May 30 (UPI) — Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega, who recently underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor, has died at the age of 83, President Juan Carlos Varela said
“Death of Manuel A. Noriega closes a chapter in our history; his daughters and his family deserve a funeral in peace,” Carlos Varela wrote late Monday on Twitter.
Noriega had been imprisoned since December 2011 in Panama on a 60-year sentence on an array of charges including murder, corruption and environmental crimes. He previously spent 21 years in French and U.S. prisons for drug trafficking and money laundering.
In January, a Panamanian court authorized house arrest for Noriega so he could undergo brain surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. Noriega had the surgery in March, which led to brain hemorrhaging.
Noriega, who ruled from 1983-89, had multiple strokes, which caused urological and neurological damage. He underwent medical examinations every two months while imprisoned.
Manuel Domínguez, the secretariat for Panama’s Ministry of Communication, said Noriega died late Monday in Panama City’s Hospital Santo Tomás, where he remained in the intensive care unit until his death, TVN Noticias reported.
Noriega was born in Panama City on Feb. 11, 1934. He later studied at a Peruvian military academy prior to entering the Panama National Guard, where he climbed the ranks to the position of head of military intelligence for Gen. Omar Torrijos, who seized power in a 1968 coup d’etat.
Following a plane crash that killed Torrijos in 1981, Noriega emerged as Torrijos’ successor and in 1983 Noriega seized command of the Panamanian army and established himself as the country’s military leader.
Noriega was involved with U.S. efforts to support forces who opposed Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, known as the Iran-Contra affair, which involved smuggling weapons and drugs.
Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in December 1989 — citing the dictatorship posed a threat to the United States — to remove Noriega, who after the invasion hid within the Vatican’s Embassy in Panama City for 10 days. He surrendered after U.S. forces surrounded the embassy with speakers and played loud pop and rock music non-stop.
The United States indicted Noriega on racketeering, laundering drug money and drug trafficking charges in 1989 and his trial took place in 1991. He was first sentenced to 40 years in jail but was later granted prisoner of war status after his trial due to his connections with the United States’ CIA and the sentence was reduced to 30 years.
Noriega was to be released in 2007 but the United States extradited him to France, where he was convicted in absentia in 1999. France, Panama and the United States in 2010 struck an extradition agreement that saw Noriega sent to Panama, where he was sentenced to 60 years.
In 2015, Noriega apologized by reading out a statement on Panamanian television.
“I apologize to anyone who feels offended, affected, harmed or humiliated by my actions or those of my superiors whilst carrying out orders, or those of my subordinates, during the time of my civilian and military government,” Noriega said.