END OF AN ERA--Panama Canal Transfer Ceremonies [p1 of 5]
ENDING OF AN ERA
TRANSFER CEREMONIES -- PANAMA CANAL
The transfer of the Panama Canal to Panama December 31, 1999, marked the end of an almost century of U.S. presence in the Republic of Panama -- civilians and military -- building, operating and defending the 50-mile waterway.
The transfer of the Canal and all U.S. military installations, coupled with the withdrawal of the U.S. military presence, meant that for the first time in its history Panama now has complete sovereignty, completely controls its own destiny -- as well as the full responsibility for its own success or failure. The waterway -- built and operated by the United States -- had borne Panama's name for most of a century but was never under its control until the last hours of the 20th Century.
December 31 was mandated as the official transfer date under the 1977 Panama Canal treaties in which the United States agreed to give Panama control of the 50 mile-long canal. However, because of concerns that the December 31 date would conflict with millennium observances around the world, a more elaborate affair to mark the transfer of the Canal was held December 14, and another ceremony -- "for the Panamanian people" as Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso said -- was held at noon December 31.
DECEMBER 14 PROTOCOL CEREMONY (December 14, 1999)
The first ceremony was held at noon December 14 at the Miraflores Locks, the first set of locks of the Canal entering from the Pacific.
With the presence of former President Jimmy Carter, who head a 29-member U.S. delegation, this ceremony was the culmination of the Canal transfer launched by him in 1977 with the signing of the Panama Canal Treaties in Washington, D.C.
Other principal dignitaries among the several hundred attending were King of Spain Juan Carlos I, then President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo, then President of Colombia Andres Pastrana, President of Ecuador Jamil Mahuad, President of Bolivia Hugo Banzer, President of Costa Rica Miguel Angel Rodriguez, and lower level delegations from several other countries. Also in attendance was French countess Tauni de Lesseps, granddaughter of Count Ferdinand de Lesseps, who headed the French failed effort in constructing a canal in the 1880s after successfully years before constructing the Suez Canal.
END OF ERA
PANAMA CANAL (1914-1999)