116. Memorandum From Robert Pastor of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Trip to Panama

I arrived in Panama at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 19, and was met by our DCM Rodrigo Raymond Gonzalez and by Torrijos’ Personal Advisor Roary Gonzalez , who drove me to see the General at his home (actually it is Gonzalez’s home, but the General uses it whenever he is in Panama). I departed at 12:45 p.m. on Thursday, October 20.

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Cerro Colorado Copper Mine

During the drive, Gonzalez told me about the Cerro Colorado Copper project which he directs for the government. Cerro Colorado is an area in the North of Panama which will likely become the third largest copper mine in the world (behind Terriente in Chile, and Zambia’s). It will be developed in cooperation with Texasgulf (which will have 20 percent of the equity), will cost about $1.0 billion, take about three years to build (expected to begin in 1979), and by 1982, earn about $400 million annually. In short, the Canal as a Panamanian resource will be dwarfed by Cerro Colorado.

Torrijos’ Trip to the Middle East and Europe

When I reached Gonzalez’s home, Torrijos greeted me and asked me to meet with him privately in his bedroom, which looks as if it was furnished by Playboy International. Sprawed across an enormous imperial bed, he told me that his trip was an extremely interesting and educational experience, that all the leaders had offered their complete support for the treaties, and that he wrote summaries of his conversations only for President Carter’s use (he asked me not to share these pages with the State Department or even with his Ambassador, Gabriel Lewis), and he had organized his notes in three parts:

1. A summary of the conversations.

2. A summary of the foreign leaders’ evaluation of President Carter.

3. A personal impression and evaluation of the foreign leader.

It was quite obvious that he had devoted a good deal of time to these notes, and he had done that primarily to share his experiences with his friend, Jimmy Carter. He said that he had a fascinating and wide-ranging conversation with Helmut Schmidt, but that of all the leaders he has ever met, he felt the closest to Carter. (He also repeatedly said that he looked at Hamilton Jordan and me as “the sons he wished he had.” He also thanked me sincerely and warmly for coming.)

The Plebiscite on October 23

After a brief discussion of his trip, we moved to the living room and expanded our conversation to include Foreign Minister Nicolas Gonzalez-Revilla, Roary Gonzalez, Panamanian Negotiator Romulo Escobar Betancourt, and his Communications Adviser and interpreter, Jorge Carrasco.

Torrijos said that he had returned to Panama to find his negotiators debating the Canal Treaty with lawyers and professors at a level which ordinary Panamanians could not understand. “Neutrality, expeditious passage, transit rights—these words do not mean anything to poor Panamanians,” he said. “The debate had moved to references of Plato and Roman law, but all the Panamanian people cared about was when [Page 329] were the gringos leaving, would they have more jobs than before, would they be able to sell their products to the Zone, when would the U.S. police leave?” These are the questions which Torrijos then addressed. He visited many areas, found strong support for the treaties, and had taped one hour of a “town meeting” to be shown on Thursday night, October 20, at 7:30 p.m. He expected that the debate on television, which had begun with the signing, would be completed with his remarks.

He had had a good interview with Bill Moyers, who is producing a 60-minute documentary, which will be shown around November 1. He also met with Carl Midgail of U.S. News and World Report and Jeremiah O’Leary of the Washington Star on the morning of October 20.

He said he expected a good turnout on Sunday2 and perhaps as much as 85 percent support for the treaties. The results will be announced the following Wednesday.3 Secretary General Waldheim’s representative had arrived to see the plebiscite, and Tom Farer, a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, would be coming on Saturday.4

I then told him that the “understanding” which he reached with President Carter had accomplished its purpose. On Saturday,5 Senator Byrd and several other Senators had said that they consider the understanding a significant, positive step which had resolved their principal problems with the treaty. I complimented Romulo Escobar for his restraint in his presentation of the (exact) text in a press conference,6 and said that Ambassadors Bunker and Linowitz assured me that they would act similarly restrained in the hearings before the Senate and the House Foreign Affairs Committees on Wednesday7 and Thursday.8 I also mentioned the Citizens Committee which was set up and met with the President on Monday,9 and the President’s trip to the Midwest and West to try to build some support for the treaties.10 In addition, there would be many Congressmen and Senators visiting Panama after [Page 330] the recess, and I suggested that they have Planning Minister Barletta provide a briefing for them on Panama’s development goals.

Expanding the Plebiscite

I half joked that the plebiscite seemed like such a good idea that Panama might want to make a “habit” of it. Escobar and Gonzalez-Revilla picked up the point, and we had a rather lengthy discussion about ways to keep the Panamanian political system, which had been remarkably free, for the last months, open for a longer period of time. Torrijos thought that the idea of holding plebiscites on national issues seemed a good one, but he wasn’t terribly interested in permitting the establishment of political parties.

