422. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mann) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1

SUBJECT

  • Panama

This is in response to your query whether (1) we should be taking any further action to prevent trouble in Panama on January 9 or in the near future, and (2) whether there is anything we should do, overtly or covertly, to prevent Panamanian public opinion from swinging against the presence of our military forces there.

[Page 895]

As regards the possibility of disturbances on January 9, the Communists have been thrown off balance by the President’s statement, President Robles has assured Ambassador Vaughn that no trouble will be tolerated, and what appears to be a very satisfactory solution to the half-masting of flags on that date has been worked out between the Canal Zone and the Panamanian Government. Ambassador Arias has likewise informed the Department that the Panamanian Government anticipates no difficulty in handling any attempts at disorders on January 9. Embassy Panama’s telegram 427, December 31,2 indicates belief that prospects are good of getting through this period without major difficulty.

In view of the above, we agree that there is nothing further now that we can effectively do to minimize the possibility of disturbances on January 9, but we are launching a longer-term program to capitalize on the initiative the President’s statement has given us. A telegram outlining our views is already in draft, and we shall be in touch with the White House and other agencies on this program in the next few days.

With regard to the problem of influencing Panamanian public opinion on the question of our military forces and bases, we have considered the possibility of inducing an official Panamanian statement disowning the recent statement by Castillero Pimentel in which he called for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Foreign Minister Eleta discussed this statement with Ambassador Vaughn, indicating that Castillero had been reprimanded and soliciting Vaughn’s advice regards the advisability of the Panamanian Government issuing a statement that Castillero was not speaking for the Government. Ambassador Vaughn expressed his judgment to Eleta that it would be preferable not to make such a statement at this time.

We are inclined to agree with Ambassador Vaughn’s on-the-spot judgment on this point, although we believe that such a statement might be appropriate a little later after the ground has been prepared. To this end, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] through the Panamanian press, radio and TV which will have the objective of educating the Panamanian public regarding the important part the United States military presence plays in the Panamanian economy, pointing up the disastrous consequences for Panama if the United States bases [Page 896]should ever be closed and pointing the finger at the Communists as those who are pushing this line for their own ends.3

TCM
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Panama, Vol. VI, August 1964–January 1965. Secret.
  2. Not printed. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–8 PAN)
  3. At a meeting with CIA and ARA representatives on December 30, Mann reported that the President had phoned him and asked “for guarantees that there would be no trouble in Panama on January 9.” FitzGerald assured Mann that Robles had been “strengthened greatly by President Johnson’s statement on the canal.” Mann asked what CIA had done to ensure that there would be no trouble. FitzGerald told Mann that “Robles had been assured of all the support he asked for” and “any demonstrations would be easily controlled by the Panamanian Government.” (Memorandum from Stuart to Hughes, Denney, and Evans, December 31; Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, ARACIA Weekly Meetings, 1964–1965) Another record of this meeting was prepared by FitzGerald. (Memorandum for the record, December 31; Central Intelligence Agency, Job 78–03041R, DDO/IMS Files, [file name not declassified])