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

Subject: Activities of Public Roads Administration in Panama.

Participants: Mr. Wilson—PRA
Mr. Cochran—CCA
Mr. Wise—CCA

For some time the Department has endeavored to clarify the activities of PRA in Panama and the status, authority and duties of its representative there. The Department has maintained the attitude that it is not a part of PRA’s functions to contract for foreign government road building abroad.

The Department’s concern in the above sense has recently been renewed by Panama’s requests,

that PRA extend the road from the Trans-Isthmian Highway to the proposed site of the new international airport by a distance of 2.3 miles;
that PRA prepare the airport site for the laying of the runways.

Recently when Major General Fleming,98 Mr. MacDonald99 and Mr. James1 were in Panama, informal agreement was reached with [Page 1168] the Embassy and the Panamanian Government that PRA would do the work requested. The Washington office of the PRA has now received for approval documents designed to authorize PRA to extend the highway by 2.3 miles. That office will be receiving in a few days for approval documents covering the preparation of the airport site for the runways.

At the Department’s request Mr. Wilson came in to discuss the whole field of PRA’s activities in Panama and it was decided:

that the PRA representative in Panama be authorized to proceed with the extension of the highway;
that before the representative be authorized to comply with the Panamanian request to put the airport site in shape for the runways the Washington office of the PRA and this Department should be given opportunity to study in detail the proposal (This decision was made because of the lack of details concerning how much work the Panamanians want PRA to do on the airport. The Department had understood that PRA was only going to do some grading and leveling off, but Mr. Wilson believes that Panama is interested in doing practically a complete job on the preparation of the airport site, including grading, leveling, drainage, access roads, arrangements of the bed for the concrete runways and possibly even the pouring of the cement for the roads and runways.); and
that upon their return from India it would be well to discuss PRA activities in Panama with General Fleming and Mr. MacDonald for the purpose of deciding as to whether PRA should do any further work for the Panamanian Government.

Upon leaving, Mr. Wilson admitted that PRA was probably stretching its authority by agreeing to do some of the work it has been doing for Panama, that PRA was becoming more and more involved in Panama; namely, that of contracting with a foreign Government for construction work abroad, and that he personally felt the sooner PRA left Panama the better it would be.

Mr. Wilson was shown the Department’s draft letter to Major General Fleming in which concern was expressed over PRA activities in Panama. He said that while he agreed with the principle expressed he felt the draft was not entirely accurate and put the onus on PRA when, in fact, it had done some of its jobs in Panama with the complete approval of the Embassy and the Department. It was, therefore, decided to hold the letter with the hope that the whole matter could satisfactorily be solved through discussions with General Fleming and Mr. MacDonald upon their return from abroad.

  1. Maj. Gen. Philip Fleming, Administrator of the Federal Works Agency.
  2. Thomas MacDonald, Public Roads Commissioner.
  3. E. W. James, Chief of the Inter-American Regional Office, Public Roads Administration.