711.1927/2–1149: Telegram

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


84. Assumption in Deptel 50, February 91 that Embassy not planning sign agreement at this time is correct since it would be unwise sign before Foreign Minister learns reaction of members National Assembly and receives satisfactory assurances majority deputies and other influential elements that they definitely favor agreement. Believes signatures should be deferred until shortly before agreement is to be presented to special session Assembly, and favorable attitude majority has been confirmed.2 Signing now would tie hands of both governments leaving each vulnerable to attack by political enemies who care nothing about merits of agreement and who are obviously [Page 711] motivated primarily by desire prevent anything that would demonstrate ability two governments to negotiate successfully, improve US–Panamanian relations and/or represent any success on part Diaz Government.

Further assumption that agreement’s importance and advantages to Panama, and other points mentioned paragraph 2 reftel has been emphasized to interested Panamanians is also correct.3 Embassy takes position it has negotiated what it considers mutually advantageous agreement and is ready to sign it but if for any reason Panama does not desire agreement decision will of course be accepted, and commercial operations can continue in zone.

As to Arias group Embassy convinced they understand very well advantages to Tocumen and to Panama of agreement, but they are concerned more with preventing Diaz, bitter political enemy of Harmodio Arias, from achieving any success. As Dept knows Arias press has been critical of Tocumen project from beginning, and for reasons of prestige would not like to see government make success Tocumen now. Attack yesterday by columnist in La Hora made unfair and provocative statement that according to informed source the substance of the long and complicated agreement could have been stated in a single article reading. “The airport of Tocumen and any others that may in the future be constructed in the Republic of Panama are incorporated in the Canal Zone.”

Embassy convinced also views mentioned paragraph 2 reftel represent deliberate misconstruction to further political aims described mytel 76, February 7. Foreign Minister and President Diaz are fully aware source, nature and motives these attacks and propose counteract. President has already made two public statements to effect he considers agreement very advantageous to Panama. Government is as determined to have agreement as Arias group and Communist-influenced elements are to defeat it. Alignment of forces is reminiscent of that in December 1947 on bases issue but situation is more favorable to US and Panamanian Government now than fourteen months ago. There is still danger of failure, however, because of amount of misunderstanding which has been permitted remain uncorrected and [Page 712] ability of Arias press and Communist influences in university have to confuse and sway local public. If agreement is approved it will mean, and will be recognized as, definite defeat these elements which accounts for strength and bitterness their opposition.

Be that as it may, important objective has already been achieved, namely, that US has demonstrated it is ready and willing sign eminently fair agreement representing Panamanian as well as US views. Hence if opposition succeeds preventing successful conclusion, US should be in strong position maintain fault not ours. To summarize, Embassy believes successful conclusion agreement highly desirable for both political and aviation reasons.4

  1. This telegram, not printed, deals with the proposed civil aviation agreement; see footnote 3 below.
  2. In telegram 171 from Panama, March 19, 1949, Ambassador Davis reported having received information from an informed source that the President had collected written pledges to vote in favor of the treaty from 22 National Assembly members (711.1927/3–1949). The Assembly had 42 members altogether.
  3. In telegram 50 the Department had said in part:

    “Ref second para Embtel 76 Feb 7 that Arias group not opposed to aviation agreement but feel it important to US and thus capable of exploitation. In Dept’s opinion this view represents basic misconstruction since agreement is of primary importance to Pan in that it represents substantial econ assistance on part this Govt as respects communications cable, technical aid, etc., as well as econ advantage to Pan of having Tocumen in full operation. If no agreement reached future of Tocumen from Pan point of view appears jeopardized, whereas US interests will not be harmed through continued commercial operations in Zone. It is assumed these considerations being explained by Emb to interested Pans including those of Arias persuasion.” (711.1927/2–749)

  4. The Air Transport Agreement was signed at Panama on March 31, 1949. In telegram 259 from Panama, April 13, 1949, Ambassador Davis reported in part that the National Assembly ratified the agreement on April 12 by a vote of 27–12. (711.1927/4–1349) For text of the agreement, and texts of additional agreements effected on March 31 by an exchange of notes, see Department of State Treaties and Other International Acts Series (TIAS) No. 1932, or 63 Stat. (pt. 3) 2450 (for the Air Transport Agreement), 63 Stat. (pt. 3) 2471 (for the Agreement Relating to a Communications Cable), and 63 Stat (pt. 3) 2478 (for the Agreement Relating to a Civil Air Mission).