262. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Panama1

56104. For Ambassador Moss. Subject: ACAN–FFE Newspaper Story.

1. (S—Entire text)

2. Request you raise with Torrijos, at an appropriate opportunity, our surprise and deep concern over ACAN–EFE story on the visit by Bowdler and Pastor.2 We leave to your judgment best way to approach this issue to ensure Torrijos fully and completely understands depth of our concern, and displeasure. You may wish, however, to draw on the following thoughts.

3. You could begin by reviewing our conversations with Salamin, Blandon and Delgado on Saturday and Sunday3 evening. You should specifically mention that Salamin had said on Sunday that General Torrijos had been pleased with the outcome of our meeting on Saturday in which truce/dialogue plan discussed.4 You should also mention [Page 619] that we had reached agreement Sunday evening that Bowdler and Pastor would meet with Cheek in Salvador and Guatemala on Monday,5 and at that point, decide whether an immediate U.S./Panama visit to Salvador would be useful. Then, we had promised to ale[rt?] Salamin and Torrijos immediately through you of our decision your reviewing in some detail our discussions with his “Central American team” should make it easier for you to communicate to Torrijos the extent which we felt betrayed by him. In presenting the foregoing you should stress in particular our role in blocking the rightist coup last weekend—a fact which is well known and publicly commented.

4. You could go on to point out that his suggestion that Panamanian officials only accepted the American team because Hamilton Jordan had asked that they do that is also inaccurate, and Jordan is disturbed that the Panamanian official source has said that. You should not hesitate to run down the specific details in that article and seek his explanation for them.

5. In conclusion you can make clear to Torrijos that unless the GOP makes an explicit and total denial of the ACAN–EFE story, it is difficult to see how we can collaborate with him on Central American issues as we would like.

6. Torrijos told Lewis that he intended to keep Cuba out of the picture. You will recall that Salamin informed us on Sunday he was going on a special mission on Tuesday6 and would not be available to go to El Salvador on that day. We have subsequently learned that Salamin travelled to Cuba on Tuesday. We leave it to you whether to raise this apparent contradiction with Torrijos. We would like Torrijos to know that we are aware of Panamanian contacts with the Cubans following our talks and hope that the purpose was not to concert strategy on support of elements which oppose the JRG. Were this the purpose we would be extremely concerned.

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7. After your conversation with him, we would like your views on how to proceed with our contacts with him.7

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 42, Pastor, Country, Panama, 3–12/80. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Sent Immediate for information to the White House.
  2. On February 24, the Panamanian news service, ACAN–EFE, carried an article that stated the Bowdler and Pastor mission to Panama of February 23–24 had ended in “profound disagreement” between Panama and the United States, producing “the Panamanian conviction that the United States is promoting a rightist coup in El Salvador.” A copy of the article is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 42, Pastor, Country, Panama, 10/79–2/80.
  3. February 23 and February 24
  4. In a February 26 memorandum to Brzezinski, Pastor wrote that he, Bowdler and Moss were “completely startled,” “flabbergasted,” and “puzzled” by the ACAN–EFE report, declaring that “virtually everything in that report was false or a gross distortion.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Box 84, Sensitive XX, 2/80)
  5. March 3.
  6. March 4.
  7. In telegram 1987 from Panama City, March 3, Moss relayed to Lewis and de la Espriella the astonishment and deep concern he and others shared over the story, noting that it had done damage to Panama’s image within the U.S. Government. The Panamanians felt the story was largely due to distorted reporting to Torrijos, though they felt that did not explain fully what could have provoked Torrijos’s behavior. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 60, Panama, 2–4/80). In telegram 2249 from Panama City, March 10, Moss relayed his unsuccessful attempts to meet with Torrijos and stated he would keep trying but did not “want to give the impression that we are too anxious, lest he think that we are playing up to him.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 42, Pastor, Country, Panama, 3–12/80) In telegram 65132 to Panama City, March 12, Bowdler reported that he and Pastor agreed that Moss had gone about as far “as advisable” in pressing Torrijos for a meeting, and that Torrijos’s avoidance of Moss suggested Torrijos had perceived the U.S. displeasure and preferred “not to be confronted with it.” (Ibid.)