819.00/12–149: Telegram

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


781. Embassy comment general situation (mytels 780, November 301 and 751, November 25.). Conditions are improving despite tension between government and police and continued opposition Communist-influenced students. Demoralized united liberals have split up into warring factions, while Arnulfo Arias with undoubted large popular following is gaining adherents daily. He is saying all the right things and influential sections American business community now favor early recognition.

Arrangements have been made in collaboration with Commanders-in-Chief Carib2 and Governor Panama Canal3 to reduce to minimum hardship to population resulting from non-recognition. US position is generally understood and respected thanks to clear and timely statements of Department to press. Embassy is avoiding any contact with government or other political elements, but has exerted some influence indirectly through trusted members of American community in order to prevent harmful misunderstanding or press attacks designed to hasten recognition. It has been made clear that US action is one of disapproval of means by which government assumed power and not of persons involved, that non-recognition is not political intervention, that US values highly increased confidence of Panamanian public recently [Page 732] achieved, and that press criticism affecting this confidence adversely would not hasten recognition.

Dean Diplomatic Corps4 advises that so far as he knows no country represented here has made move locally to recognize government, all apparently awaiting result consultations. It now appears possible government may soon be able meet three conditions viz. “de facto” control, ability and willingness meet obligations, and acquiescence great majority of people (reference Deptcircinstr June 8, 19485).

Embassy comment. It is timely accordingly summarize as follows: Chief disadvantage recognition is that common to similar situations elsewhere, viz. criticism at home and abroad, compromise democratic principles and alleged preference governments imposed by force that will respect our interests. Arias is making strenuous efforts give government legal and democratic aspect at least. He is receiving impressive cooperation from Assembly and people despite weakness legal position.

Greatest uncertainty locally is outcome struggle of government to free itself of incubus of thoroughly discredited police clique that put it into power. It is unthinkable that Arias capable of accepting police domination, and it certainly would be against government’s political interests even to tolerate prolonged presence Remon et al and continuation rackets in their hands. Police on other hand have thus far refused accept any solution involving resignation present chiefs and Arias knows precipitate action would be fatal his government. Every day that passes however, is believed to make police coup against present government more hazardous for police, and in any event they would find the ousting of tough, experienced Arias quite different from forcing out the conscientious, genteel Dr. Chanis or the belatedly correct Roberto Chiari. Backed by enthusiastic supporters throughout republic who neither know nor care about any fine spun legal or moral questions, Arias is gaining in strength. His followers, many of whom are now said to be armed, would react violently if the now hated police chief should attempt to overthrow their idol. His possible assassination might even provoke another Bogotá6 with much graver consequences for US. It is believed Arias can be relied upon not to be precipitate but to outwit present police leadership eventually. In view difficulty this problem Embassy does not expect early solution.

Recognition will disappoint upper classes here, many of whom incidentally have forfeited much right to consideration because of willingness [Page 733] to abandon constitutional procedures. They will nevertheless be resentful and critical of our action.

A further disadvantage will be the risk we shall run in exposing our interests to a man who is notorious for his earlier phobia toward the US, disposition to be friendly with our enemies, and general instability. He and his friends assert that his attitude toward the US has changed completely and his Cabinet selections tend to give some confidence in this direction. The character risk is admittedly great but his self-interest should be our greatest protection if we can retain our present improved standing with the people of the country.

Chief reasons for recognition are that he seems to be establishing his government firmly with impressive popular support, that the disadvantages will not be dissipated by delay, that we are now risking being regarded by a large section of the public as attempting to prevent them from having the man of their choice, and that non-recognition inconveniences all concerned.

Recommendations follow in separate telegram.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Lt. Gen. Matthew D. Ridgway.
  3. Brig. Gen. Francis K. Newcomer.
  4. Emilio Ortiz de Zevallos, Ambassador of Peru.
  5. Not printed.
  6. For documentation on the Ninth International Conference of American States which met at Bogotá from March 30 to May 2, 1948, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. ix, pp. 1 ff.