega accepted a scholarship to attend the Chorrios Military Academy in Peru. He graduated in 1962 with a degree in engineering. Returning to Panama, he became a sublieutenant in the National Guard.
Colonel Omar Torrijos (1929–1981) liked Noriega and obtained for him the command of Chiriqui, the country's westernmost province. In October 1968, they led a military takeover of the government of President Arnulfo Arias. Noriega's troops seized radio and telephone stations in the city of David, cutting off communications with Panama City. Torrijos emerged as the major figure in the new government. In December 1969, when Torrijos was out of the country, a trio of officers tried to seize power. Torrijos flew his plane into an airport in David that had no lights for night landing. Noriega lined up cars along the runway with their lights on to help Torrijos make it down safely. With Noriega's troops at his service, Torrijos reclaimed the capital.
From that moment, Noriega's career blossomed. He became involved with U.S. intelligence activities. In 1971 he went to Havana, Cuba, at the request of U.S. president Richard Nixon (1911–1994) to obtain the release of crewmen of two American ships seized by Fidel Castro's (1927–) government. At this time Noriega was already involved in drug deals. A high-ranking drug enforcement officer recommended that President Nixon order Noriega's assassination, but Nixon did not follow through. As head of G-2, Panama's military intelligence command, Noriega was the second most powerful man in Panama. In 1975 G-2 agents rounded up businessmen who criticized Torrijos, took away their property, and sent them into exile in Ecuador. Torrijos once said of Noriega, "This is my gangster."
Increase in power
Torrijos died in 1981 in an unexplained plane crash. In the following two-year contest for power between politicians and military officers, Noriega emerged as the winner. In late 1983, following his promotion to general and commander of the National Guard, the guard was combined with the navy and air force into the Panama Defense Forces (which also included the national police). The following year Noriega's choice for president, Nicolás Ardito Barletta, won a narrow victory over Arnulfo Arias. But Barletta failed to improve the country's weak economy (system of production, distribution, and use of goods and services), and Noriega forced him out. Noriega at this time began to be suspected of gun trafficking (smuggling), money laundering, torture, murder, and selling U.S. information and technology to Cuba and Eastern European governments. Noriega denied wrongdoing and said U.S. politicians were looking for a way to undo the Panama Canal treaties before the canal became Panamanian property on December 31, 1999.
In June 1987 Noriega's former chief of staff, Colonel Roberto Diaz Herrera, stated that Noriega had fixed the 1984 election and ordered the killing of Hugo Spadafora, who had publicly accused Noriega of drug trafficking. Herrera also said Noriega had been involved in Torrijos's death. Panamanians organized protests demanding the removal of Noriega. He responded by declaring a national emergency. He suspended constitutional rights, closed newspapers and radio stations, and drove his political enemies into exile. Herrera was captured and ordered to recant (take back) his statements. Church leaders, businessmen, and students organized into the National Civil Crusade, dressed in white, and went into the streets banging pots and pans. The riot squads drove them away.
United States steps in
By now Americans were outraged, and in June 1987 the U.S. Senate called for Noriega's removal. The administration of President Ronald Reagan (1911–) began looking for a way to bring Noriega down. The U.S. economic and military assistance ended, Panamanian bankers began withdrawing their support, and Noriega quickly lost favor everywhere except for the Panama Defense Forces (PDF). Secret talks were held between U.S. officials and Noriega's representatives calling for him to resign and leave the country before the 1988 U.S. presidential election, saving George Bush (1924–), who as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had dealt with Noriega, from embarrassment. The Justice Department filed charges against Noriega in federal court in early 1988 as a warning. Assistant Secretary of State Eliot Abrams went to Panama to get President Eric Del Valle to fire Noriega. Instead, Noriega forced out Del Valle and named a new president.
After taking over as president, Bush increased the pressure. In May 1989 Noriega decided not to run in the election but backed another candidate, Carlos Duque. The opposition Panameñista Party nominated Guillermo Endara, who was immediately provided with $10 million by the Bush administration. Even though the election was being watched by former President Jimmy Carter (1924–) and other foreign officials, as soon as Noriega realized that Duque was losing, he ordered the PDF to seize ballot boxes. When the opposition took to the streets in protest, Noriega's squads beat them. Endara and a vice presidential candidate, Guillermo Ford, lost the election.
