File No. 718.1915/235.

The Minister of Costa Rica to the Secretary of State.


Mr. Secretary: On a previous occasion [November 7, 1914] I had the honor to deliver to your excellency a copy of the award of the Chief Justice of the United States rendered in the boundary dispute [Page 1135] in which the Republic of Costa Rica and Panama were engaged, and expressly said on that occasion that I had explicit instructions from my Government to inform you that Costa Rica had accepted the award in its entirety, under the obligation assumed on signing the Arbitration Treaty of March 17, 1910.

I now have the honor to lay before your excellency the reasons which the Government of Costa Rica believes should actuate the Secretary of State to interpose his good offices with the Government of Panama, with the high purpose of bringing about the earliest possible execution of the award of the Chief Justice of the United States so that that treaty of arbitration may be faithfully adhered to, out of the respect it would imply—especially in our days so Sorely tried by manifestations of force—for the loftiest principles of civilization. Those reasons are as follows:

First. The magnitude of the interests of the United States in the Canal Zone impelled that nation to conclude with the newly-born Republic of Panama a convention under which the United States, in the first clause thereof, pledges itself to guarantee and maintain the independence of Panama. Consideration of this duty of the United States was borne in mind by the Department of State when it used its good offices with the Government of Panama to induce it to enter into negotiations with the neighbor Republic of Costa Rica for the demarcation of the boundary between the two countries. For three years the Department of State labored with the Government of Panama for its assent to a definitive treaty and just as Panama was believed to be quite ready to carry it into effect the Minister of Foreign Relations gave notice to the Department of State of his intention to conduct direct negotiations with the Government of Costa Rica at the capital of that nation. Plain was the discontent of the Department of State, which found it advisable to send to its Legation at Panama the important note of January 23, 1909, with instructions to deliver a copy to the Minister of Foreign Relations, for the proper safeguard of American interests in the border zone in dispute. In it Mr. Root, then Secretary of State, says:4

For three years and more this Government has repeatedly and urgently shown its earnest desire and expectation that the conflicting claims of Panama and Costa Rica in regard to their common boundary should be set at rest. The interest of the United States in seeing the dispute settled has been continuously manifested and the grounds of our interest clearly set forth. At the time of Panama independence there were important American interests on the border, upon the Sixaola River, to which rival American citizens were claimants.

The determination of their conflicting claims was and still is dependent upon the issue of the question of sovereign title to the territory and sovereign jurisdiction over controversies arising therein. The situation thus arising has been from the outset most embarrassing and vexatious to the United States and this embarrassment and vexation must continue so long as the determination of sovereign title is in suspense.

This Government welcomed with gratification the institution of negotiations between Panama and Costa Rica looking to a final fixation of their common boundary. It put forward every friendly effort toward the ratification of the treaty signed by them March 7, 1905. The consummation of that treaty was indefinitely deferred because of the amendment introduced in the Panama Act of ratification. Again our efforts were put forth to effect a renewal of negotiations on conventional lines. Thereupon, Costa Rica proposed arbitration. The United States supported this proposal as having become apparently the only manner of bringing about the settlement of a controversy the continuance of [Page 1136] which bore so heavily on American interests. The acceptance of the arbitration in principle by Panama on December 24 last was hailed by us with a feeling of relief, as a hopeful augury of a speedy disposition of the question. The communication now made to you by Señor Fernandez holds the Panaman acceptance in abeyance by contingently deferring the resort to arbitration to await the uncertain outcome of a proposal to reopen direct negotiations for adjustment of the dispute by mutual agreement. This step is disappointing, because tending to excite our apprehension that this fresh resort to direct negotiations may prove as ineffectual as previous efforts in that direction, and may turn out to have merely dilatory results so far as a final settlement is concerned, and that an agreement may be found as remote as at the beginning of the dispute.

All this constrains the Government of the United States to the conclusion that the conditions existing for years and still existing are such that they force the United States in justice to its own citizens to treat the de facto line as the line to the north of which Costa Rica has jurisdiction and to the south of which Panaman jurisdiction is recognized. In other words to hold that, inasmuch as the territory northward of the de facto line is left by Panama within the actual jurisdiction and control of Costa Rica, Panama is estopped by her own act from objecting to the United States treating it as Costa Rican territory and looking to Costa Rica to remedy the annoying and embarrassing situation caused to this Government and to its citizens by the absence of responsible jurisdiction in that quarter.

Second. On February 16, 1909, the Secretary of State, Mr. Robert Bacon, wrote to the Minister of Costa Rica to notify him that thenceforward, whether the adjustment of the controversy were delayed or no adjustment made in the near future, the Government of the United States, in justice to its own citizens, would be constrained to treat the de facto line as the line to the north of which Costa Rica has jurisdiction and to the south of which Panaman jurisdiction is recognized.5 And both that note and Mr. Root’s previous note induced Panama to accept arbitration after the direct negotiations instituted at the capital of Costa Rica had failed as foreseen by the Department of State.

