Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Central America and Panama Affairs (Wise)

Participants: Ambassador Octavio Vallarino of Panama
Mr. Daniels—ARA
Mr. Wise—CPA
Mr. Bennett1CPA

The Panamanian Ambassador called on Mr. Daniels by appointment. He said he had been instructed to do so by President Jimenez and to place before the Department the serious apprehension which Panama felt over information that Arnulfo Arias2 with the aid of the Costa Rican Government was contemplating an attack on Panama via Puerto Armuelles. The Ambassador referred to his Sunday afternoon conversations with Mr. Wise and said that he wished to lay emphasis on Panama’s need for effective help in this situation. He said that President Jimenez had talked to Somoza of Nicaragua who had promised to aid Panama by moving into Costa Rica should that country invade Panama. The Ambassador said that such plans, if carried into effect, undoubtedly could lead to a general Central American conflagration. The Ambassador added that President Jimenez viewed the situation so seriously that Panama had given instructions to its delegates at the UN to present the matter to the Security Council.

Mr. Daniels told Ambassador Vallarino that he appreciated the frankness with which Panama had come to the United States on this matter. Mr. Daniels said that during recent weeks he had had several conversations with the Costa Rican Ambassador and had very definitely gained the impression that Costa Rica was interested primarily in local politics and economic problems and that intervention in the internal affairs of other countries was not of interest to Figueres3 and his administration. Mr. Daniels said that the Costa Rican Ambassador had stated this position so clearly and categorically that he found it very hard to believe reports that the Costa Rican Government would be aiding Arnulfo Arias to prepare an attack on Panama. [Page 181]Mr. Daniels added that at one time the Department had some fear lest the Costa Rican Government might be inclined to support the so-called Caribbean brigade which had as its objective the overthrow of Somoza, Carias and eventually Trujillo. However, Mr. Daniels said that in his opinion time had proved that if Costa Rica ever had any such interest in the Caribbean brigade it had now abandoned it. Mr. Daniels then referred to repeated rumors which had come to the Department of revolutionary proposals in practically all of the Central American republics, and that the continuation of these reports and continued speculation on possible military action only tended to keep the situation tense and in a state not salutary to the best interests of Central America or of the hemisphere. Mr. Daniels more than once reiterated his strong belief that the Costa Rican Government would not satisfy the requests of Arnulfo Arias for military assistance in any attack on Panama.

The Panamanian Ambassador said he hoped that what Mr. Daniels said was true, that it well might be, but that Panama was informed to the contrary and hoped that the United States could make appropriate representations to Figueres and Somoza. The Ambassador quoted President Jimenez as saying that preventative action was all up to the United States which undeniably had the power to prevent the trouble which was reportedly arising.

The Panamanian Ambassador showed a very friendly and courteous attitude throughout the entire conversation, at one point asked Mr. Daniels if the United States was not obliged by the 1936 Treaty4 to come to the defense of Panama and if so, just what the United States would propose to do in case Costa Rica invaded Panamanian territory and move forward to the extent of threatening the Canal. Without waiting for his question to be answered, however, the Ambassador asked Mr. Daniels just what the Department would suggest as appropriate action for Panama to take. Mr. Daniels replied that he thought the first move of importance was to find out directly from the Costa Rican Government what its intentions were. The Panamanian Ambassador said that this could be done but that Costa Rica might say one thing while being in the process of doing another. Mr. Daniels said that this, of course, would present a great problem and would require the very serious consideration of the United States and other-countries neighboring Costa Rica. Mr. Daniels said that in view of the assurances of Costa Rica’s peaceful intentions he believed we should accept them at face value until the activities of the Costa Rican Government were proved otherwise.

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The Ambassador said that the attitude of Mr. Daniels had been helpful and somewhat encouraging and then inquired whether Mr. Daniels would recommend countermanding the instructions which had been given to the Panamanian delegates at the United Nations. Mr. Daniels didn’t want to be placed in a position of making any recommendation in this respect to the Panamanian Government, but he did indicate that in his opinion any presentation of the Panamanian case to the Security Council at this time would be premature.

The Ambassador appeared very grateful for the interview and said that he would call the President of Panama immediately to report on the conversation. He added that he would keep in close touch with the Department and report any developments which came to his attention. The Departmental officers assured the Ambassador that he should feel free to call or come in at any time.5

  1. William Tapley Bennett, Jr., Division of Central America and Panama Affairs.
  2. Former President of Panama.
  3. José Figueres Ferrer, President of the Founding Junta of the Second Republic, Costa Rica.
  4. For general treaty of friendship and cooperation between the United States and Panama, signed March 2, 1936, see Department of State Treaty Series No. 945, or 53 Stat. 1807.
  5. In a memorandum of August 10, not printed, Mr. Wise noted that the Panamanian Ambassador had telephoned at 11:00 that morning to say that the Costa Rican Ambassador had called on him by appointment and given Panama every assurance that the Costa Rican Government had only the most friendly intentions toward Panama and would do everything possible to prevent within its territory the organization of any movement of aggression on Panama; the Panamanian Ambassador was satisfied with this development (718.19/8–1048).