Former President Guillermo Endara, who led Panama to democracy after the U.S. invasion that toppled dictator Gen. Manuel Noriega, died Monday. He was 73.
Endara, who governed from 1989 to 1994, died at his home in Panama City. His cardiologist, Dr. Sergio Solis, said the cause might have been a heart attack. Endara, who suffered from diabetes and kidney ailments, had been hospitalized recently for dialysis treatment.
President Ricardo Martinelli hailed Endara for “delivering us from dictatorship and giving us back democracy.”
Backed by a coalition of civilian parties, Endara overwhelmingly won the presidential election in May 1989. Noriega refused to recognize the results and unleashed a wave of repression against his opponents.
Seven months later, President George H.W. Bush ordered U.S. troops to invade Panama and remove the Noriega regime. Endara assumed the presidency in the middle of the fighting.
Endara tried to put aside past 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, which were devastated in the invasion.
Endara also faced the challenge of lifting Panama after years of economic turmoil, U.S. sanctions and devastating rioting during the invasion. Under his presidency, the economy grew at an average annual rate of 8%.
But Endara also faced sporadic uprisings from Panamanians incensed over the U.S. invasion.
In the 1994 presidential elections, his Arnulfista Party lost to the Democratic Revolutionary Party, the former political arm of the military.
As he handed over the presidency to Ernesto Perez Balladares, Endara expressed confidence his achievements would be recognized in the long run.
“When the passage of time erases the passion of the moment, when it eliminates mistrust and doubt between brothers, when it clarifies the uncertainty and confusion of our nascent liberty, only then will the efforts of those who took over in 1989 be appreciated,” he said.
Endara later broke with the Arnulfista Party and made two unsuccessful bids for the presidency, the latest in May when he received just 2% of the vote.
He is survived by his wife and a daughter.