The Ambassador in Panama ( Hines ) to the Secretary of State
[Received September 1—8:02 p.m.]
554. Following is rough translation of note delivered to me personally at 8 p.m., August 31, 1946.
“Mr. Ambassador: I have the honor of referring to Your Excellency’s courteous communication No. 259 which you handed to me personally at noon yesterday and in which you make reference to the defense sites or areas, the use of which was temporarily ceded [cedió] to the Government of the United States of America in pursuance to the terms of the May 18, 1942 agreement between the two Governments.
“I begin by thanking Your Excellency for the terms of praise for the Republic of Panama with which reference is made to the cooperation it gave to the war effort of the United Nations during the last World War which cooperation the Government of Your Excellency considers to be of inestimable value and to have contributed in incalculable proportion to the happy termination of the war.
“Your Excellency invokes article 1 of the aforementioned agreement on defense sites and states that your Government regards as being to the common interest of both countries that the matter of the defense bases be discussed anew including it in the agenda for discussion in the round-table conference and that under present circumstances it is considered of vital importance that the use be continued of certain of the present defense sites as well that the need for a limited number of new sites be studied.
“In this regard, it is my duty to state to Your Excellency in behalf of my Government the following:[Page 1104]
“Article 1 section 1 of the agreement on defense sites mentioned in the note to which I am replying states the following:12a
‘The Republic of Panama cedes [grants] to the United States the temporary use for defense purposes of all the lands mentioned in the memorandum attached to this agreement and which is a part of same. These lands will be evacuated and their use will cease on the part of the United States of America 1 year after the date on which the definite covenant of peace that shall have ended the existing armed conflict becomes effective. If during this period, the two Governments deem that notwithstanding the cessation of hostilities there still exists a state of international insecurity which makes imperative the continuation of any of the said bases or defense areas the two Governments again will consult mutually and will negotiate the new agreement as required by circumstances.’
“Article 5 of the agreement strengthens this stipulation in the following terms:
‘The Republic of Panama and the United States reiterate their understanding with regard to the temporary nature of the occupation of the defense sites referred to in this agreement. In consequence the United States acknowledging the importance of the cooperation rendered by Panama by making available these temporary defense sites and likewise acknowledging the burden which the occupation of these sites represents for the Republic of Panama expressly agrees to evacuate the lands referred to in this agreement and to cease completely the use thereof at the latest within a year following the date on which the definitive covenant of peace that shall have ended the existing armed conflict becomes effective. It is understood as set forth in clause 1 that if within this period the two Governments deem that notwithstanding the cessation of hostilities there still exists a state of international insecurity which makes imperative the continuation of any of the said bases or defense areas, the two Governments again will consult mutually and will negotiate the new agreement as required by circumstances.’
“The interpretation of this clause brought about three questions made to the undersigned in the Constituent Assembly during the session held November 6 of last year. The first of these questions were:
“‘(1) What is the interpretation given by the executive power to the following expression contained in the first paragraph of article 1 of the agreement on the rental of defense sites signed by Panama and the United States on May 12 [18?], 1942? These lands will be evacuated and their use will cease 1 year after the date on which the definitive covenant of peace that shall have ended the existing armed conflict becomes effective’. In other words the Minister of Foreign Relations must report as to what the executive power holds to be ‘the definitive covenant of peace that shall have ended the armed conflict’.
“To this question the undersigned replied as follows:
“‘The executive power is of the opinion that the expression “definitive covenant of peace that shall have ended the existing armed conflict” refers to any pact, agreement, act or instrument agreed upon among belligerent countries by virtue of which the hostilities inherent to the state of war shall have ceased definitively. Therefore, the Panamanian Government considers the following to be covenants which successively have ended the armed conflict: (1) The various instruments signed by the German military commanders and the Allied commanders in various parts of Europe by virtue of which they were surrendered unconditionally the land, naval and air forces in Germany and in some of the occupied countries; and (2) the instrument of unconditional surrender signed aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept 1, 1945 by the representatives of the Emperor of Japan and the military and naval commanders of the [Page 1105] United States, Great Britain, China, France, Russia, Australia, Holland and New Zealand.
“‘Now then since the capitulation aboard the Missouri was the last to be agreed upon and it was, therefore, the covenant that ended the hostilities existing between the Axis countries and the United Nations that capitulation must be correctly regarded as the definitive covenant of peace which ended the armed conflict.’
“The second question referred to the naval base on Taboga Island which already has been returned and, therefore, there is no point in dealing with it.
“The third question was couched as follows: (3) When is the date of expiration for the authority granted to the United States to utilize the section of the national highway which traverses the Rio Hato region for aerial activities in connection with the base of the same name and to stop traffic over that section when required by such activities?
