455. Action Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • Panama

State is very anxious to obtain your approval to resume diplomatic relations with Panama on Monday, November 11. (Tab A)2

By delaying until now, we have obtained important concessions from the Provisional Government.

  • —restoration of some of the constitutional guarantees which had been suspended by the junta;
  • —dismissal of two pro-Communist newspaper editors who had received their jobs as a favor to the brother of a key member of the military junta;
  • —formal public commitment to hold new elections, restore all constitutional guarantees, and return government to full civilian control—within a reasonable period of time;
  • —relaxation of press censorship, and reopening of opposition newspapers.

Further delay, however, will probably be self-defeating.

We have FBI and CIA reports showing that Arias is planning to try to regain power by violent means.3 He is trying to arrange to reenter Panama clandestinely and is encouraging supporters in Costa Rica to initiate guerrilla warfare from across the border. Failure by the U.S. to recognize is encouraging these efforts.

Ambassador Adair believes that we should resume relations on Monday, November 11, so that our announcement will follow closely the action yesterday restoring some of the constitutional guarantees. State’s proposed press release highlights our concern for continued movement toward full restoration. (Tab B)4

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Eighteen countries have now recognized. The thirteen in Latin America include all the major nations of the hemisphere except Canada and the United States.

CIA has looked carefully at Arias’ public charges that the military junta is Communist-dominated. All available evidence shows that leftist influence is slight—less than was present in Arias’ own government.

I recommend that you authorize resumption of diplomatic relations with Panama on Monday, November 11.

Walt

Approve recognition5

Disapprove

Call me

Approve press statement

Disapprove

Call me

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Panama, Vol. X (part 3 of 3), May–December 1968. Secret.
  2. Tab A, attached but not printed, is a November 1 memorandum from Rusk to the President requesting authorization for resumption of diplomatic relations with the new Government of Panama.
  3. Information from the FBI report on Arias’ plans is in a November 11 memorandum from Vaky to Rusk’s Special Assistant, Harry Shlaudeman. (National Archives and Records Administration, ARA Files: Lot 72 D 33, Entry 5396, Panama) Information from the CIA report is in an Agency memorandum of November 21 entitled “Activities of Arias Supporters in Costa Rica.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Panama, Vol. X (part 3 of 3), May–December 1968)
  4. Attached draft dated November 9; see footnote 5 below.
  5. This option is checked and two handwritten notes on the memorandum, both dated November 12, indicate the President’s approval and Rostow’s notification of Reed, Lewis and Bunker. The Department requested the Embassy in Panama to inform the Panamanian Government of this decision in telegram 270098 to Panama, November 12. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL PAN–US) On November 13 the Embassy in Panama City advised the Panamanian Foreign Ministry of the resumption of relations. The Department statement released that day is in Department of State Bulletin, December 2, 1968, p. 573.