The Special Agent of the Department of State (Ames) to the Acting Secretary of State

No. 19

Sir: I have the honor to report that I left Guatemala for Honduras on March 18th in pursuance of Department’s cabled instructions of February 28th as per copy attached25 and reached Tegucigalpa on March 22d as reported in my cable of March 26th as per copy attached.26

From then on, until the passage of enemy property legislation by the Honduranean Congress on April 8th, things moved so rapidly that I believed my mission would be soon finished and held up my written report on it until I could make it complete. From April 8th on things moved so slowly that I feared such action as had already been taken would come to nothing and I was reluctant to report on it until I could make a definite statement as to whether the steps necessary to make it effective would or would not be taken. As soon as these steps had been taken;—i.e. as soon as the law had been promulgated and the Custodian appointed, I left Honduras for Washington, where I arrived on Wednesday, the 21st instant. Hence my delay in presenting this report on my mission in Honduras.

At my first interview with President Bertrand, on March 25th, I asked that a lawyer be at once appointed to assist me in the preparation of an Enemy Property Bill, pointing out the necessity for haste in view of the fact that Congress would adjourn on April 10th. [Page 403] and on the following day the President appointed Doctor Alberto Rodriguez.

Dr. Rodriguez and I got to work on the bill immediately, taking the Guatemalan law as a guide, and on April 2nd presented to Congress through the Foreign Office the bill which, with some slight modifications, eventually became law.

The law, like that decreed by the President of Guatemala, was made up of two principal parts, viz, a decree embodying the fundamental principles and a secondary part covering the modus operandi. A copy of the decree, which was passed by the Honduranean Congress on April 8th as Decree No. 140, is enclosed.27

. . . . . . .

A comparison of the law as passed by the Honduranean Assembly, with the Guatemalan decree, will show that in all cases in which the former differs from the latter it is an improvement on it. In this connection I venture to point out that, although in the last paragraph of my despatch No. 18 of February 24th,28 which must have reached Washington early in March, I suggested, in view of the fact that I was going on to Honduras and Nicaragua, that “the Department immediately indicate to me any points in which it would have the laws to be enacted by those countries differ from that enacted by Guatemala”, it was not until April 7th, and then only in reply to my cable of March 26th, that the suggestions asked for were given me. The bill had already been submitted and was passed by Congress on the day the Department’s cable reached me. I enclose copy of Department’s cable of April 7th.29

I enclose a copy of the “Reglamentary Part” of the Bill, the modus operandi, as presented by Dr. Rodriguez and myself.27 This did not need the sanction of Congress, but was to be an executive decree. As finally published in the official Gazette the day before I left Tegucigalpa—too late for me to get a copy—it was, I am informed, identical with the original draft.

I also enclose, in copy, the Provisions of Honduranean Law cited in the Modus Operandi referred to in the preceding paragraph.27 In view of the similarity of these provisions to those of the Guatemalan law and of the very careful translations I made of the latter, and the same applies to the Enemy Property Law and Modus Operandi, it seems unnecessary to append translations.

I submitted the bill prepared by Dr. Rodriguez and myself to the Acting Secretary of Foreign Affairs with a note under date of April 2nd, a copy of which is enclosed.27

[Page 404]

As I have already said, Congress passed the Enemy Property Law on April 8th. In view of the fact that I was not presented to the President until March 25th this constituted almost a record for rapidity of action by a Central American legislative assembly.

It was the more remarkable too, in that the President had undoubtedly given the Germans concerned pretty definite promises that nothing would be done. I am convinced that the real reason why he pushed the bill through Congress was this: that his political plans made essential, in his opinion, the prolongation by Congress of the existing state of siege and that the only plausible excuse for its prolongation was the plea—which he made repeatedly to me—that such action against enemy property as was contemplated by the bill was unconstitutional and could be justified only by and during a state of siege.

He undoubtedly hoped and believed (see my cable of April 17, 1914 [1919])30 that other ways would present themselves by which the law could be made a dead letter and such ways soon presented themselves: the President and Vice President of Congress both left Tegucigalpa without signing the law and, although I was constantly urging the President to have the latter return to Tegucigalpa or to have the law sent to him to sign, he did not actually affix his signature to the law until April 23rd. The President signed it on April 25th. Then came another delay: to be officially promulgated the law had to be published in the official Gazette and it could not appear in the Gazette except in proper turn: several earlier numbers had to appear and it was not until April 30th that the Gazette of April 26th containing the law appeared.

Then came another delay in the appointment of a Custodian: the President had repeatedly declined to appoint him until the law should have been promulgated and it was not until Saturday May 3rd, that he finally appointed Mr. Joseph H. Weddle, an American citizen of excellent standing, formerly manager of the New York and Honduras Rosario Mine and latterly this Company’s agent in Tegucigalpa. I proposed Mr. Weddle in response to the President’s request that I suggest a Custodian and I am convinced that he was the best man available. It should be noted, in connection with his appointment that, while he nominally is given a fair salary $375.00 (dollars) a month, the salary is payable from the funds resulting from the operation of his office and I am very much afraid that the President will obstruct any and all action that might produce such funds.

On May 6th the Modus Operandi of the Enemy Property Law appeared in the Gazette and I felt free to leave Honduras in conformity with my cable of May 1st, copy of which is enclosed.30

[Page 405]

Subsequent to my departure from Tegucigalpa the President appointed Salvador Zelaya as Counsel to the Custodian. I do not know Mr. Zelaya but Minister Jones, in informing me of the appointment by telegram—I was en route to the North Coast—said it “seemed highly satisfactory.”

. . . . . . .

I have [etc.]

Edward Winslow Ames
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  2. Ante, p. 401.
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  4. Extract printed on p. 289.
  5. Ante, p. 401.
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