711F.1914/182: Telegram

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

25. Department’s telegram No. 21 of February 8, [5 p.m.]. On Monday I delivered to the Secretary General of the Presidency a communication following precisely the text set forth in the Department’s telegram under reference. The matter was considered by the President and Cabinet on Tuesday and in a long conference commenced yesterday and continued today the Minister of Foreign Relations gave me the Government’s reply which at my request he set forth today in writing in a communication of which the following is a close translation:

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In our conference which lasted in all over 3 hours the Minister reviewed at great length the Panamanian position and arguments, principally as set forth in his aide-mémoire of January 7, and in turn I expressed in the strongest terms our own position and our views regarding Panama’s clear obligations under the treaty. I made every effort to dispel the Minister’s apprehension touching present and future effects on Panama’s sovereignty and to convince him that prompt compliance with our request was not only Panama’s duty but also in its own best interest. The new points developed in our conversation may be summarized as follows.

The Minister complained that instead of furnishing a reasoned reply to his aide-mémoire of January 7 we had responded with what was almost an ultimatum.
He said that Ambassador Brin had been unable to discuss Panama’s aspirations with President Roosevelt whereas President Arias had received me repeatedly as well as General Van Voorhis. I reminded him that the Under Secretary had told the Panamanian Ambassador that the President would receive him later.
The Minister suggested the desirability of a personal conference between the two Presidents as the best means of settling promptly all pending problems. Speaking personally although undoubtedly with the knowledge of the President and Cabinet he said that he was confident that an invitation from President Roosevelt to visit Washington would be accepted by President Arias. To this I made no reply other than that in my opinion Panama must first settle satisfactorily the question of making available the lands required for defense purposes.
I told the Minister that I regretted deeply having to send my Government such a reply as he had given me and that this reply and his statement regarding Panama’s interpretation of its treaty obligations seemed to be in contradiction with the Panamanian position thus far and the Government’s many protestations of its desire to cooperate.

He replied that Panama’s interpretation of the treaty had been set forth in his aide-mémoire of January 7 and that its position from the outset had been dictated by its friendly desire to cooperate rather than by any obligation under the treaty. He asserted that both articles II and X contemplate contingencies or emergencies of a temporary nature which could not justify a demand for 99-year leases and that if Panama acceded to our request as at present formulated there would be created a precedent authorizing the permanent military occupation of the tracts under discussion and of further lands as requested from time to time by our military authorities. In spite of my arguments and assurances to the contrary he maintained that this would place the country in virtually the same situation as obtained prior to 1936. The Minister said that if the Government of the United States were to inform the Government of Panama that there exists a threat of aggression in the sense of article X and if it based thereon a request for lands for defensive purposes to be made available for the duration of such a threat or emergency, then quite a different situation would exist.