History, Noriega Dictatorship
Manuel Antonio Noriega, Colombian drug cartels, rigged elections, conservative forces, launder money
In the years after Torrijos’s death, civilian and National Guard leaders maneuvered for power. In 1983 a winner emerged: Manuel Antonio Noriega, former head of the intelligence service, became head of the National Guard and took power. Although he did not hold a political office, as commander of the military he controlled the government. Astute and ruthless, Noriega built up the size of the military, which he renamed the Panama Defense Forces, and greatly increased its power over the nation’s political life and its economy.
The Noriega years witnessed widespread corruption, repression of political opposition, and a troubled economy. Noriega made little pretense of following the constitution and rigged elections. Noriega was accused of ordering the torture and murder of a popular figure, Hugo Spadaforas, in 1985, but when Panama’s president promised to investigate, Noriega replaced him with another civilian. Noriega used the military to imprison, torture, and sometimes kill his opponents. Noriega also was linked to the international narcotics trade. He was accused of helping smuggle drugs and launder money for Colombian drug cartels.
Relations with the United States deteriorated. Noriega had been a longtime informant for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, and he helped U.S. officials supply arms to conservative forces in Nicaragua. But by the late 1980s, Noriega’s dictatorship and his alleged links to the international drug trade caused the United States to withdraw its support for his government. At the same time, street demonstrations began to occur regularly in Panama City.
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