The Panamanian Ministry for Foreign Affairs to the American Embassy in Panama8



1. The arrangement between the United States and Great Britain involving United States destroyers9 of a value of several millions of balboas does not appear to represent only the fair value of the privately-owned land within the leased areas. Other considerations of a wider scope are those which have weighed in the minds of both Governments and explain and justify the agreements signed. These considerations are very similar to those which at present motivate the request made by the Government of Washington of the Government of Panamá for the establishment of air bases and electric detectors and searchlights at different points in the Republic; and for that reason it appears logical to hope that, in fixing the rental price for the areas required for such purposes, the same criterion will be applied which inspired the arrangements recently effected between the United States and Great Britain.

Panamá is ready to cooperate in the general defense of the Hemisphere; but it must necessarily abide by the interpretation which all the American nations have given to this commitment, according to which such cooperation cannot involve any obligation affecting the sovereignty or the political independence of an American State.

It cannot be denied that in the defense of the Western Hemisphere in which the United States is so nobly engaged, the Isthmus is a beneficiary; but so is the United States, in the first instance, and the remaining countries of the Continent. And there is no just reason why Panamá, one of the smallest and poorest of the American Republics, should bear all the burdens without any appreciable benefit.

The Canal defense plan, prepared by the United States War and Navy Departments, represents practically the military occupation of the Isthmus by North American armed forces, and this circumstance cannot be considered and accepted by the Republic of Panamá as a result of the obligation incumbent upon it in the defense of the Hemisphere. No Panamanian citizen would have signed a commitment having such a scope and no Latin American nation would ask of Panamá such a sacrifice, if they were consulted.

2. Although it is true that in the last paragraph of Article 2 of the General Treaty between Panamá and the United States signed in [Page 417] 1936 both countries “recognize their joint obligation to insure the effective and continuous operation of the Canal and the preservation of its neutrality”, it is also true that this obligation, as respects “the utilization of lands or waters additional to those already employed” only binds the Government of the Isthmus “in the event of some unforeseen contingency”. And it could not be otherwise, since in the first paragraph of the same article “the United States of America declares that the Republic of Panamá has loyally and satisfactorily complied with the obligations which it entered into under Article 2 of the Convention of November 18, 1903”10 and that “in recognition thereof the United States of America hereby renounces the grant made to it in perpetuity by the Republic of Panamá of the use, occupation and control of lands and waters which may be necessary and convenient for the construction, maintenance, operation and protection of the Panama Canal …”.11

With regard to the application of Article 10 of the General Treaty the point of view of the Department of State merits the most careful attention and respect. Nevertheless, the present situation, however difficult it may be, does not seem yet to present an imminent threat of aggression “which would endanger the security of the Republic of Panamá or the neutrality or security of the Canal” justifying measures affecting the territory under the jurisdiction of the Panamanian Government without adequate compensation for the consequent burdens and sacrifices.

The cooperation which Panamá offers the North American people “nobly and sincerely”, as His Excellency the President of the Republic, Dr. Arnulfo Arias, expressed it in beautiful words in his recent address, is inspired by the very deep desire of giving particular effect to the “good neighbor” policy, which honors so signally His Excellency President Franklin D. Roosevelt, rather than by the contractual obligations to which the Isthmus and the great Nation of the North are parties.

3. The Government of Panamá has learned with real pain of the slight importance which the Government of the United States seems to attach to the sacrifice which the concession of further lands means for the Isthmus. Their intrinsic value cannot serve as a basis for lease negotiations between two sovereign countries, because their value is not the same in the international sphere. Panamá would never grant to any country at any price the use of any part of its territory; and it is only by virtue of the special relations which bind it to the United States that it agrees to consider with sympathy the request made by the Government of Washington.

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It is hoped that the Department of State, in a broadly comprehensive spirit, will reconsider its offer and grant to Panamá a reasonable price for the projected leases more in consonance with the burdens, dangers and moral sacrifices which such concessions impose upon the country.

4. The jurisdiction which the United States shall exercise over the leased areas must be defined precisely before the drafting of the contracts. The Government of Panamá insists that the Government of the United States shall have jurisdiction only over military personnel on duty in the leased areas and that all other persons residing therein, whatever their nationality may be, shall be under Panamanian jurisdiction.

5. If the grant of new lands is made in the spirit of Articles 2 and 10 of the Treaty of 1936, cited by the Department of State, we must agree that once there has disappeared the “unforeseen contingency” or the “threat of aggression which would endanger the neutrality or security of the Canal”, “the sites required for the purpose of defending the neutrality or security of the Canal” are no longer necessary and their utilization must revert to the Republic of Panamá. It is not conceivable that the “unforeseen contingency” or “threat of aggression” last more than six years and consequently contracts for a longer period would not be justified under these clauses. However, if the “unforeseen contingency” or the “threat of aggression” should still be imminent, the contracts could most surely be extended. It is not possible that in cases such as these any Panamanian Government would object to the extension of the contracts in question.

  1. Copy transmitted to the Department in Embassy’s despatch No. 860, January 8; received January 11.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1940, vol. iii, pp. 49 ff.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1904, p. 543.
  4. Omission indicated in the original aide-mémoire.