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Panama's Manuel Noriega

By Kristina Lanier / January 28, 1999



Manuel Noriega was Panama's military leader from 1983 to 1989. He had been a paid CIA informant and was also on the United States Army's payroll from 1955 to 1986.

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But accusations of illegal activities surfaced in the early 1980s. In 1988, he was indicted on drug-trafficking and racketeering charges in the US.

Relations with the US further soured when Noriega annulled Panama's presidential election in May 1989 and declared himself head of state.

Citing drug charges and the killing of a US marine by Panamanian soldiers, President George Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in December 1989.

Noriega surrendered the following month and was brought to Miami for trial. He was convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering, and racketeering in 1992. He was given a 40-year prison sentence.

Many questions still surround his trial. Some allege that parts of the case were fabricated; they also call into question the prosecution's witnesses, many of whom were drug traffickers who received reduced sentences in exchange for their testimony.

Noriega is still in a federal prison in Florida, where he lives in a two-room isolation cell. His lawyers are appealing for a reduction of his prison term.