Childhood & Early Life
Mireya Elisa Moscoso was born in Pedasí, Panama, to a poor school teacher on July 1, 1946, and was the youngest in the family of six siblings.
She was employed as a secretary for some time till she started campaigning on behalf of presidential candidate Arnulfo Arias in 1968. Arias had been elected as President on two earlier occasions, but had to step down before serving his complete term, owing to a coup led by the Panamanian army. This time too, he won the elections but was in office for only nine days.
Following the military uprising during his third term, Arias took refuge in the city of Miami in the United States, accompanied by Mireya. The next year, in 1969, Moscoso, who was only 23, married the 67 year old President.
During their exile, the young lady pursued a course in interior design from the 'Miami-Dade Community College'.
In 1988, Arias died, and left his coffee enterprise to his wife, who became the President of the 'Arnulfista Party' three years later.
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In 1994, Mireya contested in the Presidential elections as a representative of the 'Arnulfista Party'. Her opponents were Ernesto Pérez Balladares, representative of the 'Democratic Revolutionary Party' ('PRD'), and singer Rubén Blades, candidate of the 'Papa Egoro' party.
Ernesto won the elections with a majority of 33% votes, and succeeded the former President Guillermo Endara. Moscoso and Blades on the other hand received 29% and 17% votes respectively.
In 1999, Mireya was chosen again to run as candidate for the Presidential elections, this time contesting against Martín Torrijos of the ‘Democratic Revolutionary Party' ('PRD').
The 'Arnulfista Party' candidate campaigned using Latin phrases like "Vox populi, vox Dei" ("the voice of the people is the voice of God"). She also cited her husband and promised to look into issues of education, poverty and privatization, once elected.
Initially, people had doubts about her ability since she neither had any political experience, nor did she have proper education. However, in the end it was Mireya who won the elections, beating Torijjos with a majority of 45% votes.
Moscoso was sworn in on September 1, 1999, and Ruby Moscoso, her older sister, was declared the First Lady. During her term, the 'PRD' political party was in charge of the Legislative Assembly. Also, former President Balladares had introduced strict laws against public fund expenditure, thus hindering the new President's efforts to introduce new reforms.
She ensured that according to the ‘Torrijos-Carter Treaties’, the United States gave control of the Panama Canal to her government. Once that was done, she had to go about tackling environmental issues in the ‘Canal Zone’.
The area was earlier used by the US army to try out bombs as well as bio-chemical weapons. The region was also plagued with lead contamination, unused weapons, and large quantities of Uranium.
She dismissed the ‘PRD’ employees from the ‘Panama Canal Authority’, and hired businessman Ricardo Martinelli as the new head. However, the economic conditions of Panama deteriorated since the US army had stopped funding the region.
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Mireya tried bringing international felonies to a halt by introducing new laws to keep a check on corruption. Ironically instances of local crimes shot up in the country, and the President was forced by the US government into giving refuge to Vladimiro Montesinos, a spy from Peru. The Peruvian had escaped from his country after being caught on tape bribing a Congress member.
In December 2000, the President created quite a stir when she formed a truth commission to conduct a search at the 'Panamanian National Guard' bases in the country. The decision was taken after a body was discovered and was assumed to be of a priest named Jesús Héctor Gallego Herrera, who was murdered during dictator, Omar Torrijos' rule.
This decision was condemned by the 'National Assembly' and the President of 'PRD', Balbina Herrera. The truth commission however found out that several murders had taken place at the army bases, most of which were carried out by the government of the dethroned military leader Noriega.
As a President, Mireya faced accusations of being partial in government appointments, and was charged with several instances of corruption. The economy continued to deteriorate, while she allegedly presented Legislative Assembly members with watches worth 146,000 US dollars. Towards the end of her term, her presidency was dismissed by people as being inefficient and fraudulent.
In the 2004 presidential elections, she was succeeded by her ‘PRD’ rival Martin Torrijos.
Even after losing her presidency, she remained active in politics as a member of the rival political party.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1969, Mireya married sixty-seven year old former President of Panama, Arnulfo Arias, who died at the age of eighty-six.
Moscoso got married to Richard Gruber, a businessman, in 1991, and the couple adopted a son, but after 6 years, she divorced Gruber.