File No. 819.1052/49.

Minister Price to the Secretary of State.

No. 568.]

Sir: Referring to the Department’s instruction No. 146 of May 17 in which I was directed to obtain the opinions of Major General Geo. W. Goethals and Brigadier General Clarence R. Edwards as to the “exact powers and functions that should be vested in the military patrols” maintained by the United States military authorities in the cities of Panama and Colon, I have the honor to transmit a copy of a letter received from Brigadier General Edwards pursuant to my conference with him and to my letter asking for definite expression of his opinion.

I conferred, also with Major General Goethals about this matter after his recent return from the States and filed with him a letter referring to Department’s instruction and requesting expression of his opinion in the same matter. Major General Goethals states to me that in the absence of farther reaching measures, such as taking over the policing of these cities, being authorized by the Department, he concurs in the expressions given by Brigadier General Edwards, a copy of the letter aforesaid having been submitted by the latter to the former, and that, being most busy with his annual report which he is attempting to finish before going to the States next week, he would ask that the said letter of Brigadier General Edwards be taken as his response in this matter, with the prefatory remark just above related.

I have [etc.]

Wm. Jennings Price.

General Edwards to Minister Price.

My Dear Mr. Minister: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 17th ult., and its enclosures relating to the question of reducing to definite written terms the functions and powers of the American soldier [Page 1227] patrols in the cities of Panama and Colon. I have conferred with Governor Goethals upon this question, and he concurs with me in the following:

That it is not advisable to attempt any definite written agreement as to the functions and powers of the patrols; the present status is as satisfactory as any can be, short of absolutely taking over the police and sanitation of the two cities. No amount of preexistent written terms can meet abnormal conditions in time of riot, and it is believed the present working arrangement is as fully efficacious in the prevention of riots and the stopping of them when started as would be any agreement in definite written terms. I might add, however, that in this General Goethals also agrees, that if you could secure from the Panaman Government the disarmament of the Panaman police of high-powered rifles, it would be an essential precaution and the strict enforcement of the law against carrying of weapons which now is the general practice would be most wise.

I consider it not inappropriate to add in this letter the following regarding the conditions that now obtain in Panama and Colon: After the riot in Panama on February 14, 1915, the American patrols in that city were increased in size and later a company of infantry was brought to Balboa for station and took up the duty of provost guard in the City of Panama. There were, of course, no quarters for these troops and they have been and are still living in tents.

A small provost guard has been maintained in the City of Colon by the company of Coast Artillery Corps stationed at Cristobal. By informal conferences with the Panaman officials, the authority of these patrols has been quite definitely fixed, and there has been now for several months an absence of friction.

The power possessed by those patrols is practically the power of arresting of all soldiers and also sailors, except in the case of felonies and serious crimes, and the turning over of the soldiers and sailors arrested to the military and naval authorities for trial. It is the purpose of the military authorities to allow felonies and serious crimes to be tried by Panaman courts, and also to allow arrests of soldiers and sailors by the Panaman police in cases of less serious offenses when the disturbance occurs in the absence of any members of the American patrols.

At present the courts of both countries, military as well as civil, are open and by arrangement ample notice is given by either Government in order that a representative of the other may be present at any trial. I consider it very necessary that this arrangement be continued and ask you to pardon a suggestion this matter be kept in mind in any conferences you may have at different times with the Panaman authorities.

I may also add that the sale of deleterious drugs in the’ Republic of Panama is a serious danger to Americans, civilian as well as soldiers. General Goethals informs me that he will forward a letter requesting that as drastic action as possible to prevent the sale of these drugs be taken by the President of Panama by proclamation, with an added request that the Panaman Government shall undertake its best offices to secure at the next meeting, of its Legislature the passage of a bill as drastic as our recent act (December 17, 1914) protecting the people in this regard.

I may add that in my opinion the Panaman Government or the municipal authorities should provide adequate shelter to take care of the patrols when on actual duty in the cities of Panama and Colon. Perhaps a request from you might accomplish this.

Very respectfully,

C. R. Edwards,
Brigadier General, Commanding.