Guillermo “Billy” Ford served as Vice-President of Panama from 1989 to 1994 but he was best remembered for this classic photo, which shows him beaten by thugs in the employ of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. Then a VP candidate, Ford and his presidential running-mate, Guillermo Endara, had defeated Noriega’s party in the democratic elections a few days prior.
At the end of a rally in support of Endara, a band of Noriega’s Dignity Battalion — nicknamed “Dig Bats” and called “Doberman thugs” by U.S. President Bush — attacked the crowd with wooden planks, metal pipes and guns. They grabbed a bodyguard of Ford, pushed him against a car, shoved a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. They also batted Ford’s head with a spike-tipped metal rod and pounded him with heavy clubs, turning his white guayabera bright red with blood — his own, and that of his dead bodyguard.
The photo taken by Ron Haviv (AFP) became one of the most famous images of 1989. It was put on the cover of Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News. It was the beginning of the end for Noriega. Ford embarked on a tour of Europe to meet British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Italian Prime Minister Giulio Adreotti and Pope John Paul II. In December 1989, citing danger to the Canal, President Bush decided to invade Panama. There, at Fort Clayton, Panama, surrounded by 24,000 U.S. troops, heavy tanks and Combat Talon AC-130 gunships, Guillermo Endara, was sworn in as the President.