Arbitration was brought about, therefore, through the cordial and frank mediation of the United States.

Third. The fresh negotiations resumed in Washington through the ever disinterested and friendly offices of the Department of State had made good progress when it occurred to the Plenipotentiary of Panama that he was not sufficiently empowered to sign one of the stipulations contained in the treaty, which caused delay and even put into question the outcome of the whole negotiation. Mr. Knox, Secretary of State, carrying on with the same zeal as had been shown by his predecessor, Mr. Root, the work of defending American interests and of acting as friendly mediator between the two adjoining countries, in a telegram of March 12, 1910, in which the Government of Panama’s attention was called to the difficulty under which its Plenipotentiary labored, asked that he be vested with the full powers that would enable him to attach his signature to the convention concluded on that date, as otherwise the United States would have to recognize as the boundary line between the two contending countries the status quo line or de facto line as described by Mr. Root in his note of January 13 [23] above quoted. Panama, yielding to the State Department’s solicitation, conferred the required authority on its Plenipotentiary and the convention was signed on March 17, 1910, in the city of Washington.

[Page 1137]

The Treaty was signed, therefore, through the effectual mediation of the Secretary of State of the United States.

Fourth. Not only was it in Costa Rica’s mind to dispose for all time of its long standing boundary dispute in signing the treaty, but it was also the Department of State’s most cordial and earnest intention. Hence when Article VII of the treaty expresses the will that the award of the Chief Justice, whatever it may be, shall be regarded as a perfect treaty binding upon both contracting parties, if we are to judge from the significant note of Mr. Root and the telegram of Mr. Knox above cited, it also expresses the unmistakable will of the Department of State, because the national interests so prompted.

Fifth. The award of the Chief Justice of the United States reveals a most painstaking study of the question in its most diverse aspects and the final decision can hardly be said to confirm the possession which had previously been recognized for merely practical purposes by the Government of the United States through its Secretary of State, Mr. Root, in consideration of the jurisdiction Costa Rica had already exercised for a long time over that territory.

Sixth. It follows that the line fixed by the award has not given Costa Rica any territory over which she had not exercised continuous lawful jurisdiction since the Republic was born, and if there were today any power of law on earth that could annul the validity of the award, Panama would find herself compelled to accept as the final boundary line in the region of the Atlantic, which has been the sole object of the dispute, the de facto or status quo line recognized first by Colombia, then by Panama and finally by the United States in the above-mentioned notes of Mr. Root and Mr. Bacon. If then the White Award does not grant to Costa Rica any territory over which she had not exercised complete sovereignty, one would naturally think that when Panama without any substantial ground rejected that award she did so not in pursuit of justice but in view of domestic politics. There is therefore no reason whatever for holding in suspense the dispute that has cost both contending countries as well as the mediating Government so many exertions.

And lastly, all the peace treaties recently concluded by the United States contain the important provision for resort to arbitration, and I believe that to support the arbitral award of the Chief Justice of the United States is to add an even greater moral value to those treaties, because the world at large will take Panama’s rejection of the award to mean that the Government of the United States, which by treaty guarantees and maintains the independence of that Republic, did not bring upon it the influence of its brotherly good offices, and the nations will regard the United States and Panama as linked together in this portentous nonexecution of the award of the Chief Justice of those same United States.

Therefore I come to your excellency to request that you may be pleased to use with the Government of Panama those good offices which you have never stinted since the controversy began, in order that acceptance of the award of the Chief Justice in pursuance of the Anderson-Porras Treaty of March 17, 1910, may remove forever the only subject of contention Costa Rica and Panama have had at any [Page 1138] time. It may be expedient to represent to Panama that there is honor in yielding to the execution of a sentence pronounced by a high arbitral tribunal, for should Panama refuse to accept it, no real territorial advantage would accrue to her in the region of the Atlantic, which has been the sole object of the litigation which Costa Rica continues to regard as definitively and satisfactorily settled by the wise award of the Chief Justice of the United States; to represent to Panama, further, that from every point of view it is more honorable to abide by the decision of a judge above suspicion, and nobler to adjust herself to a form of law framed by a learned judge in one of the highest expressions of contemporary civilization, a form of the law of international arbitration.

Not doubting for an instant that in using its good offices with the Government of Panama your excellency’s Government, in evidence of its sincere friendship equally for Costa Rica and Panama, will advise the latter to take that more honorable and noble stand, it affords me great pleasure to renew [etc.]

R. Brenes Mesén.