Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
"As a present," said Panama's Gen. Omar Torrijos stiffly, speaking, of course, about that canal, "my people do not accept it. As a good conquest they do."
The Panamanian leader stood at the center of a circle of bodyguards, reporters and interpreters, one highly visible clump of humanity in a mass of 1,5000 at the Pan American Union Tuesday night.
"It is going to be difficult for me to persuade the Panamanian people to accept a treaty that still has a few years to go," Torrijos continued.
He spoke unhesitatingly and without emotion, and during a pause, his interpreter added in an aside, "We understand that you have domestic problems here, but we have our own, too. It's going to be very hard to explain to Panamanians why it's going to take 23 years for the canal to become ours."
Torrijos was one of more than two dozen hemispheric leaders scattered around the room and one of the few anybody seemed to recognize. In an attempt to help out a perplexed guest, one man suggested:
"Just look for a middle-aged pot-bellied man with false teeth. That'll be a president."
All were guests of Secretary-General of the Organization of American States Alejandro Orfila, who had asked everybody to town to witness and celebrate the signing yesterday of two historic treaties between Panama and the United States. They bring to an end 13 years of negotiations and pave the way for the United States to transfer its control of the canal to Panama in the year 2000.
Torrijos, like Chile's military strongman August Pinochet, was conspicuously conservative in dress. In business suit rather than military uniform and sporting a pale blue shirt and red and white polka-dot tie, Torrijos looked more like a highly successful Central American businessman than Panama's strongmen.
Pinochet, the last of the leaders to arrive, came straight from the White House, where he had been in conference with President Carter. At the entrance to the Pan American Union, as Pinochet strode into the lobby, the crowd, jammed around a circular buffet, burst into applause.
Rosalynn Carter had preceded Pinochet by a few minutes, arriving unheralded and almost unnoticed. Once greeted by her host, she instantly began working the room much as she had during the months Jimmy Carter was trying to win the White House.
Paraguay's President Alfredo Stroessner was the first chief of state to greet her and immediately invited her to visit his country. She responded in basic Spanish, saying she would be delighted.
At first Moore waffled when asked about his friend Lance, but then he added, "What Bert needs is a forum and we're hoping that's what the Senate will provide for him."
And did he expect Lance to resign?
"Now you know I can't comment on that."
Anyone who thinks that impressionable female fans are only a product of the rock world had only to catch a look at the way some of the South American women all but swooned upon Pinochet's arrival. The mustachiocd bedroom-eyed dictator seemed to know exactly the effect he was having when he shot a glance at the heavily perfumed, formally clad and perfectly coiffed female admirers.
Orfila's fare for the evening was a favorite assortment of his - roast beef, crab claws, glazed ham, pate and, naturally, empanadas. The reception marked the first night back on the fall social circuit for much of todo Washington and prompted a tanned Jane Ikard, fresh off the plane from Martha's Vineyard, to note:
"I know this must be Washington, I've been back in town since 10 this morning and my feet hurt alreay."
But it was the sea of endlessly unfamiliar faces from south of the border that caught former Nixon chief of protocol Henry Catto's attention:
"I have to commiserate with Evan Dobelle (Carter's chief of protocol) over this one. This week's crowd is going to keep him busier than a centipede on a tread mill."