The Minister in Panamá ( Summerlin ) to the Secretary of State

No. 467

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Department’s instruction No. 160, of March 31, 1936,11 authorizing the Legation, in company with [Page 163] Mr. James, of the Bureau of Public Roads, to hold conversations with the Government of Panamá with reference to the possible donation to Panamá of a second bridge on the route of the Inter-American Highway.

Accordingly, Señor Tomás Guardia, Chief Engineer of the Central Roads Board, Mr. James, and the Secretary of this Legation met on April 14, 1936, at the Legation. Señor Guardia was made acquainted with the substance of the Department’s instruction, with emphasis that the Legation was not authorized to enter into any commitments, the intent of the conversations being merely to explore possible further bridge requirements of the Panamanian section of the Inter-American Highway for consideration in the event that an additional donation to Panamá from the unexpended portion of the million dollar appropriation should be determined possible.

Mr. James, referring to the statement in the Department’s instruction that it is desired, insofar as may be practicable, to apportion the total appropriation equally among the five countries which have accepted the assistance of the United States, said that a limitation of from $50,000 to $55,000 will thereby be placed upon the value of any possible further donation to Panamá. The participation of the United States in the estimated total cost, $165,000, of the Chiriqui bridge, for which cooperation has already been arranged, is $135,000 to $140,000, leaving $60,000 to $65,000 available out of Panamá’s fifth of the million dollar appropriation. A certain portion of this balance would necessarily be held in reserve to meet unpredictable emergencies. Thus he arrived at the above figure of $50,000 to $55,000.

Señor Guardia said that, with the Chiriqui bridge, no structures would be required on the highway between Panamá and David. Only twenty-five miles of regrading and surfacing (between Sona and Remedios) remained to be completed in order to make the highway passable to David in all seasons.

In reply to an inquiry by Señor Guardia, Mr. James said that he believed it to be improbable at this time that the United States would consider cooperation in bridge construction on the unsurveyed route east of the Panamá Canal. According to Señor Guardia, no single bridge on the David-Concepción section of the Inter-American Highway would exhaust the balance suggested. No structures of importance were indicated on the selected route of the Concepción-Volcan section next following.

Señor Guardia said that the Panamanian Government is desirous of pushing construction of the David-Concepción-Volcan section, now uncomfortably passable to vehicles only in the dry season. Between David and Concepción five major bridges are required, as follows: [Page 164]

Span Estimated Cost U. S. Participation
Name of River Feet One Way Two Way One Way Two Way
San Cristobal 65 $6,500 $9,750 $5,525 $8,290
Plantanares 160 16,000 24,000 13,600 20,400
Caimito 130 13,000 19,500 11,050 16,575
Chico 200 20,000 30,000 17,000 25,500
Mula 130 13,000 19,500 11,050 16,575
Total $68,500 $102,750 $58,225 $87,340

Señor Guardia based his cost estimates on his experience with similar structures already erected by the Central Roads Board under his direction. Standard one-way structures, such as those in present general use, averaged $100 per lineal foot complete; two-way structures would cost approximately fifty per cent additional. United States participation is calculated above at eighty-five per cent of the estimated total cost, providing a margin above the proportion estimated for the Chiriqui bridge.

Señor Guardia emphasized that no survey data are locally available and that the span lengths given are from memory. Mr. James, who sailed for the United States on April 15, said the Bureau of Public Roads office at San José would be requested to forward the required data and estimates to him at Washington, where he would make them available to the Department.

In reply to the Legation’s question, Señor Guardia said that, although he had no authority to commit his Government, he could foresee no reason for anticipating any change in attitude from that evidenced in its welcome of the cooperation of the United States in the construction of the Chiriqui bridge, already agreed upon.

With respect to the Department’s instruction that the Legation’s recommendations be submitted in the premises, it is my view that any further donation which may be made to Panamá should, as Señor Guardia and Mr. James agree, be devoted to assisting the extension of the existing highway toward Costa Rica westward from completed construction without break of continuity. Construction of the David-Concepción section logically fulfills this requirement. Further, since the projected highway is said to follow mountainous country from Concepción to Volcan and thence to the Costa Rican border, completion of the listed bridges on the David-Concepción section would dispose of the important bridging requirements of the entire route. Thus, properly considering the David-Concepción investment to apply to the entire mileage from David to the frontier, the bridge investment per potential highway mile appears so low as to justify recommendation of the donation.

It is not recommended, however, that any definite commitment to Panamá be made at this time. Instead, it is suggested that such portion of the unexpended balance as may be allotted for construction [Page 165] expenditure in Panamá simply be ear-marked for this purpose pending revelation of the attitude of the administration to be elected on June 7, 1936, toward the present Government’s cooperative highway program. Inasmuch as no construction on the David-Concepción section can be undertaken until the next dry season beginning in December, 1936, the Legation’s suggestion involves no possibility of delaying the progress of the Inter-American Highway.

Mr. James privately informed the Legation of his receipt in Guatemala of a telegram from the Bureau of Public Roads which indicates the possibility that no further apportionment may be made to Panamá. He said that he had been advised that $250,000 of the uncommitted balance had been ear-marked for donation to construction in Mexico. The existing commitment to Panamá on the Chiriqui bridge would roughly exhaust Panamá’s fourth of the $750,000 (less the commitment of some $200,000 to Honduras). However, as he understood, the Bureau of Public Roads proposes to apportion the balance remaining from the million dollar appropriation after deducting all present commitments and the amount ear-marked for Mexico, equally among the five countries south of Mexico to which assistance is being given. $40,000 to $50,000 would be available for further donation to Panamá under this proposal.

Respectfully yours,

George T. Summerlin
  1. Not printed, but see instruction No. 95, April 4, to the Minister in Honduras, p. 156.