193. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Gabriel Lewis, former Panamanian Ambassador to the United States
  • Robert Pastor, NSC Staff
  • Ambler Moss, U.S. Ambassador-designate to Panama

Gabriel Lewis said that he was in the United States on a private business trip but that both General Torrijos and Aristides Royo had separately asked Lewis that he suggest that the United States send a high-level delegation to Royo’s inauguration as President on October 11.2

Pastor and I said we did not think that would be possible at this stage (the Presidential elections are that same day) but that there would be ample opportunity for us to work with Royo and be of assistance to his new government as appropriate. Lewis asked how we regarded Royo. I said that our contact with him during the negotiations had been very positive; that we knew him as a pragmatic, flexible and honest negotiator. Lewis said that Royo wanted us to know that he was a friend of the United States and wanted to work with us. He also said that Royo had consulted him extensively and was following his advice to make overtures to the private sector. He said that Royo had asked him to become Minister of Commerce, but that he was not interested in joining the government.

I said that we had noted Royo’s speeches in Panama emphasizing the importance of the private sector and that such a policy, if translated into action, would obviously be welcome in this country. I said that at some point it would be useful for Royo to meet with representatives of American business in this country and assure them of his government’s interest in creating a favorable climate for private investment.

Lewis said that Torrijos told him that he really intends to leave his active involvement in the government and occupy himself solely with the National Guard. Torrijos added that he wanted to clean up the corruption which existed in the Guard. Lewis expressed considerable skepticism about Torrijos’ true intentions, however, and said that Tor[Page 472]rijos probably did not know himself what his future role would be. He sees Torrijos as wanting some sort of “larger role” in Latin American politics and said that he was very much like a movie star who, having made one film, now wants to make another.

With respect to the Sandinistas, Lewis said that he did not know what relationship, if any, existed today between Torrijos and the group. Lewis said that he saw Pastora and “Commandantes Uno” and “Dos” at Torrijos’ house in Farallon earlier this month but was not involved in any detailed discussions with them beyond simply hearing their description of how they had managed their seizure of the National Palace in Managua. I emphasized that it was very important in our view that Panama not be used in any way as a base of operations of the Sandinistas or even present the appearance of being involved in the matter. Lewis agreed and said that he did not know of any specific actions being taken by Panama at this time, while adding that “everybody knew” that the Sandinistas were being supplied with arms by Venezuela and that they were operating freely across the Costa Rican border.

Lewis said that he knew Somoza personally and felt that he was respected by Somoza, although he had not seen him for three or four years. Somoza and Lewis once had a business venture together (a box manufacturing plant in Nicaragua) and Somoza has been a house guest at the Lewis house on Contadora Island several times.

Lewis said that he felt it important for Somoza to leave the scene while a moderate solution for Nicaragua was still possible, but that he doubted Somoza could be persuaded to do so.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Staff Offices, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 42, Pastor, Country, Panama, 8–12/78. Confidential. Drafted by Moss. The meeting took place at the Army-Navy Club.
  2. On October 11, the Panamanian National Assembly of Community Representatives elected Royo to a 6-year term as President of Panama. Royo and the Vice Presidential candidate, Ricardo de la Espriella, were Torrijos-backed candidates.