Ex-Panamanian Dictator Manuel Noriega was indicted on drug trafficking charges following the US invasion of Panama in 1989. Evidence of his involvement in drug trafficking, however, goes back to the 1950’s when the United States was his supporter.
Manuel Noriega was a career soldier, who through opportunistic support during the revolution in the late 1960’s and a possible assassination, has become the de facto leader of Panama by the early 1980’s. His involvement with the American CIA goes back to the late 1950’s. By the time of the 1989 invasion of Panama, Noriega had become a key player in the Medellin Cartel. After his arrest, he was convicted in 1992 on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering. He was released in 2007 and extradited to France, who in 2010 sentenced him to another ten years.
1992 was not the first time Noriega had been indicted on drug charges. In 1971 the DEA accused Noriega of being involved of drug trafficking, but was prevented from taking action by the CIA. Noriega was protected because he was instrumental in allowing the CIA to run the Iran-Contra Affair from his country. Between 1960 and 1980 Noriega was paid a $100,000 annual salary by the CIA. Due to his outstanding work for them in 1980, he was given a raise to $200,000. During the time that Noriega was considered a CIA asset, the head of the CIA was the none other than future President George Bush who invaded Panama only a few years later. Just one year before the invasion of Panama, the Senate released a report claiming “it is clear that each U.S. government agency which had a relationship with Noriega turned a blind eye to his corruption and drug dealing.”
The biggest justification for the 1989 invasion of Panama was a 1988 indictment by the DEA on drug charges. Considering the CIA shielded Noriega from these same charges just years before the invasion makes this justification laughable. The true motivations behind the invasion were rooted in the 1977 Torrijos-Carter Treaties which provided for the turning over of the Panama Canal Zone. After the invasion and ousting of Noriega, subsequent administrations have extended the US occupation of the Canal Zone and disarmament of the Panamanian military.
While in the United States the invasion was widely supported, it was received almost universal condemnation from the international community. The United Nations voted 75-20 to condemn the invasion as a violation of international law. A UN resolution demanding the withdrawal was defeated by the veto power of the United States. The Organization of American States passed a similar resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of American troops. Most likely the reasons for the invasion are many and varied. Drug trafficking may well have been one reason among many, but to claim it was THE reason is simply not true. President Bush, who ordered the invasion, had only a year before supported and funded General Noriega with full knowledge of his drug operations.