PANAMA CITY: Panama’s former dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega, who died in Panama City late on Monday, was physically diminished after decades of imprisonment for crimes committed during his 1983-1989 rule.
Noriega, 83, passed away in the Panama City public Santo Tomas hospital where he had been recovering from early March surgery to remove a brain tumor, and a subsequent operation to clean up cerebral bleeding.
The announcement of his death was made by government communications secretary Manuel Dominguez.
“Mr. Noriega died tonight (late Monday),” Dominguez told AFP.
Noriega had been serving prison time for murder and forced disappearances during his dictatorship, and was being held in a prison cell overlooking the Panama Canal.
The ex-strongman had been granted temporary release on January 28 to undergo the medical procedure.
Following years of ill-health that included respiratory problems, prostate cancer and depression, Noriega’s family pleaded with authorities to him to serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest.
But the government rejected their appeals, and said Noriega would return to prison once he recovered from the brain tumor surgery.
Noriega was toppled in a December 1989 US military invasion.
After surrendering to US troops in January 1990, he was flown to the United States where he was convicted on drug trafficking and money laundering charges, and sentenced to prison.
In 2010 Noriega was sent to France, where he was convicted on money laundering charges.
The following year Noriega was extradited to Panama, where he was locked up for the 1985 murder of a political opponent, the 1989 murder of a military officer who attempted a coup against him, and for the massacre of soldiers rebelling against him.
Other cases were pending against him for the disappearance of people before he became dictator, back when he headed Panama’s National Guard.
In 2015, Noriega had apologized “to anybody who felt offended, affected, prejudiced or humiliated by my actions.
Here are some notable moments of Noriega’s life:
February 11, 1934: Noriega is born to a poor family in Panama City’s Guachimango district. He goes on to graduate from a military academy in Peru and embarks on a military career.
1968: Participates in a coup that ousts president Arnulfo Arias, and backs popular strongman general Omar Torrijos. Around this time Noriega reportedly goes onto the CIA’s payroll. Torrijos makes him chief of Panama’s military intelligence.
1983: Noriega takes command of the National Guard and becomes Panama’s de facto ruler, two years after Torrijos dies in a mysterious plane crash.
December 20, 1989: US forces invade Panama to oust Noriega, accusing him of drug trafficking. Noriega takes refuge in the Vatican embassy for 10 days, then surrenders to the US soldiers, who take him to the United States.
1992: A US court sentences Noriega to 40 years prison for drug trafficking. The sentence is later cut to 17 years.
April 2010: Noriega is extradited to France, where he faces charges of laundering $3 million from the Medellin drug cartel through French banks.
July 2010: A French court sentences Noriega to seven years in prison.
December 11, 2011: France extradites Noriega to Panama, where he was sentenced in absentia to three 20-year prison sentences for the murder of opponent Hugo Spadafora and military commander Moises Giroldi, and for killing rebellious soldiers trying to overthrow him in what became known as the Albrook massacre.
January 28, 2017: A Panama court agrees to temporarily release Noriega to house arrest to prepare for surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. The ex-dictator’s family and lawyers say he has suffered strokes, respiratory problems, prostate cancer and depression.
March 7, 2017: Doctors remove the brain tumor, but complications lead to cerebral bleeding. Following a second operation doctors put him in an induced coma.
May 29, 2017: Noriega dies at the San Tomas public hospital.