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Noriega, Manuel

The Oxford Companion to American Military History

William O. Walker

Noriega, Manuel 

(1936–), Panamanian general and dictator.

A Creole born of humble origins in Panama City, Manuel Noriega was an opportunist who joined Panama's National Guard in 1962. As a protégé of Panamanian leader Omar Torrijos, Noriega took classes at the U.S. Army School of the Americas in the Canal Zone. In August 1970, he became commander of G2, the Guard's intelligence branch. G2 maintained close ties with U.S. Army Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Soon after Torrijos's death in 1981, General Noriega became the most powerful man in Panama.

Though suspected by the DEA of collusion with Colombian drug lords, Noriega proved immensely useful to the United States. He guaranteed a safe haven for the shah of Iran, who went into exile in 1979; then, in 1983, he agreed to help the counterrevolutionary Nicaraguan Contras destabilize the Sandinista government. He also worked closely, though selectively, with the DEA—all the while enhancing his own power.

By late 1989, in the wake of the Iran‐Contra Affair, Noriega's usefulness as a security asset had ended. President George Bush attempted various measures to undermine his regime and finally, following a contested election in Panama, sent in U.S. forces to overthrow the Panamanian dictator on the immediate grounds that Noriega had authorized hostile acts against U.S. military personnel. Subsequently, a U.S. court convicted Noriega on money‐laundering and other charges related to drug trafficking. July 1992, he was sentenced to forty years in a U.S. prison.

[See also Caribbean and Latin America, U.S. Military Involvement in the; Panama, U.S. Military Involvement in.]


John Dinges, Our Man in Panama, 1990.Find this resource:

    R. M. Koster and Guillermo Sánchez, In the Time of the Tyrants, 1990.Find this resource:

      William O. Walker III