100. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Gerald Ford
  • President Alfonso Lopez Michelsen of Colombia
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Felipe Lopez, Private Secretary and Son of the President
[Page 264]

[Omitted here is discussion of developmental assistance and drugs.]

Lopez: Now let’s discuss Panama—[to Kissinger ] your favorite subject. [Laughter]

Torrijos came to see me a few days ago. [To Kissinger ] Do you know him?

Kissinger: I have met him, a year ago.

Lopez: I am sorry to see your Embassy was attacked.2

Kissinger: They are making a mistake. We are trying to get it done, but we have to say certain things. And it is terribly emotional in this country and we can’t do it until the elections are over. Then we can sign in 1977.

Lopez: Let me be frank. Torrijos says the same thing, that he has to have something to show.

The President: We sent Bunker down there with a new position.

Kissinger: Yes, it was much more forthcoming. We did start with 50 years, though.

Lopez: They don’t think so. Let me tell you, it is easier for a small country to negotiate with a big one than with one of equal size. I would rather negotiate with the Soviet Union than Panama.

I asked how they would defend the canal. They said they had thought of that and offered to let the U.S. in in case of aggression.

In the Canal Zone, they want to have full jurisdiction.

Kissinger: That they can get after the transition period. That is not the problem. The problem is about guerrilla action and the border line between civil disturbance and guerrilla action.

Lopez: It is between action against third parties and action between Panamanians.

Kissinger: Yes. We do have the right to defend the Canal against third parties. We have asked for 50 years, but we can slip that.

Lopez: Do you need fourteen bases?

Kissinger: Look, we can maneuver so we can give up more, but if we have to do it all now and with publicity, the Congress will stop it. We must have time. We sent a different team down there and we found we can give up a lot. We can give up a little at a time so that over the[Page 265] period they will get what they need. But we need to maneuver. The House just voted again to take away our ability to negotiate.3

The President: That is right, and 32 senators sent me a letter against a treaty. They should know that a newly elected President can do a lot that I can’t now.

Lopez: If you could do something without negotiating.

Kissinger: Outside the discussions?

Lopez: Yes. Something you are not going to use.

Kissinger: You think that would help?

Lopez: Very much.

Kissinger: That I think we can do. Defense would go along with some of that. We had been holding it back for the negotiation, but we can do it now.

Lopez: The small things. Torrijos has his own enemies who say he is getting nowhere after a year. If he had something concrete, even small, it would help him.

Kissinger: We will look at it. We had decided against it in the NSC.

The President: Let’s look into it.

Kissinger: I haven’t looked at the Defense team report, but we can do something.

Lopez: I want to make clear I am not threatening. I am not the bearer of any threats.

The President: You will be very well received on the Hill. No threats, giving up aid, help on drugs.

Lopez: I don’t want to say that without a treaty Panama could be another Vietnam.

Kissinger: If you could tell them, however, the attitude of all of Latin America, so then they understand just what the attitudes are.

[Omitted here is discussion of developmental assistance and drugs.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC Latin American Affairs Staff Files, 1974–77, Box 14, Visit—September 25–26 1975—President Lopez (1). Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. All brackets except those that indicate omitted text are in the original.
  2. In telegram 5831 from Panama City, September 23, the Embassy reported it was attacked by students “protesting against the presence of U.S. bases in the Canal Zone, the Secretary’s comments at the Southern Governors’ Conference last week, and the complicity of Gen. Torrijos and the GOP with American ‘imperialism.’” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D750329–1124)
  3. On September 24, the House rejected a conference committee compromise on the language of the Snyder Amendment to the State Department appropriations bill. (“House Votes Firm Stand on Panama,” Washington Post, September 25, 1975, p. A4)