719.2115/16

The Secretary of State to the Panaman Minister ( Alfaro )

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of August 6, 1923, in which you discuss the attitude of your Government in regard to the boundary between Panama and the Republic of Colombia, and in which you again propose that that portion of the boundary line lying between the heights of Aspavé and the Pacific Ocean should be left to be settled by future diplomatic negotiations either by means of a direct convention or through arbitration.

In reply I have the honor to inform you that, while the Government of the United States has always regarded arbitration as an appropriate means of dealing with disputes which it has been impossible to settle through direct negotiations between the governments interested, it nevertheless in this specific case is unable to find satisfactory ground for the conclusion that the question of the boundary between Panama and Colombia is a matter which requires further [Page 349] examination either by the Governments concerned or by an impartial arbiter in order to ascertain what is the true boundary established by existing law between the two countries.

It is unnecessary here to repeat the reasons, outlined in this Department’s memorandum of June 2, last, which have convinced this Government that the boundary specified in the Constitution of Panama is that which was established by the law of New Granada of June 9, 1855, and which is accepted in Article III of the Treaty of April 6, 1914, between Colombia and the United States. I have duly noted the statements in your note of August 6 which seek to show that the State of Panama had not acted in conformity with the New Granadan Law of 1855, and had attempted from time to time to exercise jurisdiction over the District of Juradó, which was not included within the territory of the State of Panama by that law. I cannot perceive, however, that the attempt of the state government to exercise jurisdiction within territory which, under existing law, lay within another state, can alter the fact that the boundary of the State of Panama was definitely established by the Constitution of New Granada and by a law enacted in pursuance of the provisions of that Constitution, since it is assumed that the Federal Constitution took precedence over any law enacted by one of the States.

Being persuaded, therefore, that the boundary specified in the Constitution of Panama is that which was established by the law of New Granada of June 9, 1855, and this boundary having been accepted in Article III of the Treaty of April 6, 1914, between Colombia and the United States, this Government is not in a position to transmit to the Government of Colombia your proposal that the settlement of the boundary line between Panama and Colombia should be left to subsequent negotiations.

In reply to your statement that the Government of the United States agreed to the arbitration of the status of the Juradó district in 1909, and that it is, therefore, difficult to understand why Panama should concede more at the present time, I may say that the situation has changed materially since 1909 by reason of the fact that the United States, while it had already at that time definitely expressed its view that the Juradó district did not fall within the boundaries of Panama, as prescribed by the Constitution of that country, had not then entered into a treaty with Colombia under which, as the guarantor of Panama’s independence, it secured from Colombia the recognition of the independence of Panama within the boundaries outlined in the treaty. You will appreciate that the provisions of this treaty make it impossible for this Government to suggest to Colombia that Colombia should consent to an arbitration of the [Page 350] status of territory which this Government has recognized as belonging to Colombia under the laws of both that country and of Panama.

I have noted your statement that the Panaman Cabinet considers that the letter addressed on January 10, 1920, by the President of Panama to Mr. Phillips, and other letters exchanged between His Excellency, Dr. Belisario Porras, and Mr. Phillips “contain no promises to declare that Panama agreed to the boundaries described in the Thompson Urrutia Treaty.” I submit, however, that the explicit statement of the President of Panama to a high official of the United States Government in which His Excellency, the President, withdrew his objections to the boundary line set forth in the Treaty between the United States and Colombia, and expressed his intention to withdraw from any controversy regarding the matter, justified the United States Government in proceeding as it did proceed in subsequent discussions with both Panama and Colombia on the assumption that Panama would not raise further objections to the boundary as outlined in the Treaty of 1914. It was with grave disappointment that this Government learned that the Government of Panama desired to reopen the question of the location of the boundary.

In the light of the foregoing, the Government of the United States earnestly hopes that the Government of Panama will again consider the facts set forth in this Department’s memorandum of June 2, last. This Government would be highly gratified if the Government of Panama should reach the conclusion that the boundary set forth in the New Granadan Law of 1855 is the boundary established by the Panaman Constitution and should, therefore, determine to accept this boundary in order that there may be no further obstacles to the establishment of friendly relations between the Government of Panama and the Government of Colombia.

Accept [etc.]

Charles E. Hughes