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

SUBJECT

  • Panama Coup

I am attaching the latest situation report on Panama, drafted by Covey Oliver’s inter-agency working group. Its tenor is encouraging.2

Avoidance of major bloodshed or violence which could threaten the canal has been the top priority governing US actions toward President Arias. We have denied him access to radio facilities in the Zone with which he might have fomented mob action against the Junta, and have, of course, refused to help him militarily. Time is now rapidly running out for him.

Although we have no formal relations with the Junta, key US moves in the last 36 hours have included:

  • —discreet efforts to persuade the Junta to take Arias back peacefully, or to install the Vice President in his place. (Unsuccessful.)
  • —stressing the importance of a civilian character for the government—and promptly calling new elections. (Junta agrees.)
  • —allowing Arias to remain in the Zone, but insisting that he stop his political operations so long as he stays there. (Political activity apparently reduced or suspended since the warning was given last night.)
  • —trying to engage the OAS with some mediation role (Galo Plaza won’t call the OAS Council into action unless any violence erupts; however, informal OAS consultation is now going on among eight key country representatives).
  • —avoiding making public statements on the bankruptcy of Arias’s situation as long as possible so as not to increase the possibility of his attempting to turn his followers’ ire against the US. (Pressure from the US press now is enormous, however—and distorted news stories are appearing widely here. State will provide a full background briefing tomorrow.)3

Multilateral consultations about recognition of the Junta will begin tomorrow—after it is obvious to all that Arias’s bid for forceful return has failed, and that the Junta’s provisional government is indisputably in control.

Walt
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Panama, Vol. X (Part 3 of 3), May–December 1968. Confidential. A separate copy of this memorandum indicates that it was drafted by Samuel W. Lewis. A note on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. Dated October 14; attached but not printed.
  3. The press background briefing has not been found.