386. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mann) to Secretary of State Rusk1


  • The Panama Problem

It seems to me that the “line” we take from here on out in our talks with Panamanians and with other Latin Americans is very important.

Chiari decided to put pressure on the United States to force us to agree, in advance of discussions, to negotiate a new treaty to replace, or at least substantially alter, existing treaties. As Moreno has confirmed to Bunker, this means language which can be interpreted as United States pre-commitments to open up the sovereignty and perpetuity issues to re-negotiation.

Breaking of relations was part of the tactic of pressure. The demagogic press, television and radio campaigns by Panamanian media, controlled for a time from the Presidencia itself, was part of the tactic. So was the complicity of Panamanian Government officials in the 36 hours of violence. The demagogic appeals to Latin American governments for support, intransigence in the Peace Committee and the invocation of the Rio Treaty on false charges of United States “aggression” were part of the tactic. Chiari’s “painting himself into a corner” by unnecessary public statements was part of the tactic.

In launching the campaign, Chiari was gambling that the United States would yield. The gamble turned out to be a bad one. We have already gone as far as we can in making concessions. Chiari has not really moved an inch.

All of these facts are, or will be, known to knowledgeable people in Latin America. There are signs that at least some Latin Americans are beginning to realize the dimensions of Panamanian irresponsibility and understand that the validity of their treaties and their interests, as well as ours, are involved.2

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It is doubtful that Chiari can yield. If the impasse continues, it seems equally doubtful that Chiari can “hang on” until the May elections. He may decide voluntarily to turn the office over to someone else. He may be overthrown. Nevertheless, anti-communist political leaders of the country continue their active or tacit support of Chiari because this is “good politics” as long as there is a chance that the United States will yield to Chiari’s pre-conditions.

As long as the anti-communist political leaders continue their support of Chiari’s tactic, only the communists or Arnulfo Arias, perhaps in combination with each other, will have an organization and a plan— in short, the capacity—to fill the vacuum which Chiari’s departure will leave.

If this estimate is correct, then it would make good sense to disabuse all Panamanians, and indeed all Latin Americans, of any ideas that, in the end, we are going to save Chiari by agreeing to his preconditions. Only then will anti-communists adjust to reality and begin to organize and plan. When they adjust to reality Chiari will lose support. But we gain by giving anti-communist elements the time and the opportunity to organize an alternative to a communist-infiltrated or communist-controlled government.

By being candid and decisive we would also minimize the risk that other Latin Americans will miscalculate in the current OAS proceedings.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL PAN–US. Confidential. A handwritten note on the memorandum reads “Secretary saw.”
  2. On January 30 Lansing Collins provided Mann with an analysis of Latin American official opinion on the Panama situation, which indicated that Latin American officials deplored any attempt by Panama to take the issue to the United Nations and “have expressed understanding of our firm position in Panama.” (Memorandum from Collins to Mann, January 30; ibid.)