711.19/12–1048: Airgram

The Ambassador in Panama ( Davis ) to the Secretary of State

A–919. In view of the importance of public relations here, the Commander-in-Chief Caribbean and Governor of the Panama Canal have followed the practice of discussing with the Embassy proposed press releases contemplated to have an effect on relations with Panamá. For [Page 678] the information of the Department there are quoted below the questions and answers of interviews given by the Cominch Carib to the representatives of two local newspapers. The proposed replies to these questions were discussed informally with the Embassy prior to the interview.

Q: Does the Caribbean Command maintain any installations in Panamanian territory outside the Canal Zone? A: The Caribbean Command does not maintain any installations in Panamanian territory other than areas occupied and controlled by the United States Government at the time of the 1936 Treaty. Q: Has the Caribbean Command replaced at other locations any of the installations it maintained in Panamá at the time of the evacuation of defense sites last December? A: Yes. Q: It is reported that the San José Project, for example, has been transferred to St. Thomas. Is this true? A: Yes. Q: And if so, are there other similar instances of local installations transferred elsewhere? A: Yes. Q: Have the Canal defense requirements changed radically or even appreciably in the last year? A: No.

Q: In the event that the bases negotiations with Panamá should be renewed, would the Caribbean Command seek the same or comparable sites as were occupied last December? Or would an entirely new system of bases be sought? Would any bases be asked? If no bases were needed, what defense requirements would be negotiated with Panamá? A: The United States policy concerning bases in Panama will be formulated by the proper policy-making agencies of our Government in Washington. I refer you particularly to the excellent statement of the U.S. Ambassador to Panama made on 26 May 1948.1 I have nothing to add to his statement as it is still a valid expression of the attitude and policy of the United States Government. (For convenient reference the statement is attached.) Q: Regardless of whether or not bases in Panamá are obtained in the near future, are the present defenses of the Canal considered adequate? If not, would bases in Panamá be regarded as a contribution to improve the Canal defenses? A: As the Commander responsible for the defense of the Panama Canal, I am in no position to express my views concerning the adequacy of this defense except confidentially through military channels. Q: Has the Caribbean Command submitted any recommendations within the last year to its Department in Washington concerning the bases question? A: I consider this an improper question.

Q: Does the General consider the present defense installations of the Panama Canal sufficient to defend the waterway in the event of a surprise attack by any enemy power, similar to Japan’s blow against the United States at Pearl Harbor? Q: Has the withdrawal of United [Page 679] States forces from the former Panamanian bases weakened to any extent, the strategical defenses of the Panama Canal? Q: What steps are necessary to place the Canal’s defenses on such a footing that any sudden onslaught by an enemy power against the waterway could be successfully repulsed? Q: Does the General favor a sea-level canal as being easier to defend in the event of any sudden enemy attack than the present waterway? A: As the Commander responsible for the defense of the Panama Canal I am in no position to express my views concerning the adequacy of this defense except confidentially through military channels.

Q: Does the General favor a re-opening of bases negotiations between the United States and Panamá? A: The United States policy concerning bases in Panamá will be formulated by proper policymaking agency of our Government in Washington. I refer you particularly to the excellent statement of the U.S. Ambassador to Panama made on 26 May 1948. I can add nothing to his statement. (Statement attached.)

A similar questionnaire has been received by the Embassy and will be made the subject of a separate airgram.2

Davis
  1. See press statement of May 25, p. 670.
  2. A–923, December 15, infra.