65. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, June 24, 19581

SUBJECT

  • Dr. Milton Eisenhower’s Trip to Central America and Panama

PARTICIPANTS

  • The Secretary
  • Mr. Allen Dulles, Director of CIA
  • Dr. Milton Eisenhower’s Trip in 1958 261
  • Mr. George Allen, Director of USIA
  • Deputy Under Secretary Robert Murphy
  • Assistant Secretary R. R. Rubottom, Jr., ARA
  • Assistant Secretary William Macomber, H
  • Col. J. C. King
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary Allan Lightner, P
  • Mr. Frank Oram, USIA
  • Mr. Henry A. Hoyt, ARA

The Secretary inquired about the origin of the article by Mr. E. W. Kenworthy appearing in this morning’s New York Times 2 reporting that Dr. Eisenhower would start his trip on July 15. Mr. Rubottom and Mr. Lightner said that checks within the Department revealed that the information had not been given out by any Department officer and that it was assumed that Kenworthy had pieced the story together with certain general information he had obtained from several sources, possibly including Central America. It was pointed out that the Department Press Officer3 at his noon briefing had told the correspondents that the New York Times article was not correct and that dates for the trip have not been set since we are still discussing them with the host governments.

Mr. Rubottom explained the current situation in the countries which Dr. Eisenhower would visit, pointing out that Panama and Guatemala are still the countries in which trouble is most likely to occur. He reported that the trip is now being planned as a fact-finding mission rather than a good will tour and that in order to bolster the fact-finding aspects it is contemplated that Assistant Secretary of Treasury Coughran, the Deputy Director of ICA, Dr. FitzGerald, and the head of the Development Loan Fund, Mr. McIntosh, will be added to Dr. Eisenhower’s party. It was the consensus that this was an excellent idea and that this type of trip should be developed. Mr. Rubottom also referred to the detailed security and other preparations which are being made in order to help minimize the prospects of any trouble and to help insure the success of the trip.

Mr. Allen asked whether the countries were enthusiastic about the visit and also asked what it was we hoped to accomplish by the trip. Mr. Rubottom explained the reactions of the various governments, pointing out that they had all enthusiastically invited Dr. Eisenhower originally. He said it was hoped the trip would accomplish the purpose of strengthening contacts between important representatives of our Government and those of the Central American countries. He said the trip had been planned originally in order to help rebut some of the Latin American criticism of our neglect of the area and [Page 262] that it was believed by expanding the party to include representatives of Treasury, ICA and the DLF, there would be a genuine opportunity to discuss matters which vitally affect the countries visited and our relations with them.

The Secretary expressed the opinion that there might be some doubt about the value of a purely good will mission at this time but that it would be extremely damaging to allow Communist demonstrations to prevent high officials of our Government from going to countries of this hemisphere. The Secretary agreed that the character of the visit should be changed, as is now being contemplated.

It was suggested that developments arising as a result of the recent letter from President Kubitschek of Brazil to President Eisenhower and the forthcoming visit of the Secretary to Brazil might help overcome criticism that the United States was “running out” if the Eisenhower trip was postponed indefinitely.

Mr. Macomber expressed the opinion that Congressional reaction was likely to be bad if there was any trouble whatsoever during the Eisenhower trip. He pointed out that it would not need much of an incident to cause the press to pick up the story and highlight the bad points as had been done in the Nixon trip. Mr. Macomber posed the question whether the risks involved were not greater than any value which might arise from the trip.

Mr. Rubottom referred to previous and current [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] reports and said he believed the Secretary should weigh the risks which were outlined in those reports in deciding whether the trip should be held at this time. [2 sentences (31/2 lines of source text) not declassified]

The Secretary said that the New York Times had put us on a spot and that it would now be difficult to postpone the trip. He said that prior to this Times article he had been willing to consider delaying the visit until we were more sure that the time might be propitious. The Secretary said we had to expect some kind of demonstrations but that he felt very strongly that an overriding consideration was that we just couldn’t run away because of the threat of some demonstrations; that he did not like to operate from fear and that he did not feel that we could do so in this case. The Secretary said, however, that given the serious situation existing in Panama we should find out whether the visit might be used by opponents of the Government in such a way as to bring about the overthrow of the present friendly Government. The Secretary instructed that an intimate conversation should be held immediately with President de la Guardia of Panama to ascertain whether the visit would increase the dangers of a coup there. If the answer was in the affirmative, we should find a way to postpone the visit further. The Secretary also said he believed that if a serious situation should arise in any specific country en route—such as a labor [Page 263] strike in Honduras or a state of siege in Guatemala—that a way should be found to bring Dr. Eisenhower home without visiting the country involved.

Mr. Allen Dulles said the question of security in Guatemala concerned him more than in Panama. He pointed out that in the latter, security forces are probably sufficient to cope with the situation, even though they might have to use violence, but in Guatemala the security forces could not be counted on as reliable.

Mr. Murphy then expressed the opinion that he could not see any political advantage to be gained from the visit. He asked whether an excuse could be found for Dr. Eisenhower to drop out. Mr. Murphy pointed out that it is the Eisenhower name and direct connection with the President that makes the risks involved so great. He re-emphasized that he could not see any political advantage to be gained from the visit.

Mr. Allen suggested the possibility of having only the representatives of Treasury, ICA and DLF go on the trip—leaving out Dr. Eisenhower. He echoed Mr. Murphy’s thought that it is the direct connection with the President that makes Dr. Eisenhower’s inclusion a difficult one.

The Secretary again expressed his opinion that we should not give the Communists cause to claim that we “had run out” and thus gain a victory which they would exploit at every opportunity.

It was concluded that the approach would be made to the President of Panama. If the latter is of the opinion the visit might endanger his Government, the visit will be postponed indefinitely. If not, it will go ahead as scheduled, with the character changed to a fact-finding mission.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 120.1520/6–2458. Secret. Drafted by Hoyt.
  2. E. W. Ken worthy’s article, entitled “Dr. Eisenhower Sets Latin Visit,” was printed in The New York Times, June 24, 1958, p. 1.
  3. Lincoln White.
  4. Ambassador Harrington telephoned William E. Price on June 27 and informed him that he had had a conversation that morning with Panamanian President De la Guardia, who wanted to proceed with Dr. Eisenhower’s visit but believed he should call a meeting of his associates and advisers before reaching a final decision. As soon as he and his colleagues had decided, he would convey the result to Harrington. (Memorandum of conversation by Price, June 27; Department of State, Central Files, 120.1580/ 6–2758) In telegram 637 from Panama City, June 27, Harrington advanced the view that Dr. Eisenhower’s visit might precipitate serious demonstrations in Panama against De la Guardia that could lead to his downfall and would be highly detrimental to American prestige. (ibid.) In telegram 638 from Panama City, June 28, Harrington advised the Department of State that the Government of Panama had concluded that Milton Eisenhower’s visit in July was welcome and would pose no threat to President de la Guardian’s administration. (ibid., 120.1580/6–2858)