WASHINGTON (UPI) -- Thirteen years of arduous negotiations to reach a new Panama Canal treaty ended with a glittering ceremony dictated by tradition and protocol and televised to millions throughout the hemisphere.
President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian Gen. Omar Torrijos, dressed in business suits and each using his own pen, simultaneously signed two copies of canal agreements designed to erase the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt's gunboat diplomacy.
One agreement cedes U.S. control of the canal in 23 years. The other guarantees the United States' right to defend indefinitely the neutrality of the 51-mile system of lakes and locks.
American copies of the document, in English, were bound in blue with the U.S. seal emblazoned on the tooled leather cover. The Panamanian copies were bound in red, written in Spanish and decorated with a seal of Panama.
Carter's signature was the first on the U.S. document, while Torrijos' signature was first on the Spanish version.
The ceremony was not rehearsed by the two chiefs of state. A U.S. aide and a Panamanian aide smoothly slipped copies of the agreements before the seated signatories, then exchanged copies of the documents and slipped them before Carter and Torrijos for the additional signatures. It took only minutes.
Each man signed four documents -- the two belonging to Panama and the two belonging to the United States.
Then they embraced in a Spanish bear hug. Carter told reporters later at the White House dinner: "I like him ... President Torrijos was almost emotional about how much it meant ... ."
After a standing ovation from the 350-400 invited guests packed into the Hall of Americas, Carter and Torrijos walked down the line of 27 heads of state, shaking hands with each. The ceremony lasted 30 minutes.
Several hundred demonstrators stood outside the building and the nearby White House, chanting protests.
Only two of Latin America's 10 military chiefs of state wore uniforms -- Peru's Gen. Francisco Morales Bermudez and Ecuador's Vice Admiral Alfredo Poveda.
On the dais sat 28 men -- 27 heads of state and chiefs of government and OAS Secretary General Alejandro Orfila. The latter, a former Argentine diplomat, helped arrange the ceremony -- a probably highlight in his three remaining years as the OAS's top official.
The wives of dignitaries sat in a long row on the left side of the hall looking at their husbands on the dais. First Lady Rosalynn Carter, a seasoned diplomat following her multination tour of Latin America, wore a long pale-green gown.
Next to her, in a striking white, very low-cut white dress sat Helga Orfila, a German-born former model, now wife of the secretary general.
Her dress, plunging to her navel, may be what many viewers remember from the ceremony.