America's First Line of Defense
R. J. URRUELA t/
Former Director of International Relations
City of New Orleans
INTRODUCTION TO NICARAGUA
BECAUSE a lovely woman died at New Orleans in 1849 a pint-
sized physician-lawyer closed his offices at No. 4 Canal Street
and left on a rampage that for the next decade was to keep him on
the front pages and make Nicaragua a household word.
Helen Martin was one of the beautiful girls then gracing New
Orleans. She was extremely shy and her deafness made her even
more so. Thus, when William Walker was introduced to her and
began courting her ardently she fell deeply in love with the man
who even learned sign language to be able to talk with her in her
own way. Walker was then editing a newspaper called the Crescent.
His love for Helen Martin kept him busy at work. He only wanted
to make enough money and marry her.
Then it happened. Yellow fever struck at the heart of the city,
Helen Martin fell prey to the plague and it is said that the last galley
proof that Walker read was the one which carried the news of his
Every vestige of humanity disappeared from Walker's heart.
His steel grey eyes became harder than ever. He left New Orleans
at the close of the year 1850. Ten years later on September 12, he
made his last stand on the sands of Truxillo, in Honduras, before
a firing squad. In a decade he had kept Central America in turmoil,
caused thousands to die, became president of Nicaragua and made
the word filibuster synonymous with bandit superlative.
A UNITED NATION
During that tumultuous decade the name of Nicaragua was on
everyone's tongue. Nicaragua, the nation where nature had provided
for an almost complete passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
Nicaragua, where land and gold were plentiful, the natural route
between New York and San Francisco, truly a nation with a "mani-
Nicaragua survived only because its people never gave up the
fight. Where bitter antagonism existed a unity of purpose came
forth to rebuild, to repair, to create a country strong enough to face
any foe. Under the presidency of General Tomas Martinez the coun-
try made progress. Its energies turned to the development of natural
resources. The nightmare that had been Walker began to subside.
Nicaragua was being welded into a united nation.
The area of Nicaragua is variously estimated at between 57,143
and 84,744 square miles. Both figures appear in recent surveys. It is
by far the largest of the five Central American republics. The popula-
tion, according to the 1941 census is 1,380,287-double what it was
in 1920 when the census showed 638,119 inhabitants.
On the northwestern coast of the Republic is the Cape Gracias
a Dios (Thanks be to God). Columbus gave it its name, having been
able to find refuge in a cove during a severe storm when in 1502 he
had set sail westward for his fourth and last voyage.
But if Nicaragua had been discovered like other countries it
was only a decade later that the conquistadores came to the land of
powerful Indian tribes, whose chief was Nicarao. In 1519, Gil Gon-
zales de Avila left Panama with one hundred men and four horses.
Landing at the Gulf of Nicoya on the Pacific Coast, he found no
opposition from the Indians, and after travelling north for more
than three hundred miles he came upon the "great city" which occu-
pies what is now the site of Rivas and had at that time a population
of one million, the largest Indian city on the new Continent. The
city bore the name of its Chief, who received de Avila most cordially
and showered him with presents, garments, precious feathers and
twenty-five thousand gold pieces of eight.
CONQUERS "GREAT CITY"
The conquistador was not so fortunate in his encounter with
another of the great chiefs of the newly discovered land. Chief
Diriangan was not inclined to hospitality and his attitude was such
that Avila decided it was better to get out while there was still
time. His report to the then Governor of Panama, Pedrarias,
made such an impression on the latter that he set out to recruit a
large force, and one year later this army of five hundred men and
fifty horses under the command of Hernandez de Cordova entered
the "land of the great city".
Here again a handful of Spaniards was able to conquer large
territories and subdue millions of Indians, who could have crushed
the adventurers to death by sheer weight of numbers. Hernandez
founded the cities of Leon and Granada, but he did not live to enjoy
his conquest. The new land was annexed to the Province of Santo
Domingo and Governor Pedrarias became the ruler by royal appoint-
ment of the King of Spain.
Pedrarias and his son-in-law, Rodrigo de Contreras, were re-
sponsible for the massacre of hundreds of thousands of peaceful
-. -. - - A .- ... . .... ... .. v
Indians and later Rodrigo's sons, Hernandez and Pedro, following
in their father's footsteps, not only nearly depopulated the land of
the once "great city" but had the audacity (at that time so consid-
ered) to revolt against the Crown of Spain by proclaiming the inde-
pendence of Spanish America. In 1549, the New World echoed for
the first time to the cry of liberty, but the men who uttered it did not
know what the word meant. Death was their reward, but first slow
torture for days on end, until only the shadows of the former bloody
conquistadores were finally carried to the public square in Panama
and garroted in 1550.
For three hundred years Nicaragua existed under many rules
and finally Spain placed it under the vice-royalty of Guatemala, along
with what are now the remaining nations of Central America. Oti
September 15, 1821, Nicaragua proclaimed its independence from
Spain. The country remained a part of the Federation of Central
America until 1838, when it finally broke away from it and became
an independent republic.