Noriega declared the election void (having no legal force or effect), installed another president, and, in October 1989, survived a takeover attempt supported by U.S. forces. To improve the nation's international image and to prevent Noriega from naming one of his people as administrator of the Panama Canal, Bush took stronger action. Using as an excuse the firing on U.S. soldiers passing the PDF headquarters and Noriega's statement that U.S. actions had created a state of war, the United States launched a full-scale attack (Operation Just Cause) with twenty-four thousand troops on December 20, 1989.
Fighting continued for four days, with the United States losing hundreds of troops and the Panamanians losing thousands. Noriega escaped capture for a few days but was found hiding in the Papal Nunciature, a religious office. Under pressure from Vatican officials, Noriega surrendered to the Vatican Embassy in Panama City on January 3, 1990. In a deal worked out with the U.S.-created government headed by Guillermo Endara, U.S. authorities brought Noriega to Miami for trial, which was delayed into the early 1990s. He was convicted of several crimes including cocaine smuggling. He was sentenced to forty years in a Miami prison and ordered to pay $44 million to the Panamanian government. In 1999 a French court sentenced Noriega and his wife to ten years in jail along with a $33 million fine. Also in 1999 the Panamanian high court announced that it would seek to have Noriega returned to that country to make sure he served time there for murder.
In 2002 a parole hearing took place in Miami, which resulted in Noriega's denial for early release from his U.S. prison sentence. He would remain in prison in the United States for at least five more years.
For More Information
Dinges, John. Our Man in Panama: How General Noriega Used the United States and Made Millions in Drugs and Arms. New York: Random House, 1990.
Harris, David. Shooting the Moon: The True Story of an American Manhunt Unlike Any Other, Ever. Boston: Little, Brown, 2001.
Kempe, Frederick. Divorcing the Dictator: America's Bungled Affair with Noriega. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1990.
Noriega, Manuel, and Peter Eisner. America's Prisoner: The Memoirs of Manuel Noriega. New York: Random House, 1997.
Though suspected by the DEA of collusion with Colombian drug lords, Noriega proved immensely useful to the United States. He guaranteed a safe haven for the shah of Iran, who went into exile in 1979; then, in 1983, he agreed to help the counterrevolutionary Nicaraguan Contras destabilize the Sandinista government. He also worked closely, though selectively, with the DEA—all the while enhancing his own power.
By late 1989, in the wake of the Iran‐Contra Affair, Noriega's usefulness as a security asset had ended. President George Bush attempted various measures to undermine his regime and finally, following a contested election in Panama, sent in U.S. forces to overthrow the Panamanian dictator on the immediate grounds that Noriega had authorized hostile acts against U.S. military personnel. Subsequently, a U.S. court convicted Noriega on money‐laundering and other charges related to drug trafficking. July 1992, he was sentenced to forty years in a U.S. prison.
[See also Caribbean and Latin America, U.S. Military Involvement in the; Panama, U.S. Military Involvement in.]
John Dinges , Our Man in Panama, 1990.
R. M. Koster and and Guillermo Sánchez , In the Time of the Tyrants, 1990.
William O. Walker III
Noriega, Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio Noriega (mänwĕl´ äntō´nyō nôryā´gə), 1938–, Panamanian general. Commander of the Panamanian Defense Forces from 1983, Noriega consolidated the strong-armed rule inherited from Gen. Omar Torrijos Herrera, and became the de facto leader of Panama. A one-time operative for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, he was implicated in drug trafficking, the sale of U.S. secrets to Cuba, and other illegal activities. U.S. officials urged him to step down (Jan., 1988), but he refused. Following the murder of a U.S. marine on the streets of Panama City, President George H. W. Bush ordered troops to Panama (Dec., 1989). Noriega was captured and brought to the United States for trial. He was convicted (1992) on charges of racketeering, money laundering, and drug trafficking and served 17 years in prison. France moved to extradite Noriega after his sentence ended, but he remained in U.S. custody until 2010, unsuccessfully fighting extradition. Convicted in France of money laundering, he was extradited in 2011 to Panama, where he had been convicted in absentia of corruption and murder, to serve his sentences there.