819.413 Columbus/17

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

No. 37

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the notes exchanged by the Treaty Commissioners representing the United States and Panama, dated July 28, 1926,1 relative to the statue of Christopher Columbus now standing on the grounds of the Washington Hotel, in Colon, and to submit certain suggestions concerning the transfer of this statue to Panama.

The bronze statue of Columbus, to which the above mentioned notes refer, is the work of an Italian sculptor, Vincenzo Vela, and it was designed and executed under a commission from Empress Eugénie of France, who presented it to the Republic of Colombia, through General Tomas C. de Mosquera, Colombian Minister to certain European countries. In 1866 the Colombian Government accepted the gift and directed that the statue be erected in the city of Colon. The statue was delivered at the Port of Colon in April, 1870, by a special commissioner representing the donor.

Under Law No. 76 of June 7, 1871, the Colombian Government directed that the statue be erected at the Atlantic entrance of the proposed canal on a site to be designated by the State of Panama. It was first erected on a site near the wharfs of Colon, but was later moved to another site overlooking the entrance of the proposed French canal. About 1916 the statue was moved to the grounds of the Washington Hotel, which is owned and operated by the United States Government, through the Panama Railway Company. The grounds of the Hotel are not open to the general public.

A controversy as to the ownership of the statue continued for several years, the American officials maintaining that ownership passed to the United States with the acquisition of the Canal Zone, and Panamanian officials maintaining that ownership was vested in the city of Colon.

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In 1925 it was proposed that a descriptive tablet be placed on the monument reading as follows:

christopher columbus

bequeathing to mankind his new discovery,

the new world.

designed in 1864 by the italian sculptor,

vincenzo vela,

and presented in 1866 to the new world

by the empress eugenie

A controversy developed over the historical accuracy of the proposed inscription on the ground that the statue had not been presented “To the new world”, but to the Government of Colombia, and the suggested legend was not affixed to the statue. (See Department’s note to the Panamanian Minister, dated December 15, 1925—file No. 819.413/22.)2

The Panamanian public as well as the Panamanian authorities attach considerable sentimental value to the statue, and have consistently maintained that it should be erected in a public place in the City of Colon, rather than on the private grounds of the Hotel Washington. The Municipality has reserved a site for it.

I respectfully suggest that the present moment would appear to be propitious for transferring the statue to Panama. The notes exchanged by the Treaty Commissioners apparently contemplate the transfer, without the necessity of Congressional action, since these notes state that the statue belongs to Panama; and it is my impression that the Canal Zone authorities and the officials of the Panama Railroad perceive no objection to the transfer being effected at an early date. Since the Panamanian authorities attach so much sentimental value to the statue and have resented the fact that it is erected on grounds owned by the United States which are not open to the public, I believe that its transfer to Panama would create a very favorable impression.

In this connection may I suggest that the corner stone for the new monument might be laid by the Panamanian Government when Dr. Olaya, President-elect of Colombia, visits Colon on his return trip to Colombia, and that he might participate in the ceremony, without, of course, making it appear that Colombia is presenting the statue to Panama. It is probable that the ceremonies could be arranged so as to promote sentiments of friendship and good will toward the United States which would be reflected both in Panama and in Colombia.

Should the above suggestions merit the favorable consideration of the Department, it would probably be advisable to discuss the suggestion [Page 717] that Dr. Olaya participate in the ceremony with him informally while he is in Washington before making any definite plans. Should this phase of the matter be arranged to the satisfaction of the Department and of Dr. Olaya, I am confident that I can secure the enthusiastic acquiescence of the Panamanian authorities.

In any event, I respectfully venture the opinion that the moment appears to be propitious for the transfer of the statue to Panama, either with or without the participation of a representative of Colombia in the ceremonies.

I shall appreciate instructions as to the Department’s views relative to the above suggestions at its earliest convenience.

I have [etc]

Roy T. Davis