120. Telegram From the Ambassador in Panama (Chapin) to the Department of State1

364. During past week rumors have been circulating with increasing intensity that real motive behind Remon’s assassination was his sudden interference with drug traffic and names of certain high Panamanian officials are being whispered widely. Last night’s Nacion after featuring headlines stories re Panama’s reputed position as center western drug traffic quotes associate attorney for prosecution, Doctor Jose Lasso de la Vega as stating “Guizado and Miro were used by those who really planned the crime in order remove the obstacle to the realization of their nefarious business.”

As date of Guizado trial March 21 approaches it becomes more evident that forces in government and in control of National Assembly are making every effort to make trial cut and dried and are determined by hook or crook to find Guizado guilty. This belief strengthened by today’s press reports of President Arias’ insistence in speech last night that those guilty of conspiracy against Remon be punished severely and announcement that Assembly trial would run continuously with only minor recesses. See Memminger’s letter March 16 to Sowash.2

Defense, already handicapped by inability to subpoena and examine witnesses and by an apparently conscious withholding of certain existing evidence available but damaging to prosecution will be hamstrung by fact only written testimony will be admitted in trial and witnesses not permitted appear in person. This procedure for example would seem to throw out Miro’s later retractions and repudiations of earlier confessions involving Guizado. According to certain Panamanian legal opinion, believed reasonably unbiased, above “procedure” not illegal although certainly unique.

In conversations with prominent Panamanians and local businessmen and with diplomatic colleagues, I find cynical and apathetic acceptance of belief that real authors of crime will not be brought to book and that Guizado and Miro will be made scapegoats since the alternative, acquittal, at least might completely discredit police force and present government and at most would call for arrest and [Page 254] prosecution of powerful forces who might anticipate such action by armed seizure of government.

It is possible that all evidence against Guizado has not yet been made public and that trial could possibly result in conviction based upon just and correct procedures. Embassy has neither sufficient knowledge of Panamanian legal procedures nor of the evidence in this case to pass upon guilt or innocence of accused. Admittedly Guizado enjoys no widespread popularity and hence is unlikely receive much general sympathy unless proceedings utterly abominable.

In circumstances and although I believe we shall in fact witness a miscarriage of justice which in effect might result in illegal government in power, I do not see how we can make representations here officially without opening ourselves to charge of political interference in domestic affairs of Panama. Moreover I suggest that most Panamanians including those in responsible positions have no realization that such a star chamber proceeding will be viewed abroad as evidence of denial of freedom and justice according to straight totalitarian principles. Should trial proceed as I think it will and should it be reported accurately in US press, there might ensue such reaction as could well prejudice ratification of treaty by Senate.

Department might wish consider whether it wishes pass on friendly and informal word of warning to Panamanian Embassy Washington.

Chapin
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 719.11/3–1755. Secret; Priority.
  2. In this letter, Memminger discussed recent developments in the Guizado trial. “The trial of Guizado by the Assembly,” he suggested in part, “could have far wider and deeper repercussions than are dreamed of here at present. It seems to me that the ‘fix is in’ and that the very best Guizado can hope for is a suspended sentence. At the worst he might get ten years at Coiba where he would be unlikely to live for more than six months.” (Ibid., ARA Files: Lot 60 D 667, Panama 1955—Political Local)