The Under Secretary of State (Acheson) to the Attorney General (Clark)


My Dear Mr. Attorney General:

. . . . . . .

The Department has for many years maintained a special interest in labor legislation concerning the Canal because of the inevitable effect of that legislation on citizens of the Republic of Panama and on existing commitments of the United States Government to the Panamanian Government. While the basic treaty between the United States and Panama, dated November 18, 1903, contained no stipulations with regard to labor in the Canal Zone, the United States Government has steadily moved toward the establishment of equality of opportunity and treatment, between United States and Panamanian citizens in matters pertaining to employment.

. . . . . . .

Finally, in 1936, after lengthy negotiations, a General Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation was concluded at Washington between the United States and Panama. This agreement sought to meet many of the complaints of Panama during the preceding third of a century and at the same time to take cognizance of changing conditions, including the need for increased defenses for the Canal, which is of vital importance in the defense of the United States and of the entire Hemisphere.

. . . . . . .

Examination of the minutes of the treaty negotiators indicates that their purpose was to provide for equality of employment opportunity and treatment with respect to the Panama Canal and the Panama Railroad, and that no distinction was drawn between positions which are filled by examination and those which are not. In other words, the negotiators intended to expand the principles inaugurated in the earlier orders and practice.

The 1936 Treaty, together with its accompanying notes, having the force and effect of law, is the basic document governing our current relations with Panama. This Government stands committed to Panama [Page 959] under the document to maintain as our public policy the principle that Panamanian citizens shall have equal rights with our own citizens in employment opportunities in the Panama Canal and the Panama Railroad. This Government is committed to take such measures as may be necessary to put this principle into effect.

In pursuance of this policy, the Department believes that this Government is specifically bound to admit Panamanian citizens to civil service examinations for Canal and Railroad positions. It was the clear intent of the parties negotiating the 1936 Treaty that the words “equality of opportunity and treatment” should mean exactly that.

There was no desire on the part of the United States representatives merely to codify and give treaty sanction to administrative practices existing in the Canal Zone in 1936, but rather there was an intent to establish a pattern for the future in which heed would be given to the legitimate aspirations of Panamanians for employment in the operations of the international waterway which bisects their national territory and which they have pledged themselves to defend jointly with us. I should like to stress, therefore, that the Department supports fully the recent action of the Civil Service Commission in providing for the admission of Panamanian citizens to civil service examinations for positions in the Panama Canal and the Panama Railroad.

The Department considers, therefore, that the Commission’s action is necessary to fulfill this Government’s obligations and is in accord with established national policy.94

Sincerely yours,

Dean Acheson
  1. In instruction 746, August 4, 1947, to Panamá, the Department indicated that the Attorney General held that the action of the Civil Service Commission in opening certain examinations to citizens of Panama was mandatory under the General Treaty of 1936 (811.504/8–447).