Guillermo Endara, 73; led Panama after Noriega toppled

By Kathia Martinez
Associated Press / September 29, 2009

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PANAMA CITY - Former president Guillermo Endara, who led Panama to democracy after a US invasion toppled dictator General Manuel Noriega, died yesterday. He was 73.

Mr. Endara, who governed from 1989 to 1994, died at his home in Panama City. His cardiologist said the cause might have been a heart attack. Mr. Endara suffered from diabetes.

President Ricardo Martinelli hailed Mr. Endara for “delivering us from dictatorship and giving us back democracy.’’

“He was a great politician, statesman, and I feel, personally and in the name of the government, very saddened by this tragic death,’’ Martinelli said.

Backed by a coalition of civilian parties, Mr. Endara overwhelmingly won the presidential election in May 1989, but Noriega refused to recognize the results and unleashed a wave of repression.

Seven months later, President George H.W. Bush ordered US troops to invade Panama and toppled the Noriega regime. Mr. Endara took over the presidency in the middle of the fighting.

Noriega was convicted of drug racketeering in a US court.

Robust and good-natured, Mr. Endara tried to put aside grievances and focus on restoring democracy to Panama. He promoted freedom of speech and created a civilian-led police force to replace Noriega’s Defense Forces.

He faced the challenge of lifting Panama from ruin after years of economic turmoil. In his presidency, the economy grew at an average annual rate of 8 percent.