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

174116. For Ambassador Moss from Assistant Secretary Bowdler. Subject: Air Crash in El Salvador; Dealing With Torrijos. Ref: Panama 5374.2

1. (S-entire text)

2. While we agree with Ref. assessment that we do not have, nor are we likely to obtain, substantial evidence directly linking Torrijos with arms traffic to leftist insurgents in El Salvador, we nevertheless suspect that he was at least aware of such activities and implicitly [Page 628] condoned them. Moreover, we recognize that his strong ties and influential position with the Salvadoran Left probably involve more than political and moral support.

3. We do not yet have the evidence to support a strong representation to Torrijos. We are reluctant, however, to accept as a substitute the type of indirect and very subtle approach to Torrijos recommend para 7 Ref. By winking at Torrijos over this incident we risk deceiving him as to our actual suspicions of his involvement and the seriousness with which we view it.

We request therefore that you take advantage of a suitable opportunity to again raise this subject with Torrijos. A call to discuss Torrijos’s recent meeting with Colonel Majano3 and the Panamanian apology to El Salvador might be opportune for this purpose. In discussing the air crash incident you should press Torrijos as to the extent of his knowledge of the arms traffic to El Salvador and seek to elicit a clear statement as to his involvement with it.4 You should leave Torrijos the impression that we suspect he was in some way implicated and that we consider his support for the Salvadoran Left to be a dangerous game.

  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. See footnote 3, Document 267.
  3. In telegram 4385 from San Salvador, June 25, the Embassy reported that Majano planned to go to Panama to meet with Torrijos on June 28. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800307–0326)
  4. In telegram 5734 from Panama City, July 9, Moss reported on his July 9 meeting with Torrijos, who professed non-involvement with the air crash and said the Salvadorans were satisfied with his explanations. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 42, Pastor, Country, Panama, 3–12/80)