174. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Visit with Brigadier General Omar Torrijos

1. COL Gordon, Director, J–3; LTC Phillips, USMILGP Panama; and the undersigned visited with Brigadier Omar Torrijos at 111230R May 1978 for approximately one hour. The primary purpose of the visit was to present BG Torrijos with a congratulatory personal letter from the CINC.2 As a result of BG Torrijos’ reading the letter, the following main points of discussion ensued:

a. Any efforts on both our parts directed towards the betterment of relations, development of combined defense concepts and/or training programs incident thereto will have to be a graduated effort done in stages little by little. One of the first areas that BG Torrijos indicated should be his primary concern is that of helping the GN and the Panamanian people eliminate their anti-imperialist attitudes. He said that he hoped that such change would eventually become a spontaneous enthusiasm rather than a forced enthusiasm.

b. His second point was that any effort should be held in abeyance until after President Carter’s visit in June.3 All the treaty efforts to date have built up like a crescendo that will be capped by President Carter’s visit and the accompanying exchange of ratification documents. After all the excitement dies down, cooperative activities can begin to take place. Such activities should be open (as opposed to secret), but not ostentatious or clamorous (ruidoso).

c. BG Torrijos alluded to the fact that Americans do things very rapidly (“you move at six miles per hour”) and that the Panamanians were a lot slower. The emphasis was made here that we would both have to go forward together (in parallel), even if it meant slowing down to “three MPH.”

d. Civilians should be kept informed matter-of-factly of all the combined efforts engaged in by both the GN and USSOUTHCOM [Page 433] elements so that the people—both Panamanian and American (Zonian)—can see that the real spirit of cooperation exists and is working.

e. The first echelon (priority) would be to establish the evident visibility of the GN in the “maintenance of public order” role. This position, he said would be the first echelon and that it was a necessary one to put the GN in the position of maintaining order over all Panamanian territory, especially when there was a problem between Panamanian and American citizens. He discussed this from a juridical or legal point of view and said that Colonel Noriega is working on the plans.

f. The second echelon (priority) as described by BG Torrijos, which would follow the “maintenance of public order” steps described above, is the development of defense considerations. Responsibilities for the development of basic plans for defense should be shared and coordinated. Again he mentioned the need to go slowly and without fanfare.

g. Any changes that occur as a matter of transition from one government to another or from one policy to another should be a logical progression of small changes until the entire big change had been effected. Again BG Torrijos emphasized the need for a step-by-step approach to any changes to the status quo.

h. The GN must be the visible “front line”, particularly along 4th of July Avenue. This was a reiteration of a previous comment and appeared to be one of the thoughts foremost on BG Torrijos mind.

i. What BG Torrijos then described was essentially a commander’s estimate type of procedure whereby he indicated that first we would have to identify the threat, then develop the proper defensive tactic to counter the threat to include an analysis of all the advantages and disadvantages for both sides with respect to each threat and selected defensive tactic. This was to be done in order of priority, according to the seriousness of the threat. He specifically mentioned disorders, sabotage, and guerrilla action, as well as “higher levels of threat.” One of his main preoccupations was the question of the integration of defensive concepts. He recognized the need for classified defense plans but that their development should be open and above board. The public would be informed that plans were being developed but that the specific content would not be divulged to unauthorized persons.

j. Finally BG Torrijos discussed the impending visit of President Carter. He said that he strongly recommended that the President not just visit Panama for the purpose of exchanging protocols of ratification nor that he just fly to the locks and then out as if he were a “thief in the night”; but rather should enter the Zone (as if triumphantly) “through the main entrance rather than through the kitchen door.” BG Torrijos indicated that he felt that by not visiting with the Americans in the “Zone” the Americans here might feel betrayed, and that they [Page 434] should have an opportunity to see and cheer their President. He scoffed at the idea that there would be any danger to the President.

2. As the group rose to leave, BG Torrijos indicated that he would respond soon to the CINC’s letter. (After he had first read the CINC’s letter he asked if there would be any problems in making it public. He was told that there would be no problem.)

David W. Patton
Chief, O&T Div
  1. Source: Department of State, American Embassy Panama, 1978 Political Section Classified Files, Lot 81F59, Box 1, DEF 4 SOFA/JC Commission Affairs. Confidential. Stamped: “For Official Use Only.” Drafted by Patton. An unknown hand wrote on the memorandum: “I fully support the slow, graduated approach to combined military endeavor outlined by Gen Torrijos.”
  2. Not found.
  3. See Documents 183 and 185.