Manuel Noriega
by Scott Jackson

1) Profile of Noriega

Manuel Noriega was born February 11, 1934 in Panama City. He came from a poor family so when the time came for an education, he accepted a scholarship to Chorillos Military Academy in Peru. While there, he was tasked with providing intelligence to US Military personnel. This was the start of his involvement with the United States. In 1962 he entered the PNG and began a slow rise through it's ranks. However, in 1968 he participated in the coup which overthrew Arnulfo Arias and installed Omar Herrera who promoted him to lieutenant Colonel. From that time until 1981, Noriega became Herrera's most prominent asset providing intelligence and political security for him. His G-2 intelligence group intimidated and even killed political opponents of Herrera's regime. Then, in 1981, Herrera died in a helicopter crash and Noriega, through his advanced intelligence training and drug trafficking, made a move for power. By 1983 he had reorganized the government into a military regime administrated by the new PDF, which he controlled. From 1983 until 1986, when he was removed from the CIA Payroll, he provided less intelligence to the US and engaged in more drug trafficking, as well as cooperating with the communist regimes of Cuba and the Soviet Union. After 1986 he refused several times to put Panama back in control of the people and halt his drug activities. By 1988 the US had imposed economic sanctions on Panama and indicted Noriega on drug charges. The US hoped that the 1989 presidential elections would ease tensions if the Panamanian people voted out Noriega. It should have. Instead, Noriega committed Voter Fraud and used the PDF to keep power. Finally, on December 15, tensions came to a head after Noriega was declared president and the PDF killed a US Marine. Five days later on December 20, 1989 the US launched Operation Just Cause which was a night-time invasion involving some 26,000 troops. On January 3, 1990 Noriega surrendered to US forces and was taken into custody. He was convicted of his crimes against Panama and the rest of the region in a Florida court in 1992 and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

2) Audio/Visual/Artistic Element

Even as a child, Noriega was very ambitious and commanding. He loved taking on leadership roles and running activities just the way he liked them. These qualities stayed with him well into both his military and political life. In the PNG he quickly gained prominence thanks to his willingness to take more direct action alongside other Panamanian revolutionaries. Noriega rarely ever sat on the sidelines and before long became a master of manipulation and intelligence gathering. These skills furthered his ambitions and set the stage for his stint in Panamanian politics. Upon seizing power in Panama, Noriega didn't hesitate to articulate a false sense of security and representation for which to sell his government to the people as. During his six years as dictator he constantly spoke to the people as if he was on an even level with them and through Ultra-nationalist speeches turned most of their focus outward, specifically at the United States. Noriega manipulated his people into seeing the Americans, since they still controlled the Panama Canal, as the threat that needed to be disposed of rather, of course, than himself. Radical accusations and then actions against the US would prove to be his downfall as Noriega who, like all dictators, also possessed the quality of extreme Vanity. No one is invincible.  

3) Creative Piece

Dear PDF recipient,

I hope everything is going smoothly for my riot squads since I've been the cause of some of them recently. I'm sure it's nothing you can't handle, after all I should know since I trained you! You'll all be exited to hear the war against America is going well. So far they haven't left the Canal Zone, which we want! In case your wondering, your equipment was funded through the drug trade. I just thought you might want to know that. It's not relevant but as I enter my sixth year as your leader I just wanted to be honest with you. With that said I need you to back me up because I just committed voter fraud. What can I say, I love you and Panama too much!


Manuel Noriega                                                                                                           

4) Essential Question

Had Manuel Noriega never come to power, how would things like the Canal Zone and America's war on drugs have factored into US-Panamanian relations then and now?