Manuel Noriega, ex-Panamanian dictator, dies at 83

Noriega, 83, had undergone surgery in a Panama City hospital on March 7 to remove a benign brain tumor.

Panama's former dictator, Manuel Noriega, died in Panama City late Monday, physically diminished after decades of imprisonment for crimes committed during his 1983-1989 rule.

Manuel Noriega, the military strongman with ties to drug trafficking who ruled Panama before being brought down by a US invasion in 1989 and 1990, has died.

Varela tweeted that the death of Manuel A Noriega closes a chapter in their history. He was later appointed as chief of military intelligence by Torrijos.

Citing the 1990 book, "In the Time of the Tyrants" by journalists Richard Koster and Guillermo Borbon, The New York Times reports that while passing secrets about Cuba to the U.S., Mr. Noriega sold the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro thousands of Panamanian passports, at $5,000 each.

-February 1988: Noriega charged in Miami and Tampa with ties to drug trafficking and money laundering. While he ensured the defense of the Panama Canal, he also forged alliances with drug lords, and facilitated trafficking of drugs into the USA, drawing the anger of the US government.

Manuel Noriega's wife, Felicidad Sieiro de Noriega, and the couple's three daughters, Thays Noriega, Sandra Noriega, and Lorena Noriega are survived by him.

But his increasingly brutal rule and drug dealings led the USA to seek his ouster.

But a statement from the Department of Communications notes that while Noriega was briefly declared head of government in 1989, that act that was subsequently ruled unconstitutional.

Just eight weeks before Noriega was charged by USA prosecutors, the agency still maintained there was insufficient evidence against him. When Escobar's group assassinated Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla in 1984, several drug lords in Escobar's network sought refuge across the border, allegedly under the protection of Noriega.

"The United States understood that Noriega is not the same man that was lieutenant colonel", Noriega told American filmmaker Oliver Stone, who interviewed him in a USA federal prison in 1993. He's taken to Florida to face drug charges.

Following Noriega's ouster Panama underwent huge changes, taking over the Panama Canal from US control in 1999, vastly expanding the waterway and enjoying a boom in tourism and real estate.

Due to be released on parole in 2007, Noriega held pending a decision on a French extradition request - a Paris court had convicted Noriega in absentia in 1999 on charges that he had laundered US$2.8 million in drug money by buying property in France.

Per an earlier indictment in USA courts, Noriega was taken to Florida to stand trial.

"Before the altar of my conscience I've come to express myself in the spirit of forgiveness", Noriega said. "The Panamanian people have already overcome this period of dictatorship".

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