Former Panama dictator Manuel Noriega dies aged 83

He was serving a sentence for murder

Former Panama dictator Manuel Noriega dies aged 83

In this 1989 file photo, Panamanian military strongman General Manuel Noriega talks to reporters in Panama City | Image: AP/Press Association Images

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega has died at the age of 83, according to the country's current president.

Juan Carlos Varela announced the death of Noriega - who had brain surgery earlier this year - on Twitter on Monday night.

Noriega, who ruled Panama from 1983 to 1989, spied for the US Central Intelligence Agency until the United States invaded and toppled his corrupt government, ending a criminal career that saw him working with drug traffickers like Pablo Escobar.

He accused Washington of a "conspiracy" to keep him behind bars and linked his incarceration to his refusal to help with a US plan for toppling Nicaragua's leftist Sandanista government in the 1980s.

Mr Varela said Noriega's death marked the closing of a chapter in the country's history.

He added: "His daughters and his relatives deserve to mourn in peace."

The Central American strongman made world headlines as his relationship with Washington soured.

The falling out culminated in the US sending almost 28,000 troops to seize Panama City and capture Noriega after a house-to-house hunt.

This 1990 file photo shows deposed Panamanian General Manuel Antonio Noriega, serving a sentence in Miami for drug trafficking | Image: Anonymous/AP/Press Association Images

He spent the last three decades of his life in custody between the US, France and Panama for crimes ranging from murder to racketeering and drug-running.

He was serving a sentence for murder in Panama when he died.

In recent years he had suffered from various ailments including high blood pressure and bronchitis.

An operation in March aimed to remove a brain tumour but Noriega suffered a brain haemorrhage and had been in a coma since a second attempt at surgery.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Noriega died at about 11pm local time (5am Irish time) after his condition suddenly worsened.

He is survived by his wife, Felicidad, and three daughters, Lorena, Thays and Sandra.

With the knowledge of American officials, Noriega formed "the hemisphere's first narcokleptocracy", a US Senate subcommittee report said, calling him "the best example in recent US foreign policy of how a foreign leader is able to manipulate the United States to the detriment of our own interests".

Panama has undergone huge changes since Noriega was removed from power, taking over the Panama Canal from the US in 1999, vastly expanding the waterway and enjoying a tourism and property boom.