END OF ERA -- Panama Canal Transfer Ceremonies [p3 of 5]
End of Era - Panama Canal Transfer Ceremonies - continued
PRESIDENT MOSCOSO'S REMARKS
President Mireya Moscoso, in her remarks, heralded Panama's assumption of the canal as the consolidation of her country's sovereignty and paid tribute to all those who struggled over the years for the cause.
"We are content because at last we won the victory," she said, adding: "The canal is ours."
She sought to reassure other countries and international shippers that the interoceanic waterway would be well maintained and improved under Panamanian control and run under a "code of ethics," and vowed that it will be done without any interference by political interests. "Our final objective is to guarantee safe, efficient and uninterrupted operation of the Canal to satisfy our customers and to benefit our country," she said.
"Panama accepts this challenge with nobility in the total and absolute confidence that the Canal will be a model business for the Continent. Our commitment with the world is unalterable, but even more so, it is our commitment with ourselves."
CLINTON AND ALBRIGHT NO-SHOWS
The festivities were overshadowed by the absence of President Clinton and especially the last-minute cancellation by Secretary of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
In addition to hoping for Clinton or at least Albright's attendance, the Panamanian government had expected Japan and France to send senior officials -- which did not happen -- and greater Latin American representation was expected; six showed.
No reason was given for Clinton's no-show although Administration spokes folks strongly denied the absence of Clinton, Vice-President Gore, or Albright was intended as a snub and political considerations had anything to do with it.
Albright's spokesmen, on the other hand, said she very much regretted she was not able to attend the ceremony, but the (perhaps more pressing?) need for her to be in Washington to assist in the process of the high level talks between Israel and Syria scheduled to begin in Washington the day after the Canal transfer ceremony.
However, reportedly there was a struggle between State and NSC favoring the President going to Panama and his political advisers among the inner circle in the White House advising against the trip, probably with an eye on polls and hearing the loud desperate drumbeats of the conservatives in Congress roaring against giving up the canal.
Many speculated that they stayed away from a ceremony that focused attention on the turnover of the waterway -- a move that remains highly unpopular among American conservatives. Concern seemed to be too great about the political fallout of attending the ceremony would do for or harm Al Gore's politically. Everybody knows that what was decisive in the President's decision was to do nothing that could affect Gore's candidacy for president, said a person close to Clinton as reported by Henry Raymont, El Panama America's Washington correspondent.
END OF ERA
PANAMA CANAL (1914-1999)