500C.115 Montreal/10–1546

Memorandum by Mr. Murray Wise of the Division of Central Caribbean Affairs20


I propose calling Mr. Wiesman at noon today to relate the following instructions:

It is deemed advisable that the United States delegation at Montreal make no written statements to the Panamanian delegation. However, there is no objection to handing the Panamanians a copy of Governor Mehaffey’s statements in reply to the allegations made at Mexico City. The Governor approves (see Embassy’s telegram no. 622, September 2421). In addition to the foregoing the Panamanians can be told:
On June 6 Governor Mehaffey announced an increase in rates of pay for virtually all “silver” employees. Some 20,000 laborers will benefit from the pay increase which will add approximately $1,500,000 annually to the payrolls.
According to a circular issued July 23 at Balboa Heights by Governor Mehaffey, dependents of all but a relatively small percentage of “silver” employees in the Canal Zone will be immediately [Page 61] eligible for hospital treatment. Now that the patient load in Canal Zone hospitals has been reduced, dependents of all “silver” employees hired on or before April 15, 1942, with identification cards numbered 200,000 or lower, are eligible for treatment. Under previous regulation only dependents of employees hired before November 18, 1939, with identification cards numbered 42,000 or lower, were eligible.
The Commanding General, Panama Canal Department, on August 22 issued the following statement: “The War Department prohibits discrimination amongst War Department civilian employees on account of race, creed or color. The classifications for pay and administration purposes in effect in the Panama Canal Department are based upon the skill and qualifications of the employee. When operating out of the continental United States, the War Department requires that local prevailing wage scales shall obtain, which is the case here. No classification other than that indicated above is in effect.”
The U.S. Embassy at Panama advises that the question of alleged discrimination is item No. 2 on the agenda for the round table conferences currently under way and is, accordingly, being given constant and serious attention.
Governor Mehaffey has advised that the announcement of the setting up of a “complaint board” is expected soon. It provides for the handling of grievances in four stages; namely, from the employee’s immediate supervisor to the Executive Office.
On September 10 Governor Mehaffey announced that the present limited apprenticeship program in the Canal–Railroad organization would soon be in effect when trade training will be open to young men of United States or Panamanian citizenship.
Governor Mehaffey is presently making a study relative to a change in the old system of classifying employees as “gold” and “silver”.

While the Department cannot give the foregoing in writing to the Panamanians there would seem to be no objection to stating orally to them that these indications from the Canal Zone show a definite serious attempt to meet certain allegations of discrimination.

N.B.—Keep matter out of press at Montreal, if possible. Explain to Mr. Morse22 “highly political” nature of this question in Panama,

Approved by ARA

Mr. Briggs
  1. Addressed to Mr. Willard F. Barber, Assistant Chief of the Division of Caribbean and Central American Affairs, Mr. John Tipton Fishburn, of the Division of International Labor, Social, and Health Affairs, and Mr. Ellis O. Briggs, Director of the Office of American Republic Affairs.
  2. Not printed.
  3. David A. Morse, Assistant Secretary of Labor.