The Panaman Minister ( Alfaro ) to the Secretary of State


Mr. Secretary: In January 1914, the Government of Panama informed the Government of the United States through the American Legation at Panama39 of its desire to conclude a convention relative to the interchange of wireless telegraphic messages between the stations which Panama intended to establish and those which were already in operation at that time and might thereafter be put in operation in the Canal Zone.

The American Minister reported under date of February 16, 1914, in his note F. O. No. 30,40 that the question of wireless communications had already been thoroughly examined by a commission of experts whose report on the subject had won the approval of the Secretaries of War and of the Navy of the United States and that of the President of the United States, wherefore he proposed the following points that were to appear in the Convention it was desired to conclude:41

On the Part of Panama

To give to the United States Government the monopoly of all means of radio telegraphic communication within its territory, and to cancel all concessions for stations not at this time in actual operation if such exist.
To forbid the operation of any station on board a ship within the harbors or territorial waters of Panama, unless such ship be actually under way and making bona fide passage to or from port, and the station of a ship so making passage to port shall be required to communicate with the nearest coast station until such time as the ship shall have come to anchor or moored to the wharf as the case may be, after which the ship shall be required not to use its radio installation until it gets under way to make passage to sea; except that a ship at anchor in quarantine, or not yet having received pratique, may request permission to send messages to the nearest coast station, which permission may be granted, under conditions imposed by the coast station, until pratique is granted, when it shall terminate.
To connect its land system to, and exchange business with, any station now or hereafter operated by the United States Government in the Republic of Panama, and in the Canal Zone.
To become a signatory to the London Radio Telegraph Convention of 1912.
To regulate the existing private station or stations in the territory of Panama, according to the London Convention, and to license it or them according to the terms of the Radio Act of the United States of August 13, 1912, with the additional proviso that the physical control and operation shall pass to the United States Government whenever that Government may elect.

On the part of the United States

To give official and commercial radio telegraphic service to all shipping within the radius of operation of U. S. stations in the Canal Zone or the territory of Panama, without other limitations than those governing their ordinary operation.
To transmit and receive at its stations established under this arrangement free of all station radio charges, official messages to or from the Government of Panama, and to give them precedence over private or commercial messages.
To erect upon sites turned over free of all expense by the Government of Panama to the United States Government, and to operate under the regulations of the United States Naval Radio Service, other stations not to exceed four in number (exclusive of the two at the entrances of the Canal) as may be demanded by the exigencies of the shipping in the vicinity of the Republic of Panama [consequent upon the opening of the Canal], such exigencies to be determined jointly by the Government of the United States and Panama.

In July 1914, the Minister for Foreign Affairs informed the American Minister42 that Panama accepted in general terms the proposal of the Government of the United States with reference to the proposed establishment of wireless telegraphic stations within the territory of the Republic, provided that the number be six instead of four, and that the location of the first four be agreed upon at [Page 697] once; and in the following August,43 it was made known that the Government of Panama had special interest in the establishment of three wireless stations;—one at San Bias, another at Puerto Obaldía on the Atlantic coast, and a third at Darién on the Pacific coast; and that it had no objection to the Government of the United States carrying out the installation of those stations at the expense of the Government of Panama.

On August 15, 1914, the Panaman Government issued Decree No. 121,44 by which it authorized the Governor of the Zone “provisionally to assume during the present situation in Europe the control of the wireless telegraphic stations, fixed and movable within the territory and territorial waters of Panama, etc.”

The said Decree, which was issued by the Government of Panama in its desire to cooperate with that of the United States in averting the dangers which the European War offered to the safety of the Canal, did not meet the desires of the American Government, as expressed in note F. O. No. 91, of August 18 of that year to the Department of Foreign Relations by the American Minister who asked that the control be permanently ceded.45

It was then that the Executive Power issued Decree No. 130 of August 29, 1914,46 under the pressure brought to bear by the American Government on the ground that the situation then created by the European War made it necessary for that Government to assume absolute control of the wireless communications in the Republic of Panama for the better defense of the Canal, and also owing to the interest which the Republic of Panama has always had in the conservation and operation of that work whose existence is intimately bound with that of our own country. But only in a fortuitous case, like the one which the belligerency of the European nations created in 1914, which involved, soon afterwards, the United States, could the Panaman Executive waive the legitimate right it holds to administer its own systems of communication and place them in the hands of the United States without first there be concluded a convention as is required in such cases and that the same be approved by the National Assembly as is required to give it validity and legal force.

Now the special circumstances which induced the Executive Power in 1914 to issue Decree No. 130 have disappeared with the termination of the European War, which brought about those circumstances.

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On the other hand, the extraordinary progress and scientific development that has been achieved in the last few years in the matter of wireless communications imperatively demands a revision of these relations between Panama and the United States. Your Excellency knows the great development of radiotelephonic communications that are transmitted to all parts of the United States, concerts, speeches, conferences, reports, notices, and everything that may interest, inform, or amuse citizens of every class, condition, and occupation. This opportunity possessed by any company or private person in the United States is now denied to Panamans in Panama, where the Zone Government prevents the first club of radio-telegraphy organized there from enjoying these benefits of modern science. Thus the situation created by the Decree and the manner in which the American authorities in the Canal Zone exercise the control of wireless communication have given rise to the unprecedented spectacle in Panama where the Government of Panama cannot do in their country what any inhabitant of the United States, not only the citizens, but also the aliens, may do in theirs.

Therefore, the time has arrived to annul the said Decree and take up the negotiations between Panama and the United States relative to wireless communications where they were on February 16, 1914, the date of the note F. O. No. 30, in which the Minister of the United States at Panama proposed in the name of his Government, the bases of a Convention on the subject, and I bring this to Your Excellency’s knowledge in compliance with instructions that have been sent me to that effect and with the most respectful request that you will kindly signify your concurrence.

I avail myself [etc.]

R. J. Alfaro
  1. File translation revised.
  2. Note of Jan. 14, 1914, from the Panaman Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Relations, 1914, p. 1041.
  3. Not printed.
  4. See letter of Nov. 22, 1913, from the Secretary of the Navy, Foreign Relations, 1914, p. 1039.
  5. See telegram of July 25, 1914, from the Minister in Panama, Foreign Relations, 1914, p. 1044.
  6. Note of Aug. 14, 1914, from the Panaman Minister of Foreign Affairs, ibid., p. 1047.
  7. Not printed.
  8. See despatch no. 263, Aug. 27, 1914, from the Minister in Panama, Foreign Relations, 1914, p. 1049.
  9. ibid., p. 1051.