9. Backchannel Message From the Governor of the Panama Canal Zone (Parker) to the Deputy Under Secretary of the Army (Koren)1

PNA 176. 1. After informal discussions with other members of the Intelligence Community, our assessment of the situation here follows:

2. General TORRIJOS believes the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting did not succeed in bringing the United States closer to the Panamanian position on the Canal Zone issue.2 TORRIJOS wants to renew the Canal Treaty negotiations with the U.S. but on the basis of secret unpublicized sessions between personal representatives at the [Page 27] highest level of the Governments of the U.S. and Panama. He is seeking a vote of confidence from the District Representatives during his tour of all provinces in Panama, reportedly to give him a mandate for determining Panamanian policy vis-à-vis the Canal Treaty. Some top government officials appear to be undecided as to the success of the UNSC meeting. Others, particularly those with leftist leanings, are pleased with the results. All are now waiting for TORRIJOS to announce the policy he believes Panama should adopt with respect to Canal Treaty negotiations.

3. Businessmen appear to be uncertain as to what the future holds. Some are of the opinion that the UNSC meeting might result in a hardening of relations between the U.S. and Panama and that this will affect business. Reportedly, some foreign businessmen in Panama have been advised to adopt a wait-and-see attitude regarding further investments in Panama. The lower classes in Panama were reported to be apathetic towards the UNSC meeting and it is unlikely that any feeling of accomplishment has registered on them although there has been some poisoning of attitudes towards the U.S.

4. The UNSC meeting apparently did not significantly affect Panamanian attitudes towards the U.S. on the Canal Zone issue. The Panamanians still want drastic changes made in the 1903 Treaty.

5. It is likely that U.S.-Panamanian ties/relations will become increasingly strained during the coming months unless some kind of concession is made by the U.S. to indicate a flexibility on the part of the U.S. which would be interpreted by TORRIJOS as a sign the U.S. is showing “good faith.”

6. During the period of the UNSC meeting, Panama established diplomatic relations with Algeria, Libya, Bulgaria, and Guinea. It also discussed the establishment of diplomatic relations with East Germany, Cuba, the Soviet Union and China. It is likely that Panama will continue to seek diplomatic relations with socialist and non-aligned nations. The purpose of the policy is threefold: to demonstrate that Panama is independent of the U.S., to pressure the U.S. to grant a favorable new Canal Treaty, and to seek new sources of foreign loans. It is likely Panama will side increasingly with these countries in the UN and on issues which are not favored by the U.S.

7. Internally it is unlikely Panama will make a dramatic shift towards a socialist or communist orientation. TORRIJOS believes he is guiding Panama towards some sort of socialist state, but to date he has not clearly defined by word or action what he means by socialism. Nevertheless, the UNSC meeting has given encouragement to the already worrisome communist penetration of certain key domestic areas.

8. There is no evidence to suggest TORRIJOS plans harassment of U.S. citizens and businessmen in Panama. TORRIJOS has told U.S. [Page 28] officials there will be no incident directed against the Canal Zone. There have been and there probably will continue to be reports that TORRIJOS is actually planning or considering an incursion into the Canal Zone. These reports may reflect psychological warfare tactics, or actions contemplated by certain segments within the National Guard.

9. It is likely that the government’s propaganda effort through its controlled media and educational system is having and will continue to have an impact on Panamanian attitudes towards the U.S. and the Canal Zone. This propaganda effort undermines the past tacit acceptance by Panamanians of the U.S. position in the Canal Zone.

10. There is no reporting that TORRIJOS will compromise his publicly-stated objectives regarding the Canal Zone. It is possible that after receiving his vote of confidence from District Representatives, he might feel he has more room for maneuver through secret negotiations. A factor which may influence TORRIJOS’ decision on the extent he feels he can compromise is his conception of what will be acceptable to the people and what will tarnish his image. Such considerations become more important at such times as the 11 October anniversary of the 1968 coup d’état which brought the present government to power3 and the 9 January anniversary of the 1964 Canal Zone riots.4 It is on these symbolic occasions that TORRIJOS feels that he must face the people and explain to them what he has done towards fulfilling his promises. For example, he has recently mentioned that 9 January 1974 will be an important anniversary in terms of showing the people accomplishments in furthering Panamanian aspirations regarding the Canal Zone. It is on these anniversaries that TORRIJOS is frustrated at not being able to demonstrate any accomplishments and is most susceptible to urgings by his more radical and nationalistic advisors that he must show the people something, that he must fulfill his promise to regain effective sovereignty over the Canal Zone. The Government for now has tacit support of the students and exercises effective control over them. It is expected this will continue so long as the Government continues its position on the Canal issue and its posture as a revolutionary government.

11. We have had some difficulty in clearing a joint intelligence committee estimate relative to the above topics. I will advise you as to the problem when I see you in Washington.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 185, Subject Files of 1979 Panama Canal Treaty Planning Group, Box 5, Msgs Jan–June 1973. Secret; Eyes Only; Priority for Transmission; Deliver During First Duty Hours. A handwritten note on the message reads: “Msg received by Mr. Koren at 11:58—4/11/73.”
  2. In telegram 1652 from Panama City, March 23, the Embassy reported a point of view different than Parker’s: “the Government of Panama obviously believes it has scored a great victory with the holding of the SC meeting in Panama.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL PAN–UNSC)
  3. For documentation on the October 11, 1968, coup d’état, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXXI, South and Central America; Mexico, Documents 448451.
  4. For documentation on the 1964 riots in the Canal Zone, see ibid., Documents 367379.