File No. 319.112C64/2.
Minister Price to the Secretary of State.
Panama, February 19, 1915.
Sir: Referring to my telegrams of February 14, 7 a.m. and midnight, and to the Department’s telegraphic reply of February 16, I have the honor to report further regarding the mêlée in this city on last Saturday night, February 13, in which the National Police of Panama, Panaman civilians and American soldiers and civilians were involved.
The affray began about 1 o’clock Sunday morning in the redlight district of the city of Panama, known as Cocoa Grove, where [Page 1188] the riot of July 4, 1912, occurred. There are naturally different versions of the origin of the trouble and it seems that perhaps several clashes took place within a short time of each other.
The account given in my telegram of midnight of the 14th, that a small quarrel began between one of our soldiers and a coachman, in which a policeman interfered, resulting in resentment on the part of the soldier is, so far, as reliable an account of the beginning of the difficulty as has been obtained.
The fighting spread rapidly over this district and then to other parts of the city, developing into an incipient riot. Americans, rather indiscriminately I am told, being jeered and hooted at and called “Gringoes” and some of them being shot at and thrown at and otherwise abused. This was especially noticeable where a soldier’s uniform came in view.
General Clarence R. Edwards, now in command of the military forces of the Canal Zone, and I both got on the scene as promptly as we could. General Edwards went at once to the central scene of conflict and quiet was gradually restored. A large number of our soldiers had been thrown under arrest quite indiscriminately by the police and had been incarcerated in what is known as the dungeon of the Central police station and were in a most crowded uncomfortable and unsanitary condition, one having a small knife wound across his back. Under my protest they were placed in better quarters. Secretary Lefevre, rather against the protest of certain other officials of Panama, agreed to start an examination, and, if it appeared that only suspicion and very indirect evidence was the cause of their arrest, that they would be placed under our guard, the higher officials agreeing to stand responsible for their production later, if wanted by Panama.
The examination soon resulted in all of the soldiers being turned over to us, and with these taken to the Zone, where General Edwards had already had all other soldiers who had been in the city that night dispatched, the situation was much relieved. I took particular occasion to express to Secretary Lefevre interest in as thorough and prompt an investigation as possible and the fixing of blame. I told him our investigation would be public and open and that a representative of the Panaman Government thereat would be welcomed, and that we should like to have the same consideration shown us at their investigation. Stating that their procedure required examination of witnesses in secret they would have to see later whether they could make an exceptional case of this. This feature is covered in Foreign Office notes passing between Sr. Lefevre and me, copies of which are enclosed, together with translation of his note, and attention called to the manner in which Secretary Lefevre attempted to make the record of what took place.
The military investigation began promptly Sunday morning at 9 o’clock although every one had been without sleep, and is still continuing. Secretary Lefevre, with Municipal Judge Guardia, attended the sessions that morning, but have not returned since. Several affidavits were taken by the Panamans and their investigation followed beginning on Tuesday morning last, with Lieut. E. G. Beuret present representing us. This, too, is still in progress. The Zone police are also getting affidavits and I am keeping in touch with all these.[Page 1189]
There is one man dead, Benito Garcia, employed at Santo Tomás Hospital, Panama, as a painter. It now appeal’s that he was a Nicaraguan by birth. Secretary Lefevre claims he had become a naturalized Panaman. However, today an American who talked with him at the hospital before this told me that the man claimed to be a Mexican. He was probably shot accidentally.
The dangerous and exasperating situation now and for several years existing here as the result of the conditions above characterized have been illustrated again by this outbreak.
I have [etc.]