The Panamanian Minister (Alfaro) to the Secretary of State



The Minister of Panama presents his compliments to His Excellency the Secretary of State of the United States and in accordance with special instructions which he has received from his Government has the honor to make the following statement:

In November 1927, Panama and the United States signed and later ratified the Washington International Radiotelegraph Convention. This pact governs the relations of the two countries in this matter and establishes that they can enter into special agreements in conformity with their mutual interests. Panama has repeatedly manifested its disposition to give the United States all the reasonable cooperation which may be required for the operation and protection of the Canal, but on condition that its rights as a sovereign and independent nation be respected. Notwithstanding this situation, the United States without Panama’s knowledge and consent has performed acts whereby it purposes to assume control over wireless communications in the territory of the Republic, thus disregarding its sovereignty, which has given rise to a formal protest on its part to the Department of State.
The Navy Department has been exercising in fact, in pursuance of this attitude of the United States Government, a certain control over radiotelegraph communications in the Republic, particularly so far as concerns the reception and transmission of messages for ships on the high seas. The aforesaid Navy Department requires that no station installed in the Republic shall receive or transmit messages from or to ships, so that, as a consequence, the radiotelegraph stations of the United States Navy situated in the Canal Zone have virtually a monopoly of such communications.
It should be observed in this connection that the United States Government has never tried to establish such control over the radiotelegraph stations established in the United States in the vicinity of its fortified ports. The stations which are situated in New York, Norfolk, San Diego, San Francisco, etc., may transmit and receive freely, in peace time, messages for ships, in spite of the fact that they are in the vicinity of fortified places.
Attention should be called also to the fact that even if the measures suggested by the Navy Department were put into force, they [Page 588] would not have a practical result, since the stations established in the Republic of Panama could transmit and receive messages to and from the ships through other stations situated, for example in Costa Rica, at a distance of some one hundred and fifty miles from the Canal.
At the request of the State Department the President of Panama in October 1933, in the White House, explained the said facts and circumstances to Captain Hooper, an expert in radio matters in the service of the Navy Department. The conference was held in the presence of Mr. Edwin C. Wilson, Chief of the Latin American Division of the Department of State. After Mr. Hooper’s arguments were overcome by the explanations given above, the latter adduced as a fundamental reason for recommending to the Navy Department that it should assume the aforementioned attitude, that it was indispensable in his judgment for the officers of the United States Navy to have the opportunity to train themselves properly in everything relating to the transmission, receiving and delivery of commercial messages. But he could find no reply when he was reminded that it was easier and more appropriate to obtain such training for the naval officers in the ports of New York, San Diego, etc., which are under the sovereignty of the United States, and nevertheless, the same procedure is not followed in the said ports as it is desired to follow with the Republic of Panama.
The Department of State in a memorandum8a prepared during the visit of the President of Panama with the President of the United States in October of last year, made the following suggestion:9

“It is suggested that consideration be given to the creation by Panama of a Radio Board on the lines of the present Aviation Board. This Board would have, say, six members, of whom three would at all times be designated by the United States Government, for appointment by the President of Panama. This Board would issue regulations for the licensing, inspection, etc., of radio stations in the Republic of Panama. Appropriate measures would be agreed to for the limitation of licenses to Panaman and American companies, and for appropriate safeguarding provisions to prevent endangering the operation or defense of the Canal Zone. The United States, under such conditions, would agree that no special restrictions be placed on ‘ship to shore’ service with the exception of that relative to transiting the Canal.”

The Government of Panama considers that the adoption of the plan suggested is not acceptable, among other reasons, because it could be interpreted in the sense that the United States does not have full confidence in Panama’s loyalty or that the latter country has not been [Page 589] sufficiently aware of the responsibility which it has in everything relating to the operation and protection of the Panama Canal.
In the conference with the representatives of the press, held by the President of the United States on October 11, 1933, he declared, in the presence of the President of Panama, that the aspirations of Panama to establish radiotelegraph stations were perfectly reasonable. He indicated further than [that?] an arrangement would be reached in the matter which would be satisfactory to Panama.
The Government of Panama maintains that it is not necessary to adopt the plan transcribed above in order to attain the objects which the United States Government has in view, and in order that they may be fully attained the Government of Panama can take measures to enjoy benefits of radiotelegraph communications and at the same time prevent the efficient operation and adequate defense of the Canal from being affected in any way, without placing the Republic of Panama in a position of inferiority.
The objects which the United States Government doubtless seeks are two:
That in peace time there may be the most rapid and efficient radiotelegraph communication in everything respecting the transit of ships through the Canal, and
That in case of war or threat of hostilities, the operation or the defense of the Canal or the operation of the fleet or other armed forces of the United States shall not be endangered by reason of radiotelegraph communications in the Republic of Panama.
As the Government of Panama is desirous of cooperating with the United States for the objects indicated, it suggests the possibility of an agreement on the following basis:
That no transmitting or receiving set can be installed without previous permission of the Government of Panama;
That the Government of Panama reserves the right to inspect all receiving or transmitting sets whenever it deems fit and without previous notice;
That the Government of Panama reserves the right to censor, supervise, suspend and cancel the operation of such sets;
That on the licenses or permits which the Government of Panama may grant it shall be stated that such license or permit does not include the right to receive, transmit or deliver messages from ships to shore concerning transit through the Canal; and
That the Panamanian Government will dictate all the necessary measures in order to cooperate with the United States Government to prevent interferences of any kind in connection with radiotelegraph communications, especially insofar as such interferences may in any way affect the operation or defense of the Canal;
That in case of war or threat of hostilities, everything relating to radiotelegraph communications shall be done or supervised jointly by the Government of Panama and the United States with the object [Page 590] of assuring that the functioning thereof shall in no way be prejudicial to the safety of the Canal or to the operations of the fleet or other armed forces of the United States.

The Government of Panama makes this suggestion with the object of arriving at a reasonable and friendly agreement, but, meanwhile, it reserves its right to act at any time in exercise of its sovereign rights and in accordance with the International Radiotelegraph Convention.

  1. Foreign Relations, 1933, vol. v, p. 866.
  2. The original English of the Department of State memorandum is substituted here for that appearing in the file translation.