Former Panamanian President Arnulfo Arias, who dominated politics in the Central merican nation for half a century but never finished the three terms of office he was elected to, died of a heart attack in Miami. He was 86.

Sources at the Panamanian consulate said Arias' death Wednesday at his Miami home was unexpected and came four days before his birthday.Arias was considered the father of Panamanian nationalism, coining the phrase "Panama for Panamanians." He spearheaded the move to wrest control of the Panama Canal from the United States, a dream accomplished in 1977 by military strongman Omar Torrijos, who led the last coup against Arias in 1968.

The canal reverts to Panama in the year 2000.

Born Aug. 15, 1901, in the northern Panamanian town of Penomene, Arias graduated in medicine from Harvard and interned two years at a municipal hospital in Boston.

Arias was elected president in 1940, 1949 and 1968 but each time was forced out of office before his term ended. He spent 15 years in exile, including an 11-year period in Miami.

Arias shot to the top of Panamanian politics in 1931, when he helped engineer the presidential victory of his brother Harmodio the following year.