The Panamanian government announced on Monday night that the imprisoned former strongman Manuel Noriega had died at the age of 83. This profile was published on March 11 this year after he went into a coma following surgery.
When Manuel Noriega was the most powerful and most feared man in Panama some 35 years ago—the all-knowing spy chief positioned at the violent and lucrative nexus of local corruption, CIA covert ops, and Colombia’s cocaine trade—he gave few interviews and said little when he did. But the setting for these encounters was extraordinary. One had the sense of looking inside his head.
Typically, he would send a couple of his men to the reporter’s hotel. In my case, they arrived in a late-model BMW and asked me to sit in the back, which I did, of course. But I wasn’t sure where to put my feet since their submachine guns were on the floor, making the ride to the headquarters of the Panamanian National Guard awkward and uncomfortable.