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This Day in History: Panama’s General Manuel Antonio Noriega surrendered to US military to face Drug Trafficking Charges

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Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega is pictured in this January 4,1990 file photo. VOA

January 4, 2017: Twenty-seven years ago on January 3, Panama’s General Manuel Antonio Noriega surrendered to the United States military to face charges of drug trafficking.

The Panamanian military dictator finally gave up after hiding for 10 days at the Vatican embassy in Panama City where he fled after a U.S. military invasion. Crowds lined the streets of the capital the next day when Noriega was flown to Miami.

U.S. soldiers carry an American flag through the streets of Panama City as they celebrate with Panamanian citizens in Jan. 1990 following the surrender of Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega. VOA

In 1992, the former dictator was convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering in Miami, Florida, and sentenced to 40 years in prison. He made history again by becoming the first foreign head of state to be convicted in a U.S. court.

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Noriega was employed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency as an intelligence source from the 1950s, and remained on the CIA payroll until the late 1980’s. He was instrumental in transporting weapons, military equipment and cash to the U.S.-supported “contras” – a guerrilla force fighting against Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government. He also was a high-end seller of cocaine, though his U.S. handlers reportedly knew about this activity but looked the other way because of his value to their secret military operations.

Panama’s newly appointed President Manuel Solis Palma stands next to his friend General Manuel Antonio Noriega who appointed him during a rally in 1988. VOA

Noriega emerged as general of Panama’s military forces — and the de facto leader of the country — after the death of former leader General Omar Torrijos, who seized power in a 1968 coup.

Noriega’s rule was marked by corruption and violence. He also became a double agent, selling American intelligence secrets to Cuba and Eastern European governments. In 1987, when Panamanians organized protests against Noriega and demanded his ouster, he declared a national emergency, shut down radio stations and newspapers, and forced his political enemies into exile.

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That year the United States cut off aid to Panama and tried to get Noriega to resign; in 1988, the U.S. began considering the use of military action to put an end to his drug trafficking. Noriega voided the May 1989 presidential election, which included a U.S.-backed candidate.

In December, he declared a state of war with the United States. After an American marine was killed by Panamanian soldiers, then President George H.W. Bush authorized “Operation Just Cause.”

A United States soldier stands guard by a Christmas tree inside the house of Manual Noriega in Panama City, Dec. 23, 1989. U.S. troops are still searching for the deposed Panamanian leader. VOA

On December 20, 1989, 13,000 U.S. troops were sent to occupy Panama City, along with the 12,000 already stationed there in the Panama Canal Zone, and seize Noriega. During the invasion, 23 U.S. troops were killed in action and more than 300 were wounded.

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Noriega was sentenced to 40 years in prison, later reduced to 30 years, by a Miami court after being tried on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering. In 2010, Noriega was extradited to France to face charges there and then, a year later, he was sent to Panama where he is now in prison for the crimes committed during his rule. (VOA)

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Celebration in Panama City for its 500th anniversary

Panama City celebrates it with an enormous cake for 4,500 people

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Panama City is a financial center and it is known as the Latin American Miami. Pixabay

Panama City, the first Spanish settlement on the Pacific coast of North America, celebrated its 500th anniversary with an enormous cake for 4,500 people reminiscent of the ruins of the city that Spaniard Pedro Arias Davila founded in 1519.

“The cake measures 3.63 meters (11.9 feet) long, 2.5 meters high and almost 2 meters wide. It’s made of vanilla (and) chocolate and filled with ‘dulce de leche’ (caramelized condensed milk),” pastry chef Eduardo Ruiz told Efe news on Thursday.

The cake, for which more than 2,200 kilograms (4,840 pounds) of flour was used and which about 100 people worked to prepare, is a 1:20 scale replica of the Historical District of Old Panama, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003 and is one of the country’s most important tourist attractions.

The enormous pastry was to be unveiled amid the ruins of the archaeological site, but the intense rain on Thursday in the area forced organizers to move the event under an improvised arcade. Panamanian artist Anny Tovar was tasked with singing “Happy Birthday” to the city.

The festivities also included a parade in which about 100 musical bands participated with former world champion boxer Roberto Duran as the standard-bearer, along with actors outfitted as colonists and local Indians.

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A special day for Panama City as it celebrates its 500th anniversary. Pixabay

“It’s a very special day despite the rain. The water is much needed, it’s a blessing and the cake is remaining in really good shape,” Lourdes Cabrera, a 40-year-old Panamanian who attended the celebration with her whole family, told EFE.

The event’s agenda included artistic presentations in stations of the city’s metro, the only one in Central America.

Arias Davila founded the city on Aug 15, 1519, and it served as the departure point for numerous expeditions throughout the region and the collection point for the gold extracted in Peru, which was then transported by mule to the town of Portobelo, where it was loaded onto galleons for shipment to Spain.

The city was sacked and destroyed in 1671 by the famous English pirate Henry Morgan and the local authorities decided to rebuild at a spot 10 km to the southwest, erecting a city wall around a zone now known as the Old City, which each day welcomes hundreds of tourists.

Panama City celebrates 500th anniversary
Panama City is the first Spanish settlement on the Pacific coast of North America. Pixabay

Now, with its impressive skyline, Panama City is a financial center known as the “Latin American Miami,” and some 1.5 million people – almost 40 percent of Panama’s total population – live in the metro area, which features a busy international airport and the entrance to the Panama Canal, through which 6 percent of the world’s trade passes.

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Capital Mayor Judy Meana told the media that the city’s main challenge at present is “ending inequality” among the population and erasing the pockets of poverty that still exist there.

Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo is scheduled on Thursday to hold a cabinet meeting to discuss tourism amid the ruins of Old Panama. (IANS)