LAND OF MARVELS
When the Spaniards came to Nicaragua they marveled at its
big lakes. Xolotlan, now Lake Managua, thirty-eight miles long and
an average of twelve miles wide, is the crowning glory of the capital,
Managua, built on the lake shore. The other great lake, Codcbolca,
is now known as Lake Nicaragua, ninety-six miles long and thirty-
six miles wide. It is so big that the Spaniards called it "Mar de Agua
Dulce" (Freshwater Sea). It is this lake and the San Juan river
which drains into the Atlantic that have been the object of pro-
tracted discussions for the building of another interocean canal.
Out of Lake Managua rise the volcanoes Momotombo and
Momotombito affording a view that is unique for beauty. From the
land and well-kept drive along the lakeshore the view of these vol-
canoes is a scene of grandeur never to be forgotten. In 1931 the city
was totally destroyed by an earthquake, but it has been rebuilt and is
today one of the finest in Central America. There are many modem
buildings such as the Presidential palace, the National Bank of
Nicaragua, the City Hall and many commercial structures. Frixione
Park and Dario Park are favorite promenades. The population of
Managua is 118,448.
But if the capital is a beautiful city there are others in Nicara-
gua which one cannot escape mentioning. Leon, for instance, proud
and forever considered as the metropolis of the nation. For years it
was the capital of Nicaragua and it is rich in traditions and in men.
Leon's university is known all over America. The cathedral, one of
the largest ever built on this continent, shelters the ornate tomb of
Ruben Dario, the poet, who remains as the symbol of Spanish litera-
ture'at.its best: ;.
And then there is Granada, the oldest city in the Republic, and
never to be forgotten Masaya, a city which is a garden in itself, and
Rivas and Chinandega with its industries such as cotton mills, iron
works; and leather goods, and the Pacific ports of Corinto and San
Juan del Sur and of course Bluefields of historic importance on the
C. Coffee has been the mainstay of Nicaragua's economy. The
average production during the past five years has been 35,000,000
pounds. Of this, in 1946, 25,908,000 pounds were exported with a
value of $4,316,433. Nicaragua coffee is good coffee. It is all grown
Is & ANANAS
CACAO C AN CN
Map shows location of Nicaragua's main products
at altitudes varying from two thousand to thirty-five hundred feet.
There are few large plantations and it can be said that the largest
part of the crop comes from small producers.
Bananas followed coffee as Nicaragua's second most important
crop. Cultivated on the eastern part of the Republic the main planta-
tions are on the Escondido River. But banana production has been
considerably reduced. From a crop of 1,950,000 stems in 1938 by
1940 it was only 1,155,000 stems. The dreaded banana disease known
as sigatoka had made its appearance.
Corn, beans, rice, wheat, sesame seed, cotton, rubber, are other
of the crops grown in Nicaragua. The sesame seed crop is becoming
more and more important in the economy of the country.
The raising of livestock is carried on for export as well as for
local use. The largest herds are found in the west, and cattle is being
exported as far as Peru, while meat is shipped by plane to neigh-
boring countries. The estimated livestock population is around 900,-
000 heads of cattle, 300,000 pigs, 150,000 horses, and about 30,000
sheep and goats.
Five million two hundred and twenty thousand hectares of
forest dot the nation. Pine very similar to slash pine is found in great
quantities. Cedar, cocobolo, medicinal plants all are part of Nicara-
gua's untapped wealth, and mahogany lumbering is now being
Although Nicaragua is very rich in gold mines, this industry
was in the doldrums up to 1935, when the total value of gold mined
amounted to $566,711. It did not pay to mine gold in low-paying
ores and what with the high cost of transportation, etc., the industry
was on the rocks. But high-priced gold changed the picture. In 1940
the country exported $5,757,998. In 1946 gold exports amounted
to about $8,000,000. Some of the gold mines of Nicaragua are owned
and operated by United States corporations. The most important
ones have their own airports to deliver supplies and bring out the
product of the gold mine. Siuna, the largest, is Canadian-owned,
while Bonanza and La India are United States owned. Amongst the
three they produce eighty percent of the gold output of the country.
Four hundred and twenty miles of railroads are in operation.
The main line runs from the port of Corinto on the Pacific to
Granada via Leon and Managua. Two hundred and thirty-eight miles
are owned and operated by the Government.
Local industries thrive. At last reports there were twenty-five
electric plants in the country generating fifty-six hundred kilowatts
to serve the many communities where a few years ago electricity was
unknown. Much is being done and there is ample room, a wide
field, for the establishment of sound industries well managed and
well financed. The laws of the Republic are generous in their well-
planned protection of foreign investors.
FoRM OF GOVERNMENT
According to the Constitution, the Government is unitary, repub-
lican and democratic, and is divided into legislative, executive, and
judicial branches, which are independent and separate in their func-
tions. The Republic is divided into fifteen departments and the na-
tional district, which is the sea of the nation's capital, Managua.
Legislative power is vested in a Congress of two houses-the
Chamber of Deputies, and the Senate-which convenes on April 15th
of each year for sixty days. The President attends the opening session
of Congress and gives a report of the activities of the administra-
tion during the year.
