Minister Magoon to the Secretary of State.

No. 21.]

Sir: I have the honor to inform you that on Sunday, November 5, the leaders of the Liberal party of the Republic of Panama met at the residence of the governor of the Canal Zone in order to present to the Secretary of War, Mr. Taft, a memorial on the subject of a possible or, as they claimed, probable interference with the ballot at the coming elections by the party now in power.

The representatives of the Liberals, Dr. Pablo Arosemena, vice-president of the Republic, Dr. Belisario Porras, Mr. Eusebio Morales, and General Domingo Diaz, after reciting the wrongs and injustice which they allege to have suffered at the last election, requested the Secretary of War to give them an unequivocal answer to the following four questions:

Does the American Government guarantee public order and constitutional succession in this Republic?
Is a government which violates the constitution and laws and attacks the first right of the citizens—that of free suffrage—within the pale of such protection?
Granted the possibility—to us an absolute certainty—that in the coming elections all manner of outrages will be committed against the people, will the Government of the United States look on with indifference at the spectacle of a defenseless people at the mercy of those who trample on their rights?
Is it not preferable for the United States to adopt while there is yet time such a course as to avoid appearing before the eyes of the world as the champions of outrage and oppression?

These gentlemen laid all stress on the danger of unfair means being taken by the Conservative party to remain in power in spite of a majority of voters on the side of the Liberals, but returned favorable answers to all questions concerning the honesty of the administration in other matters.

I have the honor to inclose translation of this memorial, which appeared in the Panama Journal of November 8.

I have, etc.,

Charles E. Magoon.


[From the Panama Journal, November 8, 1905.]

important conference.

Yesterday between the hours of 5.30 and 7 p.m. the directors of the Liberal party, composed of Messrs. Pablo Arosemena, B. Porras, Eusebio A. Morales, and General Domingo Diaz, together with the secretary of the directorate, Dr. Francisco Filos, held an important conference with the Hon. William H. Taft, Secretary of War of the United States. The object of this conference was the presentation to the distinguished representative of the American Government of a memorandum (treatise, memorial), which we hereinafter publish for the benefit of our readers.

The directorate was received with the greatest geniality, and after some conversation on topics affecting the country in general, in which the Hon. Chas. E. Magoon, governor of the Zone and minister of the United States to Panama, took an active part, Mr. Taft received and read the memorial.

He stated in concise terms that no government which, in order to remain in power, needed to have recourse to fraud and violence at the polls had the right to exist, and that the American [Page 717] Government will not uphold systems of government which are based on such unlawful practices.

He expressed his intention to personally present the memorial to President Amador and to also submit the same to President Roosevelt, feeling absolutely sure that the latter entertains opinions identical with his own and will do his best to give us a square deal.

He volunteered the opinion that this memorial should be widely published.

The Liberal directorate found themselves in the presence of a man who merits his fame; a man of absolute integrity; frank, of a clear intelligence, which at a glance grasps the most complicated questions; a patriot, and fearless in his political convictions. Secretary Taft is a man well capacitated to rise to the highest position in the gift of his country and to honor it, as it was honored by Washington and Lincoln, and as it is honored to-day by Theodore Roosevelt.

memorial presented to the hon. william h. taft, secretary of war of the united states, by the national directorate of the liberal party of Panama, treating of the political relationship and ties between the republic of Panama and the united states.

The diplomatic correspondence, which toward the end of 1903 was exchanged in Washington between Secretary Hay and Gen. Rafael Reyes, envoy extraordinary of Colombia, on account of the attitude assumed by the Government of the United States with regard to the separation of the department of Panama and its transformation into an independent republic, demonstrates that the American Government considered itself bound to maintain the established order of things and to prevent that interoceanic traffic should be suspended or impeded by military operations which might convert the territory of the Isthmus into a battlefield. The position taken by Secretary Hay was summarized in the following conclusions:

That by the treaty of 1846 the American Union guaranteed the sovereignty of Colombia over the territory of the Isthmus in case of attack by another nation.
That this guaranty of neutrality could not be applied in case of an internal movement on the part of the guaranteed section, and that if this latter, by its own efforts, constituted itself into an independent nation she became the beneficiary of that guaranty as successor in sovereignty of the territory.

