376. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Panama


  • Panama
    • His Excellency Roberto F. Chiari, President
    • His Excellency Galileo Solís, Foreign Minister
  • United States
    • The Hon. Ralph Dungan, The White House
    • The Hon. Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of the Army
    • The Hon. Thomas C. Mann, Assistant Secretary of State

Mr. Dungan, Mr. Vance and I called on President Chiari today in the Palace at about 3:15 in the afternoon. Foreign Minister Solis was present. Earlier in the day Solis had himself suggested that it would be appropriate for us to pay a courtesy call on the President.

I began the conversation by expressing our appreciation for the courtesies we had received and said we had come to pay our respects and to ask his leave to return to Washington now that progress had been made in restoring peace and order.

I said that I had already said to the Foreign Minister that there was no hurry in telling us whether Panama would be willing to resume diplomatic relations. Mr. Martin was staying behind to work with the Peace Committee and he could relay to Washington any message on the subject.

President Chiari said he had already decided to withdraw Panamanian diplomatic personnel from Washington and to remove the seal from the Embassy building. He requested that we do the same.

I said that we regretfully accepted his decision but that we wanted to make absolutely certain the President understood that we were ready to resume discussion of all problems, including those concerning the Panama Canal treaties, provided only there was no duress and no pre-condition about a Prior agreement to “structurally revise” the treaties.

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The President said further discussions about the existing treaties were useless. The condition to resumption of relations was that we agree to make a fresh start, to consider the treaties abrogated and to sit down to negotiate a new one fair to Panama and fair to the United States.

The conversation to this point was largely in Spanish. I asked the President for permission to repeat in English to my colleagues what he had just said. I did this and the President, who speaks English fairly well, confirmed in English that my summary was accurate.

Mr. Dungan then said that he found it difficult to reconcile this position with the friendly conversations about United States-Panamanian relations which he and President Kennedy had had in 1962 in Washington.2 Dungan said that emphasis in these meetings had been on reaching “practical solutions to practical problems.”

President Chiari said that he and President Kennedy had indicated sympathy to a fresh start to discussions about the Zone which did not take into account the existing treaties. A Joint Commission was set up. Since then little had been accomplished, he said, because the Americans said this or that issue was ruled by existing treaties or for other reasons. So the Joint Commission accomplished nothing. It was no use to start this kind of thing again.

President Chiari, continuing to speak in English, then said that United States equipment at the Rio Hato base should be evacuated by sea instead of being taken overland where it would be seen by Panamanians. The evacuation could be done by sea, in landing craft already at the base, and it would be all right if this were done in three or four weeks. Meanwhile the Guardia would protect the base and after its evacuation the Government would use the base buildings as schools to protect them. Neither we nor the President mentioned base personnel or the agreement under which we occupy the base. We made no comment on the statements about the Rio Hato base save to say we would look into this matter.

At this point, I asked if the three of us might speak to the President and the Foreign Minister alone. The Assistant Chief of Protocol, the Chief of Protocol and Captain Boyd of the Guardia (really of the Presidential Guard), who were sitting down the drawing room were then asked to leave, and they did.

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I then said that, entirely unrelated to the topics we had discussed, and because we would not soon be talking directly to each other again, I wished him to know that, according to our intelligence:

The Castroites, the Communists, have penetrated high positions in his Government and among them were advisors to the President himself.3
Castro would soon be trying to introduce arms into Panama.
Most of the persons just arrested for leading the recent riots have been released.

The President only nodded. He made no comment. I said I thought the President should know about our conclusions, based on our intelligence, because, though we were interested in stability in and peace with Panama, communism was even a greater danger to Panama than it was to the United States.

Finally, I asked if I could speak frankly about one final point: Since we would have no relations, I wanted to make absolutely clear that it was up to us to maintain order in the Canal Zone and to prevent invasions from the Zone into Panamanian territory; and equally it was up to the Government of Panama to maintain order in Panamanian territory and prevent invasions of people from Panamanian territory into the Zone. There should be no mistake. We would have to defend ourselves, including the women and children in the Zone, if mobs should again force their way into the Zone. The casualties could be heavy. No one except the Government of Panama could prevent further intrusions into the Zone. The responsibility on both Governments to maintain peace during the break in relations was therefore a heavy one.

The President expressed his agreement and, after observing the amenities, we took our leave.

The conversations were carried out in an atmosphere which was rather solemn and official-like but everyone was polite at all times. There were no recriminations except perhaps that the President’s statements about past failures to reach agreement could be called almost bitter.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL PAN–US. Confidential. Drafted by Mann on January 14. The meeting was held at the Presidential Palace.
  2. A memorandum of this conversation, June 12, 1962, is printed in Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XII, Document 405.
  3. On January 13 Helms provided the Department of State with information linking Panamanian official Thelma King and the Arias Madrid family, including presidential hopeful Arnulfo Arias, with the Castro regime. (Memorandum from Helms to Hughes; Central Intelligence Agency, Job 78–03041R, DDO/IMS Files, [file name not declassified])