Nine months into a political crisis that is wrecking their economy, Panamanians are quietly hoping that a new U.S. president will help break the impasse over moves to oust military leader Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega.
Noriega himself has declined to comment on the victory of Republican George Bush in the U.S. presidential election last Tuesday.But many Panamanians said they felt the change in the White House might lead to a new policy that would begin to break the political stalemate here.
"I think that the U.S. elections made Panamanians expectant," said Raul Ossa, a legislator of the opposition Christian Democratic party.
"(Panamanians) have the impression that a change (in presidents) means hope of a change for them, too," he said.
"Something has got to give," said one exasperated Panamanian economist. "We can't just go on like this."
Economic upheaval and a political impasse have gripped Panama since Feb. 25 when ousted President Eric Arturo Delvalle tried to fire Noriega, who had just been indicted on U.S. drug trafficking charges, and was instead ousted himself.
Since then, Washington has refused to recognize the government - traditionally one of its closest allies - in a nation where some 40,000 U.S. citizens live and work.
The political crisis and loss of confidence in Panama's stability has tipped its once flourishing service economy into a slow decline from which some economists fear it may never fully recover.
Delvalle's replacement, Manuel Solis Palma, said on Friday it was up to Washington to initiate talks to resolve the crisis surrounding moves to oust Noriega.