Deputies are elected by direct popular vote for six year terms,
one for each thirty thousand inhabitants, with an equal number of
alternates elected simultaneously, provided that each department
has at least one deputy. Deputies must be laymen, citizens, and at
least twenty-five years of age. The Chamber has the sole right
to institute impeachment proceedings.
The Senate is composed of fifteen senators elected by direct
popular vote for six years, and the ex-presidents who are senators
for life. An alternate for each elected senator is chosen at the time
of election. Candidates must be lay citizens, not less than forty years
of age. The Senate hears trials on impeachment charges, brought by
the Chamber of Deputies.
The executive power is vested in the President, who is elected
by direct popular vote for a term of six years, and is ineligible for
immediate reelection. He must be a Nicaraguan by birth, a layman,
and over thirty years of age, and must have resided in Nicaragua
during the five years prior to the election date. In cases of absolute
incapacity to discharge the functions of his office, the position will
be filled in order by a "designate", three of whom are elected each
year by the Congress from among its members.
On August 15, 1947, the Constituent Assembly which is
Nicaragua's highest power, elected Dr. Victor Roman y Reyes as
president for the term 1947-1952.
The personality of Dr. Roman y Reyes is well known in Amer-
ica. A long time resident of the United States he knows the customs
and ways of life of this country. A brilliant surgeon he devoted his
time to the service of mankind. He has occupied many of the most
exalted positions within the gift of Nicaragua to bestow. Three
score and a half years are not a burden on his active mind and he
carries on the affairs of state amidst the respect of all the people of
Road construction continues to occupy the attention of the
government, and the link of the so-called Pan American highway is
pretty well completed.
But if road construction has taken years to develop this is not
the case with aviation. Thanks to the airplane Nicaragua is only a
few minutes away from the United States. Managua can be reached
in about four hundred minutes from Miami, or New Orleans, and
the original two to four weeks trip from Managua to the Atlantic
port of Bluefield is now made in two hours. Thus, the vast expanses
of the north coast with its unlimited opportunities are being open
to survey and exploration, and in time new and important enter-
prises will be established in that part of Nicaragua which had re-
mained so distant from the center of the nation.
It is in this nation of friendly people that the canal will some
day be built, and we will see the biggest ships of the United States
fleet anchored in the waters of Lake Nicaragua, protected by the
five hundred and twenty-three islands that dot the lake, where
installations of all kinds can be built to take care of ships and men.
THE NICARAGUA CANAL
W HEN Columbus started on his expedition to find the quick-
est and most direct route to the Indies, he found that the
new continent which he discovered, although plentiful in riches of
all kinds, was an unsurmountable barrier to the development of an
active commerce between the East and the West. Thus, from the
very first days of the discovery of the Western Hemisphere the need
was felt for an interoceanic route, a canal that could be pierced some-
where in America, linking the Atlantic with the Pacific.
Many were the routes proposed and only the four most promi-
nent ones are a matter of public record; the route which would utilize
the Atrato River in Colombia, the piercing of the Isthmus at Tehu-
antepec in the Southern part of Mexico, the route through Panama,
and finally, but first in importance, the route through Nicaragua
where nature had already taken care of more than 75% of the work
needed to bring the two oceans together. The controversy between
the competitive merits of the routes through Panama and Nicaragua
still rages, but one thing cannot be overlooked, and it is the fact
that at all times American engineers have favored the route through
The length of the proposed canal by way of the San Juan River
and the immense Lake Nicaragua is about one hundred and seventy
miles, and from the Lake to the Pacific the intervening distance is
only twelve miles.
That the United States considered an interoceanic route a mat-
ter of vital importance, not only to the development of commerce
but to the safety of the Western Hemisphere goes back to the year
1826 when the United States Commissioners appointed to attend the
Congress of American Republics summoned by Simon Bolivar in
1824 to meet at Panama in that year, carried with them authority
from Henry Clay to enter into the discussion of a possible canal
somewhere in the territory of Mexico or Central America.
From that date on there was much activity concerning the canal.
There was the treaty with Colombia, then called New Grenada, in
1846, then the Clayton-Bullwer treaty with England in 1850, and the
treaty of 1867 with Nicaragua. During all these years all the en-
tanglements originating from the occupation by Great Britain of
part of Central America and the opposition of that Nation to United
This map shows strategic importance of Proposed Nicaragua Canal
States control over any canal were finally settled. The Civil War
caused the building of the canal to be set aside indefinitely.
The beginnings of the twentieth century showed a decided
attitude on the part of the United States to once and for all decide
upon a route and build the canal. Two commissions, one in 1895
and the other in 1897, had made favorable reports, concerning the
construction of the canal through Nicaragua, but before any final
decision was to be made a third commission headed by Admiral John
G. Walker was appointed by the Act of March 3, 1899, and its
purpose was to make a final and thorough investigation of all avail-
NICARAGUA ROUTE SELECTED
On November 16, 1901, the Walker Commission made public
its report. Its conclusion reads as follows:
"After considering all the facts developed by the investigations
made by the Commission and the actual situation as it now
stands, and having in view the terms offered by the new Panama
Company, this Commission is of the opinion that the most
practicable and visible route for an Isthmian Canal, to be under
the control, management, and ownership of the United States,
is that known as the Nicaragua Route."
