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

No. 142

Sir: I have the honor to refer to Despatch No. 113 of February 10, 1934,47 and to the Legation’s telegram No. 23 of February 9, 3 p.m., concerning the proposed agreement to cover the transfer to the Panamanian Government of the Navy Radio stations at Puerto Obaldía and La Palma.

After a number of conferences with the President and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs in which the Legation has endeavored to reconcile the conflicting views of the Navy and the Panamanian Government, I have arrived at the conclusion that I should not further approach the local Government in the matter until I am given further instructions by the Department. The ideas of the Navy have been conveyed to the Legation by Commander W. L. Ainsworth, District Communication Officer of the 15th Naval District. This officer has expressed the Navy viewpoint regarding each clause in the various proposed drafts of the agreement and has represented the Admiral Commandant of the 15th Naval District in almost daily consultation with the Legation.

It is felt that arrival at an early agreement through this Legation is rendered difficult by the insistence of the Navy on points which it regards as vital to Canal defense, and I accordingly informed Commander Ainsworth on March first that the Legation would decline further to press an agreement on the Foreign Office until instructions are received from the State Department as to which points may be conceded and which ones are to be regarded as essential and to be insisted upon. It is understood that Admiral Crosley48 at once communicated this information to the Navy Department.

It would seem that the points in disagreement can only be ironed out through conferences in Washington between officers of the two [Page 631] Departments. The Legation cannot otherwise be sure that upon reaching an understanding with Panama it will not be decided that we cannot concede what has been agreed upon, thereby forcing reconsideration of the entire agreement. This does not conduce to satisfactory negotiation or make a happy impression on the other parties to the negotiation.

The Navy, in its insistence on certain frequencies to be allotted to Panama for the use of these two stations, is endeavoring to avoid interference and general chaos in the radio situation on the Isthmus, and perhaps also to tie up Panama so fast that it will not be able to communicate from ships to shore nor in any other manner considered by the Navy as affecting the Canal defense.

Panama is endeavoring to insert in the agreement an admission by the United States that Panama should not be restricted in its radio control. It has definitely withdrawn from its position as expressed by President Arias in Washington where he agreed to consider the suggestion to create a Radio Control Board, similar to the Aviation Board.

Thus, this agreement to cover the transfer of two small and isolated radio stations out in the jungle, of no importance in themselves, takes on importance and results in long discussions, because the Navy and Panama both wish to establish precedents for future radio control in the wording of this agreement.

As a matter of fact, the Navy is, essentially, turning over little more than the houses where the radio stations have been installed. They could well withdraw and leave the houses to the jungle, and the general radio situation would be practically unchanged. The location where Panama most needs a radio station of its own is the penal station at Coiba Island. There is a very practical reason for a station there, but there is almost no reason for one at either Puerto Obaldía or La Palma other than the rather vague desire of Panama to form a nucleus of a radio system with these two stations.

The Legation ventures to express the hope that the conferences between representatives of the State and Navy Departments will result in a final decision on what measure of control is to be offered to Panama, and what kind of machinery will be erected to effect the liaison between the Radio authorities of the two countries on the Isthmus.

On February 16 the Naval authorities in Panama through Commander Ainsworth expressed to the Legation their objection to the frequencies allotted to Panama in Paragraph 3a of the Secretary for Foreign Affairs’ draft agreement of February 9,49 and suggested other frequencies. They also stated that a clause should be added to paragraph 36 providing that Panama should give three months notice of [Page 632] any contemplated changes in the power, location, or frequencies to be used by their stations. They also recommended that Paragraph 6 should read as follows:

The Government of Panama agrees that in case of war or threatened hostilities, or when in the opinion of the United States Government the safety or operation of the Panama Canal is involved, said stations shall be managed or controlled jointly by both Governments, with the object of assuring that their operation will not be prejudicial in any way to the safety or operation of the Panama Canal or its defenses, or the operation of the Fleet, or to the armed forces of the United States.

The Naval authorities here furthermore requested that Paragraph 7 be eliminated and the following paragraph as suggested by the Legation be substituted therefor:

All provisions of the foregoing paragraphs pertaining to the operation of the radio stations at Puerto Obaldía and La Palma shall be effective until superseded by the general agreement concerning radio which is expected to be negotiated between the two Governments.

After a conference with President Arias on February 17 in which he said that he had personally drafted Paragraph 6, it was agreed that the tentative agreement should be resubmitted to the council of ministers. The President said that regardless of the stipulation for joint control, in time of war or threatened hostilities the United States Navy would exercise full control; that a provision in the agreement giving the United States full control would be interpreted in Panama as a surrender of national rights to the United States, and as a total lack of confidence in the cooperation to be rendered by Panama in the defense of the Canal.

