File No. 819.1052/56.

Minister Price to the Secretary of State.

No. 699.]

Sir: Referring to the Department’s instruction No. 201 of November 5 and my cablegram of November 24, relating to the disarmament of the National Police of Panama of large arms and the strict enforcement against the carrying of concealed deadly weapons, I have the honor to report further upon said subject.

Preceding and since the receipt of the note from the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Panama, which was communicated to the Department by my despatch No. 680 of November 17, I held several conferences with Señor Lefevre, by which I attempted to get him into a conciliatory mood regarding this matter and to accomplish the disarmament aforesaid with as little friction as possible. In the first conferences Señor Lefevre repeated largely the arguments indulged in in his note, insisting that the orders given the police would absolutely prevent the use of the rifles in another riot, if one should ever occur, and declaring that he himself was taking a direct interest in the management of the police, which would bring about a discipline and a situation that could not but be satisfactory to us. On the day I sent the cablegram above mentioned, Señor Lefevre went much further than he had ever done in stating Panama’s attitude, declaring that they would refuse either to sell or to deliver up the rifles.

In a conference with Señor Lefevre on Monday of this week he went beyond the line of arguments mentioned. Expressing the desire that I hear from the Department of State before making, at least, another formal demand for the disarmament, and that I not act upon requests of representatives of the War Department or the Army more generally stated, Señor Lefevre stated that he expected to call a meeting of representative Panamans of all political affiliations, if another formal demand were made, and lay before them our demands; that he felt that Panama was being imposed [Page 1236] upon; that little by little their sovereignty was being usurped or appropriated by our Government; that if their dignity and rights would not be respected they would better yield up to superior power their entity as a government and make known their cause to the world; that they had given up their army several years ago and that the bearing of larger arms by their police was the only symbol of the military retained by them; that he did not suppose we would claim the right to forbid them to organize a small military force or army, who could carry rifles, if they should be taken from the police; that the attitude of their political opponents and the capital they might make of it should be taken into consideration by us, if they should yield to our demands; that Panama was willing to submit this matter and other important matters pending between our respective Governments to representatives of the A. B. C. Alliance for arbitration or determination. Perhaps other more incidental and unimportant observations and declarations were also indulged in by him which do not occur to me at present.

He remarked that he expected among other definite reforms to have at an early date an American instructor for their police. I know that he had been conferring with Canal Zone policeman McIntyre to this end, but believe that it is for the purpose of attempting to satisfy us short of carrying through the disarmament.

I did not fail to reply to these expressions of Señor Lefevre as tactfully and pleasantly, as I knew how.

I told him, of course, that, while the army and our military forces next door were primarily interested in the proper solution of the numerous troubles and continuing threatening danger incident to the situation now existing for a long time with their police force, resulting in the killing and wounding of unarmed American soldiers and some civilians, I, of course, acted only upon authority of the Department of State. I said to him among other things that it was my information that their political opponents considered favorably the proposition of their police giving up their arms; that this request on the part of my Government had seemed so considerate and reasonable in view of much larger and farther reaching rights and powers given us by our treaty with Panama that his attitude in this matter could hardly be deemed other than surprising and most unreasonable; that my Government was willing for the world to know in detail at any time of the record made between our respective Governments in their dealings with each other, confident of the judgment formed that the United States had ever been more than considerate, just and fair; that it had been magnanimous; that the suggestion of submission to the A. B. C. Alliance or any other power or powers of the exercise of rights so clearly and definitely granted my Government in a treaty of such recent date and for which such full consideration had been paid was, in my opinion, as unworthy of serious consideration as it was subject to the suspicion of not being made with serious intention.

I herewith transmit copies of letters from Major General Geo. W. Goethals and Brigadier General C. R. Edwards pursuant to my submission to them of copies of Señor Lefevre’s recent note, and a report of his observation indulged in.

I have [etc.]

Wm. Jennings Price.
[Page 1237]
[Inclosure 1—Extract.]

Governor Goethals to Minister Price.

Sir: I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 19th instant, relative to the disarmament of the police of Panama, and can only state that I believe that this requirement should be enforced.

With reference to Señor Lefevre’s note, it is well known that the Panaman police on regular patrol duty are not armed with rifles, but in the case of emergency calls received at the central stations, to which the reserve respond, such as fire-alarms, riots, etc., the reserve responding is always equipped with rifles and bayonets, and for that purpose there is a stand of arms near the assembly room of central stations where the reserves remain during their tours of duty, and during the riots in the past these rifles have been used by the reserve responding to the emergency call. Notwithstanding Señor Lefevre’s vague reference to an order prohibiting the use of rifles by the police, the Canal Zone Chief of Police reports that the regulation under which the reserves arm themselves with rifles and bayonets was still in force on Saturday last, and that on that date the stock of rifles not in actual use was also stored in the central stations. It is not necessary for the Panaman police to receive military instructions in the use of rifles, nor is the use of rifles in guarding prisoners as efficient, judging from our experience, as the use of shotguns.

In regard to the prohibition against the indiscriminate carrying of Are arms, there is a law in effect regulating such practice, and it only requires enforcement of the law to secure the results desired. There appears to be no law regulating the sale of fire arms in the Republic of Panama, and such a law, if enforced, would materially assist in preventing the carrying of fire arms by the public at large.


Geo. W. Goethals.
[Inclosure 2—Extract.]

General Edwards to Minister Price.

My dear Mr. Minister: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your favor of the 19th inst. and its enclosure, which latter is signed by Señor E. T. Lefevre, Secretary of State, Republic of Panama, and relates to the disarmament of the Panaman Police of high-powered rifles.

I notice three main points in Señor Lefevre’s letter, as follows:

That the police will not use high-powered rifles in order to quell riots, but the authorities do not consent to disarmament, since the police force constitutes the only armed body in the Republic that partakes in any way of a military force: thereby, I take it, making the point that the Panaman nation can not consent to the disarmament of its national army.
That orders have been given to the two Mayors of Panama and Colon to be careful in regard to the issuance of permits to individuals to carry firearms.
That the Panaman Government does not admit our interpretation of our rights under Section 7 of the treaty to be correct, and that the Secretary of State will address you later on the subject.

In regard to the first point, namely, disarmament. I am inclined to believe that the stated assurance that high-powered rifles will not be used in riots will amount to but little in time of trouble. What I particularly desired was that arms should be so secured that under conditions such as have obtained in recent riots by no possibility could they be procured. The fact that no riots have recently taken place is due in no manner to the actions of the police but results simply from the presence of an efficient United States provost guard. I feel that the agreement not to use the rifles will not stand in face of a riot and, with our provost guard maintained as it is, the next riot will be particularly bloody.

In regard to the issuance of fire arms to individuals, the indicated action, even were the Mayors of the two cities energetic in seeking to carry out the [Page 1238] spirit of the mentioned instructions, will in my opinion amount to little betterment. I believe that anything less than total inhibition is a mistake.

As to the non-concurrence in our interpretation as to our power under the treaty I am not surprised.

I note that you suggest a conference in regard to this matter and also mentioned it in your later letter of November 24. I will be pleased to talk the matter over with you at your convenience.

Very sincerely,

C. R. Edwards.