(Report of the Isthmian Canal Commission 57th Congress -1,
Sess. Doc. No. 54.)
On January 9, 1902, that is, about six weeks after the Walker
report was made public, the bill which had been introduced by Mr.
Hepburn into the House of Representatives providing for the con-
struction of the Canal through Nicaragua was passed by the House
by a vote of 308-2.
This should have been the end of the controversy, but to the
surprise of everybody, except those who knew that the new Panama
Canal Company had maneuvered behind the scene, the Walker Com-
mission, in an unprecedented action, filed an additional report on
January 18, recommending that the Panama route be adopted instead
of that through Nicaragua.
THE STORY OF A FAKE STAMP
What happened is one of the most interesting and least known
chapters of events connected with the Canal. It is a story of intrigue
and resorting to all kinds of trickery to get the Canal built through
Panama instead of Nicaragua.
A Frenchman, Phillipe Jean Bunau-Varilla, was at the time the
moving spirit behind the so-called Panama Canal Company, a bank-
rupt concern which had tried to sell to the United States all the com-
pany's assets for $109,000,000. This price was at the rime considered
extravagant and entirely out 9f the question. Bunau-Varilla knew
that if the United States did not purchase his company the loss would
be total, while if he could manage to "unload" the bankrupt con-
cern he might in the long run recoup some losses, although it is of
record that he personally never suffered.
Rushing to Washington he began an intensive campaign in behalf
of the Panama Canal and after Congress had voted to adopt the
Nicaragua route, Bunau-Varilla made a dramatic gesture; with all
possible fanfare he stated that "he would throw $69,000,000 of the
purchase price out of the window provided the Canal be built
through Panama". A few days later the Walker reversal took place,
shocking the people and the Congress of the United States.
Majorities in both the Senate and the House continued to be
favorable to the building of the Canal through Nicaragua, and they
stood their ground in the face of a never ending stream of propa-
ganda issued by Bunau-Varilla, and then fate took a hand in the
matter. On May 8, 1902, the volcano Mont Pele erupted in the
island of Martinique, destroying the city of Saint Pierre and killing
more than 40,000 people. It was the greatest tragedy of that year,
a tragedy to all except Bunau-Varilla, who knew that the Walker
report contained a statement to the effect that "Nicaragua is prac-
tically exempt from any seismic influence of sufficient force to cause
destruction or danger to any part of the canal route".
The propaganda mills continued to grind and finally came up
with stories which were widely carried in some of the press of the
United States showing the danger of the volcanoes of Nicaragua and
even featured a story to the effect that the volcano Momotombo had
erupted, accompanied by a terrific earthquake which destroyed a
railroad wharf on the Lake. The President of Nicaragua cabled an
official denial of that story. His statement, widely circulated, was
accepted by those who advocated the Nicaragua route.
But this did not discourage the sly Bunau-Varilla, who remem-
bered something to which no one had paid any attention. Washing-
ton saw him scurrying through all stamp-dealer shops in quest of a
particular stamp, which was destined to play an important part in
the future history of America. That stamp was of a one-cent denom-
ination, issued by the Government of Nicaragua in 1900, depicting
the Lake and its shores, and in the background the Momotombo
volcano. Unfortunately, the artist, believing that it would enliven
the stamp, added a plume of smoke arising from the volcano, and
Sis. ta therefore conveyed the impression
famous a st that it was in full activity!
T-ch nb. The French adventurer secured
iti them to members of the Senate
of th. a few days before the Canal mat-
c8 Hter was to be voted upon. He em-
19=, phasized quite forcefully that
nothing could be more official than a stamp, and with the help of
Senators Mark Hanna of Ohio and Shelby Moore Callom of Illinois,
he was able to maneuver to the floor an amendment which cam-
mitted the United States to build the canal through Panama instead
of through Nicaragua.
This amendment is on record and is known as the Spooner
Amendment. It was passed by a margin of only four votes. That is
how cose the fight had been.
Senator William Andrews Clark of Montana, together with
Senator John Tyler Morgan, often called the "Father" of the
Nicaragua Plan, led the opposition. In one of Senator Clark's
speeches there is a phrase which sums up the situation quite clearly.
The Senator said:
"There are acting volcanoes in Montana, Idaho, and other west-
ern states. In Washington, Oregon, there are some that show
signs of animation. Should all neighboring enterprises be sus-
pended and cities stopped building in terror of them?"
Senator Morgan of Alabama was the champion of the Nicara-
gua Canal, considering it as he often stated "the traditional Amer-
ican route", and warning that the United States would get into a
great deal of trouble if the Panama route was adopted, because of
the unfavorable reaction of the Senate of Colombia to the proposed
treaty covering the construction of the canal.