The treaty celebrated on November 18 of that same year (1903) contains the above doctrine, although in a more concrete form. The United States thereby guarantees the sovereignty and independence of Panama. This treaty, whose principal object is to facilitate the construction of a canal across the Isthmus, was also bound to make provision for the preservation of public order, so that universal traffic might not suffer disturbances; and, in fact, this faculty was allotted to the United States, as shown in the latter part of Article VII of said treaty, which says:

“Equal right and equal authority is granted to the United States for the maintenance of public order in the cities of Panama and Colon and their surrounding territories and bays in the event that in the judgment of the United States the Republic of Panama should not be able to maintain it.”

According to this clause the United States is under no obligation whatever to maintain public order, even in the cities of Panama and Colon. The treaty gives them the faculty and authority to do so, but does not impose it upon them as a duty, the fulfillment of which might be exacted by the other party to the treaty.

Correlative to this clause of the treaty there exists in our constitution an article—No. 136—which says thus:

“The Government of the United States of America may intervene anywhere in the Republic of Panama for the reestablishment of constitutional peace and order if this should be disturbed, provided that by virtue of public treaty said nation should assume or have assumed to guarantee the independence and sovereignty of this Republic.”

This article, as a constitutional provision in the fundamental charter of a free country, is not worth the paper it is written on, because it is plain that a constitution can only contain internal organic rules of state, but not regulations and orders for a foreign country to comply with.

Nevertheless, and although after a careful analysis made of the canal treaty and the above constitutional clause we may not arrive at the conclusion that it be the duty of the United States to maintain order in this Republic, there are in this country neither citizens nor political parties who fail to understand that it is the interest of the United States that public order remain undisturbed at the terminals of the interoceanic waterway now being constructed, and, in fact, all through the country.

This in the general consensus of opinion being the accepted situation, it gives rise to a different line of thought.

II. Public order in a country is the harmonious working of its institutions. It is the normal state which results from the respect shown by the government to the individual rights of the people and from the submission of the latter to the existing laws.

[Page 718]

A government which violates the constitution or the laws, which attacks or ignores the rights of the citizens, or which in any manner, directly or indirectly, favors or tolerates such violations on the part of unscrupulous underlings is not within the bounds of constitutional order.

If, therefore, to-morrow it should happen that a government should violate in a flagrant manner the free suffrage, is this or is it not an act which constitutes an infraction against lawful and constitutional order?

Should, in the opinion of the illustrious Government of the United States, the violation of free suffrage on the part of the Panama Government not be considered an attempt against constitutional order, what remedy remains there for the people of the Isthmus to protect their rights and to prevent usurpation of their sovereignty?

The present government of the country was formed most auspiciously, with a cabinet composed of members of both political parties, but since then the Liberal members of the cabinet have joined the ranks of the other party, so that the government to-day is solely in the hands of the Conservatives.

Following Colombian customs, the government is getting itself in readiness to take a hand in the coming elections for congressmen, and through agents and its own employees it is circulating in the towns of the interior the threat that it will stop at nothing and spare no means in order to gain the elections; that it has the support of the United States and that it will, if necessary, use high-handed means and force in order to attain its ends. On the other hand, it has also given notice that if the people of Panama should resist this usurpation American troops will come to maintain order and to shoot them down without mercy.

Thus the government wants to place the people of Panama before an alternative: Either they permit the coming elections to be a farce, or they offer resistance and thus provoke the intervention of the United States to maintain order.

We represent the Liberal party, which has an overwhelming majority all through the country, and as its leaders we deem the time opportune to state to the government which your excellency represents that we do not approve of the recourse to arms as a remedy for political wrongs, but still less do we approve of that system of violation of free suffrage which it is intended to impose upon us, invoking the support of the great American nation for this purpose.

