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


  • Trip Report: Panama and Caracas

While you were racing the Chinese up the Great Wall,2 I went to Panama and Caracas on May 17–22 and can characterize my trip as “frank and extremely productive.” I will attach the cables, which summarize my conversations with Torrijos and with Perez (at his request) at Tabs A and B,3 and confine this memo to my observations and some summary points.


I have been able to establish a good rapport with Torrijos, and he was extremely cooperative and positive in the conversation and forthcoming to all my requests.

—He accepted with good grace the fact that the President has a limited amount of time during his trip to Panama,4 and said he would not press his schedule preference. (We are not going to Cantadora or to his home village, Santiago, as he had requested. [3 lines not declassified] at hearing that the President would not go to Santiago. He therefore went a long way in one day.)

—He said he understood the political sensitivity in the U.S. during the next year or two while implementing legislation is considered, and that he would therefore not move rapidly to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviets as he had originally planned. He also backed away from his request to begin construction immediately of a container port in the Zone for the same reason.

—He not only enthusiastically approved of the idea of issuing a multilateral Declaration of Panama along the lines which I described, [Page 442] but he said that his Foreign Minister would make our draft Panama’s draft and carry it to the various capitals. (The Presidents of Venezuela, Colombia, Costa Rica are definitely coming, and we also expect Jamaica and Mexico to attend.)

—This is all insignificant, however, compared to the distance he traveled in our discussion on Cuba and the NAM. I pressed him very hard, appealing to his idealism and to his (and our) concern with the principles of non-intervention and non-alignment. I told him that the U.S. wanted a strong and independent non-aligned movement; we didn’t mind occasional criticism of the U.S. provided it was balanced and that we weren’t the only power criticized. Is the Soviet Union or Cuba so pure, I asked, that they can be free of criticism from the NAM? I repeatedly hammered him with questions like, How can the NAM permit Cuba to be a member when it is so obviously aligned with the Soviets?

He tried to laugh it off by saying that our “pride was hurt more than your security,” and then suggesting that Latin Americans don’t mind as long as Cuban troops were outside of Latin America. He accepted my response that if you don’t voice your concern about Cubans in Africa, you will be too late and too weak when they turn to Belize or Nicaragua.

He then asked me to accompany him alone for a trip by jeep through the farming community. We spoke for about an hour. He began by asking whether there was anything that I wanted to say to him privately, and I decided to pursue the Cuba subject, only by appealing even more to him as a person who had influence with Castro and a person whose ideals couldn’t permit a double standard. I waxed with thick praise, and it worked. He opened up.

He said that he communicated often with Castro, and he had already stated his concern in general terms. In the light of our conversation, he now intended to be more forceful, especially when he visits the Non-Aligned Summit in Havana next year. He admitted that he and other Latins had been hypocritical in their silence on this issue. He asked whether we had been briefing other Latin governments as I was doing with him, and whether U.S. policy to the non-aligned had really changed, because prior to my remarks he had not seen any evidence of change. He said he felt reasonably certain that Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Colombia, for example, were not aware that the U.S. no longer “frowned” on the NAM because if they knew that to be the case, they would probably want to play an important role in it.

The Panama Government, and especially Torrijos, have very good lines of intelligence running to Cuba (and Cuba, I suspect, into Panama), and Torrijos volunteered some information. He said he had indications that Castro had increasing problems with the Army General Staff, who [Page 443] are extremely concerned about the morale problems of the Cuban troops. “The problem with Castro,” Torrijos said, “is that he was a revolutionary, and he doesn’t understand the mentality of the people (soldiers) who live in the barracks.”

Torrijos said that he thinks Castro has made a disastrous mistake by going into Africa; the continent had swallowed up other imperial efforts before. He feels that in the long term Cuba will not have had any significant impact on Africa, but that the African experience will significantly affect Cuba. The longer Castro stays in Africa, the more vulnerable he will become in Cuba. Torrijos doesn’t doubt that Castro is firmly in charge right now, but he does believe that Castro’s decision was his Rubicon, and that it was a “mistake,” and one Castro will live to regret.

He surprised me by saying that if the other leaders coming to Panama agreed to condemn Cuba in the Declaration, he too would sign the Declaration. (I am following up on this.)