President Theodore Roosevelt stated that the cupidity of the
Colombian Government leaders was responsible for the "anti-social
spirit" shown concerning this matter, but the reports of the then
American Minister to Colombia, Mr. Beaupre did not support the
President's statements. The Minister said that "there is in Colombia
a tremendous tide of public opinion against the Canal Treaty which
the Colombian Government cannot ignore."
The rest is history. In order to put through the construction of a
canal through Panama, the United States had to get involved in an
uprising to make Panama independent from Colombia.
It is interesting to go over some facts relating to a very important
event. For instance, there is that famous letter of President Theodore
Roosevelt's to Dr. Albert Shaw, editor of Review of Reviews, in
which he said:
"Privately, I freely say to you that I should be delighted if
Panama were an independent state or if it made itself so at
this moment; but for me to say so publicly would amount to
an instigation of a revolt, and therefore I cannot say it."
(Literary Digest, October 29, 1904.)
When Mr. Roosevelt was no longer President he tried to justify
his actions concemings the Panama matter in a public speech in
which he said:
"If I had followed traditional conservative matters, I should
have submitted a dignified State paper of probably two hundred
pages to the Congress, and the debate would be going on yet,
but I took the Canal Zone and let Congress debate, and while
the debate goes on the Canal does also."
President Theodore Roosevelt had no desire at all to see the
matter of the Canal go before Congress. He had decided on the
Panama route and that was good enough. He knew very well that
Congress would have compelled him to adopt the Nicaragua route.
The United States has a valid treaty with Nicaragua for the
construction of a canal through that country. Nothing is left to be
done except to begin with the spade work in order to complete an
additional interoceanic route which will not be subject to as many
hazards as the route through Panama, the capacity of which to handle
traffic no longer keeps pace with the commerce of the world, and
in case of emergency would be wide open to attack.
The fact that the matter of -the Nicaragua Canal is again before
Congress and the public opinion of America is a good omen. The
construction of a canal through Nicaragua can very well mean the
difference between slavery and freedom in the Western Hemisphere.
THE PRESS AND THE CANAL
T HE PRESS of the United States has commented on the matter
of the Nicaragua Canal. Many are the very fine and brilliant
articles which have appeared to keep the public informed. To repro-
duce them all would be an impossible task, but the following edi-
torials embody the main features which are now before the Con-
gress and the people of the United States concerning the imperative
urgency of building the Nicaragua Canal as a vital instrument in the
defense of all America and the safety of the United States.
NO PLACE FOR POLITICS
(Chicago Herald-American, February, 1948)
An encouraging thing about the increasing sentiment in Con-
gress for early construction of the long-projected Nicaragua canal
is that leaders of both parties in Congress are supporting the move-
ment, and thus there is no politics in the matter.
This is a very good thing, for the proposed new interocean wat-
erway in Nicaragua would enhance the peacetime prosperity of the
United States and is vitally necessary for the future peace and secur-
ity of the United States, and there is surely NO PLACE FOR POLI-
TICS in a matter so inseparably associated with the national welfare
Among those alert statesmen who have discerned a grave threat
to American prosperity and safety in the recent rejection of the
Panama Canal defense agreement by the government of Panama are
Republicans and Democrats alike, in full agreement on the need for
considering the problem without partisanship.
In the first week of the regular session of Congress, compre-
hensive measures dealing with the problem were offered in both
Senator Knowland of California, a Republican, was the spon-
sor in the Senate of legislation authorizing negotiations of any new
treaties with Nicaragua, and with neighboring republics, that may
be required, and providing for immediate construction under exist-
Representative Hendricks of Florida, a Democrat, offered simi-
lar legislation in the House of Representatives.
Spade Work at Last
-Editorial Cartoon by PLASCKE of the Chicago Herald-American
Moreover, Representative Potts of New York, Republican
chairman of a Panama Canal Sub-committee, announced that im-
mediate and thorough hearings would be conducted on both the
antagonistic attitude of Panama and the advisability of building a
new canal in another part of Central America, preferably in Nicara-
And Representative Bland of Virginia, a Democrat, has put
into the Congressional Record a most impressive and convincing
repudiation, on high military and engineering authority, of pending
proposals to remedy the admitted inadequacy of the Panama Canal
by the expensive but futile process of enlargement.
No agreement with Panama on defense bases, however friendly
to the United States, could ever make the present Panama Canal
SAFE in the new era of atomic warfare and unlimited aeronautical
No enlargement of the present Panama Canal, however costly,
could ever MAKE IT SAFE.
Of course, the Panama Canal, which is even now incapable of
affording transit to our largest naval craft, could probably be en-
larged and deepened sufficiently to accommodate vessels of modem
type and size.
But it could still be KNOCKED OUT by an enemy with the
same blow that incapacitation of the present canal would require.
And at the expenditure of very little more money than en-
largement of the Panama Canal would require, and possibly even
less money, an even more adequate canal could be constructed in
Nicaragua-and then two canals would be in service, and in the
event of damage to one by an enemy the other would still be in
Politics and partisanship are surely out of place in these dis-
cussions by Congress of such vital matters, and the bi-partisan spon-
sorship of the preliminaries to the discussion is a credit to the Con-
gress and gratifying to the whole nation.
