Moscoso de Gruber, Mireya Elisa

Moscoso de Gruber, Mireya Elisa
▪ 2000

      On May 2, 1999, Mireya Moscoso won election to a five-year term as president of Panama, becoming the first woman to serve as president of the Central American country. She was the widow of Arnulfo Arias, a physician who had been Panama's president three times. Her principal opponent in the election, Martín Torrijos, of the ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party, was the son of Gen. Omar Torrijos Herrera, who in 1968 had deposed Arias and in 1977 had negotiated a treaty with the U.S. for the return of the Panama Canal to full Panamanian control. As president, Moscoso oversaw the handover in December 1999.

      Moscoso was born on July 1, 1946, to a poor family in the rural town of Pedasi. Her father was a schoolteacher. She worked as a secretary after graduating from high school and in the early 1960s met Arias. She worked in his political campaigns and later in a coffee-exporting company. When Arias was deposed for the third time in 1968 and went into exile in Miami, Fla., Moscoso joined him. She studied interior design in the U.S. and in 1969, at the age of 22, married Arias, who was 67. Arias died in 1988. In the early 1990s Moscoso held minor posts in the Panamanian government. She was involved in the creation of the Arnulfista Party in 1990 and became president of the party in 1991. In 1994 she ran for president of Panama, coming in second with 29% of the vote. On her second try for the post, she was successful, winning 45% of the votes to 38% for Torrijos. A third candidate, Alberto Vallarino, received approximately 17%. Voter participation was estimated at some 75%, and the election was generally free of serious incidents.

      The platforms of the two principal candidates did not differ in most respects. Overall, Moscoso was seen as the more populist candidate, Torrijos as more sympathetic to the concerns of business. Both vowed to reduce poverty, improve education, create jobs, and run the Panama Canal as a profitable enterprise free of corruption. Moscoso also emphasized her intention to slow the government's policy of privatization. One reservation voiced about Moscoso was that she did not have a college education, something that seemed unimportant to a significant number of voters. Everyone agreed, however, that the critical task of the new president would be to oversee the efficient operation of the Panama Canal.

Robert Rauch

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Universalium. 2010.

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