Memorandum by the Acting Officer in Charge of the Division of Central America and Panama Affairs (Wise) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Miller)1


I think the point made in Mr. Barber’s memorandum of today’s date2 is well taken; namely, that we should be careful not to back Arnulfo Arias into a corner and thereby run the risk of making him more anti-American than he has been in the past.

In a telephone conversation yesterday,3 Ambassador Davis remarked that while a new coup d’etat is possible, it is not very probable and that the “optimismo” about which Enrique Jiménez4 spoke on Saturday actually did not obtain so much on Sunday. Therefore, it appears that Arnulfo may be on the throne to stay. There can be no doubt that he won the election last year and was cheated out of the Presidency by the fraudulent actions of the electoral jury. Arnulfo has great popular support in Panama.

Last week, Arnulfo quickly formed a coalition cabinet and proceeded rapidly to organize the rest of his Government. The main [Page 730] problem still existing, in my opinion, is the question of the relationship between Police Chief Remón and Arnulfo. I do not see how the strange alliance of these two individuals can last long. They have been bitter enemies and Ambassador Davis reports that Panama was shocked and stunned when Remón suddenly put Arias into the Presidency. Only one explanation can be found for this. It is that Remón was anxious to give his political enemies, the Jimenistas, the Chanistas and others, a blow such as only the designation of Arnulfo as President could.

Arnulfo claims to have the resignations of Remón, Vallarino and Flores, the top police officials. Arnulfo has announced this publicly. Ambassador Davis says Arnulfo does not have the resignations. This again may be a deal between Arnulfo and Remón to appease the students and bring the strikes in Panama to a halt. If so, it still does not solve the basic problem of the relationship between the two leaders. It may be that eventually they can agree on police heads who will satisfy them both. It does not seem probable that Remón and Arnulfo can continue to hold their respective offices at the same time. If both insist, there could conceivably result in Panama a very nasty situation; even serious bloodshed.

Remón is powerful. He was a Captain in the police force under Arnulfo 1940–1941, when the famous Masegosa was Chief. He was second in command under Fabrega during the administration of Ricardo Adolfo de la Guardia, 1941–1945. He has been Chief of Police since under the administrations of Jiménez, Diaz and Chanis.

In this whole deal, Harmodio Arias must have been as much surprised as anyone. His lucrative cattle business was greatly damaged by Remón’s racketeer slaughtering. I imagine that when Harmodio, through a representative, insisted that Chanis have a showdown with Remón,5 he little anticipated that it would eventually result in Arnulfo, his brother, becoming President. The Arias brothers, as is well known, have a very strained relationship. The influence of the powerful Harmodio will still be felt in Panamanian politics. When all these factors are taken into consideration, it may be that the political scene in Panama will remain tense for some time to come.

When Arnulfo returned to Panama from exile in 1945 he talked of obtaining a visa in order to visit the United States. He stated that his purpose in coming here would be to convince United States authorities that he was not as bad as he had been pictured and that he could and would cooperate with the United States if given a chance. [Page 731] He may have been pro-Nazi earlier because he was convinced that Germany would win the war and that it was in his best interests to play the winner. He may even have had the grandiose idea that out of the war Panama would be given the Canal and the Canal Zone. In any event, I believe Arnulfo was more fascist or totalitarian than Nazi.

Arnulfo is intelligent and shrewd and can make himself one of Panama’s strongest Presidents. It would not be too risky to predict if he can firmly establish himself and organize a loyal government behind him that he might decide to cooperate rapidly and effectively with the United States and take an aggressive initiative in endeavoring to settle many pending problems successfully.

M[urray M.] W[ise]
  1. This memorandum was addressed also to Mr. Barber; Edward G. Cale, Deputy Director of the Office of Middle American Affairs; Thomas C. Mann, Special Assistant in that Office; and William B. Sowash of the Division of Central America and Panama Affairs.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Memorandum not printed.
  4. Enrique A. Jiménez, President of Panama from 1945 to 1948.
  5. Ambassador Davis had reported in telegrams 722 and 735 from Panama, November 21 and 23. respectively, information leading him to believe that Harmodio Arias was connected with Dr. Chanis’ firmness towards the police (819.00/11–2149 and 819.00/11–2349).