379. Editorial Note

On January 15, 1964, the Inter-American Peace Committee issued a communiqué noting its satisfaction with “the re-establishment of peace” between the United States and Panama, “which is an indispensable condition for understanding and negotiation between the parties.” The English-language version of the communiqué reported that the parties have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and “have agreed to begin discussions which will be initiated thirty days after diplomatic relations are re-established by means of representatives who will have sufficient powers to discuss without limitations all existing matters of any nature which may affect the relations between the United States and Panama.” (Department of State Bulletin, February 3, 1964, page 156)

Initial reaction to the communiqué in Washington indicated that the crisis may have passed. At the January 15 daily White House staff meeting, Bundy commented that “our success in Panama thus far is largely due to the first-rate personal performance of the President.” (Memorandum for the record prepared by William Y. Smith, January 15; National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Chairman’s Staff Group)

Following release of the communiqué in Panama, however, a dispute arose between the parties over interpretation of the text whether the Spanish word “negociar” meant “discuss,” as it appeared in the English text, or “negotiate,” as the Panamanians argued. According to a January 16 memorandum from Bundy to Johnson, President Chiari said in a public statement on January 15: “I promised the nation that [Page 806] diplomatic relations would not be re-established with the United States until that country consented to begin negotiations for the drafting of a new treaty, and this promise has been obtained through the mediation of the Inter-American Peace Committee.’” (Memorandum to the President from Bundy, January 16; Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. I, November 1963– February 1964) According to a report from Martin in Panama, Foreign Minister Solis had said to him: “Chiari had to say what he did because ‘Communists are still agitating and the university students have not understood IPC communiqué.’’” (Telegram SC12300A from Martin to Mann, January 15; ibid., NSC Histories, Panama Crisis, 1964)

President Johnson told Rusk on January 16: “I think we sit tight on the Peace Committee’s statement. It’s possible that some of the leftwingers will try to force Chiari’s hand but I think we’ve gone about as far as we can go at this point, and I think he’ll find a way to swing around and not cause too much trouble.” (Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Secretary Rusk, January 16, 1:15 p.m.; ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Tape F64.06, Side A, PNO 4)