On this day in January 1990, the once defiant Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was being led away in handcuffs by DEA agents. He was placed on an American C-130, before being whisked off to Miami to face drug charges.
It was a stunning end for Panama’s strongman and head of a drug-dealing empire, who had been seduced by power and fell prey to living with the excesses of a dictator.
Noriega was born poor but was able to get a commission in the Panamanian National Guard. There, he became a protégé of Omar Torrijos, the future dictator. Noriega moved up the ranks and became head of the intelligence service where he kept detailed files on members of the military, government, and the judiciary.
Very early on, Noriega was recruited by the CIA to provide frequent updates on communist activities in the region. But, as the CIA soon learned, Noriega was also selling information to the Cuban government. And as much as Torrijos worked to prove Panama wasn’t involved in drug dealing, Noriega was heavily involved in it. As early as 1971, the U.S. government had enough evidence to indict him but chose not to because of the political ramifications.