Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Murray M. Wise of the Division of the American Republics

Participants: The Ambassador of Panama, Mr. Bonsal, and Mr. Wise.

Ambassador Jiménez called at the Department this morning to discuss matters relating to the removal of the terminal facilities of the Panama Railroad Company from their present site to a new location in Panamá City. He referred to this Government’s commitment, as recorded under Point 10 of the Memorandum of May 18, 1942, to move the station, yards, and appurtenances. The Ambassador called attention to that Section of United States Public Law No. 48, 78th Congress, approved May 3, 1943, which provides that the authority to convey to Panama the lands of the Panamá Railroad Company “… shall not be exercised after June 30, 1944” and, in that connection, stated that the President of Panama had asked him to discuss with the Department the possibility of taking some action now to earmark for transfer to Panama those lands which are at present being used for railroad terminal facilities in Panamá City. (It will be recalled that recently the Panamanian Government raised the question of removing [Page 665] the railroad station and yards to a new site and that the Department instructed Ambassador Wilson to inform the Panamanian authorities that there would be no possibility during the present emergency of complying with the Panamanian request.)

Mr. Bonsal explained to the Ambassador that in considering what lands were to be transferred to Panamá under the provisions of Public Law No. 48, the Secretary of War had designated the lots occupied as railroad terminal facilities in Panama City as necessary for railroad business. (In seeking the authority of the Congress for the transfer of the railroad property, as provided for in Public Law No. 48, it was clearly shown in the documents and maps that the lots covered by the railroad station, yards, and appurtenances were to be retained by this Government.) He pointed out that in view of these circumstances there is no authority under the terms of Public Law No. 48 for the transfer of the railroad station lots. Mr. Bonsai then stated that it was his definite opinion that should the Secretary of War find that these lots were unnecessary for railroad purposes (in the event that a new site were made available by the Panamanian Government and deemed by both Governments to be suitable) the Executive Branch of this Government would necessarily have to seek Congressional approval for their free transfer to Panama.

Mr. Bonsal took this occasion to point out to Ambassador Jiménez that neither this Government nor the Government of Panama could justifiably contemplate at this time the disruption of railroad traffic and freight handling or the diversion of critical materials needed for the war effort to the construction of a new railroad station and facilities. Mr. Bonsal informed the Ambassador of his opinion that this Government would wish to consider the moving of the railroad station as a part of a general program of civic improvement which would affect property owners other than the Railroad Company. In making these statements Mr. Bonsai left the definite impression that under no circumstances could this Government consider the moving of the railroad station to a new site during the present emergency and that it was his opinion that the whole question of the removal of the station and the disposition of the land occupied by it was not a matter for further current negotiation.


Upon the Ambassador’s withdrawal, Mr. Bonsal stated that it was his own personal opinion that the policy of this Government, as indicated by the enactment of Public Law No. 48, would seem to be to transfer to the Republic of Panama without charge real estate in the cities of Panamá and Colón, now occupied by the Panama Railroad or by other agencies of this Government, which may at some future time be found no longer necessary for the operation of the railroad or for [Page 666] the operation, maintenance, sanitation, or protection of the Canal. However, in accordance with the terms of Public Law No. 48, he believed new Congressional authority would be required for each such transfer.