Mireya Elisa Moscoso Rodríguez de Arias (born July 1, 1946) was the President of Panama from 1999 to 2004, representing the Arnulfista Party. She was Panama's first female president.
Moscoco has an interior design diploma from Miami-Dade Community College in the United States, and she is the widow of former President Arnulfo Arias.
In the May 2
, 1999 general elections
, she became the country's first female President
, taking office on September 1
. She ran on a campaign to reduce poverty
, improve education
, and slow down the country's privatization
process. She had run in the previous election (1994), when she was defeated by Ernesto Pérez Balladares
of the PRD (Revolutionary Democratic Party). Her term in office began with huge popularity and hope for change.
She oversaw the U.S. handover
of the Panama Canal
in January 2000. Having fired every major officeholder in the Panama Canal Authority
appointed by the previous administration, she is credited with keeping the Authority autonomous and running the canal in an efficient manner.
Throughout her five-year government, numerous corruption scandals were aired on the media. None of her close allies, allegedly involved, were investigated.
Watches and earrings
Moscoso raised eyebrows soon after her election in 1999, when she gave all 72 members of the Legislative Assembly
expensive Cartier watches and earrings worth an estimated $146,000 just before the vote on the government-proposed budget package. She claimed they were Christmas gifts and that she paid for them from her own money, not from public funds. No investigation was made.
One of the most famous corruption scandals was the "Durodollar" scandal. Moscoso's Executive Secretary filed a complaint with the police accusing her gardener of stealing thousands of dollars from her freezer. The gardener was put in jail, but the police never asked why a secretary had thousands of dollars inside her freezer, under the bed, etc; at her house. She only said that she "didn't trust banks". This secretary is currently under investigation.
End of term
Her popularity at the end of her government was the lowest for a Panamanian President. At the end of her term in office she held inauguration ceremonies for several unfinished public works. The most famous example is the new Centennial Bridge
over the Panama Canal
, inaugurated with big parties on August 15
(15 days before ending her term) by the government despite the fact that it would take until September 2
(a year later) to open the bridge for traffic, since only then the new highways leading to the bridge were finished.
Days before Moscoso ended her term and left Panama to retire in Florida, she pardoned four Cuban exiles -- including the infamous violent anti-Castro activist Luis Posada -- who had been convicted of plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro, causing Cuba to break off diplomatic relations with Panama. The relations were reestablished under her successor, President Martín Torrijos.
Constitutionally barred from re-election, she was succeeded on September 1
by Martín Torrijos
, son of Omar Torrijos
(the man who ousted her husband in 1968), who was elected in May 2004 with 47% of the votes. The Arnulfista Party
(Moscoso's Party) reached only 16%, in distant third place. The blame for this loss was placed mainly on Moscoso. During the campaign, she openly attended rallies organized by her hand-picked candidate José Miguel Alemán
, overshadowing him.
With the new government, numerous mechanisms to investigate corruption cases were instituted. It is alleged that Republic of China
's donations to the Panamanian government were put under private foundations that were controlled by Moscoso's Cabinet and close friends.
Moscoso is now facing numerous corruption investigations in Panama. She blames Fidel Castro for initiating the corruption allegations. However, Moscoso's close aides point to Panamanian political rivals as the source. (link broken)