The Panamanian Minister for Foreign Affairs (Garay) to the American Ambassador in Panama (Dawson)55

D. D. No. 59

Mr. Ambassador: I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of Your Excellency’s courteous note No. 142 of the 3rd instant in which Your Excellency is good enough to advise me that in view of the great demand for labor existing in the Canal Zone to carry out the vast construction program facing it, the Governor of the Canal, General Ridley, has made arrangements with the British Government to recruit in Jamaica the additional labor which cannot be obtained from Panamá.

After taking note of the foregoing information, Your Excellency will permit me to set forth certain considerations in defense of Panamanian interests, which latter my Government believes cannot be by any means indifferent to the United States of America nor finally to the high officials of the Panama Canal.

The news transmitted by Your Excellency has caused profound surprise and disappointment in the minds of His Excellency the Encargado del Poder Ejecutivo and of the entire Panamanian Government.

Some days ago the Foreign Office received a communication from the Association of Commerce of Panamá in which its President repeated rumors circulating among the people concerning the importation of Antillean labor into the Canal Zone and issued a warning to our authorities. The undersigned Secretary of State hastened to allay the fears of Panamanian businessmen giving them the written assurance that such a danger did not exist.

In thinking and proceeding in this manner the Foreign Office had as a basis categorical statements made to three of the members of the present Cabinet by General Stone, commanding the military forces charged with the protection of the Panama Canal, when we discussed the subject at the last session of the National Aviation Commission, Admiral Sadler also being present. General Stone is now charged with the supreme command of the Panama Canal since the President of the United States of America proclaimed a state of emergency and placed under his (General Stone’s) command all local civil, military, naval, and air authorities. His words could not leave the slightest doubt in the minds of the Secretaries of Government and Justice, of Health, Welfare, and Public Works, and of Foreign Relations and [Page 1109]Communications who were present, when without circumlocution or subterfuge of any kind he gave us the most absolute assurance that the Government of the United States would not import Antillean labor into the Panama Canal either for the work of the third set of locks or for any other work connected with plans for extending and reinforcing the defenses of the Canal. On this occasion the General added that in case the available supply of Panamanian laborers proved insufficient, the United States intended to have recourse to the American people, principally the unemployed, in order to abstain from aggravating the disastrous conditions which the Republic (of Panamá) faces today from an ethnical point of view as the result of the importation of Antillean labor by the authorities of the Panama Canal during the construction period from 1904 to 1923.

This Government could not suspect that two months after the meeting mentioned here it would unexpectedly receive as hard a blow as that represented for Panamanian aspirations and interests by the contents of Your Excellency’s note under reply.

Please appeal, Your Excellency, to the principles of cooperation and the policy of good neighborliness in which Panamanian-American relations have recently been inspired in order to obtain from your illustrious Government through the most adequate and efficacious means that a single stroke of a pen may not compromise the work of closer relations and reciprocal good-will accomplished after long years of patient labor and efforts which culminated in the treaties and conventions of 1936 and in order to prevent at any cost that a question of such vital interest for this Republic be settled without taking it into account and without consulting its needs and desires.

The freedom of transit between Panamá and the Zone stipulated in the General Treaty of 193656 would nullify the effects of the Panamanian immigration law if new Antillean colored masses were to invade the Canal Zone; and the Panamanian community would be deprived of the economic benefits to which it is entitled by its special geographic situation if there were to be organized in the Canal Zone concentration camps for the Antillean laborers in order that they might not pass the dividing line between the two communities. In such circumstances my Government believes that there has never been felt as at present the need for consultation and mutual agreement between our two Governments in order to solve on equitable bases questions of such importance and transcendence for both.

Please accept [etc.]

Narciso Garay
  1. Copy transmitted to the Department by the Ambassador in Panama in his despatch No. 245, January 8; received January 12.
  2. General treaty of friendship and cooperation, and exchanges of notes, signed at Washington, March 2, 1936. For correspondence regarding negotiations, see Foreign Relations, 1933, vol. v, pp. 852868; ibid., 1934, vol. v, pp. 581612; and ibid., 1935, vol. iv, pp. 889910. For text, see Department of State Treaty Series No. 945, or 53 Stat. (pt. 3) 1807.