Statement on Signing a Bill for Improvements on the Panama Canal.
In view of the special relationship which exists between the United States and Panama on account of the Panama Canal, the Canal administration and the Panama Railroad Company have for many years granted facilities for employment to Panamanian citizens which were not generally extended to the citizens of other countries.
The Order of the Secretary of War dated December 23, 1908, and the Executive Orders of February 2, 1914, and February 20, 1920, extended to Panamanian citizens, with respect to the higher paid categories, opportunity for employment and treatment in employment equal to that extended to American citizens.
Accompanying the General Treaty between the United States and Panama signed March 2, 1936, and ratified July 27, 1939, is an exchange of notes between the two Governments by which the United States has agreed to maintain as a principle of public policy the opportunity for employment and treatment in employment of Panamanian citizens which is set forth in the Order and Executive Orders noted above.
A provision of H.R. 5129 authorizing and providing for the construction of additional facilities on the Canal Zone, etc., provides that all new personnel in such construction work occupying skilled, technical, clerical, administrative, and supervisory positions shall be citizens of the United States." It is my opinion that this provision is at variance with the policy to which this Government pledged itself in its note to the Government of Panama of March 2, 1936, the date of the signing of the General Treaty, since the Order and Executive Orders specifically provided equal opportunities for employment of Panamanian citizens in the very categories in which employment would be denied them under the quoted provision of H.R. 5129.
The new Treaty was negotiated to provide a firm basis for friendly and effective collaboration between the two Governments in order that the Canal might fulfill in the most ample sense its functions. With the exchange of ratifications of that Treaty the United States and Panama entered into a new stage of their relationship. This relationship will be advantageous and enduring to the extent that each party cooperates loyally and fully in the observance not only of the letter but of the spirit of that Treaty.
I am giving my approval to this important bill which by authorizing the construction of a third set of locks will enhance not only our own security but that of this hemisphere. I propose, however, to request the Congress at its next session to amend the present law so as to bring it into conformity with the commitments entered into with Panama which pledge to the citizens of Panama opportunity and treatment in employment in the Canal administration and the Panama Railroad Company equal to that offered to citizens of the United States.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Statement on Signing a Bill for Improvements on the Panama Canal. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/209870