458. Action Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1
- Military Assistance for the Panamanian National Guard
Since the Panamanian coup in October all U.S. assistance to Panama’s National Guard has been suspended. Secretaries Rusk and Clifford have now concluded we should resume assistance on a very limited scale in order to safeguard our working relationship with the Guard necessary for security of the Canal Zone. Rusk states:
- —We have turned down Guard requests for training, repair and maintenance services, and routine “soft goods” items. Guard officers are already showing some resentment against the U.S.
- —We may have to ask for the Guard’s help during January, should anti-U.S. agitation occur as in past years on the anniversary of the 1964 student invasion of the Zone.
- —The Panamanian Government has been taking steps toward the restoration of constitutional government; new elections are publicly planned for early 1970; Panama also is seeking our advice on badly needed reforms in public administration and education.
- —We cannot indefinitely suspend assistance to the Guard and continue to count on Guard assistance in protecting the Zone.
Rusk believes that some renewed training plus about $15,000 worth of spare parts, shop and maintenance equipment, and automobile tools—all previously programmed—will safeguard our relationship with the Guard for the time being. Deliveries of arms, tear gas, ammunition, or heavy equipment would remain suspended—along with training for combat operations. Adverse publicity should be minimal.
The Canal Zone Governor, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary Clifford all concur in Rusk’s recommendation.
Former President Arias’ efforts to stir up guerilla operations against Panama show no real results to date.
I believe you should approve resumption of very limited military assistance to Panama, as detailed in Rusk’s memorandum.
Attached is the memorandum from Secretary Rusk.2