196. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Telephone Conversation on Nicaragua


  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Brig. Gen. Omar Torrijos Herrera, Chief of Government, Panama
  • Robert Pastor, NSC
  • Stephanie Van Reigersberg, Interpreter

Carter. Good afternoon, General Torrijos. It’s a pleasure to talk to you again.

Torrijos. Good afternoon, Mr. President. I’m very happy to talk to you too.

Carter. We have many problems with Nicaragua, don’t we? I hope that working together with you, Venezuela, Colombia and others that we can quickly bring a peaceful settlement to this serious problem and restore democracy and preserve human rights in Nicaragua. We are very eager that this problem be solved without any more blood of the Nicaraguan people being shed.

Torrijos. I agree with you.

Carter. To do this, we need close communication. As you know, we have sent William Rogers [Jorden] to represent us, and we believe that he and others can coordinate the careful efforts that will be necessary to reach agreement on a solution. Do you agree with that?

Torrijos. That is a very good idea. Now it is important for all countries to be discouraged from engaging in incursions with their military forces. The problem can be reduced to one simple definition: “An insane man with an armed gang of criminals engaged in a massacre of a defenseless population.” We must try for an early solution because otherwise the massacre will go on. The borders, Costa Rica and Honduras, are already filling with refugees. There are already 8,000 on the border of Honduras and the President says he can’t do anything for them. I am told that by Monday there will be 11,000 there. We must get our Red Cross organizations working on the problem. We are continuing to analyze the situation, but it is an indigestible one. You, [Page 477] Mr. President, have great prestige, very, very great prestige, on this continent. There is nothing you can’t do by means of dialogue.

We have been informed that Nicaragua is now inflaming the bellicose feelings between Honduras and El Salvador, promoting conflict there in order to solve its own problems. I have told the leaders of Honduras not to fall for that.

Carter. Let me respond briefly to the points you have made. I believe your assessment of what needs to be done is very accurate. First, the efforts of all peace-loving countries in the hemisphere must be coordinated, and we are very glad to participate in that effort. Secondly, mediation efforts must be used to the maximum degree, and here again we would be pleased to participate. Thirdly, the Red Cross must be involved in the relief effort and I will start taking steps in that direction immediately. I appreciate your leadership on that. Lastly, a common declaration is necessary that this matter must be resolved without military attack from the outside, preserving the integrity of all countries, and that includes El Salvador and Honduras. I agree with all this. Please confirm that I have understood you fully.

Torrijos. Yes, Mr. President. First, as I said the problem comes down to one of an insane man in control of an armed gang engaged in a massacre. Secondly, the warning that nobody should interfere should be issued, but it should be valid for or applied to all. Thirdly, I think that all due precautions must be taken not to inflame the situation between El Salvador and Honduras, making the Nicaragua situation secondary in importance. Mr. President, you have enough prestige to get anything you want in a conversation with any President.

Carter. I appreciate your high opinion of me. I will certainly do my best. I greatly value your partnership and help and intend to pursue your ideas. I will keep you informed of any progress I may make. I would report to you on the attitude of Nicaraguan officials when I know. I think it is important for the two of us to share information with each other and likewise share the responsibility to restore peace. Therefore, I will follow up on these matters immediately and hope that we will keep each other thoroughly informed.

Torrijos. Very good. Mr. President, I should just like to congratulate you on what you have achieved in using your good offices to bring a solution to the situation in the Middle East.2

Carter. Thank you. Your friendship and help are very valuable to me. With your kind friendship, I am confident that, like the first step [Page 478] which was taken in the Middle East situation, we will be able to restore peace to this Central American region. Thank you very much, General Torrijos, and good-bye.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Staff Offices, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 42, Pastor, Country, Panama, 8–12/78. Confidential. Carter was in the Oval Office for the telephone conversation.
  2. Presumably a reference to the Camp David Accords, signed September 17 at the White House by Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.