Following this conference, the Navy withdrew its objection to Paragraph 6 and expressed agreement with the wording as given in the Memorandum from the Panama Foreign Office of February 9. I consequently informed the Foreign Office on February 19 that I perceived no objection to the wording of paragraph 6.

On February 201 saw Secretary Arosemena who said that he would advise the Legation of the desire of Panama to accept the offer made by the Navy to construct new apparatus for the stations at Puerto Obaldía and La Palma as well as equipment for stations to be installed at Coiba and San Bias.

On the same day Commander Ainsworth furnished the Legation with a draft embodying the Navy’s viewpoint regarding the agreement. (Enclosure No. 1).50

The Legation was likewise furnished with a copy of a communication from the Chief of Naval Operations to the Admiral Commandant [Page 633] of the 15th Naval District bearing date of February 20 which stated that it was desirable that if frequencies on the 2750–2850 band be allocated to these stations, it be with the understanding that they be for fixed service only.

The same letter stated that the wording of Paragraph 36 was satisfactory but with reference to Paragraph 3c, the provisions of points 6, 7 and 8 of the proposed agreement of February 2 should remain substantially as written. The Chief of Naval Operations felt that joint control might be unobjectionable at the present time but that changing international conditions might make it impracticable, and the United States should be the judge as to when such control should cease. He further believed that the United States should reserve the right to close, censor, or operate either station when it believed such action to be necessary for the safety or operation of the Canal.

On February 21 the Foreign Office sent the Legation a Memorandum51 stating that it accepted the offer of the United States to recondition the stations at Puerto Obaldía and La Palma and to install stations at Coiba and San Bias at a cost to Panama of $3380.

On February 21 the Secretary for Foreign Affairs sent a Memorandum to the Legation with a draft of the much discussed agreement, (Enclosure No. 2, and translation, Enclosure No. 3).51 The draft appeared to be acceptable but for the frequencies mentioned in Paragraph 2a and the inclusion of the unacceptable Paragraph 7.

I replied by a Note No. 102 on February 21, a copy of which is herewith attached as enclosure No. 4.51

This Note elicited a Note dated February 22 from the Foreign office, (Enclosure No. 5, and translation, Enclosure No. 6),51 which accepted the modifications suggested in my last mentioned Note. The way thus seemed clear to transmit the agreement to the Department for its consideration, but on February 23 the Navy requested a further change in Paragraph 6 in order that it might read as follows:

The Government of Panama agrees that in case of war or threatened hostilities, said stations shall be managed or controlled jointly by both Governments, with the object of assuring that their operation will not be prejudicial in any way to the safety or operation of the Panama Canal or its defenses, or to the operations of the Fleet or the Armed Forces of the United States,

In connection with the foregoing, it is further agreed that when, in the opinion of the United States, the safety or operation of the Canal is involved, the United States shall advise the Panamanian Government regarding the extent of censorship or control desired, or regarding the desirability of closing the stations, to the end that the Panamanian Government may effect such censorship, control, or closure as may be required by the circumstances.

[Page 634]

On February 26 Commander Ainsworth stated that the desires of the Navy could best be met by adding to Paragraph 6 the following sentence:

Should the circumstances in case of war or threatened hostilities so demand, the Panama Government agrees to close either or both stations without delay.

On February 28 the Navy Department sent a telegram to the 15th Naval District stating that the provisions of Paragraphs 6 to 8, inclusive, of the agreement of February 2 must be incorporated, and taking the stand that the provisions of Article 11 of the unratified Treaty of 1926,53 which gave the United States complete control of radio in time of war, should be preserved.

On March 1 Commander Ainsworth submitted a memorandum to the Legation which conveyed the Navy’s views regarding changes in Paragraph 6 of the proposed agreement. This is transmitted as Enclosure No. 7.54

It clearly appears that we are faced with the alternatives of either endeavoring to force Panama to continue to accept Navy control over its radio activities, or else frankly to turn over control to Panama while reserving the treaty rights to reassume control when necessary for Canal defense. The Legation sees no hope of a permanently satisfactory compromise between these two alternatives. Whether or not the Puerto Obaldía and La Palma stations are transferred under mutually satisfactory conditions, it is feared that the radio control question will constantly recur with increasing acuteness and irritation and it is, of course, quite possible that we would have already been confronted with a fait accompli but for the friendly attitude of President Arias.

Respectfully yours,

Antonio C. Gonzalez
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  2. Commandant of the 15th Naval District.
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  9. Foreign Relations, 1926, vol. ii, p. 833.
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