445. Information Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • Panama Elections: Sunday, May 12, 1968

Tomorrow Panama holds national elections. The outlook is for peaceful balloting. If there is trouble, it is most likely to come after the results are announced.2

The assumption is that the official candidate, David Samudio, will win. President Robles controls the electoral machinery. The National Guard is actively backing Samudio. So the stage is set for Samudio to emerge the victor—by foul means if fair ones do not work. The CIA reporting shows that the Robles government is ready to engage in massive manipulation of the ballot boxes if necessary.

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Opposition candidate Arnulfo Arias has campaigned actively despite his loss of face in the unsuccessful impeachment struggle against President Robles last month. Prior to this setback, most observers believed Arias would win a clear majority. How voters will react to Arias’ lack of muscle in the impeachment showdown and the government’s apparent intention to insure Samudio’s victory, we do not know.

The intensity of any public reaction to manipulation of election results will hinge on the degree to which the ballot boxes are stuffed and how blatant Robles and Samudio are about it. The showdown should come on Monday or Tuesday.3

Bromley Smith 4
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Panama, Vol. X (part 3 of 3), May–December 1968. Secret. A note on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. On April 26 Helms warned the President: “in view of the Panamanian election two weeks hence, I think you may be interested to note our concern that it may not go off as smoothly as one is inclined now to think.” (Memorandum from Helms to Johnson; Central Intelligence Agency, Job 80–B01285A, DCI (Helms) Chronological Files, January 1, 1968–July 31, 1968)
  3. May 13 or 14.
  4. Rostow above Rostow’s typed signature.