Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, chief of the Panamanian Defense Forces and the newly declared power behind his nation's civilian government, has been accused of drug-running, being a CIA agent and dealing secretly with the Soviet Union.
Called ''The General'' or just ''The Man,'' Noriega is known for his sharp mind and cryptic comments that keep supporters and critics guessing.
On Friday, he was unanimously chosen as chief of government by his hand-picked provisional National Assembly of Representatives after having long been recognized as the nation's de facto ruler.
On Feb. 25, 1988, President Eric Arturo Delvalle attempted to fire Noriega, but was deposed the following day after an emergency meeting of the Legislative Assembly. Delvalle went into hiding, and former Education Minister Manuel Solis Palma was appointed in his place.
After the May 7, 1989, elections were annulled three days later, Noriega installed Francisco Rodriguez as provisional president Sept. 1 to meet a constitutional deadline. Foreign observers said Noriega nullified the election after it became apparent the opposition had won.
Noriega survived an aborted coup attempt Oct. 3, 1989, by mid-level Panamanian military officials. Pro-Noriega forces crushed the aborted coup that according to official figures left 10 dead and 26 wounded.
Born in Panama City on Feb. 11, 1938, to a working-class family, Noriega first entered the military in 1962 when financial straits forced him to abandon his dream of becoming a doctor.
Instead, he accepted a scholarship at a Peruvian military academy and started a lifelong career in the powerful national guard.
Noriega received a sharp boost in 1969 when he helped foil a plot to oust the charismatic military chief, Gen. Omar Torrijos, who had taken over the government in a coup a year earlier.
Noriega became one of Torrijos' trusted officers, and soon was promoted to head the department of military intelligence. In that key post over the next 12 years he built a power base in the ever-changing alliances of the military.
Torrijos died in a plane crash in 1981. Two years later Noriega, by then a brigadier general, maneuvered his way to the top of the national guard. He renamed it the Defense Forces, and worked hard to build an image of the ''general of peace,'' often dressing in all-white uniforms.
Criticism of Noriega mounted, however, and he was linked to a series of controversies, first by Panama's vociferous political opposition and then by former trusted aides.
Public protests exploded in the summer of 1987 when Noriega's former chief of staff, Col. Roberto Diaz Herrera, implicated the general in drug-running. Other charges included electoral fraud during the nation's first presidential election in 16 years in 1984; conspiracy to kill opposition politician Dr. Hugo Spadafora in 1985, and forcing the resignation of President Nicolas Ardito Barletta after he insisted on investigating the killing of Spadafora.
Hundreds were arrested in the protest that followed, and opposition newspapers and radios were closed for eight months.
Pressure against Noriega increased with a U.S. investigation linking him to Colombian drug traffickers, who reportedly paid him millions of dollars, along with a series of alleged revelations about his secret dealings with U.S. and Soviet officials.
U.S. intelligence sources said the CIA paid Noriega $200,000 a year for at least a decade in an attempt to lure him from Soviet influence.
Noriega received the payments even though the CIA knew he helped Colombia's Medellin cartel produce cocaine and smuggle it into the United States, the sources said.
The Washington Post and The New York Times reported Noriega also struck deals with Lt. Col. Oliver North -- the White House aide fired and convicted in the Iran-Contra scandal -- to train Nicaraguan rebels in Panama, and to arrange an East Bloc weapons shipment that could be captured in El Salvador and falsely linked to Nicaragua's Soviet-backed Sandinista government.
One U.S. intelligence expert told United Press International the CIA did not realize the Soviets ''would pay more,'' and could offer Noriega ''something we could not -- the means to grab and keep power.''
Noriega continued to accept Soviet weapons supplied through a Cuban front called the Hunting and Fishing Club of Panama, sources said.
Confronted with the damaging reports, Noriega quoted a distinguished Panamanian professor: ''I do not excuse myself nor do I defend myself, the truth belongs to me.''
Noriega called the damaging reports a plot to discredit the military and destabilize the government to prevent Panama from assuming control of the Panama Canal by the end of the century.