415. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • Panamanian Elections
1.
A meeting of the Panama Review Group was held today to discuss the Panamanian elections, scheduled for Sunday.2
2.
The group agreed that the general shape of the problem is as follows: First, we can expect to see attempts at vote-fixing by all three candidates—Robles, Arnulfo, and Galindo. Second, while it is not a certainty, there probably will be some violence during the elections, particularly on Monday and Tuesday when the votes will be counted. Such violence will be primarily and initially between Panamanians. But we cannot discount the possibility that Communist and student elements will take the opportunity to make attacks against American targets, in and out of the Zone.3
3.
We have no favorites in the election and our posture throughout this period will be strictly “hands-off.” Generally speaking, there are only two exceptions to this policy. We will take appropriate steps to protect American lives and property, if it becomes necessary to do so. And we will act if there is a clear danger of a Communist take-over, which is not likely.
4.
The following U.S. Government actions have been taken or are in train.
(a)
U.S. military forces have been readied to take prompt action in the event they are needed. 2000 airborne troops will be available to [Page 872]arrive in the Canal Zone in 10 hours. About 1300 Marines will be 20 miles off Panama shores (but out of sight) by Sunday morning. All this is most privately done and Cy Vance assures me there will be no leak.
(b)
Appropriate Government departments and agencies will be alerted to watch the Panama situation closely on a 24 hour basis.
(c)
To minimize the possibility that the press will blame us for whatever happens in the elections, State plans to make it clear, on a background basis, that we have no favorites in this election; as a matter of fact, none of the candidates are shining lights.
(d)
Long-standing emergency instructions to Americans in Panama are in effect (e.g. stay off the streets). In the event of attacks on the Zone, the Zone police will minimize shooting and will rely, insofar as possible, on such devices as tear gas, which they now have in plentiful supply.4
5.
The White House Situation Room has been alerted to watch the elections closely; for spot status reports over the weekend, you may want to call the Situation Room directly. For “deeper” analysis, I will, of course, be available. But we probably won’t know much before Monday.
McG. B.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Panama, Vol. V, May–June 1964. Secret.
  2. May 10. The memorandum for the record of this meeting, held at the White House and drafted by FitzGerald on May 12, is in the Central Intelligence Agency, Job 78–03041, Directorate of Operations, [file name not declassified].
  3. The CIA warned of this possibility in [document number not declassified], May 7. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Panama, Vol. V, May–June 1964) In a May 8 telegram from the Canal Zone, USCINCSO indicated that the CIA conclusions were “entirely reasonable.” (Telegram SC3415DA for JCS; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL PAN–US) According to Gordon Chase of the NSC staff, “State and Ambassador Vaughn seem to feel that CIA has overstated the dangers of a serious explosion.” (Memorandum from Chase to Bundy, May 8; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Panama, Vol. V, May–June 1964) Lansing Collins reported that Vaughn had indicated that “he agreed with the tone” of the CIA report, although he thought the conclusions “slightly exaggerated.” (Memorandum of conversation, May 8; ibid.)
  4. A Contingency Plan for Panama, prepared on May 1 and approved by the Departments of State and Defense, and the CIA, was forwarded to Bundy at the White House on May 7. (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330 69A 4023, Panama, 1964)