File No. 819.154/19
The Panaman Commission to the Department of State
Washington, not dated [April 27, 1917?].
The present European war and its spreading to the American continent by involving the United States has brought into evidence the pressing necessity for Panama to develop her agricultural production in order not only to free her from dependence on some other distant country for the food of her people but also to turn her into a safe reservoir of provisions of all kinds for the armies that defend the Canal.
Panama is a tropical country where land may be found fit for the most varied cultivation, as plants of the temperate zones may be acclimated at various altitudes. Its soil also permits of cattle raising on a large scale. (As to these points, see Appendix A.2)
Notwithstanding these favorable conditions of climate and geographical situation, Panama produces but very little and her population is not growing at the rate that was to be expected from the proximity of the Canal, because of the lack of ways of communication.
Some American authorities who do not know the country and whose opinions are based on what they see on the map insist that [Page 1197]the sea must be Panama’s best and cheapest Way of communication. That opinion is in a large measure erroneous. Along the whole of the Pacific Coast the country has but three or four small sea ports of little consequence. All the other ports so called are but channels of sounds or rivers which no vessel can enter except at high tide which on the Panaman coast is eighteen feet higher than the low tide.
On account of this lack of harbors and the hampering effect of the tides, navigation in Panama cannot be as easy and cheap as in other countries. If, for instance, a steamer had to call at the ports of Pedregal, Horconcitos and Remedios, but a few miles distant from one another in the province of Chiriquí, it would have to leave the first port at high tide on any day, cast anchor in the open sea, and proceed on her way so as to arrive at Horconcitos with the first high tide of the next day; if she has to land or take cargo there she will be compelled to wait for the next high tide in order to leave and again lie at anchor in the open off the entrance to the port of Remedios until the next high tide brings her the opportunity to arrive at destination. To leave that port she has again to wait for the high tide. Thus the distance between those ports which on land could be traveled in a few hours by rail means a long delayed trip by sea, and the delay adds to the cost, dangers and uncertainties of the traffic.
The result of this peculiar condition of the Panaman coast is that certain regions of the country are entirely cut off from one another. A resident of Chepo, a town lying near the Bayano River, never has the facility or opportunity to visit the town of Puebla, near the Costa Rican border, and on account of this absence of contact the useful beneficent interchange of commodities between those regions is never created.
Now what the country needs is not the intermittent and uncertain contact afforded by vessels occasionally calling at certain ports; what it needs is the daily contact with the great center of consumption and exportation furnished by the cities of Panama and Colon and such a daily contact can only be brought into being by a railroad laid in the Isthmus along the Pacific slope. Of course there must also be built cart roads converging on the railway line which they are to feed, and also another highway lengthwise so as to reach the final result of establishing a dual system of transportation by rail and automobiles connecting all the sections of the country.
In considering these remarks the Government of the United States might inquire: Of what interest is it to the United States whether or no Panama has railways and cart roads? Why does not the Republic of Panama try and solve for itself those questions in which it is directly concerned?
Panama’s answer is easy and in our judgment conclusive.
The United States of America has assumed the solemn obligation to maintain and guarantee the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Panama upon which lies the corresponding duty to provide for its own defense so as to lighten the fulfilment of the duty to protect assumed by the United States, and to cooperate with all its resources in the defense of the Panama Canal so as to maintain intact that great highway of commerce in the service of the world.
But how can the two countries perform their reciprocal obligations of protection, common defense and cooperation if Panama lacks ways [Page 1198]of communication over which troops and implements of war may be safely and speedily carried to any threatened point? How could the country and the canal be defended and protected if the country has not at its disposal public highways on land which would foster its industrial and agricultural output with the result that a large store of foodstuffs of all kinds would be at hand within the country.
The United States may contend that it is easy and practicable for it to send victuals over to Panama but it must not dismiss the contingency of a war with one maritime Power or more which would at least involve the provisioning of the Canal Zone in doubt and danger, nor from a human standpoint can it leave out of consideration the fate that may befall the Panamans left isolated in the interior and exposed to starve to death or to being overpowered and annihilated by an invader whose sole aim would be possession of the Canal.
The most elemental notions of the theory of defense for the Panaman territory and the Panama Canal coincide in establishing for the two countries an absolute and complete unity of interest and purpose. The United States can have no other interest in respect to Panama than that of seeing our country turned into a producing center of food products and into a prosperous and strong nation which its population and own resources would make an appreciable element in the defense of the Canal. To the Republic of Panama it is of vital interest that the nation which protects its sovereignty and independence should possess effective means of reaching any point of the national territory that may be threatened, and its ambition cannot be gratified as long as the country lacks railways and cart roads.
Inspired by these ideas and actuated by what it deems to be the harmonious interest of both countries the National Assembly of Panama enacted Law 44 of 1916 (Appendix B) which authorizes the Executive Power to conclude with the Government of the United States an agreement under which the railways and cart roads that the two countries need for economic, industrial and strategic purposes may be built.
Having made this brief statement, the Panaman Commission separately submits to the Government of the United States the propositions which in its judgment meet the situation in which the two countries are placed. If these propositions are accepted they will tend to producing between Panama and the United States a sentiment of fraternity stronger and firmer than that which now happily prevails.
- Belisario Porras
- Eusebio A. Morales
- Julio Arjona
- Not printed.↩