Memorandum by Mr. Ernest V. Siracusa of the Office of Middle American Affairs to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Miller)1


Subject: Developments in Panama

We have not yet received reports from Panama except for Mr. Wise’s telephone call to Mr. Siracusa last night. Our preliminary estimate of the situation is as follows:

Arias’ move is the culmination of his long standing desire to consolidate his power and relieve himself of restraints from the National Assembly, the Supreme Court and the opposition parties. The opportunity was afforded by the opposition-inspired run on the Caja de Ahorros and public disturbances that resulted therefrom. The key to the situation continues to rest with Remón and the National Police. Present reports are that he fully supports Arias and no doubt Arias had this assurance before he acted. However, it would seem that Remón, rather than Arias, has improved in strength. Arias is farther out on a limb than he was before and more indebted to Remón. Presumably Remón can increase his price, whatever it may be, for cooperation with Arias. Also, depending upon how he judges reaction to Arias’ move, Remón could step in as a benefactor and remove Arias on the ground that he had violated the liberty of the Panamanian people and assumed dictatorial powers. It seems significant that Remón may have endeavored not to identify himself with this move to retain such flexibility. The Secret Police, it is to be pointed out, and not the National Police, have been the only ones reported so far to have participated in the sporadic gun play and arrests.

We tend to discount Arias’ statements that his move is really a counter to communist activities which threaten the security of Panama and the Canal Zone. It is true that the Supreme Court and the National Assembly denied him certain requested powers with respect to controlling communist activities. However the basic issues appear to be predominantly local and the communist aspect comes in only in [Page 1548] so far as they have exploited the views of the nationalist hotheads and the Liberals who form the strong core of opposition to Arias. Real motivation seems to lie in the normal domestic political struggle for power fanned to some extent by the bitter personal animosities existent there, and the excesses and venality of the Arias regime. One of Arias’ motives in wishing to discard the 1946 Constitution was to remove the legal limitation on his tenure in power. The 1941 Constitution which he has restored was tailor-made by him to fit his desires during his first incumbency and provides for a six-year Presidential term.

Our position vis-à-vis Panama would not seem to be affected except in so far as another Latin American Government has lost, at least temporarily, its semblance of democracy. No doubt communists will attack us and accuse us of inspiring it.

  1. Addressed also to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Thomas C. Mann, and Ambassador Nufer.