520. Information Memorandum From the Acting Assistant Secretary of Inter-American Affairs (Vaky) to Secretary of State Rogers1 2

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  • Panamanian Government Faces Growing Internal Pressure

Political ferment has increased in Panama following the February 24 power struggle within the National Guard which resulted in the exile to the United States of four Guard officers. The short-term prospect is for continued political tension with possible further sudden changes in the personnel and structure of the current military government.

Leaders of most political factions have interpreted the February 24 events as a sign that the Government may be weakening. The result has been a growth of political intrigue and maneuvering, with increased pressures from civilian political leaders on Colonel Omar Torrijos, the current military strongman.

There are indications that those politicians who are unable to attain their ends through political bargaining may seek to stir up further dissension in the National Guard. The Guard Chief of Staff has told United States intelligence sources he is considering moving against Torrijos, and on March 4 three Guard officers were arrested on charges of plotting against the Government. In addition some of the Guard officers exiled to Miami on February 24 have said they intend to return to Panama as soon as possible to fight against the Torrijos regime.

Ex-President Arnulfo Arias, who has been in Washington since he was deposed in October 1968, appears to be working along similar lines. In the last few days he has stepped up his own efforts to foment an internal coup within the Nation Guard in order to facilitate his immediate return to power.

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Arias is counting heavily on financial and other support from unidentified European sources, whose reliability is questionable. Nevertheless, although Arias’ plotting has overtones of comic opera, there is a growing feeling in Panamanian political circles that his chances for staging a comeback have improved in recent days.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15 PAN. Secret. Drafted on March 6 by Guthrie.
  2. Acting Assistant Secretary Vaky noted that a power struggle in the Panamanian National Guard had resulted in the exile of four officers to the United States. He concluded that opportunistic Panamanian politicians might attempt to take advantage of the instability in the nation by stirring up future dissension in the Guard.