Early Life and Marriage
Moscoso was born to a poor family in a rural town. She was 17 and working as a secretary after graduating from high school when she met Dr. Arnulfo Arias, at a friend's birthday party in the early 60's. Dr. Arias, 62, a widower, was a physician who had been President twice, ousted both times by political opponents.
Ms. Moscoso worked in his campaigns and in the coffee business he owned. In 1968, after Dr. Arias had been removed from the presidency the third time after nine days in power, in a military coup, she joined him in exile in the United States, where she married him the next year and remained until he died in Miami. In Miami, she studied interior design. She returned to Panama only in 1988, after Arias’s death.
In 1990 Moscoso helped create the Arnulfista Party, of which she became president the following year. In 1994 she made her first run for the presidency, placing second. She took on the Revolutionary Democratic Party, which had ruled Panama with a succession of military Governments and yielded power to the Arnulfistas only from 1990 to 1994.
On May 2, 1999, she became the country's first female President, taking office on September 1, 1999. She ran on a campaign to reduce poverty, improve education, and slow down the country's privatization process. 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.
President Mireya Moscoso is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an international network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose mission is to mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.
Days before Moscoso ended her term and left Panama to retire in Florida, she pardoned four Cuban exiles 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, the son of the general who had ousted her husband from power.
Her popularity at the end of her term as President was the lowest for a Panamanian President. Her Presidency was dogged with corruption scandals, including of her Executive Secretary.
During the Presidential campaign of 1999, she was often criticised for not being qualified. She hit back at these allegations, calling them sexist and unfounded:
"Although they say Mireya doesn't have the capacity,she shouted at the final rally, although they say that because she is a woman she can't be president, I tell you here, I can wear pants just like the men in this country! And I know when to put on skirts and when to put on pants, too!"