In a ceremony attended by several heads of state but with the noted absence of President Clinton, the United States today initiates the hand-over of the Panama Canal after a century-long presence in Panama.
Clinton is apparently staying away from the ceremonies because he fears it would damage Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign, and former President Jimmy Carter will head the U.S. delegation at the event instead. Carter set the withdrawal in motion in 1977, when he signed treaties relinquishing U.S. control of the waterway by noon on December 31, 1999. The hand-over ceremonies are taking place two weeks early to avoid a conflict with millennial celebrations.
Built under President Theodore Roosevelt, the canal opened in August 1914 and cost thousands of lives to build–mostly of enslaved workers from the West Indies who died of exhaustion, yellow fever and other illnesses.
- Lamoin Werlein-Jaen, Panamanian journalist and sociologist.