Panama, country, Central America: The Noriega Years and Modern Panama
The Noriega Years and Modern Panama
After the death of Torrijos in a plane crash in 1981, Colonel Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno slowly gained power, and in 1983 he took complete control of the national guard and of the country. Throughout the 1980s Noriega manipulated elections, ruling Panama through presidents who were mostly mere puppets. In 1987 a former officer of the Panamanian Defense Force (the expanded National Guard) publicly accused Noriega of ordering the murder of a prominent political opponent, manipulating election results, and engaging in drug smuggling with Colombian drug producers. As a result, the United States imposed strict sanctions that severely damaged Panama's economy and resulted in large protests against Noriega in Panama City.
On Dec. 15, 1989, the Panamanian legislature declared Noriega president and proclaimed that the United States and Panama were in a state of war. The same day a U.S. marine was killed by Panamanian soldiers. On Dec. 20, the United States attacked Panama City with a combined military force of more than 25,000 soldiers in an effort to remove Noriega from power.
Noriega surrendered on Jan. 3, 1990, and was taken to the United States, where he was later tried, convicted, and jailed on charges of drug trafficking. Guillermo Endara Galimany, the candidate of the Authentic Panameñista party who had been elected to the presidency in May, 1989, but prevented by Noriega from taking office, was sworn into office during the invasion. The invasion resulted in considerable loss of life as well as significant damage to Panama City. In 1994, Ernesto Pérez Balladares, a former associate of Torrijos and the candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary party (PRD), which had once supported but later repudiated Noriega, won the presidential election. He introduced a sweeping economic reform plan and pledged to fight corruption and drug trafficking. In Oct., 1994, the constitution was amended to abolish Panama's military.
In 1999 the Arnulfista (Panameñista) party candidate, Mireya Moscoso Rodríguez, a coffee company owner and the widow of Arnulfo Arias, was elected president. The son of Gen. Omar Torrijos, Martin Torrijos Espino, who had lost to Moscoso in 1999, was the PRD candidate again in 2004 and was elected president. In 2006 Panamanian voters approved an expansion of the Panama Canal to add an third, larger set of locks to the existing canal; the new locks opened in 2016. The presidential election in May, 2009, was won by Ricardo Martinelli, one of Panama's wealthiest persons; a pro-business conservative, he was the candidate of the multiparty Alliance for Change. Juan Carlos Varela, a conservative businessman and Martinelli's vice president (from the Panameñista party) but an opponent of the president from 2011, was elected president in May, 2014. Five years later, Laurentino Cortizo Cohen, a cattle rancher and the PRD candidate, won the presidency in a close election.
Sections in this article:
- The Noriega Years and Modern Panama
- Independence, the United States, and the Canal
- Early History and Spanish Control
- Land and People
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