The Department of State to the Panamanian Legation


In his message to the Panamanian Assembly on September 1, 1934, President Arias included the following statement in reference to his conversations in Washington with President Roosevelt in October, 1933:

  • “1. That the construction of the Panama Canal has been terminated:
  • 2. That the provisions of the treaty concluded in 1903 contemplate the use, occupation, and control of the Canal Zone by the United States for the purpose of maintaining, operating and protecting the [Page 594] Canal. This means that its was tacitly established that those provisions no longer contemplate the use, occupation and control of the Canal Zone for the purposes of Canal construction.”

Article II of the draft treaty recently proposed to the Department of State by Minister Alfaro states in part:

“… the obligations on the part of the Republic of Panama to grant the use, occupation and control of other lands and waters for the purposes referred to in the said Article (Article II of the treaty of November 18, 1903) have been fully extinguished; and the two High Contracting Parties declare that as the Canal has already been constructed, the provisions of the aforesaid treaty of 1903 contemplate the use, occupation and control by the United States of America of the Canal Zone and the additional lands and waters which have been granted it up to this time for the purposes of the maintenance, operation, sanitation and protection of the Canal.”

By authorization of President Roosevelt it is desired to record in this memorandum that his understanding of the views exchanged between President Arias and himself in October, 1933, in so far as they related to any question affecting the “construction” of the Panama Canal, and his understanding of the phraseology employed in the Joint Statement of the two Presidents of October 17, 1933,15 in relation to this matter, is that such views and such phraseology referred to the Canal as having been “constructed” in the obvious sense that the principal stage of construction has been completed and that the Canal is now open to use. It has always been manifest, however, in President Roosevelt’s opinion, that in a project as vast as that of the Panama Canal, there will probably be required from time to time expansion of Canal facilities, including additional construction, in order to insure adequate water supply and adequate facilities for expected increase in traffic. Obviously, the exact extent of such future expansion cannot be foreseen at the present time. Conversely, if future developments should appear to render unnecessary the retention for Canal purposes of any land or water facilities then enjoyed by the United States, the United States would expect to relinquish such facilities to Panama.

It is, of course, in the interest of Panama as well as in the interest of the United States that as potential traffic through the Canal increases, adequate facilities be provided so that such traffic may not be diverted elsewhere.

It is because of the foregoing considerations, which it is believed will be readily understood by the Government of Panama, that the United States Government is unable to renounce any of the rights which it enjoys under Article II of the treaty of November 18, 1903.

  1. Department of State, Press Releases, October 21, 1933, p. 218.