(Los Angeles Times, February, 1948)
The Panama Canal has lost most of its value today because it
is too small to handle our larger ships. Now the time has come when
national security forces us to do what we should have done in the
first place-build a great interocean sea-level waterway from the
Atlantic to the Pacific through friendly Nicaragua.
A BLESSING IN DISGUISE
(Milwaukee Sentinel, January, 1948)
It is beginning to appear that the hostile position taken by the
Panamanian government regarding American bases for defense of
the Panama Canal may have been a blessing in disguise, for it has
spurred the American government to new interest in construction
of a supplemental canal across Nicaragua-and that is indeed a
A Blessing in Disguise
- ArW BEE I H
-Editorial Cartoon by GALE of the Milwaukee Sentinel
Senator Knowland's measure for an immediate survey of the
proposed Nicaraguan canal has been prepared because of the Panama
situation, and it is scheduled for the early consideration of Congress.
Moreover, it has put a new light on the existing inadequacy
of the Panama Canal, regardless of the manner in which it might
As naval authorities have pointed out in connection with the
general reaction to Panama's rejection of the American defense"
agreement, a considerable part of the Navy-and certainly a most
formidable part-is incapable of transit through the existing water-
The modernized battleships, the West Virginia, the California
and the Tennessee, are too big to pass through the Panama Canal,
and the same is true of our three newest and biggest aircraft carriers,
the Midway, the Coral Sea and the Franklin D. Roosevelt.
So as far as this very vital segment of the American Navy
is concerned, the Panama Canal is no better than no canal at all,
and future capital ship construction will increase this hazard to
Moreover, the amazing stupidity of Panama in the matter of
defense-although the canal is the key to progress and prosperity
in that confused and Communist-deluded country-has brought out
the contrasting alertness of the Nicaraguan government to its own
basic interest in an invulnerable inter-ocean waterway and the parallel
interest of the whole Western Hemisphere.
Whereas the Panama National Assembly, at the instigation of
Communist elements in the country, has brazenly given comfort to
the enemies of the United States, War Minister Anastasio Somoza
of Nicaragua has promptly and formally announced that his country
will co-operate with the United States to the full limit of its resources.
"Nicaragua is whole-heartedly friendly to the United States,"
says General Somoza, "and is willing to prove it at any moment.
"We offer the United States any requisite territory in Nicaragua
for construction of the long-discussed canal.
"We offer any requisite territory anywhere else in our nation
for military bases to protect the canal.
"As far as the canal situation is concerned, it would be a good
thing for the United States to have two canals-one across Panama
and one across Nicaragua-and thus not have all its eggs in one
General Somoza is frankly actuated by the self interest and the
vital national interest of his own country in this matter, but he is
also cognizant of the much greater interest in hemispheric security
He not only wants Nicaragua to be made progressive and pros-
perous by the proposed canal across the country, but he understands
the part Communists have played in Panama's rejection of the Amer-
ican agreement, and he has determinedly opposed similar Communist
influence in Nicaragua.
The friendship of Nicaragua is a great asset to the United States
in this deplorable and dangerous situation, and full advantage should
be taken of it.
If the entirely practicable and enormously useful and vitally
necessary Nicaraguan canal should finally be constructed in conse-
quence of Panama's antagonistic policy, it will surely be a BLESS-
ING IN FACT.
T HE CONGRESS of the United States is fully aware of the need
for a new interoceanic route. Many members of Congress have
gone to Panama and seen, first hand, the situation which prevails.
They know that the steamers "Queen Mary" and "Queen Elizabeth"
cannot go through the Panama Locks, and bigger ships are sure to
be built. They know that it takes a ship nine hours to go from one
ocean to the other, and they know that in any future emergency
time will be of the essence.
At this time in which the future of tomorrow's America is being
decided-to have or not to have a Canal through Nicaragua may
be the deciding factor between the loss or the preservation of Dem-
On January the 7th, 1948, Senator William F. Knowland of
California introduced the following Bill, S. 1948 on the floor of
IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES
January 7, 1948
Mr. Knowland introduced the following bill; which was read
twice and referred to the Committee on Armed Services.
ACTION IN THE SENATE
Relating to the construction, maintenance and operation of an inter-
oceanic canal over Nicaraguan territory.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of
the United States in Congress Assembled, That the Government of
Nicaragua having by treaty with the Government of the United
States signed at Washington on August 5, 1914, and duly ratified
as required by the laws of both of said Governments and proclaimed
July 24,1916, granted in perpetuity to the Government of the United
States, forever free from taxation or other public charge, the exclu-
sive proprietary rights necessary and convenient for the construction,
operation, and maintenance of an interoceanic canal, by way of the
San Juan River and the great lake of Nicaragua, or by way of any
route over Nicaraguan territory, and such treaty having provided
that the details of the terms upon which such canal shall be con-
structed, operated, and maintained are to be agreed by the two Gov-
ernments whenever the Government of the United States shall notify
the Government of Nicaragua of its desire or intention to construct
said canal, the President of the United States is hereby (1) author-
ized and requested to notify the Government of Nicaragua of the
desire and intention of the Government of the United States to con-
struct such canal and (2) requested to enter into negotiations with
the Government of Nicaragua for the purpose of making a treaty
with such Government agreeing upon the details of the terms under
which such canal shall be constructed, operated and maintained.
