119. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Senator Byrd’s Trip—An Assessment

By all accounts, the trip by Senator Byrd and six other Senators to Panama was a success.2 It was well planned to give the Senators a flavor of political dissent in Panama, to permit them to see the full commitment of the Panamanian people to the Canal Treaties, and to be briefed on Panama’s plans for the future economic development of Panama and the Zone. It also gave the Senators an opportunity to see a good cross-section of well-educated and intelligent Panamanians. Torrijos spent a good deal of time with the Senators, and came to like and respect Senator Byrd.

There is one set of issues on which the Senators pressed Torrijos quite hard, and which may cause us some problems. It is the future of democratic government in Panama.3

There is the danger that some Senators will seek concessions in the area as a way to divert attention from the Treaties. If Torrijos does not make the concessions regarding democracy that several believe he promised,4 they could use that as an excuse to vote against the Treaties. [Page 336] Therefore, I think it is in our interest not to couple the democracy-in-Panama issue with the Canal Treaties. I think we are more likely to lose votes if Torrijos does not make good on his supposed concessions than win them if he does.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Office of the Chief of Staff, Hamilton Jordan’s Confidential Files, Box 36, Panama Canal Treaty 9/77. Confidential. Carter initialed the memorandum.
  2. On November 9 Byrd led a delegation to Panama that included Senators Huddleston, Matsunaga, Metzenbaum, Riegle, Sarbanes, and Sasser. At the end of the 4-day trip, Matsunaga, Huddleston, and Metzenbaum announced their unqualified support for the treaties and all the senators expressed favorable impressions of the trip. (Briefing memorandum from Bennet to Vance, November 14; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P770193–1597)
  3. In a November 11 memorandum to Brzezinski relaying messages from Torrijos, Pastor explained that the senators asked Torrijos many times if he was a Communist and Huddleston told Torrijos he hated dictatorships. Torrijos responded that he did as well and that “he wanted to turn Panama into a centerpiece of democracy, to be an example for all Latin America.” (Carter Library, White House Central Files, Subject File, FO 3–1, Panama Canal, 12)
  4. In a November 14 memorandum to Bennet, Moss reported that after questioning by the senators, Torrijos announced liberalizing measures he intended to take regarding due process, press freedom, and the return of exiles. (Carter Library, Office of Congressional Liaison, Jeff Neuchterlein Subject Files, Box 237, (Panama Canal Treaty Negotiations) 1/3/77–4/2/77 (CF, O/A 193)) In a November 30 conversation, Lewis informed Pastor that Torrijos had kept his promise to Byrd to repeal decrees limiting the right of assembly and providing for summary administrative trials and was reexamining the decree which limited press freedom. (Memorandum of Conversation, November 30, Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 41, Pastor, Country, Panama, 11–12/77)