711F.1914/9–2046: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Panama (Hines)


499. In reply that part FonMin’s note Aug 31 re Panamanian interpretation termination clause 1942 Defense Sites Agreement,23 Dept proposes you deliver to Dr. Alfaro official communication reading as follows: [Page 1116]

“Excellency: Pursuant to the provisions of the Defense Sites Agreement of May 18, 1942 the Republic of Panama granted to the US the use of certain lands for defense purposes. The temporary character of the occupation of these areas by the armed forces of the US and the arrangements for the termination of their use were set forth in Articles I and V of that Agreement. In accordance with the spirit of those articles my Govt through consistent continuing processes over a period of several months now has been evacuating and returning to Panama all defense sites the use of which is found to be no longer essential. As of today 71 of a total of approximately 134 areas occupied during the war have now been relinquished. Steps are under way to evacuate 27 more immediately.

With regard to the remaining sites, numbering about 36, there have arisen, as Your Excellency is aware, certain allegations that the continued occupation of these areas by the US after September 1, 1946 is not in accordance with the provisions of Article I of the 1942 Agreement, which in part reads as follows: ‘These lands shall be evacuated and the use thereof by the US of America shall terminate one year after the date on which the definitive treaty of peace which brings about the end of the present war shall have entered into effect.’ In this connection, Your Excellency in note D. P. no. 3235 of August 31, 1946 stated that the 1942 Agreement had virtually fulfilled its purposes and that the period for the return of the existing defense sites would expire as of the following day.

In support of this contention reference was made to Your Excellency’s appearance on November 6, 1945 before a session of the Constituent Assembly of Panama. There Your Excellency stated that the Executive Power was of the opinion that the expression ‘definitive treaty of peace which brings about the end of the present war’ refers to ‘any pact, agreement, act or instrument agreed upon among the belligerent countries by virtue of which the hostilities inherent to the state of war shall have ceased definitively.’ Your Excellency has therefore concluded that the document signed aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945 is the definitive treaty of peace which brought about the end of the war and that, accordingly, the right of the US to occupy defense areas in Panama under the provisions of the 1942 Agreement expired 1 year later.

This interpretation was publicly announced without prior consultation with the Govt of the US and was not officially communicated to my Govt until the receipt of Your Excellency’s note D. P. no. 3235 of August 31, which was in reply to my note no. 259 of August 3024 requesting consultation on the continued need of defense areas in the Republic of Panama.

In my note no. 260 of September 2, 194625 I stated that comment on Your Excellency’s interpretation of the termination of the 1942 Agreement was being deferred until I had had an opportunity of presenting your views to the Dept of State.

I have now been instructed to inform Your Excellency that my Govt has given careful and sympathetic attention to your opinion [Page 1117] with respect to the interpretation of the termination clause, but regrets that it is unable to share Your Excellency’s view that the above quoted phrase can properly refer to the instrument signed aboard the U.S.S. Missouri. It is the opinion of my Govt that the intent and meaning of that portion of Article I of the 1942 Agreement could hardly be clearer. My Govt, therefore, is not able to accept the view relative to termination of the 1942 Agreement as communicated in Your Excellency’s note no. 3235 of August 31, 1946. Accordingly, as no definitive treaty of peace has yet been signed, the continued occupation of certain defense areas of Panama cannot in my Govt’s opinion be considered as a violation of the terms of the Agreement.

The foregoing is conveyed to Your Excellency in the same spirit of cooperation and friendship that has always governed the relations between our two Govts. I should like to state in conclusion, however, that my Govt is desirous of reaching an accord with Your Excellency for the termination of the 1942 Defense Sites arrangement so soon as mutually satisfactory details can be arranged, and of replacing it by a new defense sites agreement pursuant to the provisions of the General Treaty of 1936. As Your Excellency, from the important role played by you in the authorship of its provisions, is fully aware, the General Treaty sets forth the partnership interest of the Govts of Panama and the US in the effective operation and protection of the Panama Canal which is of vital importance not only to our two Governments but to all others of this hemisphere.

Finally I am instructed to inform Your Excellency that my Govt would hope to begin consultations with you looking toward the negotiation of a new agreement at the earliest possible date.”

Provided Emb concurs with foregoing proposal it is assumed delivery will be made commensurate status local discussion (Depstel 490 Sept 18 and Embstel 614 Sept 2026). Position taken by Dept obviously precludes any symbolic return presently held defense sites. While Amb may find it advisable forewarn FonMin of your imminent submission of note, text itself should not be discussed with him prior to presentation.

  1. See telegram 554 September 1, from Panamá, p. 1103.
  2. Not printed.
  3. See telegram 555B, September 3, noon, from Panamá, p. 1107.
  4. Latter not printed.