SEC. 2. The Senate of the United States, having in its ratifica-
tion of the treaty of August 5, 1914, with Nicaragua inserted the
words; "It is declared by the Senate that in advising and consenting
to the ratification of the said convention as amended, such advice
and consent are given with the understanding, to be expressed as a
part of the instrument of ratification, that nothing in said convention
is intended to affect any existing right of any of the said named
states", namely, Costa Rica, Salvador and Honduras, the President is
requested to enter into negotiations with such states for the purpose
of determining the extent of their interests in the construction of such
canal and for the purpose of making such treaties, if any, with the
governments of such states as may be necessary in order to proceed
with the construction of such canal.
SEC. 3. There are hereby authorized to be appropriated such
sums as may be necessary in order to enable the Government of the
United States to pay to the Government of Nicaragua or of any other
country any sum or sums which the United States may become
obligated to pay as a result of the ratification by the Senate and
proclamation by the President of any treaty hereafter made pursuant
to the foregoing provisions of this act.
SEC. 4. Upon ratification by the Senate and proclamation by
the President of the treaty made pursuant to the first section of this
Act and of any treaties made pursuant to Section 2 of this Act, the
Secretary of the Army is authorized to direct the Chief of Engineers,
in conformity with the terms of such treaties, (1) to excavate, con-
struct, complete and perpetually maintain a ship canal connecting
the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean across Nicaraguan terri-
tory substantially in accordance with the route selected in the Inter-
oceanic Canal Report printed in House Document Numbered 139,
Seventy Second Congress, first session, with such modifications' as
the Chief of Engineers may determine to be necessary to meet the
future needs of interoceanic commerce and national defense; (2) to
construct such safe and commodious harbors at the termini of such
canal as shall be necessary for the safe and convenient use thereof;
and (3) to make such provisions for defense as may be necessary for
the safety and protection of such canal and harbors. Such canal shall
be of sufficient capacity to accommodate vessels of the greatest ton-
nage and draft now in use or which may be reasonably anticipated,
and shall be supplied with all necessary locks and other appliances
to meet the necessities of vessels passing through the same from
ocean to ocean..
SEC. 5. In any treaty hereafter made with the Republics of
Nicaragua or Costa Rica pursuant to the foregoing provisions of
this Act, the President is authorized to guarantee to such republics
the use of such canal and harbors, upon such terms as may be agreed
upon, for all vessels owned by such republics or by citizens thereof.
SEC. 6. The Chief of Engineers shall make to the Secretary
of the Army, annually and at such periods as may be required by
order of the Secretary full and complete reports of all his actions in
carrying out the provisions of this Act, and of all moneys received
and expended in the construction of such canal and harbors and in
the performance of his duties in connection therewith. Such reports
shall be transmitted to the Congress by the Secretary.
SEC. 7. There are hereby authorized to be appropriated such
sums as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of this act.
(Concurrent Bill HR-4885)
ACTION IN THE HOUSE
In the House Representatives, Mr. Joe Hendricks of Florida on
January 8, 1948, introduced the following Bill H.R. 4883:
H. R. 4883
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
January 8, 1948
Mr. Hendricks introduced the following bill; which was re-
ferred to the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries.
Authorizing a review of the report on the Interoceanic Canal
across Nicaragua, contained in House Document Numbered 139,
Seventy second Congress, first session.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of
the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the Chief
of Engineers, under the supervision of the Secretary of the Army,
is hereby authorized and directed to review the report of the Inter-
oceanic Canal Board contained in House Document Numbered 139,
Seventy Second Congress first session, with a view to (1) determin-
ing what modifications are necessary in that portion of the report
which relates to the construction of a ship canal across the Republic
of Nicaragua in order that such ship canal may provide facilities to
meet the present day estimates of the future needs of interoceanic
commerce and national defense, and (2) bringing the estimates of
cost of constructing such ship canal up to date. The Chief of En-
gineers shall make, at the earliest practicable date, a report to the
Congress, through the Secretary of the Army and the President, with
respect to the results of such review.
SEC. 2. There is hereby authorized to be appropriated such
sum as may be necessary to enable the Chief of Engineers promptly
and efficiently to carry out the provisions of this act.
(Concurrent Bill S-1947)
THE STORY CAN NOW BE TOLD
DURING the last war and in many grave instances, the Panama
Canal was of no use whatsoever to ships crossing from the
Atlantic to the Pacific, and vice-versa.
It is a known fact that for many years the United States has felt
a growing concern over the Panama Canal, with its delicate ma-
chinery and its system of locks which makes it vulnerable from sea
and land and air.
