By ELOY O. AGUILAR
PANAMA -- Mireya Moscoso pledged ``efficient and responsible''
the Panama Canal as she was sworn in Wednesday as president of Panama.
Moscoso will preside over the transfer of the canal to Panama
on Dec. 31, ending
the United States' control of the strategic waterway. The transfer will be the final
act in compliance with Panama Canal Treaties, signed in 1977 by former
President Jimmy Carter and Panama's previous military strongman Omar Torrijos.
``My government intends to increase the autonomy of the canal
so it may operate
without any partisan political influence,'' Moscoso told a cheering crowd of 25,000
at the capital's new baseball stadium. She was accompanied by her 8-year-old
adopted son, Ricardo.
Moscoso's inauguration ceremony was delayed for 3 1/2 hours by
negotiations to secure a 36-35 majority in the National Assembly. That allowed
the selection of a new assembly president, Enrique Garrido, who swore in
On Monday, Moscoso's party had worked out a coalition with a minority
a wavering member of that party needed additional convincing Wednesday
Since 1977, the United States has gradually been turning over
thousands of acres
of land it occupied with military bases and other installations. The United States
also has been shifting to Panama the administration of the canal, which connects
the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.
Moscoso said Panama will ask the United States to turn over the
free of ``contamination problems'' -- referring to unexploded ordnance on firing
``They [the United States] are aware that this problem must be
satisfactorily, and my government will negotiate toward this end,'' Moscoso said.
On the domestic front, Moscoso, widow of the late populist leader
promised a ``war on poverty and social injustice . . . to turn Panama into a
country of opportunity for its children.''
She won the election with a campaign for change, and promises
to give special
attention to the poor -- echoing the slogans of her late husband, who was
deposed three times by the military.
When the speech ended, Moscoso visited the cemetery where Arias
placing flowers and the presidential sash on his tombstone. She then stepped
back, wiping tears from her eyes, as a band played taps.
Outgoing President Ernesto Perez Balladares, who was legally barred
seeking reelection, has left an economy growing at 4 percent annually, a network
of modern highways and labor law reforms aimed at wooing foreign investment.
But, to his last day in office, his administration was tainted by corruption
scandals at the top levels.
Copyright 1999 Miami Herald