419. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation1


  • The President
  • Mr. Mann

The President called and asked Mr. Mann what was happening in Panama. Mr. Mann explained about the change in Ambassadors and asked if that was what the President was referring to. The President said he wanted to know how Anderson’s negotiations were coming and mentioned the up-coming anniversary of the riots of last year.

Mr. Mann said this situation was charged with dynamite.2 He said he was leaving in 15 minutes to talk to Secretary Ailes. Mr. Mann said that he was working on a sea level canal treaty on which the Department agrees and to which they hope to get Defense’s agreement.3 Mr. Mann said that they are going to have to talk to the President about calling in the Leadership and going over it with them, if the President is satisfied with the text of the sea level canal. Mr. Mann said we are getting ready to negotiate with Colombia, Panama and Nicaragua and then crank up some publicity to improve our image. Mr. Mann said what we wanted is reasonable but the Panamanians won’t like it. He said what they wanted essentially is for us to dig the ditch and turn it over to them after we get our money back.

Mr. Mann said that we have kept Bob Anderson informed about all these things, that he has a copy and knows what we are doing. Mr. Mann said the Panamanians themselves have not done much negotiating because they have not been able to agree on a position among themselves and they have used our elections as an excuse. The President [Page 883] said that we should push Mr. Anderson to push them and say that he is ready to go.

Mr. Mann said that the record is very clear that we have pushed them, not once but many times.

The President said to add it again today. To tell them he is ready to talk. He told Mr. Mann to instruct Anderson to proceed and contact them and say that the President is waiting on them. The President said perhaps it would help if we could make some adjustment in wages and show a little social consciousness. Mr. Mann said he thought we could. He said so far Defense, the Governor and O’Meara are all opposed to recommendations made by the Ambassador. The President asked what some of these recommendations were and Mr. Mann mentioned the following:


Flying flags all over the place, including on ships that pass through the canal.

Making Spanish an official language, a second language.

Collecting Panamanian income taxes inside the Zone for the Government of Panama.

Use of Panamanian postage stamps in Canal Zone.

Appointment of consultant to the Board of Directors.

Establishment of labor advisory committee.

Supplying them with free potable water to increase annuity.

Mr. Mann said he thought we are going to be able to do some of these and we have to do it before Christmas. The President said even before that. The President said that the students were not as well disciplined as he. He mentioned that a year later we were right where we started.

The President asked Mr. Mann if he should tell McNamara to review this thing again and see what he can do. Mr. Mann said this sounded good and said he would tell Steve Ailes and they would go over it.

The President asked Mr. Mann if he had spoken to Adlai Stevenson after his visit and Mr. Mann said he had not seen him, but that he had received a letter and a memo from Stevenson and had written him a letter.4

The President asked who had turned down these recommendations and Mr. Mann said Steve Ailes, the Chairman of the Board of the Panama Canal Company. He said he thought [garble] stockholder.

The President said he thought that McNamara had more social consciousness than that and that he would rather make adjustments in time than to plant his feet in concrete.

[Page 884]

Mr. Mann told the President that the thing that is going to help us the most is to get out in front with a lot of publicity on this new canal. He said then we can get this whole thing in perspective, we can tell everyone here and in Panama and the whole world that the present canal is limited and that we are going to build a new one and therefore we are dealing with a wasting asset. Mr. Mann said what we were not going to be able to do, unless the President thought it was politically possible, is to make the sweeping concessions on sovereignty and perpetuity that they want.

The President said that he would talk to McNamara5 and told Mr. Mann to put a red flag on two things; one the conference with Leadership—to notify them plenty ahead of time so that he did not have to call them in on Christmas Day on a crisis basis—to move it up, and secondly see if we can’t get the Ambassador’s recommendations re-worked.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Papers of Thomas C. Mann, Telephone Conversations with LBJ, January 14, 1964–April 30, 1964. No classification marking.
  2. On October 13 Robert M. Sayre of the NSC staff wrote Bundy that Vaughn suggested “the United States must make meaningful concessions to Panama, or anti-U.S. elements in Panama will use the anniversary of January 9, 1965 for another blowup.” (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Panama, VI, August 1964–January 1965) On November 12 Mann told a meeting of officials from ARA and CIA that he “considered it likely that ‘all hell will break loose’ in Panama January 9.” (Memorandum from Carter (INR) to Hughes; Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, ARACIA Weekly Meetings, 1964–1965)
  3. Documentation on U.S.-Panama negotiations on the Canal treaty, from 1964 through the Johnson administration is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA/SR/PAN Files: Lots 73 D 286 and 73 D 216, and ARA/LA/PAN Files: Lot 75 D 457.
  4. None found.
  5. Apparently having just spoken to the President, McNamara called Mann to say that “he was very anxious to see us make changes” in Panama and required a list of things Mann would like done sent “over immediately.” (Memorandum of telephone conversation between Mann and McNamara, November 18, 2:45 p.m.; Johnson Library, Papers of Thomas C. Mann, Telephone Conversations with LBJ, January 14, 1964–April 30, 1965)