819.00/11–2549: Telegram

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


751. Embassy comment: When within half hour after Supreme Court rendered decision (Embtel 750, November 251), Remón carried out his threat to conduct Arnulfo Arias2 to Presidencia it constituted dramatic betrayal group who countenanced use of force five days ago to overthrow Chanis allegedly because of fear of Arias’ influence (Embtel 735, November 28 [23?]3) Prominent politicians who supported Arias’ coup last night included Caniel Crespo, Jorge Ramirez Duque, Ernesto De La Guardia Jr., Major Alfredo Aleman, Deputy Alfredo Aleman Jr., Temistocles Diaz son of late President Diaz and José E (Baby) Jimenez of meat racket fame. Inclusion of last bears out Chiari prophecy (Embtel 722, November 213) that racketeers would find it easy to come to terms with Arnulfo Arias.

While action Remón and Arias may evidence flattering confidence reality our non-intervention policy, it shows also a cynical disregard of principles democratic and otherwise, and complete disdain for our oft repeated expressions of policy. It is believed Remón and his gangster associates are incapable understanding international implications, [Page 726] and since they do not care about their own country’s reputation and prestige it is idle to expect them have any regard for ours.

Apparently it is their idea that they can be brazen about their illegal procedure and yet insist we recognize decisions forced upon their judicial and legislative branches. One of their first acts has been to obtain a reversal of the electoral jury’s decision to declare Arnulfo Arias the duly elected president,4 and while ignoring the Supreme Court decision (Embtel 750, November 25) recognizing Dr. Chanis as President, it is clear they intend to ask us recognize their government pursuant our policy accept decisions constitutional bodies. Our position on electoral count decision declaring Domingo Diaz president is very clear,5 that is decisions not under duress are accepted, it being responsibility Panamanian Government manner in which courts and other bodies function. It is believed we should deal frankly with this question in order make US position clear before present regime has time becloud issue. We should make clear that had electoral jury declared Arnulfo Arias President in 1948, decision would have been accepted unquestionably and recognition would have been automatic. The electoral jury, however, declared its [his?] opponent elected, and whether decision fair or not was not responsibility US Government to determine. Whatever the circumstances we cannot agree they justify the illegal seizure of power by use of force and disregard of Supreme Court decision. Hence recognition cannot be extended official acts by judicial, legislative and other government bodies under government that has its being through illegal use of force. If that force will depose presidents, it obviously will brook no freedom of expression in courts or legislature.

Our reaction to latest coup should be prompt and clear, and to be effective measures should be taken contemplated make some impression on mentality Remon et al.

Since we have let it be known we would be guided by action of National Assembly and Supreme Court, it would be logical to do, stating US Government therefore recognizes Chanis as constitutional president and is prepared proceed conduct of normal business once illegal interference by force ceases to impede. This course should not, however, be taken unless we are prepared to make determined stand and see it through, making it clear no action by illegal government will be recognized and efforts to apply pressure will be countered by [Page 727] all measures short of intervention. Such a course would be gratifying to real friends of the United States and democracy and those having regard for principle, but would expose us to the malicious attacks and acts of reprisal on the part of an unscrupulous and brazenly dishonest combination of some of the worst elements in this part of the world.

If we are not prepared to refuse to accept obviously dishonest legal fictions, we should merely express disapproval of illegal nature of coup and prepared to recognize it as de facto eventually. If we recognize government, there will be no question of conditions such as calling elections since we would be accepting the reversal of previous electoral court decision. If we take latter course, it is believed Arnulfo Arias will quickly establish himself firmly by combination of intimidation and other high-handed means and will probably dispose of Remon by fair means or foul. His dictatorship can be expected to be absolute and I am confident he will cooperate with our enemies to our embarrassment. We need have no illusions about the loss of prestige we shall suffer, the outpouring of abuse and misrepresentations that will be inspired, and the difficulties our interests will encounter. Frankly, I feel our character rather than our sincerity is on trial and I recommend a correct but uncompr[om]ising course. At diplomatic corps meeting called for 11:30 a. m., I shall state that Embassy is awaiting instructions on question of recognition.

  1. Not printed. In telegram 746 from Panama City, November 24, 1949, not printed, Ambassador Davis reported in part that the Supreme Court had declared Dr. Chanis to be President of Panama (819.00/11–2449).
  2. Dr. Arnulfo Arias Madrid, President of Panama from 1940 to 1941 and a candidate in the 1948 presidential election.
  3. Not printed, but see footnote 5 to the memorandum of November 28, 1949, from Murray M. Wise, Acting Officer in Charge of the Division of Central America and Panama Affairs, to Mr. Miller, p. 730.
  4. Not printed, but see footnote 5 to the memorandum of November 28, 1949, from Murray M. Wise, Acting Officer in Charge of the Division of Central America and Panama Affairs, to Mr. Miller, p. 730.
  5. This sentence was apparently transmitted incorrectly. In despatch 556 from Panama, November 26, 1949, the Embassy relayed the electoral jury’s decision, taken the night of November 24, to revise the final tabulations in the 1948 presidential election and to declare Dr. Arias the winner. That same night the National Assembly declared Dr. Arias to be President. (819.00/11–2649)
  6. The jury had declared Diaz the winner on July 30, 1948; see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. ix, p. 657, footnote 1.