168. Letter From President Carter to General Torrijos1

My dear General:

A few moments ago the Senate of the United States accorded its consent to the second of the two Panama Canal Treaties you and I signed here in Washington last September.2

Ratification of the new Treaties will open a new era in the relationship of the United States, not merely with Panama but with all the nations of the Hemisphere. Working together, our two countries can provide an example and an incentive to others, in the Americas and beyond, for fair and constructive international cooperation in the pursuit of common goals.

Precisely because these Treaties are so important to our two countries, their negotiation and approval has been difficult and time-consuming. The debate in our Senate has been the most extensive ever conducted on any treaty in the history of the United States. As you know, it has been vigorous. The Treaties have raised difficult and emotional issues in our nation, going far beyond the Canal and our ties with Panama. Just as in your country, patriotic men of good will have had sharply differing views, as they will whenever fair compromises are struck to advance a greater common interest.

The patience and patriotism of the people of Panama in this long process have been impressive and have earned for them the respect of the world.

There have been times in these past months when the outcome was uncertain, and when doubts arose as to whether we would be able to ratify the two accords. For our part, these doubts have now been set at rest. Through its action today, the Senate has reaffirmed what was central to the treaties from the outset: that the United States, while safeguarding its vital interest in a secure, open and accessible Canal, [Page 422] does not intend to intervene in the internal affairs of Panama, its government, its public policy, or its cultural integrity, or in any way to impair its sovereign integrity or political independence.3

These are principles that we as a nation have long cherished. We have observed them in our relations with the other American Republics since President Roosevelt first proclaimed our adherence to the Doctrine of non-intervention in 1933. They are enshrined as international law in the Charters of the United Nations and the Organization of American States. It is therefore fitting that these principles—and particularly that no nation has the right to intervene in the internal affairs of another—should be embraced in the Treaties and their accompanying documents, including the Senate Resolutions. When we meet to exchange the instruments of ratification, we can reaffirm that this principle of non-intervention is clearly accepted by both our countries.4

Respect for the sovereignty and national dignity of Panama and the United States must be the foundation upon which we build the cooperation and mutual respect which will be crucial for the new period of partnership we are about to open.

I want to extend my congratulations and thanks to you, General Torrijos, for the great courage and leadership you have provided to the people of Panama as our countries have negotiated this new relationship. I look to the future with great hope and confidence and am personally looking forward to visiting Panama to reaffirm our personal friendship and this new relationship between our countries.


Jimmy Carter
  1. Source: Carter Library, Chief of Staff, Hamilton Jordan’s Subject Files, Box 50, Panama Canal Treaties, 1977 (4). No classification marking.
  2. The Senate approved the Panama Canal Treaty with a vote of 68–32.
  3. In telegram 2681 from Panama City, April 19, the Embassy reported that Torrijos addressed the nation on April 18 and announced that the treaties, as just approved by the Senate, were acceptable to him and to Panama. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780166–0828) Immediately following the address, the Embassy reported in telegram 2682 from Panama City, April 19, that Torrijos held a press conference during which he discussed destroying the canal and leading a struggle for national liberation had the Senate not approved the second treaty, and that if the United States chose to intervene against Panama’s will or without its consent, the National Guard could destroy the canal. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780166–0896) In telegram 2768 from Panama City, April 22, the Embassy reported that Jorden had communicated to Torrijos that his remarks regarding an alleged plan to attack the canal were “unhelpful in the extreme.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780172–0839)
  4. See Documents 183 and 185.