John Wayne and the American Vote

Torrijos introduced me to Arturo McGowan, the Panamanian businessman who had persuaded John Wayne to support the treaty. McGowan has been a close friend of Wayne’s for the last eight years, and was a soft-spoken but persuasive person, who was asked by Wayne to brief Ronald Reagan last Friday, October 14. McGowan had a suitcase filled with some very fascinating correspondence between Wayne, Reagan, Goldwater, John Tower, and other conservatives.

Wayne had written a long letter to Reagan listing all the political debts Reagan owed him and asked him to reconsider his position on the Canal and to speak with McGowan, who received a phone call from Reagan at 7:00 a.m. two days after Wayne sent the letter. McGowan found Reagan “soft” on the issue and open to his arguments. While Reagan was not immediately converted, he asked McGowan to return in a week for more discussion. McGowan does not think a Reagan conversion is impossible, though he recognized it was improbable. He did think it probable that he could neutralize Reagan as the leader of the opposition.

Other letters show that Wayne’s influence over Tower and Goldwater is quite considerable. The letter from Goldwater, for example, was clearly from a close friend who valued Wayne’s opinion and was prepared to support the treaty on the basis of his advice.11 Wayne has asked McGowan to go to Washington to meet with several conservative Senators including Tower and Goldwater.

Wayne also told him that he would be willing to do television spots for free on behalf of the Canal Treaty, but only if someone would pay for its distribution.12

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Nicaragua and the Sandinistas

Torrijos was very concerned about reports that the U.S. Southern Command had helped Somoza in four separate fights with the Sandinistas during the last week. I said that I felt quite certain the U.S. would not get involved in assisting Somoza fight the guerrillas. (My assurances were supported by a denial issued by the Southern Command on October 20.)13

After Nicaragua’s attack on several Costa Rican border towns and ships, Torrijos said that he had offered to Oduber his elite battalion of the Guard (which has been stationed as part of the United Nations Force in the Sinai) as a symbol of his solidarity with Costa Rica against Nicaragua. He thinks that Somoza’s regime is morally bankrupt, and predicts it won’t last two years more. As far as the Sandinistas, he knew many of its leaders, and had offered jobs in Panama for several. He said the Sandinistas enjoyed broad support in Nicaragua, and the source of the support was simply hatred of Somoza.

Meetings with Panamanian Professionals and Poor

On Thursday morning (October 20), he asked me to accompany him when he gave a speech before a convention of Panamanian professionals (lawyers, doctors, architects, academics) in the National Congress. His speech, which was extemporaneous, was well received.

Of special interest was the trip there. We travelled in Roary Gonzalez’s car with no security whatsoever, stopping for all of Panama City’s traffic lights. Occasionally, people would recognize him when we stopped for a red light, and would come over to talk to him, calling him “Omar” and either saying nice words about the treaty, asking for some help for their community, or special pleading (“My husband is in jail; could you pardon him?”) He was very solicitous. The women came up and kissed him.

After his speech, he took me to the ghettos near the Zone and told me that he wanted me to see the bad as well as the good part of Panama. (I was already familiar with the areas because of my previous trip to Panama.) He said that he was gradually clearing this area and building low-income housing, but that his attention had been devoted to the Canal Treaties. He told me and the people on the street that his next task after the Treaties would be to help the poor. He asked them about their problems and talked with them at some length. Again, the total absence of police protection, particularly in such a poor area, surprised me. (In fact, his home in Panama has only the most minimal security.) He asked the poor people how they would vote on the plebi [Page 332] scite, and rather spontaneously, they all said they would support it. The brief meeting was totally spontaneous, and I could tell by the character of the complaints and the way the people talked that they view him as a friend. They were not exactly deferential in the way they talked with their Head of State. They talked with him as they would with almost any other Panamanian.

I am having Torrijos’s report translated, and will send it with a summary and a draft letter for the President to send to Torrijos early next week when it is completed.14

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Box 38, Brzezinski Office File Country Chron, Panama, 10–12/77. Confidential. Brzezinski wrote: “WR or morning notes ZB” on the top-right of the memorandum. Aaron and Inderfurth initialed the top-right and end of the memorandum, respectively. A copy was sent to Jordan.
  2. October 23.
  3. October 26.
  4. October 22.
  5. October 15.
  6. See Document 115.
  7. The SFRC held hearings on the treaties on October 19.
  8. The HCIR held hearings on the treaties on October 20.
  9. October 17. See footnote 6, Document 114.
  10. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Carter visited Michigan and Iowa on October 21; Nebraska, Colorado and California on October 22; and Minnesota on October 23. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary)
  11. Brzezinski highlighted these two sentences and placed a check in the left margin.
  12. Brzezinski highlighted this paragraph.
  13. Not found.
  14. See Document 118. Inderfurth wrote: “A very interesting report. RI” at the end of the memorandum.