The Miami Herald
September 2, 1999
Transfer of canal a key issue
President vows `efficient' control of waterway

 Associated Press

 PANAMA -- Mireya Moscoso pledged ``efficient and responsible'' administration of
 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 last-minute
 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 party, but
 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 occupied areas
 free of ``contamination problems'' -- referring to unexploded ordnance on firing

 ``They [the United States] are aware that this problem must be resolved
 satisfactorily, and my government will negotiate toward this end,'' Moscoso said.

 On the domestic front, Moscoso, widow of the late populist leader Arnulfo Arias,
 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 is buried,
 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 from
 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