The Panamanian Ambassador ( Guardia ) to the Secretary of State

No. D–571

Mr. Secretary: I have the honor to refer to Your Excellency’s kind communication 819.7962/68 of June 23, last, by means of which you were good enough to reply to my note No. D–165 of March 23 of this year, both with regard to the request made by my Government arising from the advanced state of the construction of a concrete building [Page 628] which is being put up in the Canal Zone and which will be meant for the new airport of the Pan American Airways Inc.

In the second paragraph of Your Excellency’s note mentioned above, Your Excellency says in part as follows:

“In referring to your communications I wish to reiterate the position of this Government, as expressed in its note of August 5, 1941, that the use of airdromes in the Panama Canal Zone by commercial aviation companies does not represent an infraction of the spirit or of the text of any of the stipulations of the treaties in force between the Government of the United States and the Government of the Republic of Panama.”

Allow me to state to Your Excellency that your assertion goes much beyond the immediate point in discussion as to whether the building which is now being constructed for the Pan American Airways, Inc. is primarily for commercial or military purposes. This is a question of fact which I am taking the liberty of commenting on later. But before starting upon such a commentary, I must indicate my Government’s non-acquiescence in the general assertion which I have just quoted, which maintains the legality, on the part of the United States, of the operation of commercial aviation in the Canal Zone.

Such a proposal is, as I have already said, in conflict with the stipulations of existing treaties, with the very nature of the Canal Zone and with the fundamental rights of the Panamanian nation.

No further analysis of the treaties of November 18, 1903 and March 2, 1936 is needed to come to the conviction that, under them, only activities having to do with the construction, protection, maintenance, sanitation and defense of the Panama Canal are authorized within the Canal Zone. In addition to being the fundamental spirit of both agreements, this is expressly declared in the General Treaty of March 2, 1936, when it is stated that, with the exception of such activities, the United States of America “will not permit the establishment in the Canal Zone of private business enterprises other than those existing therein at the time of the signature of this Treaty.”

With respect to any other activity different from those mentioned, it is clearly understood that Panama is the only power called upon to engage in them or authorize them. This proposition is so clear that no reasoning seems necessary to maintain it. The said treaty of March 2 already cited establishes, as I have stated before, that one of the purposes of that treaty (article 3) is “to enable the Republic of Panama to take advantage of the commercial opportunities inherent in its geographical situation.”

With matters thus, my Government cannot agree to the general declaration that the Government of the United States can authorize the use of airdromes in the Canal Zone by commercial aviation companies without violating the aforesaid agreement.

[Page 629]

This proposition, one with great scope at present, but with still greater scope for the future, entails a serious injury to the future economy of Panama.

If through the natural development of modern aviation, commercial aviation has become, and will be tomorrow, a source of constantly increasing economic wealth, it is obvious that the enjoyment of this situation corresponds exclusively to the Republic of Panama for the reasons set forth.

In note No. 819.7062/68, Your Excellency states that Pan American Airways, Inc. should not at present be considered as a company engaged solely in commercial activities, since the services and facilities which it is furnishing have been subordinated to military interest and control, decreed by the War Department under date of May 14, 1942 in behalf of defense. Your Excellency also states that, as a result of the congestion at present existing in the building where the management of this company is temporarily located at Albrook Field, it is imperative for it to use a new building of larger size, a need which also exists in view of the progress of modern air warfare, which makes it necessary to increase the system of air control of military and civilian aviation over the Isthmus of Panama.

My Government assumes that Your Excellency wished to refer to air control over the Panama Canal, since in the case of air control over the remainder of the Republic of Panama, such control would devolve exclusively upon the Government of Panama, which would be the one to order the pertinent measures or to be consulted in advance with respect to any advisable measures which should be ordered jointly by Panama and the Canal Zone.

The Government of Panama recognizes that the present emergency requires an expansion of the existing conditions [facilities?]71 at the airdrome at Albrook Field and also admits that, at present, the Government of Panama cannot offer an airport in first-class condition for use by the continent’s commercial aviation. My Government also recognizes the fact that the needs and dangers of the present war require extraordinary measures of expansion, watchfulness and control as respects air activities which might endanger the defense of the Panama Canal. As respects those necessities, my Government does not wish to interpose any obstacle, my Government having always been the first to give the most active and effective cooperation in the common defense of the Panama Canal, the American continent and the noble and just cause of the United Nations, in which Panama appears as a military ally.

But my Government has found reason for the representations made both in my note No. D–165 of March 23, 1942 and in the present note precisely in the circumstance that the new building under construction, [Page 630] which will replace the present airport of the Pan American Airways at Albrook Field, is a building which has all the appearance of a permanent construction and not of a temporary erection intended solely to meet needs resulting from the present war emergency. If it were a building belonging to the Government of the United States itself, devoted to military purposes, or if it were a building which, although for the exclusive use of the Pan American Airways System, was of a temporary character and designed solely for the present emergency, then my Government would find no reason for apprehension but rather, on the contrary, would be ready once more to declare its intention to cooperate in the common interest of defense. But as it is a concrete structure, with all the signs of a permanent construction, built on the instructions of the Government of the United States and exclusively for the use of the Pan American Airways, Inc., a company which normally engages in private operation of commercial aviation, my Government cannot but be decidedly apprehensive, and must proceed clearly to repeat its non-acquiescence and its confidence that Your Excellency’s worthy Government will make categoric statements which will assure the Government of Panama that Panama’s commercial future will not be injured through the commercial operation of aviation in the Canal Zone.

Awaiting the pleasure of a reply from Your Excellency, I take pleasure in renewing [etc.]

E. Jaen Guardia
  1. Brackets appear in the file translation.