811F.504/274: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Panama (Dawson)

51. Unless objection is perceived by the Governor of the Panama Canal, please deliver the following note to the Panamanian Secretary for Foreign Affairs:

“Excellency: I have the honor to refer to Your Excellency’s note DD No. 59, dated January 6, 1940, relating to the objections entertained by the Panamanian Government to the further importation into the Canal Zone of labor from the British West Indies.

My Government has given the most careful thought to its needs for additional labor in the Canal Zone and to the sources from which labor can be obtained, having always in view the desires of Your Excellency’s Government.57

I am accordingly pleased to inform Your Excellency that should it be desired by the Panamanian Government, my Government in cooperation with the Government of Puerto Rico will undertake a survey to determine the possibility of obtaining suitable workers from that territory.

Furthermore, my Government will undertake to employ experimentally such labor from other countries as may be found suitable for its purposes and which may be brought to the Isthmus of Panama by the Panamanian Government. The Governor of the Panamá Canal is being instructed to arrange in cooperation with the Panamanian Government the terms upon which such labor, if brought to the Isthmus, may be employed in the Canal Zone.

Meanwhile, the authorities of the Panamá Canal have informed me that they urgently need additional workmen not only in the construction of the new works, but in the operation of the Canal itself. Pending the results of the experiments noted above, they will be obliged therefore to proceed with the recruitment of several hundred laborers in the British West Indies where labor is known to be readily available. No objection will be raised by my Government, however, should the Government of Panamá deny permission for these workers to enter territory under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Panamá and the most careful precautions will be taken to insure that at the termination of their employment these workers will be returned to their homes.

In conclusion, permit me to say that in the development of this Government’s plans in the Canal Zone, the most sympathetic consideration will be given to the desires of Your Excellency’s Government in order that the Canal may continue to be of mutual benefit to both the countries which have cooperated in its construction.

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Accept, Excellency, the renewed assurances of my most distinguished consideration.”

The War Department has approved the above text.

Please report by telegraph when the note has been delivered.58

  1. President Roosevelt visited the Panamá Canal February 27, 1940, while on a vacation cruise and met President Boyd of Panamá. One topic of conversation was the question of bringing in laborers to work on the Panamá Canal. No record of the conversation was sent to the Department of State but President Roosevelt later approved the emergency bringing in of Jamaicans with the understanding that the War Department should cooperate with Panamá in securing laborers from Spain or Colombia or both and with the help of the Government of Puerto Rico bring in laborers from that island.
  2. The note was delivered April 25.