Panama is still just as much a drug haven as it ever was under the late Manuel Noriega- a situation that is very closely monitored by Security Services Panama. Noriega is as famous as dictators come, and that fame comes from his ability to turn the country of Panama into a drug trafficking hub that funneled almost all of the world’s cocaine from South America to Central America.
In 1981, the notorious Noriega rose to power after his superior, Omar Torrijos, died in an airplane accident. Torrijos was the leader of the military in Panama at the time and Noriega was his second-in-command. When Torrijos died, Noriega took the reins and began what would be a turning point in the country’s history. Almost immediately after coming to power, Noriega began allowing cartel members to traffic cocaine and other substances through the country at a hefty price.
Noriega’s connection to the cartels did not end with allowing the transportation of drugs through the country. He also provided cartels with safe places to hide out during times of turmoil and provided his protection in return for all the money that was coming into the country.
Noriega’s support of the cartels was well-known by the US at the time and was supported by the CIA due to the fact the Noriega was working for them, giving the US government information on cartel movements. That relationship ended, however, when Noriega’s behavior began to become unhelpful to the US government, and that is when he was captured by the US military and relieved of power.
The biggest concern now that is held by Security Services Panama is that the groundwork for drug trafficking activities was never absolved after Noriega’s capture. The same big cartels are operating in the region and Panama is still a hub of drug activity that creates risk to travelers and businessmen in the area.