The Minister in Panama ( South ) to the Secretary of State

No. 388

Sir: I have the honor to inform the Department that the Legation has received a communication from the Acting Governor of the Panama Canal with respect to the question of permitting foreign consuls accredited to the Republic of Panama to exercise their functions in the Canal Zone without the issuance of an exequatur by the United States.

It seems to have been the understanding of the Canal Administration that in accordance with the Department’s letter to the Secretary of War of October 13, 19101 and its circular note of June 28, 1905,2 consular officers of foreign governments officially recognized by the Republic of Panama would be permitted to exercise their consular functions within the Canal Zone without specific action of some kind on the part of the United States Government.

However, it has been learned that during a recent informal discussion between a representative of the Department and the Panama Canal office in Washington, this question arose and the statement was made that the Department for some time past had requested that foreign consuls exercising consular functions in the Canal Zone should do so under exequatur issued by the United States Government, This statement no doubt referred to the note of February 17, 1921 which the Department sent to the various representatives of foreign nations in Washington,3 in which it was requested that thereafter an additional commission addressed to the President of the United States be issued to all consuls who may be appointed or assigned to the Canal Zone and be presented to this Government with the request for the exequatur in accordance with customary procedure.

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The Canal Zone authorities have informed the Legation that until formal instructions from the Department are received contradicting those given by Mr. Adee4 in his letter of October 13, 1910, referred to above, the present policy of permitting consular officers to perform their functions within and with reference to the Canal Zone without the issuance of an exequatur will be continued.

The Legation has informed the Governor’s Office that in view of the fact that this question will most probably be taken up and settled in the Treaty Negotiations,5 it is thought that they are justified in continuing their present practice, in as much as it would be inadvisable to bring the matter up for discussion with the Panaman Government until it is definitely settled by the Treaty.

In this connection, it might be advantageous if some definite understanding could be reached concerning the status, in the Canal Zone, of Diplomatic as well as Consular officials who are accredited to the Republic of Panama. The question has arisen upon several occasions as to whether or not such officials are entitled to diplomatic immunity in the Canal Zone, and more recently the question has come up as to whether or not a Secretary of this Legation can be called upon for Jury duty in the Canal Zone Courts.

It is thought that it would be advisable if a ruling could be made concerning the status, in the Canal Zone, of our own Diplomatic Officers as well as those of other Governments who are exercising their functions in the Republic of Panama, but the Legation has avoided bringing up the question for fear of involving, in some way, the sovereignty of the United States over the Canal Zone. The Canal Zone authorities appear to be in doubt as to the course which they should pursue, especially as regards Consuls.

It is therefore respectfully requested that some sort of ruling be made which can be used as a basis for definitely determining all of these matters.

I have [etc.]

J. G. South
  1. Not printed.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1905, p. 6.
  3. See letter from the Secretary of State to the Secretary of War, Apr. 2, 1924, infra.
  4. Alvey A. Adee, Second Assistant Secretary of State.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1924, vol. ii, pp. 521 ff.