In 1989, the de facto Panamanian leader and dictator Manuel Noriega decided to take refuge in the diplomatic Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See while being chased down by US military officers. When Pope John Paul II refused to turn over the dictator, the army resorted to, depending on who you ask, violent and loud approach: they relentlessly blasted the Holy See… with rock-and-roll music day and night.

A De Facto Authoritarian Ruler of Panama

Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno was a de facto authoritarian ruler of Panama from 1983 to 1989 until he was caught. His rise to power began when in 1968, Commander of the Panamanian National Guard Omar Torrijos overthrew elected President Arnulfo Arias in a coup d’etat. Noriega was a supporter of Torrijos, and he was first appointed as captain after he proved his loyalty to him when at the end of 1969, a coup was launched against the leader and Noriega worked to make sure that Torrijos, who went to Mexico on vacation that time, would not lose his power. After 18 months, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and appointed as chief of military intelligence.

Jimmy Carter and General Omar Torrijos shake hands after signing the Panama Canal Treaty. (White House photo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1981, Torrijos negotiated the Torrijos-Carter Treaties that ensured control over the Panama Canal would pass to Panama after 18 years. The increasing militarization of the Panamanian government and its involvement in drug trafficking was overlooked by the Carter administration due to its interest in signing a new treaty that was being negotiated at that time, the Panama Canal treaty.

When Torrijos died in a plane crash on July 31, 1981, Florencio Flores Aguilar inherited the position but was soon removed in a quiet coup in March 1982. It was Ruben Paredes who took over while Noriega became a full colonel and chief of staff of the National Guard. In August 1983, Paredes handed over the position to Noriega, thinking that he would allow him to stand for president. Well, the joke’s on him because after assuming his new position, Noriega told Paredes that he was not going to do it. Thus, Noriega became the de facto dicatator of Panama.