172. Memorandum From the Department of Defense Representative for Panama Canal Treaty Affairs (Dolvin) to Multiple Recipients1


  • Treaty Ratification Documents

Summary. Negotiations between the US and Panama on the draft documents for the 16 June 1978 treaty ceremonies were successfully concluded on 3 May 1978 in Panama City. Agreement ad referendum was reached on all major points concerning the Instruments of Ratification and the cover Protocol. A draft joint communique was reviewed and generally agreed upon, with the understanding that both parties would submit the draft to top-level review. The negotiations were carried out in a friendly and cooperative fashion. Discussions with other US Government and Panamanian agencies indicated that treaty implementation planning is proceeding expeditiously and is being coordinated effectively at the local level. The Government of Panama is in the advance stage of establishing an autonomous “super” agency to direct and coordinate all aspects of treaty implementation.

Background. Negotiating sessions were held in Panama City on 2 and 3 May 1978.2 The principal participants were.

a. For the Republic of Panama:

Minister Aristides Royo

Ambassador Carlos Lopez Guevara

Dr. Diogenes De La Rosa

b. For the United States:

Ambassador David H. Popper

LTG Welborn G. Dolvin, USA (R)

Mr. Richard Wyrough

Mr. Mike Kozak

COL George F. Carroll, USA

Mr. Elkin Taylor (US Embassy)

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Treaty Documents. A total of six documents were discussed and generally agreed upon for the mid-June treaty ceremony: Instruments of Ratification for each treaty by both parties, a Protocol and the Joint Communique. Clean copies of these documents will be distributed early next week. The most troublesome defense related issue was an understanding in both Panamanian Instruments of Ratification which we thought restricted the US right to act unilaterally to keep the canal open and operating. The statement was as follows:

“It is likewise the understanding of the Republic of Panama that actions by it or by the United States of America in exercise of their rights and the performance of their duties under the aforementioned canal treaty, including measures to reopen the canal or restore its normal operations, in case of interruption or impediment, will be carried out, to the extent possible, subject to prior consultations between the two governments.

Upon the insistence of the Defense Representative this language was eliminated. The following paragraph was agreed upon ad referendum:

“It is also the understanding of the Republic of Panama that the actions which either party may take in the exercise of its rights and the fulfillment of its duties in accordance with the aforesaid treaty concerning the Permanent Neutrality and Operations of the Panama Canal, including measures to reopen the canal or re-establish its normal functioning, if it should be interrupted or obstructed, will be effected in a manner consistent with the principles of mutual respect and cooperation on which new relationship established by that treaty is based.”

Observations. US-Panamanian discussions were held in a spirit of friendship and cooperation.

—The Panamanian Negotiating Team has transitioned successfully to the implementation planning stage. A detailed briefing by the Planning Group revealed that the GOP is in the process of establishing an autonomous Government agency to assume control of all treaty implementation matters. It will provide the Panamanian representatives to all treaty-related boards and committees and will coordinate all actions taken by Panamanian Government agencies. Several meetings between the PCC and representatives of this agency have already occurred.

—It is clear that the principle impact of the Senate debate in Panama has been to solidify support for the Torrijos regime. Opposition appears to have little chance to undercut his power at this time.

—Panamanians feel that Senate attacks on the treaties were primarily political but did identify two weaknesses and potential problem areas:

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—The $10 million public service payment.

—The $10 million, if earned, contingent payment.

—Briefings and discussions with Governor Parfitt, General McAuliffe and Ambassador Jorden indicated that US treaty implementation planning is well underway at the local level. The magnitude of the problem is apparent to all. A number of problem areas will require Washington-level policy decisions in the near future. They include:

—Property disposal.


—Transfer of PCC functions to DOD. (Need authority to transition from planning stage to implementation by specific assignment of responsibilities for schools/hospitals/post offices/commissaries.)

—Personnel problems.

—Discussions were scheduled to begin this week between USSOUTHCOM and the Guardia Nacional on treaty implementation, with emphasis on the SOFA and the Combined Board and the Joint Committee. Relations between the Guardia Nacional and the US military are excellent. Guardia Nacional participation could be affected by personnel limitations and funding constraints.3

Welborn G. Dolvin
Lieutenant General, USA (Ret)
Deputy Negotiator from the Department of Defense
for the Panama Canal Negotiations
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files, FRC: 330–81–0202, Panama 821 (May-Sept 1978). Confidential. A stamped notation reads: “May 9 1978 Dep Sec Has Seen.” Sent to Duncan, Alexander, Acting Chairman, JCS, and McGiffert.
  2. In telegram 3021 from Panama City, May 3, the Embassy provided a summary of the first round of the May 2–3 negotiating sessions in Panama. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780189–0384)
  3. In telegram 3365 from Panama City, May 15, the Embassy reported that Contreras, who had been given primary responsibility for treaty implementation planning for the GN, joined Fabrega for one initial meeting with USSOUTHCOM. The Embassy described the current state of GOP planning for treaty implementation, including discussion of the Joint Committee established by the SOFA. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780205–0841)