The Secretary of State to the Panaman Minister (Alfaro)

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of December 19, 1922, in which you discuss the history of the decree issued in 1914 by the Government of Panama granting to the United States complete and permanent control over wireless communication within the Republic of Panama, and in which you state that, in view of new developments in the science of wireless communication, your Government feels that the time has arrived to annul the decree in question.

Permit me to call your attention to the fact that on August 25, 1914, this Government instructed its representative in Panama to inform the Government of Panama that it was its intention to exercise [Page 699] permanent control of the wireless situation in the Republic of Panama.47 This position was taken because it was regarded that such control was absolutely necessary. This Government had no doubt that it was entitled to exercise this control under the provisions of the Treaty with Panama of November 18, 1903,48 as was constantly brought out in the course of the negotiations carried on between our two Governments from 1911 until August 29, 1914, concerning this matter (see inter alia the note No. 53, addressed by the American Legation at Panama to the Panaman Foreign Office under date of May 5, 191448a). Following upon these representations to your Government, which were communicated in a series of discussions between the American Minister and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, the Government of Panama issued the decree of August 29, 1914.49 This decree recites “that by the terms of the Bunau-Varilla-Hay Treaty the Republic of Panama is obliged to assist the United States by all necessary and suitable measures for the conservation, protection and defense of the inter-oceanic Canal constructed across the Isthmus;

“That the said Government considers it indispensable to this end that it shall assume from now on permanent and complete control of the wireless telegraphic stations fixed and movable in all the territory and territorial waters of the Republic of Panama;

“That it is to the interest and for the safety of the Republic of Panama that wireless communication be controlled and regulated by the nation which by a solemn pact has guaranteed its independence;” wherefore, “It is decreed: From this date the radio-telegraphic stations fixed and movable and everything relating to wireless communications in the territory and territorial waters of Panama shall be under the complete and permanent control of the United States of America, and to attain that end said Government will take the measures which it deems necessary.”

In the light of these circumstances and of the explicit statement of the decree, it is the view of the Government of the United States that the decree confirmed as a definite agreement between the Governments of the United States and of Panama the right of the United States, under the Treaty of November 18, 1903, to exercise permanent and complete control over wireless communication within the Republic of Panama. This control was expressly stated to be permanent after the question of granting control only during the period of the European war had been fully discussed. The United States requested such control not simply because war conditions made it necessary, but because such control was regarded as essential [Page 700] for the proper protection of the Panama Canal and the guarantee of the independence of the Republic of Panama under the terms of the Treaty both in time of war and in time of peace. The United States cannot admit, therefore, that the cessation of the war in Europe, or the developments which have occurred in the science of wireless communication, justifies the abrogation of this agreement by Panama.

While insisting upon the maintenance of the decree in question, however, this Government is ready to discuss with the Government of Panama measures which might be taken to adapt the regulations laid down for the control of wireless communication in Panama to new conditions which have arisen as a consequence of the developments in the science of wireless communication. After consultation with the other officials of this Government I shall be glad to communicate to you such suggestions as may appear practicable for accomplishing this.

Accept [etc.]

Charles E. Hughes