After our meeting, his Foreign Minister requested some background papers on Cuba in advance of his trip to the Belgrade Conference in July. I believe that a short briefing by you for him during the President’s trip would reap significant dividends. Shall I mention to him that you will try to brief him during the trip, and try to set it up?5

Several other subjects:

1. Panama’s Political Future. I asked him about his future political plans, and he candidly sketched three options in a way that led me to believe he was leaning toward the third.

a. Status quo. Torrijos as “Chief of Government” and head of National Guard, with a new President elected by the National Assembly in October.

b. Run for President. He would probably win because he’s genuinely popular and because he controls the National Guard.

c. Leave the government completely and only keep control of the Guard. He expressed repeated concern about those in the Guard who still want to serve the old oligarchy—like Arnulfo Arias, the President whom Torrijos deposed in 1968 and who is returning to Panama a week before the President. (Arias clearly worries Torrijos, with some—but not that much—justification). Torrijos seems more interested now in preserving the gains of his development efforts than in striking out with new initiatives, and so it’s possible that the third option is good for all, but in my private and casual conversations with Gabriel Lewis and Panama’s Foreign Minister, Gonzalez-Revilla (an old friend of [Page 444] mine), I was left with the impression that Torrijos could continue to wreak havoc in the routine governmental policy-making—as he does now—if he chose the third option.

2. Torrijos Development Strategy. Torrijos’ tenure as Jefe has coincided with a dramatic expansion of the government budget, and its reorientation from serving the wealthy in the city to serving poor people, in the rural area, with particular and special emphasis on education. In his inimitable way, he told me: “I have replaced the traditional class struggle with a more modern and relevant classroom struggle.” Education, he said, is the beginning and the heart of any genuine social change. And he means it: rural education has increased its share of government expenditures under Torrijos.

3. Carter and the Latin American Left. Torrijos was full of praise for the President, saying that he had given the poor and unrepresented in Latin America “hope.” Carter’s greatest source of influence in Latin America, in Torrijos’ (and my) opinion, is his idealism, which Carter has so successfully projected. He said that there are groups in Latin America who have long been anti-American, but they are now prepared to cross this ideological divide if Carter were to quietly reach out to them. I think this is an interesting idea with important geo-political implications and will try to send you a memo on it shortly.


[Omitted here is information unrelated to Panama.]

Perez was also enthusiastic about the Declaration of Panama idea. And he suggested that we put “discreet pressure” on Torrijos to move Panama towards democracy.

Status of Trip

The schedule of the President’s trip seems completed (Tab C).6 From the substantive perspective, the most important events are the two one-hour multilaterals among the “Panama Seven.” Hopefully, we will complete agreement on the Declaration and should probably structure the agenda of those meetings around three or four questions related to developing ways to follow-up the main goals of the Declaration.

The most recent draft of the Declaration is at Tab D.7 I expect we will complete negotiations within the government by Tuesday,8 [Page 445] although there are a couple of significant differences which remain, and I may solicit your guidance on them if I can’t work them out.

I will draft a proposed agenda for the multilaterals once the Declaration is accepted by the USG and Panamanian government and would like to discuss it with you. I am working on the speech now.


The trip was enormously useful, but the one thing which was continuously impressed on me and which I find troubling is what a poor job we have done in getting the President’s message out on a continuous basis—not just by trips of high officials to our Embassies. I was amazed to hear that Vaky did not receive any information from us on the Dominican elections until a week ago, even though it is such an important issue to Perez and also to us. Because we have failed to keep our Ambassadors informed on a wide range of issues of great importance to us, we have lost invaluable opportunities to achieve our objectives. It is troubling that no one has briefed Torrijos on our views on Cuba’s role in Africa and our views on the Non-Aligned Movement, in spite of Torrijos’ obvious interest in both; that Perez has been briefed only twice on Africa—by the President and by the President’s letter; that we have never touched base with Colombia, Argentina, Peru and Guyana—all countries whose voices in the G–77 on international issues count. We need to do something about this, and the President’s trip to Panama is a good place to start. It’s important that he re-states how much we value these countries as important actors in international affairs.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Box 38, Brzezinski Office File Country Chron., Panama, 1–5/78. Top Secret. Sent for information. All brackets except those that indicate omitted text are in the original.
  2. Brzezinski visited the People’s Republic of China, May 20–22. Records of his conversations with Chinese officials can be found in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XIII, China, Documents 108111.
  3. Tabs A and B are not attached. In telegram 3545 from Panama City, May 20, Jorden reported on his and Pastor’s talk with Torrijos. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 41, Pastor, Country, Panama, 5/78)
  4. See Document 183.
  5. Brzezinski did not indicate his approval or disapproval of the suggestion.
  6. Tab C is not attached.
  7. Tab D is not attached.
  8. May 30.