449. Memorandum for Record1

SUBJECT

  • Coup in Panama
1.
At about 2200 EDT on 11 October, Guardia Nationale (GN) elements began taking over the National Government in Panama City and the City Governments of Colon and David. USCINCSO Duty Officer confirmed the fact that the Tocumen Airport had been closed to traffic by the GN. He also reported that USSOUTHCOM forces were in Readiness Condition 2, that Major General Dany was present in the Joint Operations Center and that battle staffs were being Mann ed.
2.
Within several hours, the GN took over the Presidential Palace and appeared to be in general control of the provinces. Meanwhile, President Arias, with several members of his cabinet, took refuge in [Page 952]the Canal Zone and requested to see the US Ambassador or the Canal Zone Governor.2
3.
The coup appears to be headed by Lt Col Omar Torrijos and supported by Major Boris Martinez and Major Federico Boyd. Lt Col Urrutia, the newly appointed commandant of the GN, is under arrest. Guardia Nationale troops are arresting the political followers of President Arias (Panamanistas) in both Panama City and Colon.
4.
Former GN First Commandant Vallarino, who reportedly was fishing on an off-shore island, expressed surprise at the coup and GN troops reportedly have been ordered to prevent him from entering the Commandancia. The Tocumen Airport was reopened early on the morning of 12 October and although sporadic acts of violence have been reported, the GN continues to maintain public order.
5.
Ambassador Adair and Canal Zone Governor Major General Leber, who were in Washington, D.C. on 11 October, are returning by USAF aircraft to Panama, with an ETA of 0838 EDT 12 October.
M. W. Kendall
Brigadier General, USA
Deputy Director for Operations (NMCC)
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Panama, Vol. X (part 3 of 3), May–December 1968. Secret.
  2. In telegram CAP 82541, sent to President Johnson at the LBJ Ranch at 12:12 a.m. EST and received at 1:15 a.m. CST, October 11, Rostow informed the President: “A military coup has taken place against President Arias after 11 days in office. The National Guard is evidently following orders from General Vallarino who went through the motion of resigning as Guard Chief earlier yesterday, along with other disgruntled officers.” The telegram continued, “troops control the Presidential Palace but Arias had escaped to the Canal Zone and has requested asylum.” The telegram concluded that while Arias’ large popular following could be expected to resist, the coup had some civilian support and was “well organized and planned.” (Ibid.)