416. Telegram From the Embassy in Panama to the Department of State 1

672. Drama of May 10 Panamanian presidential election will formally close June 6 when Marco Robles scheduled receive credentials [Page 873]as President-elect in formal ceremony at Los Santos.2 Following is Embassy’s preliminary assessment of aftermath of election:

Possibility of widespread violence in protest against Robles victory now seems slight because: government’s political organization was skillful enough and sufficiently well-heeled to keep its backstage manipulations fairly well hidden; Arnulfo Arias apparently has no stomach for an effort at violent rebellion, at least at this time; and National Guard remains alert and capable and is backing Robles.

Robles is widely regarded as honest man who, while no great statesman or intellect, will nevertheless be more forceful President than Chiari has been. It is generally thought he will be less tolerant than Chiari was of Communist and crypto-Communist elements. He describes himself as simple country boy from the interior who won honest election, who is compromised by no political debts, and who will run his government with firm hand.3

Trouble with this portrait is that political organization which engineered his victory was just as crooked as any other in living memory in Panama, he or his close associates have already shown disconcerting readiness to cooperate with certain leftists, and his victory was heavily financed by number of people who will certainly present him with political bill he will probably not be able refuse even if he wants to.

This is not to say however, that Robles is not, from our point of view, an improvement over Chiari, but how much of one is problematical. He is probably somewhat stronger character; he is perhaps educable; he doubtless realizes it is good politics, at least in short-term, to seek improved relations with US; and he has cooperated with US in past.

Not clear yet what kind of National Assembly Robles will have to work with since official count not yet finished and all kinds of frantic deals are being made. Prospects are he will command narrow majority but will be confronted with very active opposition. Assembly will probably also contain one or two able and energetic Commies or near-Commies.

[Page 874]

Chiari government is undoubtedly in difficult financial straits which will be worse by October when new administration takes over. We will almost certainly be importuned to bail them out.

In short, prospects are: (1) next four months will be difficult going for Chiari government which encountering severe financial problems (2) economic conditions may so deteriorate that Panamenistas and Communists may find pretext to undertake, perhaps jointly, major protest efforts such as mass demonstrations, general strike, etc. (3) Chiari government will weather interim period and (4) in October Robles will take over government facing economic and financial problems with which unable cope without external financial assistance. Present indications are Robles government will follow much along same pattern as that of Chiari and other recent Panamanian governments and will be largely representative of same pressure groups, but it does not appear that in immediate future we will face another crisis like last January. Time is running out, however, and we shall have to work harder to get Panamanians begin face up to their fundamental social and economic problems.

Vaughn
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 14 PAN. Confidential. Repeated to CINCSO, CINCLANT, Governor of the Canal Zone, and DIA.
  2. On May 29 the Embassy has reported on the results of the election in Panama, in which Robles received 130,154 votes; Arnulfo Arias 119, 786 votes; Galindo 47,629 votes; Molino 9,714; and three other candidates shared just over 10,000 votes. (Telegram 667 from Panama, May 29; ibid.)
  3. CIA and ARA representatives met on May 15 to review the election. CIA reported that after Galindo refused to withdraw, Robles was “under no illusion that he is running ahead of Arnulfo Arias.” Robles believed that he would “ostensibly win the election due to National Guard support and its control of balloting.” (Memorandum from Carter to Hughes, May 15; Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, ARACIA Weekly Meetings, 1964–1965)