Beginning of End for Noriega: One Marine's Wrong Turn
George HW Bush decided to invade after off-duty US officer was fatally shot
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 30, 2017 12:53 PM CDT
An Aug. 31, 1989, file photo of Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. The US would invade in December.   (AP Photo/Matias Recart, File)

(Newser) – The death of Manuel Noriega has prompted all kinds of stories about his reign and overthrow, and the New York Times notes that it was the fatal shooting of a US military officer that proved to be the tipping point in his downfall. In December 1989, Panamanian troops killed an unarmed Marine lieutenant, wounded another US serviceman, and beat a third one while threatening to sexually assault his wife. "That was enough," said the elder George Bush in deciding to send in his US troops. An article from the time in the Washington Post explains that the servicemen were off duty and came under fire when their driver, unfamiliar with Panama City, drove close to Noriega's headquarters. The serviceman killed was 25-year-old Marine 1st. Lt. Robert Paz. Other Noriega coverage:

  • Turn it up: With Noriega holed up in the Vatican Embassy, US forces began blasting rock music at the building. Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" was one favorite in rotation, but the Telegraph has more on the playlist. The Vatican complained to Bush, and the music stopped after three days. Noriega stayed just over a week more before he gave in.
  • Also of note: The mission to capture him was called "Operation Nifty Package."
  • A damning article: US lawmakers began to seriously sour on Noriega after a 1986 article by Seymour Hersh in the New York Times linked him to drugs, money laundering, the killing of a political opponent, and much more.
  • Tangled US ties: The Atlantic digs into Noriega's long history with the US and the CIA. He had been on the agency's payroll because of the intelligence he provided.
  • Staff witch: The account of Noriega's life in the Miami Herald notes that he was reputed to have dabbled in black magic. Indeed, he "was the only chief of state in the Western Hemisphere who had a staff witch, imported from Brazil."
  • Prison conversion: Witches or not, Noriega reportedly converted to evangelical Christianity in the first years of his custody, complete with a courthouse baptism, per the Washington Post.
  • Timeline, in photos: The BBC has a photo timeline of Noriega's rise and fall, beginning with his takeover of the Panama National Guard in 1983, a move that made him his nation's de facto leader.

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