The Panaman Chargé ( Lefevre ) to the Secretary of State

D–No. 208

Excellency: Referring to my note D-No. 43 of January 29th, last, answering Your Excellency’s very important communication of the 19th of the same month, in relation to the intended acquisition of part of the island of Taboga in the Republic of Panama by the United States of America, with a view to erecting thereon fortifications that are thought to be needed for the defense of the Canal, I have the honor to inform Your Excellency that upon my applying for instructions from my Government to return a final answer to the said note of Your Excellency, I was instructed under date of February 24th, last, that before reaching any decision in that important matter the Government of Panama would like to know what part of the island of Taboga the United States Government considers to be suited to the purposes of defense and protection of the Canal.

My Government has instructed me also to bring the foregoing to the knowledge of the Department of State and asked me at the same time to make known to Your Excellency my country’s wish that the cession of that valuable national territory be reduced to the smallest possible area in case it were altogether indispensable for the defense of the Canal, in order that the inhabitants be not compelled to give up drawing their own sustenance from the fields and plantations which form the main wealth of that island.

My Government also wishes me to put it on record that in its opinion the contemplated cession does not come under that part of article II of the Canal Treaty which refers to the auxiliary waters and lands to which the necessities of the said Canal are confined. My Government bases that opinion on the fact that the islands offer a special case as may be clearly deduced from the last part of the article above referred to, which clearly states that the ceded islands [Page 318] are those of Naos, Culebra, Perico and Flamence. It is clear therefore that Taboga is not included among those and that as a consequence the United States Government must pay compensation for the property taken over whether public or private.

The undersigned refrained from presenting the foregoing claims in writing because on the strength of Secretary Lansing’s note of January 19, heretofore cited, the Legation thought that the most expeditious method was to have preliminary conferences at the Department of State in order to harmonize as far as possible the interests of our respective countries through the most efficacious and friendly cooperation.

At this stage of the proceedings and while the Legation and the State Department were considering the most expedient means to achieve the result which the Government of the United States declared to be its aim according to a positive declaration made in the second paragraph of the said note of January 19th, I received on the 26th of this month a cablegram from my Government by which I am informed that while our Governments were discussing through their respective Legations the area of land which the United States wishes to acquire in Taboga for fortifications, the Canal authorities have sent to that island a land inspector named Genac, accrediting him to the Mayor of the District to settle the claims to land taken on the island.

As a detail pertinent to the question, I take the liberty of informing Your Excellency that the said Genac is the same man who acted as a witness consistently antagonistic to the interests of the persons who applied to the recently dissolved Joint Commission for the settlement of their claims against the American Government. I believe that this circumstance makes it impossible to grant to the said Inspector Genac any claim of impartiality.

On account of the needed expropriation not having yet been granted and as the Republic of Panama is exercising sovereignty over the island, the Mayor of Taboga, as might be expected, would not recognize as official the mission of the said Genac, and the Department of Foreign Relations asked that the work be stopped.

My Government, in view of what has happened, directs me to declare to Your Excellency its great surprise at the action of the authorities of the Canal Zone in attempting to come to an understanding with subordinate officials of the Government of Panama and with private parties, ignoring the regular channels, a proceeding which is inconsistent with international practice. My Government’s surprise is all the greater at its being told by the Governor of the Canal that the instructions which he has received from the War Department do not agree with the assurances given by the [Page 319] State Department to the Government of Panama in the aforesaid note of January 19th, last, to the effect that the contemplated work would not be done on a large scale during the current year and that the inhabitants would be treated with all the consideration that the case admitted, a statement which is not in harmony with the sending of Genac or with his recent doings.

In view of the fact that the State Department officially declared to the undersigned that the work of greater importance for the fortifications of Taboga would not begin in 1920, my Government thinks that the preliminary work could be done without the necessity of condemning land at present.

My Government further thinks that such lands as are condemned should be reduced to a minimum comformably to the declarations made by the Secretary of State, Mr. Lansing, and that before effecting such condemnations, the amount of land indispensable for the intended fortification work should be decided on as well as the fair compensation for the losses and damages caused by the occupancy of that land.

I do not wish to close without saying to Your Excellency how glad I shall be to cooperate with the Department of State so as to carry out the wishes expressed by the Government of the United States in the above-mentioned note of January 19 of this year.

I avail [etc.]

J. E. Lefevre
  1. File translation revised.