Manuel Noriega, ousted Panamanian dictator, dies at 83

FILE 2011 Manuel Noriega then 77 poses for

FILE 2011 Manuel Noriega then 77 poses for

The former military leader of Panama died at the age of 83 on Monday.

The former dictator had undergone an operation in March to remove a brain tumor but suffered a hemorrhage and had been in a coma since a second surgical intervention.

Deceased Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was said to have turned his country into one of the most emblematic examples of a "narco-state" in Latin American history, and his dealings with Colombia's biggest drug bosses laid the groundwork for Panama's role in the global drug trade for decades after his 1989 arrest by U.S. troops. In December 1989, President George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama. A poor but intelligent youth, his options were limited until a half-brother helped him join the military.

Noriega was a protege of General Omar Torrijos, who stole power in a military coup in 1968.

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.

But relations between Noriega and the USA turned sour by the late 1980s due to allegations of his own drug trafficking activities and his insistence on political independence. Opponents accused Noriega of killing political opponents and working with drug cartels, and the US eventually soured on him.

Noriega is survived by his wife, Felicidad, and three daughters. USA invaded the country in 1989 and ended his rule.

Just eight weeks before Noriega was charged by USA prosecutors, the agency still maintained there was insufficient evidence against him.

Noriega resurfaced on Christmas Eve, having taken refuge in the Vatican Embassy, and several days later he surrendered, and was taken to Miami.

-Aug. 12, 1983: Noriega assumes command of National Guard, which he will convert to Panama's Defense Forces. After the USA extradited him to France, a court there approved a request from Panama in December 2010 to send him back home, where he was convicted again. Noriega's 30-year conviction ended in 2007, but was extradited to France on murder charges.

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

"I feel like as Christians we all have to forgive", he said, reading from a handwritten statement.

A US Senate sub-committee once described Washington's relationship with Noriega as one of the United States' most serious foreign policy failures. When the people of the country rose in protest against his dictatorial methods, he declared a national emergency and shut down media outlets and sent his opponents on exile.

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