BY KATHIA MARTINEZ
PANAMA -- Ships crossed the isthmus of Panama without problems
the nation's first full day as sole administrator of the canal. Popular concern about
the canal's security remained, however.
The transfer of the waterway and surrounding property from the
United States to
Panamanian hands was finalized at noon Friday, ending 85 years of American
control. Panamanians celebrated what they described as the start of full
There were no reports of problems stemming from the Y2K computer
authorities had stressed that operations would go smoothly since the technology
used to run the canal is largely the same as it was when the waterway opened in
Authorities had closely watched electricity and water generators for any trouble.
``Everything has come out well. . . . All is normal without any
problems,'' a Canal
Authority spokeswoman said.
Thirteen ships traversed the 50-mile-long canal in the first hours
of the new year,
the department of maritime traffic control reported.
A refrigerated cargo ship, the Balboa Reefer, was the first to
cross the canal in
2000, passing the Miraflores locks on the Pacific side at 3:06 a.m. A Greek ship,
Chios Beauty, entered the Atlantic side locks at Gatun at 3:48 a.m.
The greatest popular concern about the canal is whether Panama
is ready to
defend it against a potential attack.
The nation's army was dissolved after the 1989 U.S. invasion to
strongman Manuel Noriega. Since then, the country has relied on a national
police force, currently 18,000 strong.
A poll of 1,200 Panamanians by the newspaper La Prensa showed
percent believe Panama is not capable of defending the strategic waterway. More
than 72 percent said Panama needs the United States to protect the canal, and
68 percent opposed the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The poll, published Thursday, was taken Dec. 10-12 and had a margin
of error of 3
Authorities have insisted that Panama is ready to defend the canal
U.S. military, which had maintained a presence in the country since 1903, when
the United States was instrumental in obtaining the country's independence from