The American Ambassador in Panamá ( Dawson ) to the Panamanian Minister for Foreign Affairs ( De Roux )9

No. 426

Excellency: I have the honor to refer to our recent discussion of the defense problem in the course of the audience which His Excellency the President of the Republic courteously granted to General Van Voorhis and to myself on November 7,9a and to state that, pursuant to this exchange of views and in order to clarify certain points, General Van Voorhis has prepared a statement concerning the necessity for installations throughout the Republic of Panamá for the effective defense of the Panamá Canal. I beg to quote the following passages from this statement for the confidential information of Your Excellency’s Government:

“The Necessity for Installations Throughout the Republic of Panamá for the effective Defense of the Panamá Canal:

“1. While provision has been made for the housing of personnel and matériel within the Panamá Canal Zone for the defense forces of the United States, it is of the utmost importance, when an active defense of the Canal becomes necessary, that personnel and matériel be deployed at various points throughout the Republic of Panamá in order that timely contact may be made with the enemy and that he be promptly engaged with the view that his progress be retarded or that he be defeated before reaching the area in the immediate vicinity of the Canal. This requirement applies especially to the air forces, and to a lesser extent to our ground troops.

“While these installations may be considered military objectives and their distribution throughout the Republic of Panamá increasing the combat zone within the Republic, their installations are of such a temporary and limited nature that it is not probable that [Page 1080] they would become an enemy target as the enemy plans would visualize only those sensitive installations within the Canal Zone.

“2. These requirements are in five categories:

“(1) Auxiliary Landing Fields

“(2) Emergency Landing Fields

“(3) Aircraft Warning Service Stations

“(4) Searchlight Positions

“(5) Roads.

a. Auxiliary Landing Fields—Located at Chame, Río Hato, Aguadulce, David and Garachine.

“At the above points, except Río Hato, it will be necessary to provide housing for detachments of approximately twenty-five men with sufficient tents in storage to care for personnel of a bombardment group of approximately one thousand men when it becomes necessary to occupy these stations to meet enemy forces. At Río Hato certain additional temporary housing is now constructed or under construction.

“In addition to the above the storage of bombs and gasoline necessary to meet the requirements of a bombardment group.

b. Emergency Landing Fields—Located at Piñas, Tocume, La Chorrera, Purto, La Mesa, Las Lajas and Almirante.

“It will be necessary to prepare runways of a temporary nature and to provide civilian labor sufficient to keep them in serviceable condition. The purpose of these fields is to provide for emergency landings for planes, to include civilian, having difficulty while passing from one air station to another.

c. Aircraft Warning Service Stations—Located at Almirante, Gorda Pt., Coiba Island, Cape Mala, Jaque Pt., Molineca, and Pto. Sapsuru.

“These are stations at distant points at which are installed mechanical devices for detecting the approach of planes at a great distance. This information thus obtained will be relayed to air stations in order that forces thereat may be alerted. A very small area will be required for these stations with housing sufficient for a detachment of approximately twenty men necessary to operate the detectors.

d. Searchlight Positions: These positions are forty-six in number, located in the vicinity of the Canal Zone advanced beyond the antiaircraft batteries located within the Canal Zone and necessary to illuminate enemy planes approaching the Canal.

e. Roads: To provide access to searchlight positions it will be necessary to construct certain roads. These roads will be metalled ten feet in width and will be available for use by Panamanian Nationals living in their vicinity. These roads to be converted into two-way concrete by the United States Government when, in the opinion of the Panamanian Government such construction is warranted, and when funds become available.

“3. In addition to the above a limited area on the islands of Melones and Bona will be required for searchlight positions and observation Stations.”

[Page 1081]

There are enclosed, also for the confidential information of Your Excellency’s Government, two maps10 showing the location of the sites referred to in the above statement.

With reference to the conditions under which the tracts required for defense purposes would be made available for utilization by the United States Army, General Van Voorhis submits the following suggestions bearing in mind the observations made by His Excellency the President in the course of our recent interview:

All negotiations will of course be conducted with the Government of the Republic of Panamá.
All lands, when no longer required by the United States, will be relinquished by the United States and their utilization will revert to the Republic of Panamá.
The term of occupancy shall be for ninety-nine years, the United States Government reserving the right to renew the leases with succeeding administrations.
Rentals will be on an annual basis, the amounts to be agreed upon between the Governments of the United States and the Republic of Panamá.
The Panamanian Government may, upon its request, send a duly authorized representative to visit any installations in order that it may be informed as to the steps being taken for defense in the common interest.
The United States Government will exercise jurisdiction over its own personnel. Other persons guilty of civil offenses will be handed over to the Panamanian authorities for such action as the nature of the offense requires.

General Van Voorhis and I believe that the foregoing conditions are in substantial accordance with the desires of His Excellency the President as expressed in our recent interview and that they offer a mutually satisfactory basis for the further negotiations concerning the leasing of the tracts in question which it will be my privilege to conduct with Your Excellency.

In the meantime, in view of the extreme urgency of the work to be undertaken as already explained to Your Excellency, I have the honor to request by direction of my Government that Your Excellency’s Government authorize the United States military authorities to take the immediate steps necessary for the preliminary preparation of the positions referred to above. Such steps would consist principally in the clearing of underbrush necessary for surveys to determine the exact location of positions and the suitability of areas for landing fields, as indicated on the enclosed maps.

It is unnecessary to call attention to the need for prompt action in the present emergency and in view of the interest expressed by His Excellency the President in the cooperation of the Panamanian Government [Page 1082] in measures having for their object not only the protection of the Panamá Canal but also hemispheric defense, I am confident that Your Excellency’s Government will grant the authorization requested.

Accept [etc.]

[File copy not signed]
  1. Copy transmitted to the Department by the Ambassador in Panamá in his despatch No. 804, December 7; received December 11.
  2. See supra.
  3. Not attached to file copy of this document.