The Hon. David C. Potts, Congressman for New York, and
Chairman of the Panama Canal sub-committee of the Committee of
Merchant Marine and Fisheries of the House of Representatives,
rendered a valuable public service to the nation when in a recent
broadcast he brought forth some important facts concerning this
matter. Representative Potts said:
"As the year 1939 and the war in Europe approached, our
Army and Navy became profoundly apprehensive about the
Panama Canal-not only as to its defense, but also as to its
capacity to accommodate the extra large battle-wagons being
built for our Navy. We know this now; it could not be dis-
closed then. When the Canal was built the locks were made
110 feet wide, at that time that width was considered more than
ample to cover the need of our Navy in the foreseeable future.
But Naval building changed very greatly in the interval between
the two world wars so that by 1939 we had naval vessels with
beams greater than 110 feet. These ships could not fit into the
locks. Incredible as it may seem, these ships had to go around
Cape Horn at the tip of South America to get to the Pacific
from the Atlantic, and vice-versa.
"They were thus subjected to greater danger from enemy
submarines as well as delay in getting into action in the Pacific
theatre of war. So far as these ships were concerned, the pur-
pose of the Canal, which was to expedite the transit of ships
between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, was defeated. We
can only speculate on the number of lives lost, directly and in-
directly as a result."
IMPORTANCE OF CANAL
The Governor of the Panama Canal, General J. C. Mehaffey
in the report which he rendered recently to the President of the
United States, who in turn transmitted it to the Congress, stresses
the importance of an interoceanic route in time of war. During the
last conflict the Governor says that 6,400 transits through the Pana-
ma Canal were made by combat vessels and about 10,300 by other
In another of his broadcasts Representative Potts said:
"Of course, the Panama Canal, as it exists today could be wiped
out by bombardment from atomic missiles and the question be-
fore us is-What can we do to establish effective measures of
"It has already been concluded by the engineers examining
the problem that either a lock canal or a sea-level canal would
satisfy the needs of interoceanic commerce and the needs of
naval vessels. But it has also been agreed that a lock canal
cannot be designed and constructed to give absolute security
against loss of the waterway or to provide as great a degree of
security against traffic interruption as the comparatively in-
vulnerable sea-level canal.
"The term 'sea level canal' means to the layman that a
ship comes from one ocean, sails into the canal at one end, and
out the other into the second ocean. That, however, is a mis-
conception. The Pacific Ocean has a twenty-foot tide; the At-
lantic Ocean a two-foot tide. It is only when there is a mesh-
ing of tides during the day that the Canal would be truly sea
level. That would only be about 30% of each day. At other
times a tidal lock would have to be used to control the differ-
ence of 18 feet in tide level."
Governor Mehaffey in his report said:
"Weapons of attack are of primary importance in the de-
termination of canal security. The atomic bomb introduced a
new era of destructiveness in war. Even conventional weapons
have increased so much in power, range, and accuracy that prac-
tically all existing defenses have been out-moded. New types
of airplanes, guided missiles and rockets are increasing many-
fold the difficulties of interception. New devices for directing
these weapons are taking the attack out of the hit or miss
category. The nature of these weapons is such that dependence
cannot be placed entirely upon the military defense to prevent
a successful attack."
High authorities have expressed the opinion that the most up-
to-date weapons would not be a real threat to the security of a sea-
level canal and that if an atomic bomb were to be dropped directly
into it traffic could be restored within a period of a few weeks.
Thus, we have this final and definite information taken from
the.report given by the Governor of the Panama Canal and now in
the hands of Congress: Only a sea-level canal could be made se-
cure against sabotage or aerial attack either with conventional or
The matter rests there. In an era in which nothing is safe and
human values have lost their meaning, civilization, as we know it,
can only be preserved if we are prepared for any emergency. The
Nicaragua Canal not only will be a tremendous factor for the pro-
gress of mankind in times of peace but a bulwark in times of war.
WHAT PRICE NATIONAL SECURITY?
How much would it cost to build a canal through Nicaragua,
and thereby insure the safety of America? According to the most
recent estimates obtained from the Mehaffey report the Nicaragua
Canal would cost $3,566,000,000, dr $25.04 for each of the
140,000,000 people of the United States. It certainly is a trifling sum
to pay for the safety of the nation, for the security of the American
people, and the saving of thousands upon thousands of human lives.
Built in a friendly nation, taking advantage of the protection
that nature affords to the Nicaragua Canal route, it will be the
safest and surest way to link the Atlantic with the Pacific, to allow
the fast movement of men and material from one end of the world
to the other. Its construction is one of those steps which nations
must take for the preservation of their own freedom.
The Nicaragua Canal is without any doubt America's first line
Why The Nicaragua Canal
* Without an adequate interoceanic canal,
the United States will need duplicate naval
and merchant marine fleets, and duplicate
armies and air forces.
* An enemy submarine blockade of the
Straights of Magellan effectively will para-
lyze the coordination of the security meas-
ures of the United States.
* The Panama Canal, too small even today
for the biggest battleships and aircraft car-
riers, will be inadequate in the world of to-
SThe construction of a new and greater
canal must be in a friendly country.
*j As proved by many official reports and sur-
veys made by competent engineers for over
three-quarters of a century, the only route
for a safe canal is through Nicaragua.
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