Former dictator Manuel Noriega dies at 83
(CNN) Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian dictator and convicted drug trafficker who was once one of Central America's most notorious military strongmen, has died, according to a tweet by Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela on his verified Twitter account.
Noriega, 83, had undergone surgery in a Panama City hospital on March 7 to remove a benign brain tumor. He was placed in a medically induced coma after suffering severe brain hemorrhaging during the surgery, his attorney told CNN affiliate TV Panama at the time.
Noriega, once on friendly terms with the United States because of his country's location on the Panama Canal, became a US target as relations deteriorated. The United States invaded Panama in 1989 and Noriega was convicted of drug charges in 1991. He spent almost 20 years in US prisons before extradition to France and, ultimately, back to Panama.
Noriega was born on February 11, 1934, in Panama City, Panama. Abandoned by his parents at age 5, Noriega was raised by his aunt until he left to pursue a career in the military.
He began his career as a lieutenant in the Panama National Guard and quickly rose in rank. Noriega served as head of military intelligence to Gen. Omar Torrijos, who seized power in a military coup in 1968. Torrijos died in a plane crash in 1981, and Noriega emerged as his successor. In 1983 Noriega took command of the Panamanian Army and installed himself as Panama's leader.
The country's location was critical to the United States because of its location on the Panama Canal, a key strategic and economic waterway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Due to this regional importance, the US had a vested interest in maintaining good relations with the Central American nation.
Despite the incentives to maintain these relations, the 1980s saw a breakdown between the two countries, with Washington cutting off economic and military assistance and freezing Panamanian government assets.
Noriega was the first foreign head of state to be convicted in a US court.
'Trial of the century'
In 1989, Noriega was indicted in the United States on charges of racketeering, laundering drug money and drug trafficking. He was accused of having links to Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar's notorious Medellin cartel and, in the process, amassing a multimillion-dollar fortune.
Amid growing unrest in Panama, US President George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama -- codenamed "Operation Just Cause" -- in December 1989, saying Noriega's rule posed a threat to US lives and property.
With more than 20,000 US troops on Panamanian soil, Noriega took refuge in the Vatican embassy in Panama City for 10 days, eventually surrendering to US Drug Enforcement Administration officials on January 3, 1990 after US troops had surrounded the compound with loudspeakers playing deafening rock music.
Noriega's trial in 1991 was dubbed the drugs "trial of the century" by the US Drug Enforcement Administration and eventually saw him found guilty on eight counts and sentenced to 40 years in jail.