375. Telegram From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mann) to Secretary of State Rusk 1

SC1144A. Vance, Mann, Martin, Stuart and LtCol Moura met this afternoon with Panamanian Foreign Minister Solis, David Samudio, Director of Planning of the Presidency, Eloy Benedetti, Judiciary Advisor of the Foreign Office, William Morgan Chiari and returned with the President’s reply. Foreign Minister said at end of first conversation he could make no comment until he had consulted with Chiari. Five topics were discussed:

1.

We informed the Panamanians of Secretary Vance’s decision that American flags would be flown outside of schools in the Zone and, in compliance with U.S.-Panama agreement, Panamanian flags would be flown side by side with U.S. flags. I said this meant 18 new flag stations and would raise the total number of flag stations to about 35. He pointed out Vance’s decision involved no new concession but only execution of Prior agreement. We pointed out no concession possible under duress.

Panamanians pressed hard for display of Panamanian flag on ships transiting canal and in U.S. military installations in Zone. We replied we were disposed to study these two issues but could make no commitment. After return from Presidency, Panamanians stated that flying of flag at 18 schools should not in any sense be interpreted as settlement of question of whether U.S. was complying with KennedyChiari communiqué during Presidential visit.2 During conversation on this point, we offered to coordinate press release covering this with Panamanians. After returning from Presidency, Panamanians made clear Vance’s decision was U.S. unilateral decision. We said we understood both sides reserved their position on remaining flag issues. We have reports that Panamanians in streets applauded radio announcements of Vance’s press release.

2.

We informed Panamanians that five known agitators were at that moment haranguing large and growing crowd in Shaler triangle and requested that Guardia Nacional be instructed to arrest these five men, all of who have received training in Cuba. The Foreign Minister [Page 789]requested names of the five men and these were supplied him. We stated that situation was urgent and if there was further delay in authorizing Guardia Nacional to act, situation could become critical in terms of Panamanian ability to maintain law and order and could lead to bloodshed on a much greater scale than had taken place in the last few days. We also informed Panamanians that there have been four more U.S. military casualties today on the Atlantic side of Zone. Fire returned with shotgun today on only one sniper. Also snipers were firing regularly into the Tivoli Hotel from Panamanian territory. U.S. Lieutenant was wounded by this fire after meeting. (Shortly before midnight, Mann telephoned Foreign Minister and told him four snipers on roof of legislative palace still firing into Tivoli Hotel.)

After returning from Presidency, Foreign Minister stated categorically and with considerable emphasis that the President had decided to order National Guard to restore order and that this would be accomplished forthwith.

While not certain, our estimate is that if Guardia Nacional acts with decisiveness and speed, it can probably still regain control of the situation. Further delay could be fatal. A few minutes ago, Vallarino, first commandant of the Nacional Guard, informed General Bogart that he was on way to the Presidency and after his return he expected to request us to supply him with tear gas. (A truck was immediately loaded with tear gas in anticipation of such a request.)

While Foreign Minister’s statement regarding restoration of order was unconditional, we received word through chairman of Peace Committee that Nacional Guard would act only if U.S. military withdrew from Canal Zone boundary, a sufficient distance so as to be invisible from Panama side.

General O’Meara stated that on the Pacific side this condition already exists except when necessary to repel invaders and except for two military police at each Zone entry point stationed there to control entry of legitimate traffic. This has been conveyed to Tejera and condition has been withdrawn, though Chiari has asked and received authority to announce he is acting at request of Chairman, Peace Commission.

3.

We informed Panamanians we had had a long and constructive discussion with Peace Committee which had requested us to designate U.S. official who could work with committee.3 We replied immediately [Page 790]that Martin would represent U.S. Presumably the Peace Commission made the same request of Panamanians. After his return from Presidency, Foreign Minister stated that Ambassador Arango would be representative of GOP before commission.

