The Ambassador in Panama (Davis) to the Department of State


No. 550

The President informed Ambassador Davis at noon on Saturday, November 19, that he intended to call the Commander of the National Police, Colonel José A. Remon, to the Presidencia at 4:00 p. m. that afternoon, ask him to resign, and replace him with Colonel Rogelio Fabrega who once before held the post and was later Consul General of Panama in New York. The President also proposed to replace the second and third ranking officers of the National Police, Lieutenant Colonel Bolívar Vallarino and Major Saturnino Flores with, respectively, Major Oscar Ocaña Vieto, head of the police in Colón, who had served for many years as an officer of the National Police, had once commanded the Presidential Guard, and served as Military Attaché to Guatemala and Costa Rica, and Major Manuel Palau, Commander of the Presidential Guard and former police officer.1

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President Chanis said that he felt impelled to take this action because of police corruption stemming from the top. It is believed that he considered particularly intolerable the open scandal in the slaughter of cattle and distribution of meat (Embassy’s despatch 496 of October 29, 19492).

The President said he intended to use armed resistance, placing his reliance in the Presidential Guard, in defending himself and the Presidencia if Col. Remón or the police refused to accept his decision and resorted to force.

Col. Remón was late to the appointment but arrived at the Presidencia at 5:30 p. m., was asked for his resignation and was detained there. President Chanis then sent Minister of Government and Justice Abilio Bellido, the cabinet officer nominally in charge of the police, with Fábrega, Oeaña and Palau to police headquarters with instructions for them to assume command of the police. However, all of these gentlemen were held at the headquarters and were not permitted to carry out their instructions. President Chanis then communicated with Lt. Col. Vallarino, ordering him to transfer police command to the new nominees. Instead of complying, Vallarino asked to talk with Col. Remón and, upon being refused permission, sent police units to surround the Presidencia; whereupon the President dispatched to police headquarters Col. Remón, who was thus set at liberty, with a negotiating committee composed of David Samudio A., Minister of Public Works, Roberto F. Chiari, First Vice President, Ramón Jimenez, Minister of Finance and Treasury, Gregorio Miro, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and ex-Presidents of the Republic Ricardo Adolfo de la Guardia and Dr. Ricardo J. Alfaro. Col. Remón sent back an ultimatum to the President to resign before 2:00 a. m. Sunday, November 20, or he would have the police attack the Presidencia. The President refused to resign and announced his intention to resist the attack but as the 2:00 a. m. deadline approached ten Chiefs of Mission accredited to Panamá, including the Dean, Peruvian Ambassador Dr. Emilio Ortiz de Zevallos, Ambassador Davis and the Papal Chargé Monsignor Paul Bernier, called at the police barracks, urged an extension of time before the police attack basing their interest on humanitarian grounds. Ambassador Davis emphasized especially the importance which the United States has always attached to democratic processes and to constitutional methods. The Chiefs of Mission made it clear that they were in no way intervening in the internal affairs of the Republic but were seeking to avoid bloodshed. As a result of their efforts, the police extended the deadline but still [Page 724] threatened to attack the Presidencia before dawn if their terms were not met.3

The President then sent Minister Samudio, ex-President Ricardo Adolfo de la Guardia and Augusto S. Boyd, Jr., former Secretary to de la Guardia during his presidential term and son of an ex-President, to the Police proposing that President Chanis request a leave of absence for six months, Vice President Chiari become acting President, the three police commanders be ousted, but that none, of the other police officers be removed. Major Flores and Major Alfredo Gomez, speaking for the officers of the police, replied that no condition involving the removal of Remón and Vallarino would be accepted.

President Chanis finally agreed to the police ultimatum, gave his resignation to Aquilino Boyd, President of the National Assembly, and left the Presidencia for his home in Panama City and a return to private life with the statement “I believe I have acted in the best possible interests of the country” and that his decision to resign was “in order to avoid bloodshed”. Under Article 146 of the Constitution the resignation must be presented to the National Assembly for acceptance or rejection. Dr. Chanis resigned just three months and twenty-four days after becoming provisional President on July 28, 1949 and two months and twenty-eight days after assuming office on the death of ex-President Domingo Diaz Arosemena August 23, 1949.

Members of the Supreme Court were summoned to swear in Vice President Roberto F. Chiari as President of the Republic and Remón triumphantly announced that “the Police Department will remain exactly as it is”. The Justices took this action with some reluctance since earlier in the night two of their number, Jurado and Morales, had been detained by the Police.

Because the first open action was taken well after nightfall, the population in general knew nothing of the events while they were in progress. Police guards were stationed at strategic points throughout the city, radio stations were closed down and telephone service disconnected. Ex-President Arnulfo Arias was arrested at his estate in Boquete on Saturday evening but was released at Remón’s order early Sunday morning. Dr. Chanis knew, of course, the risk involved when he made his decision to attempt to replace the police command and apparently is not only reconciled to his loss of the Presidency but [Page 725] relieved to be discharged of the obligations of his office under existing conditions and to be returning to private life. He smilingly told the Ambassador and Counselor Hall that he would be glad to attend them as patients since he is resuming the practice of medicine.

There is enclosed a copy of an editorial, with an office translation, from La Estrella de Panama of November 21, 1949,4 which reflects the general dismay with which these events have been viewed by the thinking public.

. . . . . . .

For the Ambassador:
G. Wallace La Rue

Second Secretary of Embassy
  1. In telegram 706 from Panama City, November 19, 1949, 5 p. m. Ambassador Davis had said in part: “Embassy has high opinion President’s integrity and moral character. There is no doubt however that his precipitate action will occasion crisis and expose his administration to serious danger from elements that would profit by its overthrow.” (819.00/11–1949)
  2. In this despatch the Ambassador reported that a meat slaughtering monopoly enjoyed by a cooperative in which police officials were interested had been declared unconstitutional, and that since the court decision the cooperative had maintained its preferred position by open use of force. (819.00/10–2949)
  3. The Department’s telegram 446, November 21, 1949, to Panama, said in part: “Thus far action of dipl[omatic] corps appears to have been wholly constructive. Our only additional suggestion is that in future discussions with Panamanian officials you might wish in so far as you deem appropirate to act in concert with dean dipl[omatic] corps and papal chargé so as to avoid ground for criticism unilateral action on our part.” (819.00/11–2149)

    For the Department’s press release of November 21 regarding the action of the diplomatic corps on the night of November 19–20, see Department of State Bulletin, November 28, 1949, p. 800.

  4. Not printed.