Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno was born on 11 February 1934 in Panama City. Noriega is most famous for being a Panamanian general and dictator. He ruled over Panama from 1983 until 1989. However, he was never the official president of the country. Instead, he asserted an iron grip as the country’s de facto military head.
Manuel Noriega attended the Military School of Chorrillos in Lima, Peru. Following his education, he became a career soldier. In 1967, he served with the National Guard. He became a lieutenant in the late 1960s.
Following the removal of Arnulfo Arias, the country's civilian leader, from power, Manuel Noriega supported his mentor, Omar Torrijos, helping him through military struggles. Torrijos rewarded him by making him lieutenant colonel, as well as appointing him Chief of Military Intelligence. In performing his duties, he led a campaign, that has been described as ruthless, against Western Panama guerrillas. Further, it is said that he was responsible for the disappearances of a number of political individuals. Telling a far different story, Manuel Noriega often stated that he arranged amnesty for hundreds of guerrilla fighters, allowing them to go back to Panama after being exiled in other countries.
In 1981, Omar Torrijos perished in an aircraft accident. It is rumored that Noriega planted a bomb on the plane, causing the crash. Torrijos was replaced by Ruben Dario Pareds, and Noriega was promoted to Chief of Staff. Though Paredes had been commander of the Panamanian Defense Forces, he gave up his post to Noriega in order to run for president. Noriega later reneged on his part of the deal to have Paredes make a bid for the presidency, and in 1983, Noriega gave himself the title of general.
At first, Manuel Noriega enjoyed a good relationship with the United States, nurturing a strong alliance between the two countries. He even worked for the Central Intelligence Agency for about 10 years, beginning in the 1970s. Though it has not been proven, it is said that he played a role in the 1968 coup against Arnulfo Arias, successfully removing Arias from leadership. Noriega, however, said that he was never involved in the coup.
Over the years, Manuel Noriega was known for fixing elections and stamping out protests that did not meet with his political agendas. However, he maintained the support of the United States until 1989, when the Drug Enforcement Administration had him indicted for federal drug charges. In the years that followed, his relationship with the United States steadily declined and attempts were made to remove him from power. In 1989, George H. W. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama. Noriega responded by fleeing to Apostolic Nunciature, the Holy See's embassy in Panama.
United States troops set up camp around the building and attempted to force him out by playing hard-rock music and the Howard Stern Show continuously. A few days later, a Panamanian crowd of thousands staged a demonstration, demanding Noriega's surrender. Also dealing with pressure from the Vatican, Manuel Noriega surrendered on 3 January 1990. He was taken to the United States, tried, and sentenced to 40 years in prison. He was also fined millions in United States dollars.