711F.1914/168: Telegram

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

6. My telegram No. 4, January 6, 4 p.m.2 This morning the Minister for Foreign Affairs3 handed me an aide-mémoire 4 in reply to the Department’s recent aide-mémoire 5 regarding the leases. It is a lengthy statement of the Panamanian position largely along the lines already known to the Department. I shall transmit the text and a translation by direct air mail due in Washington Friday morning. The essential points are as follows: The Panamanian Government hopes that the Department will reconsider its offer and grant Panama a reasonable price for the leases more in consonance with the burdens, dangers, and moral sacrifices which they entail for Panama. It insists that the United States shall have jurisdiction only over military personnel. It states that if the grant of new lands is made in the spirit of articles II and X of the 1936 treaty6 it follows that once the unforeseen contingency or threat of aggression disappears the lands are no longer required and revert to Panama; that it is inconceivable that the unforeseen contingency or threat of aggression last more than 6 years and that consequently leases for a longer period would not be justified; but that if they did still exist the leases could [Page 415] surely be extended and that in such an event no Panamanian Government would object to their extension.

Immediately after receiving the aide-mémoire I had a long personal interview alone with President Arias. I referred to the seriousness of the world situation as set forth in President Roosevelt’s recent speeches, to the great urgency of providing for the defense of the Canal, and to recent unfavorable comments concerning Panama in the American press. I urged upon him the extreme desirability of early action not only because of the existing emergency but also in order to place Panama in a better light. I told the President that the aide-mémoire which I had just received would prove very disappointing to the Department and that I had hoped to be able to advise it that the Panamanian Government was prepared to include [conclude?] the leases on terms satisfactory to the United States. He said that as respects the aide-mémoire it was a [statement of?] Panama’s position which the Government must place on record for its own and the country’s protection. Speaking unofficially, he said that it was fully agreed in principle that Panama would make the tracts available, that we would of course obtain them, that he realized fully that if necessary we would proceed to occupy them, and that I could telegraph the Department that the Panamanian Government was prepared to negotiate leases on mutually satisfactory terms.

He said that he would like to have the new Panamanian Ambassador in Washington7 have an opportunity to discuss the whole matter with the Department and if possible with President Roosevelt. He said that he had never thought for a minute of holding us up in connection with the leases but that as a patriotic Panamanian he considered it his duty to defend to the utmost the interests of his little country. Speaking with great frankness he stated that he did not see how he could go before the National Assembly and propose leases based on the Department’s recent terms, but that on the other hand if he were in a position to tell the Assembly that Panama is to receive some further advantage, not necessarily in the form of direct compensation for the leases, he was confident that matters could be arranged rapidly and that with the Assembly’s approval authorization could be granted the Army to undertake preliminary work on the preparation of defense positions without awaiting formal conclusion of the leases. As possible concession for the Department’s consideration the President mentioned the improvement of that portion of the national highway lying between Sona and David.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Raúl de Roux.
  3. Infra.
  4. See telegram No. 196, December 28, 1940, 2 p.m., to the Ambassador in Panama, Foreign Relations, 1940, vol. v, p. 1085; for Spanish translation of aide-mémoire, as presented on December 30, 1940, by the American Embassy to the Panamanian Foreign Office, see Panama, Memoria que el Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores Presenta a la Asamblea Nacional en sus Sesiones Ordinarias de 1943 (1940–1942), p. 166.
  5. General treaty of friendship and cooperation between the United States and Panama, signed at Washington, March 2, 1936. For text, see Department of State Treaty Series No. 945, or 53 Stat. (pt. 3) 1807; for correspondence, see Foreign Relations, 1935, vol. iv, pp. 889 ff.
  6. Carlos N. Brin.