Ricardo Joaquin Alfaro was born in Panama on August 20, 1882. Dr. Alfaro began a career in the diplomatic service in 1905 as under-secretary for foreign affairs. He was first assigned to the U.S. in 1912 as legal counselor of the Panamanian legation for the Panama-Costa Rica border dispute. Dr. Alfaro was also involved in settling numerous disputes arising from the construction of the Panama Canal. From 1915 to 1918, he was judge of a joint commission between Panama and the United States for settling claims relating to expropriations for the construction of the canal. Later, in 1934 to 1936 and again, in 1953, Dr. Alfaro was involved in critical negotiations relating to Panama-U.S. relations concerning the canal. From 1922 to 1930, and from 1933 to 1936, Dr. Alfaro was Panamanian envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the U.S. In 1946, he was appointed Panama's minister of foreign relations; however, he resigned in 1947 to protest a proposed agreement with the U.S. relating to the Panama Canal.
In 1928, Dr. Alfaro was elected vice-president of Panama. In 1931, after a revolution in Panama, Dr. Alfaro was invited to become his country's president, a position he accepted and held from January 16, 1931 through September 20, 1932. In 1940, he was defeated in the presidential election; however continued to serve his country by helping to draft a new constitution for Panama in 1944. A significant portion of Dr. Alfaro's service to his country related to his work in the United Nations. In 1945, he headed the U.N. Relief and Recovery Administration mission to ten Latin American republics. He was also Panama's delegate to the U.N. conference on international organization in San Francisco and chairman of the special committee that drafted the Spanish text of the United Nations Charter of 1945. In 1949, Dr. Alfaro was chairman of the legal committee of the third session of the U.N. General Assembly that drew up the text of the Convention on Genocide.
In addition to his governmental and diplomatic experience, Dr. Alfaro's professional acumen derives from a background in law. He was formerly a professor of civil and international law in Panama universities. He was also a member of the subcommittee that drafted treaties and arbitrated for the Inter-American Conference on Conciliation and Arbitration held in the U.S. in 1929. From 1959 to 1964, Dr. Alfaro was a judge in the International Court of Justice, serving his last three years as vice-president. In 1964, Dr. Alfaro retired from his official duties. Dr. Alfaro was the author of many articles and books on Panama, and was the recipient of numerous awards and citations for a career dedicated to improving conditions both in his country and globally. (For a full curriculum vitae, including publications, see Folder 3:18 in this collection.) Dr. Alfaro died at the age of 89 in Panama City on February 23, 1971. He was survived by his wife, Amelia Lyons de Alfaro; three sons, Dr. Victor Ricardo of Washington, Ivan Jose of Lima, Peru, and Rogelio Edwin of Panama City; two daughters, Mrs. Frank H. Weller (nee Amelia or Amelita Victoria) of Potomac, Maryland, and Mrs. H. Cabell Maddux (nee Yolanda Maria) of McLean, Virginia; and many grandchildren and greatgrandchildren, among them the singer Nancy Ames.