546. Memorandum From Ashley C. Hewitt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1 2

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  • Panama and Prospects for the Canal Negotiations

Attached are several reports and studies about the character of the Junta Government (PJG) in Panama, the personality of General Torrijos, and the prospects for canal negotiations. The main conclusions to be drawn from these reports and studies are that:

—Torrijos and the PJG are in full control] of the country, and that no effective opposition to him or his conduct of the negotiations can be expected;

—Torrijos and the PJG are genuinely disposed to negotiate new treaty arrangements with the US because of growing financial problems, and due to political imperatives that require something that Torrijos can display as a personal victory. It seems likely that the PJG will approach the negotiations, at least initially, fairly, frankly and openly, if somewhat naively;

—the PJG will be willing to concede to the United States primacy in the defense and administration of the canal and the facilities in its immediate support;

—the PJG will demand major concessions in the areas of legal jurisdiction in what is now the Canal Zone and a greater share in the direct and indirect economic benefits from the presence of the canal and its associated facilities. It is unlikely that the PJG will be willing to accept any open-ended treaty arrangements;

—Torrijos himself is emotional and unpredictable. He may “shoot first and ask questions afterward”, but he is capable of reversing himself if decisions taken in haste do not seem to be working out;

Implications for US policy

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Negotiations will be extremely delicate and should be conducted with tact and sensitivity.

—Negotiations may be punctuated by temporary breakdowns which could be followed by attacks on the US in the media in Panama and perhaps even by demonstrations.

—Nevertheless, a satisfactory treaty is probably obtainable, though perhaps not within the desired time frame.

-—If we conclude that a satisfactory treaty is not obtainable before the deadline we ourselves have set, we should consider some unilateral concessions in order to avoid severe negative reactions in Panama.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 792, Country Files, Latin America, Panama, Atlantic-Pacific International Ocean Canal Study Commission, Vol. 1, 1971. Secret. Sent for information. Kissinger initialed the first page of the document. Attached but not published at Tab A is a January 29 CIA Working Paper titled “Panama Canal Negotiations: Torrijos vs. the US.” Tab B is published as Document 545. Attached but not published at Tab C is a report on Torrijos and at Tab D telegram 1473 from the Canal Zone, February 26. Tab E, telegram 1020 from Panama, March 4, is not attached.
  2. Hewitt summarized five studies and reports about the Panamanian Government leadership as well as the Canal negotiations. Hewitt predicted that President Torrijos would demand major concessions in the areas of legal jurisdiction in the Canal Zone and a greater share of the economic benefits.