Already in the last elections, held on December 16 last, which were only of minor importance, we realized to what length the agents of the government would go.

There are fifty-five municipal districts in the Republic. In some of them no vote was cast because the mayors (alcaldes) prevented the notices of the appointment of election juries from reaching their destination; in others the Liberals were attacked and shot at to prevent them from casting their ballots; in others the lists of voters were altered on the night preceding the elections and the names of the Liberals were stricken out therefrom; in others the people of the rural districts were intimidated by the police and forced to cast a vote contrary to their convictions.

The Liberal party won the elections in Panama, the capital, in Arraijan, Chorrera, Chepo, Pinogana, San Miguel, San Carlos, Capira, Chame, Anton, Penonome, Nata, Ola, La Pintada, Aguadulce, Chitre, Pocri, Guarare, Santiago, Canazas, Calobre, Montijo, Rio de Jesus, Santa Fe, David, Alanje, Bugaba, San Lorenzo, Portobelo, Chagres, Donoso, and Bastimentos.

After the elections had been won in all these districts the authorities prevented the counting of the votes in some of them, withholding the election returns so that they might not, perchance, fall into the hands of the election committee; in others, after the results of the election had been declared and the new municipal councilmen had entered into office, the election judges, without any lawful grounds on which to base their action, and in the most outrageous manner, declared the elections null and void, such as the elections held in the capitals of the Provinces of Code, Veraguas, and Chiriqui, or, in other words, in the towns of Penonome, Santiago, and David, and, furthermore, those of the districts of Aguadulce, Chitre, La Pintada, and Pocri.

If the agents of the government made use of all kinds of artifices, deceits, violence, and frauds in order to triumph or to avert our triumph in municipal elections in which only minor interests were at stake, what would they not be capable of doing when it comes to the election of congressmen to the National Assembly, the only body that has the power to pass upon the acts of the ruling government?

III. The fact that public order must not be disturbed, and that in order to maintain it the Government of the United States may intervene, being accepted in its principle, by us and by the entire country, we have deemed it prudent and opportune to present to your excellency this memorial, which is intended to clearly state the ideas of the Liberal party of the Isthmus, and the hope it bases on the spirit of justice and of the equity of the American Government.

In truth, if the Government of the United States guarantees public order in the territory of the Republic of Panama, and insures the constitutional succession of the national officeholders, it is strictly logical and just that it should also guarantee the existence of an absolutely lawful system of government, which shall respect the right of free suffrage, a right which forms the foundation of the Republic. To admit that the American Government [Page 719] guarantees public order and at the same time indorses the existence of a governing system of frauds and violence would be to offer unmerited offense to the country that has held out to us a generous hand, and which with singular disinterestedness contributes to our progress.

The several questions which we hereby present to your execllency may be summarized as follows:

Does the American Government guarantee public order and constitutional succession in office in this Republic?
Is a government which violates the constitution and laws and attacks the first right of the citizens—the right of free suffrage—within the pale of such a protection?
Granted the possibility—to us an absolute certainty—that in the coming elections all manner of outrages will be committed against the people, will the Government of the United States look on with indifference at the spectacle of a defenseless people being cast at the mercy of those who trample on their rights?
Will it not be preferable for the United States to adopt, in time, such a course as would prevent their appearing before the eyes of the world as the champions of outrage and oppression?

The directorate of the Liberal party requests your excellency to favor them with a frank answer to these questions and beg to respectfully point out that a reply expressing the repugnance of the United States to meddle in the internal affairs of a friendly nation could not be considered by us in the light of an answer, since our constitution confers upon your government the right to intervene for purposes of maintaining constitutional order, and if such faculty is given to avoid the evils of war it is natural that it also should be used to suppress the causes which, even contrary to our wishes, might produce them.

  • Pablo Arosemena.
  • B. Porras.
  • Eusebio A. Morales.
  • H. Patino.
  • D. Diaz.
  • F. Filos, Secretary.