The Panamanian Minister for Foreign Affairs (Arosemena) to the Secretary of State

Dear Mr. Secretary: Taking advantage on the privilege you personally accorded me at Montevideo during the sessions of the Seventh Pan-American Conference there, I am writing this letter to bid you, in the first place, my most cordial greetings, and at the same time taking myself the liberty to recall you to considering the points respectfully submitted in memorandum I had the honor of tendering to you at that city.7 Many are the questions pending as cited in said [Page 585] memorandum and awaiting for solution; among them, however, a few stand that, by their very nature and scope on the good and friendly relations between our two countries, seem to deserve an immediate and attentive consideration. These are, by instance, that of radio communication, the Panama Rail Road Company commercial activities and the building of a trans-Isthmian highway.

In connection to the first point, i. e., radio communication, Panama is—as I personally pointed to you—in a quite embarrassing and disgraceful situation. It is the matter of a modern system which every country in the world is freely enjoying, while we, Panamanians, are not using it for our own convenience due to the interference against such use as exerted by the Navy Department of the United States, which action seems not justified at all. As you may readily understand it, the circumstance of the Panama Canal being located on our own territory appears not to justify the fact that our entire population is being deprived of the benefits of an invention used at their own discretion by every nation the world over. Panama, wholly acquainted with the circumstances and ensuing responsibilities, is ready to cooperate with the United States of America in the protection and defense of the Panama Canal; but it should appear unjust to carry out such a desire of cooperation to the extreme point of depriving ourselves of wireless communication with the world, a part of which we are. It is well possible, I think, for our two governments—yours and mine—to arrive to a mutual understanding and agreement on this point on the terms of the Washington Wireless Convention as signed by both the Republic of Panama and the United States.

Another point at issue and pending solution is that of the commercial activities carried on by the Panama Rail Road Company. This concern, the entire stock of which belongs to the United States Government, exerts itself varied commercial activities in our country, and some of such activities bear no apparent connection with passengers and cargo transportation through the Isthmus of Panama, this having been the aim in constituting the Company as an auxiliary to the Panama Canal and this being its true character as of lately. Most of such commercial activities exerted on territories under Panamanian jurisdiction, are under shelter and protection by Panamanian laws and authorities, and the Panama Government gets no payment or compensation for services, as the only reward it was getting in exchange for its very liberal concessions was annulled since the Canal Treaty started to be in force. It is apparent, then, that the Panama Rail Road Company, a concern worth millions of dollars and doing varied profitable business under protection and shelter dispensed by Panama laws and authorities, pays nothing for such protection, not even the compulsory compensation paid by every Panamanian citizen, from the [Page 586] richest to the most humble classes. It appears markedly unjust that, by instance, while a poor man peddling fruits in the streets of Panama and Colón is forced to pay a tax in compensation for the protection he enjoys from Panamanian laws and administration, the Panama Rail Road Company is getting free and gratis the same protection for its bulky and valuable business. It is, at least, not easy at all to make this difference understood by the Panamanian people.

As for the third point, that one concerning the trans-Isthmian highway, we have it as a growing necessity for the development of our cities, and undelayable in order that the inhabitants of the city of Colon may enjoy the use of modern roads built on the Pacific side by the Panama Government at a high cost partly paid with funds raised through taxing the Colonites. It seems to be unjust that the inhabitants of the Republic’s Atlantic section, having contributed to the construction of such roads, may not be able to use them for their own benefit because of a privilege granted more than fifty years ago by the Colombian Government to the Panama Rail Road Company. It is most probable that the taking into consideration the growing necessity of communications that modern ages ask for, was the reason why in the Canal Treaty draft (section V) the monopoly granted by it to the United States for inter-oceanic communication was limited to “any system of communication by the Canal or the rail-road” and nothing was said anent highways. The trans-Isthmian highway will, besides open a large field of activity for many a workingman now idle for lack of employment. The United States have already expressed, in principle, their approval of the Panama planning to build the interoceanic highway, and only their formal consent is now needed to get the work started.

Allow me then, Mr. Secretary, to point out the convenience of giving preference, if possible, when taking into consideration the matters included in my Montevideo memorandum, to the points I am treating in this letter, in the certitude that such an action will greatly enhance a better understanding between the United States and Panama.

I am taking advantage of this opportunity to sincerely congratulate you for your important statements during the National Press Club luncheon8 about the Montevideo Conference, and to again convey to you the expressions of my highest regard and esteem.

Very truly yours,

J. D. Arosemena
  1. Supra.
  2. Department of State Conference Series No. 18: Some of the Results of the Montevideo Conference, Address by the Honorable Cordell Hull, Secretary of State, Before the National Press Club, Washington, February 10, 1934 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1934).