Parenthetically, we report that Peace Committee impressed us as being objective and constructive. They correctly stated their first job was to bring an end to disorders. They said that they did not consider themselves to be a fact-finding committee but that their role was rather one of conciliation. In addition to our giving them an oral summary of developments since the beginning of violence, we informed committee of Vance’s decision to fly U.S. and Panamanian flags in front of Zone schools and gave them candid statement of U.S. position on issue of treaty revision. Committee stated that it did not consider itself authorized to get into issue of possible “structural revisions” of treaty but thought committee could be useful in trying to identify issues which could contribute immediately to present crisis and to attempt to conciliate differences between the two governments on these issues. We expressed agreement in principle. In our opinion, commission’s view realistic and constructive. We offered fullest cooperation, including facilities for inspecting Zone and detailed inspection of places in Zone where controversial events have taken place, including inspection of vehicles alleged to be tanks. We contradicted commission’s information machine guns were used by U.S. police and military. We stressed factors of surprise, small size of Zone police, aggressive and violent attitude of Panamanians who invaded Zone, necessity of protecting women and children, and overwhelming superiority of Panamanians as compared with police available in earliest stages of rioting.

4.
We next informed Panamanians of U.S. positions as described in numbered paragraphs 3 and 4 of White House message CAP 64016.4 Essentially same position had been given Chiari night before. Panamanians asked for repetition. We carefully went over this ground twice. Upon their return from presidency, Panamanians stated President Chiari would discuss this and other substantive issues only after they had demonstrated their capability to restore order in Panama. We have unconfirmed reports Panamanians will continue to insist, as Chiari did in his first conversation, that U.S. agree in principle to “structural revisions” of treaty as a condition precedent to GOP agreeing to further discussions of outstanding issues, including resumption of relations. Department should understand clearly this is principal issue and not our willingness to engage in discussions. It is however still possible that Chiari will cave.
5.

We stated to Panamanians we were at a loss to reconcile Chiari’s complaint to me that we had not promptly named an Ambassador to replace Farland with statements of GOP officials over radio and to our charge here that diplomatic relations already severed. We asked for clarification. Upon their return from presidency, Panamanians stated that this was also issue that would be discussed with us after GOP had restored order in Panama City. We expect, but cannot be sure, we will be told tomorrow that relations have been severed. If this proves to be the case, this is obviously irrational maneuver on Chiari’s part to strengthen his pose before Panamanian people as the champion of Panamanian sovereignty and its claims to Canal Zone. As an out, Panama may intend to use Peace Committee as forum for discussions of outstanding issues.

At conclusion of meeting, Foreign Minister requested that we postpone our return to Washington. We said we had intended to return Sunday5 but would stay over a while longer.6

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Histories, Panama Crisis, 1964. Confidential; Immediate. Passed to the White House, CIA, OSD, and USUN.
  2. The text of the communiqué is in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1962, pp. 481–482.
  3. At a 4:30 p.m. meeting of the OAS Peace Commission in Panama City on January 11, Mann stated: “One, we cannot negotiate under pressure of violence or threats to break relations; therefore, any demand for structural revisions is not acceptable to the United States. Two, under appropriate circumstances, and after peace has been reestablished, we welcome the idea of discussing all problems with our Panamanian friends.” (Memorandum for the record prepared by Lieutenant Colonel Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Histories, Panama Crisis, 1964)
  4. Document 374.
  5. January 12.
  6. Rusk informed the President that the delegation planned to leave Panama City following the 3 p.m. meeting with Chiari on January 13, and Johnson approved. (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Rusk, January 13, 12:45 p.m.; Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Tape F64.05, Side A, PNO 5) The President called Bundy to arrange to meet Mann and the delegation upon their arrival in Washington. The President then asked Bundy, “How are we goin’ to leave the impression with the country that we’re not soft on Panama after Rusk tells the AP that we’re goin’ to negotiate.” Bundy responded that Rusk swore he didn’t say that. The President replied that the “AP quotes him all morning long. I heard it as sayin’ that as soon as we get quieted down, we’re goin’ start negotiatin’.” Bundy agreed to talk to Rusk. The President then stated, “I talked to him so damned much about it that I’m gettin’ embarrassed for mentioning it.” Both Bundy and the President agreed that most leaks came from the Department, not Rusk. Bundy suggested Rusk was “a clam presiding over a sieve.” The President continued to complain about leaks and suggested that Bundy tell Ball, Harriman, “and the rest of them” that he was “getting damned sensitive about it.” (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Bundy, January 13, 1:05 p.m.; ibid., Side B, PNO 2)