General Obregon to President Harding


Honorable and Distinguished Friend: I have conversed on various occasions with our mutual friend, Mr. Elmer Dover, who has very kindly explained to me some aspects of the point of view of the White House concerning the diplomatic relations between the United States and Mexico. Mr. Dover explains to me that the present situation has not been clarified because, in forming your judgment regarding the fate in store for American interests in Mexico, you, personally, have had only data gathered from indirect [Page 417] sources; and that, in these circumstances, nothing better could be attempted at this moment than to bring to your attention, in a manner direct and free from suspicion, an exact statement of the policy of the Mexican Government with respect to the questions affecting those interests.

This opinion of Mr. Dover, to which I attach absolute credit, has the merit of coming exactly at a time when the Mexican Government is gladly taking advantage of every favorable opportunity to divulge its intention; so that I have decided, continuing our correspondence, to again place myself in communication with you, not only because I can send you nothing more direct and above suspicion than a personal letter, but also because once more will be manifested the good will and spirit of concord with which Mexico is disposed to renew the outward form of its friendship with the United States, since I certainly do not believe this friendship has been fundamentally impaired.

In order not to make this letter too long, permit me to send you the enclosed copy of the statement which I recently made to the press of the world, through the representatives of Mexico abroad.30 My object in making these declarations was to make known, to all governments the rule (or standard) of conduct of the Government over which I preside. These embody, therefore, the strongest moral obligations, which in my character of Chief of the executive power in Mexico, I can contract not only before my own country, but before the world. You will particularly see from them that my Government desires ample con-fraternity, that it guarantees to foreigners fundamental rights analogous to those of Mexicans, that it invites them to come to Mexico, alone or with their capital, to assist in the development of the riches of its soil, and that it obligates itself to recognize all the rights they acquire in conformity with the laws of the country.

However, and notwithstanding the fullness with which I have dealt in these declarations with the topics of most importance to the Mexican policy of the United States, I wish to make herein particular reference to them. As far as I am able to interpret the attitude of the Government over which you worthily preside, there are three fundamental doubts, the clarification of which is desired before diplomatic relations are re-established with Mexico: the application which may be given to Article 27 of the Constitution; the procedure which may be adopted to settle and determine the claims for damages caused by the Revolution; and payment of the external debt. I say three because while something has been said with regard to the matter of education, of religion and of liberty to acquire real [Page 418] property, etc., with respect to these, either there is in reality no interference with the liberty of North American residents in Mexico, except in a verbal and apparent manner, or it arises from limitations of rights (equally affecting other foreigners) which are inevitable because they have their origin in the laws.

Nevertheless, the non-retroactive and non-confiscatory reglementation of Article 27 of the Constitution (meaning the passage of laws giving effect to Article 27) is something which is in the political atmosphere of Mexico. Apart from the political guarantees which the Constitution gives to these principles, the agreement of the executive and legislative powers with respect thereto, has been already shown in diverse forms and occasions, and there is no reason for believing that the judicial power will adopt different views. With respect to the damages caused by our internal war, the Executive has prepared a law, soon to be promulgated, which will establish as a fact a mixed claims commission, just as effective in its operation as if it originated in an international treaty. With respect to the service of the debt, there are two convincing proofs of the good disposition of Mexico, now that there is within its reach means of collecting the necessary funds, viz: the invitation extended to the international committee of bankers, presided over by Mr. Lamont, and the banking house of Speyer (that an arrangement has still to be made is because of their fault in not having accepted it), and the recent decree laying additional export taxes on petroleum, precisely with a view to the payment of the debt.

These being the intentions of the Government and people of Mexico, it is difficult in truth for me to understand, unless it be for lack of exact information, or by reason of an atmosphere created on purpose by those who wish to gain more the longer the misunderstanding shall be continued—that it is still pretended to ask Mexico to give greater assurances that she will comply with her international obligations, nor still less even, can I understand why these assurances should have to be given in the form of a treaty or protocol prior to recognition, and which is impossible to reconcile with the laws of Mexico. Leaving on one side the right of this country to obtain for its legitimate government a full and unconditional recognition, a principle which cannot be abdicated in any case because it deals with a State whose existence and sovereignty have not been questioned for one hundred years, it is unnecessary to demand of Mexico the signature of a treaty upon matters already settled in a spontaneous manner, and which I as President cannot enter into because the law does not permit me, any more than it is permitted of the President of the United States to conclude treaties contrary to the laws of his country.

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Finally, I permit myself to draw your attention to a distinction which should be made in order to understand better the actual situation of the relations between the United States and Mexico. The moral entities. “American Government” and “Mexican Government” should be separated from the physical persons who preside over them, or who compose them, since in the present case, the change of the physical persons who form the Government of Mexico imports no break in the legal continuity of the entity “Government of Mexico,” constituted after the triumph of the revolution of 1913. The moral entity “Government of the United States” recognized the moral entity “Government of Mexico”, then constituted in accordance with the laws which are still in force, and completely disregarding the physical persons who formed it. It is thus not admissible, unless in this case the principle of retroactivity should be applicable, that the present Government of the United States should disavow its former acts in denying recognition to the moral entity “Government of Mexico”, before recognized, and still in existence.

I hope, as I am assured by Mr. Dover, that the preceding explanations may put an end to the present misunderstanding, and I desire very sincerely that in a short time our Governments may recognize and treat with each other in an official manner. Meanwhile, I am pleased to offer to you the expressions of my respectful esteem.

A. Obregon
  1. Quoted in the communication of Apr. 2, 1921, from General Obregon to the Mexican Foreign Office, p. 395.