Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Murray M. Wise of the Division of Caribbean and Central American Affairs

Participants: General Crittenberger, Commanding Officer, Caribbean Defense Command
General Walsh, War Department71
General Hertford72
W. J. Donnelly, Counselor of Embassy, Panama
A–Br—Mr. Braden, Assistant Secretary of State
ARA—Mr. Briggs
RL—Mr. Dreier
CCA—Mr. Cochran
CCA—Mr. Wise

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

5. Race Discrimination

Mr. Braden called attention to the old complaint from the Panamanians that Canal Zone authorities discriminate in the treatment of “gold” and “silver” employees. He said that recently Charles W. Taussig, Chairman, United States Section of the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission,73 had discussed the race problem in the whole Caribbean area with President Truman, who had expressed an interest in having a memorandum prepared on the subject. Mr. Braden said that Mr. Taussig was endeavoring to determine what influence Moscow was wielding on important labor leaders in the Caribbean area. He believed that if there were no objection, Mr. Taussig might be given the opportunity to explain his apprehensions to those present.

Mr. Taussig briefly outlined some of the activities of organized labor in the Caribbean area referring particularly to the Caribbean Labor Conference which had been held in Barbados in October 1945. He [Page 1150] mentioned that the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission had a fairly complete file on the conference. He saw significance in several occurrences there: (1) the singing of the “International” and the display of hammer and sickle insignia; (2) the speeches that were made in opposition to the United States remaining in the 99-year leased bases. He called attention to the fact that although the conference was not sponsored by the colonial governments or Great Britain, the Acting Governor of Barbados made the opening speech and other governmental officials attended, including the British Co-Chairman of the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission, Sir John Macpherson. References were made at the Conference to the fact that one objection to the United States retaining possession of the bases was the fact that Americans brought with them racial discrimination.

Mr. Taussig called attention to the fact that the United States had ratified the Charter of the United Nations, and that it was the United States which took a prominent part in drafting Chapter XI of the Charter which is the Declaration regarding non-self governing territories. Mr. Taussig felt that the United States should assume a moral leadership in relation to dependent peoples, and that the racial problem was of prime importance in this field. Mr. Taussig further stated that it was his opinion that the attitude and action of the United States in these matters particularly in the Caribbean area would have considerable repercussions in Latin America. Mr. Taussig, again referring to racial tension, stated that although the evidence was not complete, there appeared to be a definite link between Moscow and Caribbean labor groups. He was interested in hearing any comments which General Crittenberger and Mr. Donnelly might have to make.

General Crittenberger said that since his Command covered the whole Caribbean area he was very much interested in the labor situation which was a vital factor in any of his plans. He said his officers had been following labor tendencies with the greatest of care and that the successful dealing with laborers in the program for the defense of the Caribbean area would require the sympathetic consideration and cooperation of all parties concerned, such as the Army, the State Department and the Anglo-Caribbean Commission. General Crittenberger supported the contention of Mr. Taussig that the Communists were taking considerable interest in the area. He said that recently there was an occurrence in the Canal Zone which he felt was of Communist origin. During the agitation of the troops under his command to be sent home after VJ Day, posters appealing to the troops to protest were posted in various parts of the Reservation. The troops were addressed in these posters as “comrades”. Mr. Braden asked Mr. Donnelly to express his views with respect to the race question in Panama.

[Page 1151]

Mr. Donnelly said that the Embassy has always taken the position that the most dangerous issues in Panama are

the landlord-tenant relationship, and
the West Indian negro problem,

and that the agitation of either at this time could result in

complete disruption of the present work of the Panamanian Constitution Assembly in its preparation of the new constitution. (He explained that the Assembly had left its discussion of Panama’s immigration policy until the last), and
bloodshed and revolution such as occurred in the early days of the Panama Canal.

Mr. Donnelly said that the Embassy believed, and he was convinced General Crittenberger and Governor Mehaffey74 would agree with it, that the appointment at this time of any outside committee, commission or group, no matter what it is called, would be detrimental to the interests of the Republic of Panama, as well as the United States Government. Mr. Donnelly said there were certain factors in the Canal Zone labor situation vis-à-vis the Republic of Panama which needed correction, but expressed his firm conviction that the study and recommendations should be made by the Embassy and the appropriate Canal Zone authorities.

The meeting was adjourned with the understanding that General Crittenberger would discuss with officers of the North and West Coast Republics problems of particular interest in that area of the General’s Command. Detailed discussions of the Panamanian problems mentioned above, as well as others which should be taken up, were to be continued between Mr. Donnelly and officers of CCA.

  1. Maj. Gen. Robert L. Walsh, Army Air Forces.
  2. Brig. Gen. Kenner F. Hertford, Pan American Group, Operations Division, War Department.
  3. An advisory body representative of the United Kingdom, the United States, France, and the Netherlands. It sponsored a conference, held in February and March, 1946, of representatives of 15 territories of these four powers to make recommendations on problems of education, public health, agriculture, nutrition, handicrafts, and local manufacturing.
  4. Maj. Gen. Joseph C. Mehaffey, Governor of the Panama Canal.