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

No. 213

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Legation’s telegram No. 80 of April 30, 11 a.m.55 concerning the transfer of the naval radio stations at Puerto Obaldía and La Palma to Panama.

[Page 636]

Admiral William H. Standley, Chief of the Bureau of Naval Operations, visited Panama in connection with the call of the United States Fleet and on April 29 a conference was held at the Legation to discuss radio control. Those present were Admiral Standley, Rear Admiral W. S. Crosley, Commandant of the 15th Naval District, Commander W. L. Ainsworth, Chief Communications Officer of the 15th Naval District, myself and Mr. Burdett.57 After an examination of the divergent points of view relating to the agreement to cover the transfer of the two radio stations, Admiral Standley said that the draft agreement58 which was transmitted to the Department as Enclosure No. 1 to Despatch No. 142 of March 3, 1934 would be acceptable to the Navy if a paragraph were included to cover thoroughly the matter of protection to the Canal in the event of a threatened war or other serious eventuality. He said that the wording of the agreement without such paragraph does not give the Navy sufficient grounds to take over control during the twilight period between peace and war; that during such period it would be highly necessary for the Navy to control all radio facilities in Panama and the State Department would probably not consent for the Navy to suddenly exercise such control on the grounds that this action would constitute a direct threat and might defeat the negotiations in progress. The Navy’s taking over radio control over all Panama stations might be construed as an overt act and we should cover such situation by a new paragraph in the agreement. The following paragraph was finally drafted and Admiral Standley said it would be immediately transmitted by radio to the Bureau of Naval Operations.

Admiral Standley requested the Legation to ask the State Department for instructions to present the amended agreement to the Panamanian Government. The added paragraph reads as follows:

“As a further consideration to the making of this agreement, the Panamanian Government hereby agrees that if at any time the operation of the foregoing stations by the Panamanian Government should endanger the safety or operation of the Panama Canal, the Panamanian Government will upon request of the United States Government, cooperate with it in so controlling or suspending the operation of said stations as to fully protect the interests of the United States.”

With regard to the general radio agreement between the two countries, Admiral Standley said that the Navy would never willingly surrender control over ship-to-shore or ground-to-plane messages. The agreement between the two Presidents at Washington in October, 1933 was discussed, particularly item 8 which said: [Page 637]

“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.”

Admiral Standley said he did not understand how this crept into the agreement and he hoped that President Roosevelt did not really entertain this view. That naval control over all radio messages from ship-to-shore was most essential for the protection of the Canal. He said that he had told President Arias in October, 1933 that the naval radio experts had very emphatically made this recommendation to him and while he was not in a position to explain in a technical way how these ship-to-shore messages would endanger the Canal’s safety, he intended to accept the recommendation of his experts, as that is what experts are for.

Admiral Standley read President Arias’ memorandum on radio control, a copy of which the President sent the Legation on April 27, 1934, and which the Legation understands has already been submitted to the Department by Minister Alfaro. Admiral Standley thought that by no means should we recede from our position regarding radio control and remarked that the War Department agreed fully with the Navy Department’s position concerning ship-to-shore messages. It should be said in this connection that Admiral Standley’s statement is not exactly in accord with informal conversations held with certain Army officers on the Isthmus who believe that naval control over ship-to-shore service is not essential for the protection of the Panama Canal.

Admiral Crosley supported Admiral Standley in his views concerning the general radio control question. Both of these officers thought the new draft agreement regarding Puerto Obaldía and La Palma might facilitate the negotiation of the general radio control question.

There is attached hereto a copy of the amended draft agreement59 which the Navy now desires to be presented for the consideration of the Panamanian Government.

Respectfully yours,

Antonio C. Gonzalez
  1. Not printed.
  2. William C. Burdett, First Secretary of Legation.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Not printed.