“With regard to this question, the answer given by the undersigned was as follows:
“‘The terms of the agreement contained in the exchange of notes are so clear that they required no additional comment. No reference is made to a period of 1 year following the cessation of hostilities as in the general agreement. Reference is made only to the period of the war emergency. The emergency has ceased and, therefore, so has the period for which authority was granted relative to traffic over the section of the highway which is traversed by the main runway of the Rio Hato landing field’.
“‘Since this is a matter already settled there is no reason for my extending myself in this regard.’
“The statements by the undersigned before the National Assembly have never been contradicted or objected to in any manner by the Government of the United States. On the contrary, that Government gave them tacit consent by expressing its willingness and disposition to comply with its obligation with Panama as reported by the Associated Press in despatch published in the local press on November 7, 1943  which reads as follows:
‘Washington November 7 AP, Secretary of State James Byrnes at a press conference today signified the United States will fulfill its agreements with the Panamanian Government on the withdrawal of American forces from the defense installations there. The question arose when the Secretary was asked to comment on the statement by Panamanian Foreign Minister Ricardo J. Alfaro that the United States is bound to vacate 83 defense sites by September 1, 1946. Secretary Byrnes said there was a written agreement on the subject and that although he was not familiar with all the details, he could assure Panama that the United States would observe them.[’]
It develops then that since the date of the capitulation aboard the Missouri until yesterday, the Government of Your Excellency has made no request or representation whatever to Panama with regard to the defense sites.
“The final portion of article 1 of the agreement on defense sites states the following:
‘If during this period (that of 1 year aforementioned), the two Governments deem that notwithstanding the cessation of hostilities there still exists a state of international insecurity which makes imperative the continuation of any of the said bases or defense areas, the two Governments again will consult mutually and will negotiate the new agreement as required by circumstances.’
“Now then, it was not until yesterday that the Government of Panama learned that Your Excellency’s Government deems that in spite of the cessation of hostilities there still exists a state of international insecurity which makes imperative the continuation of some of the defense sites. Panama on its part is not charged with the direction of military operations or the formulation of strategic plans which may require the use by the Armed Forces of the United States of certain defense sites in its territory nor has it had a basis to arrive at the conclusion that there exists a situation of international insecurity which demands the continuation of certain of the defense sites; and up to the present time on the last day of the period of 1 year during which the Government of Panama has considered that the aforementioned defense sites should be returned there has been no development by virtue of which the Government of Panama has acquired through self perception the knowledge and the conviction that there is a need for negotiating a new agreement on defense sites. There has not arisen, therefore, the condition which is required by the second paragraph of article 1 of the agreement quoted below for the negotiation of the said agreement: If during this period, the two Governments deem that notwithstanding the cessation of hostilities there still exists a state of international insecurity the governments again will consult mutually. The Government of Panama which always follows closely the world events cannot help but feel grave apprehensions with regard to world peace. It considers likewise that we are in an era of uncertainty and, consequently, of international insecurity that allows no conscientious statesman to rest in the placid assurance that we have already reached the era of a true and effective peace based on law and justice. This means that the Republic of Panama is ready today as it was yesterday not only to defend its own soil but to cooperate with all the means at its disposal to the defense of the canal of the continent and of the democratic cause in the entire world. But at the same time, the Republic of Panama which is not a military power and which has no plans of its own of continental or world projection to develop in a future war cannot determine by itself that the functioning of certain defense sites in its territory is a military necessity. From this point of view, the Government of Panama is ready to listen to and to consider the representations of an international nature and the evidence of a technical nature which the Government of the United States may submit for the purpose of determining whether there has arisen the situation a foreseen in the final portion of article I of the 1942 agreement; namely, the negotiation of a new agreement on defense sites as required by circumstances. In this connection, I wish to set forth that the Government of Panama would not consider negotiating a new agreement on defense sites under conditions which would be more onerous than those stipulated for defense sites which exist or have existed in some of the other sister republics and that any future agreement must take into account the principle of the fullest respect for the sovereignty and jurisdiction of Panama and for the principle of juridical equality of the States which the Republic has always warmly defended. But since the agreement of May 18, 1942 has virtually fulfilled its purposes and the period for the return of the existing defense sites expires tomorrow and there has been no development or [Page 1107] circumstances to prevent its execution, the Government of Panama fully mindful of its international responsibilities but acting to safeguard its sovereignty and its rights in compliance with the said agreement considers that the Government of the United States would [should] proceed as of tomorrow to return and deliver the defense sites which it still is using.
“I reiterate to Your Excellency the assurances of my most distinguished consideration Ricardo J. Alfaro, Minister of Foreign Relations.”
- For the text of the agreement between the United States and Panama respecting the lease of defense sites, signed at Panamá on May 18, 1942, see Department of State Executive Agreement Series No. 359, or 57 Stat. (pt. 2) 1232.↩