Why The Panama Canal Treaties are Illegal

In March of 1978, as President Jimmy Carter fought desperately to build support in Congress for his Panama Canal treaty that would transfer ownership from the United States to Panama, he ran into, what appeared to be, an insurmountable snag. The Senate was deeply troubled because the treaty contained no language to protect American defense interests, should trouble arise at the Canal, after Panama assumed ownership. Passage of the treaty appeared doomed, unless American security interests could be addressed.

Carter turned to Arizona Senator Dennis DeConcini for a solution. The President suggested that DeConcini write a section for the treaty that would satisfy the Senate. Carter hadn’t counted on DeConcini writing such strong language to define in specific terms that the United States would use military force to protect its interests. But his language was just what the Senate needed to assure support and the strong statement was added to the Treaty as the “DeConcini Reservation.” With the “Reservation” in tact, the Senate voted its approval of the treaty.

That, however, created a new crisis. Panama dictator, Omar Torrijos refused to sign the Treaty if it contained the “DeConcini Reservation.” So again, Carter suggested that Torrijos write language that would satisfy him. Again, in the strongest language possible, the Panamanian strongman wrote three paragraphs that effectively cancelled the “DeConcini Reservation.”

In an unprecedented act of deceit, President Jimmy Carter declined to tell the Senate of Torrijos’ changes. Instead, he allowed the United States Senate to ratify its version of the Treaty, complete with the “DeConcini Reservation,” but without Torrijos’ changes. Then, he allowed Torrijos to sign a separate version containing only Tortijos’ three paragraphs, excluding the “DeConcini Reservation.” Consequently, both nations signed separate Treaties.

In addition, Panamanian law requires that the President of Panama sign all international agreements. Omar Torrijos was not the President of Panama.

Consequently, according to international law, the U.S. Constitution and the Panamanian Constitution, the Panama Canal NeutralityTreaty is illegal. Below is the full text of both the “DeConcini Reservation from the U.S. Senate-ratified version and Torrijos’ response in the Panamanian version.


(ratified by the United States Senate)




(1) Notwithstanding the provisions of Article V or any provision of the Treaty, if the Canal is closed, or its operations are interfered with, the United States of America and the Republic of Panama shall each independently have the right to take such steps as each deems necessary, in accordance with its constitutional procedures, including the use of military force in the Republic of Panama, to reopen the Canal, as the case may be. (Emphasis added)


(NOT ratified by the United States Senate)

The Republic of Panama agrees to the exchange of the instruments of ratification of the aforementioned Neutrality Treaty on the understanding that there are positive rules of public international law contained in multilateral treaties to which both the Republic of Panama and the United States of America are Parties and which consequently both States are bound to implement in good faith, such as Article 1, paragraph 2 and Article 2, paragraph 4 of the Charter of the United Nations, and Articles 18 and 20 of the Charter of the Organization of American States.

It is also the understanding of the Republic of Panama that the actions which either Party may take in exercise of its rights and the fulfillment of its duties in accordance with the aforesaid Neutrality Treaty, including measures to reopen the Canal or to restore its normal operation, if it should be interrupted or obstructed, will be effected in a manner consistent with the principles of mutual respect and cooperation on which the new relationship established by that Treaty is based.

The Republic of Panama declares that its political independence, territorial integrity, and self-determination are guaranteed by the unshakeable will of the Panamanian people. Therefore, the Republic of Panama will reject, in unity and with decisiveness and firmness, any attempt by any country to intervene in its internal or external affairs. (Emphasis added)

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.