The Secretary of State to the Chargé in Nicaragua ( Thurston )

No. 102

Sir: The Department for some time has been giving serious consideration to the question of the withdrawal of the Marines from Managua. The Department feels that although the policy of landing United States forces in certain particular instances to prevent bloodshed and to protect American lives and property is a regrettable and unavoidable necessity while unstable conditions maintain in Central America, a continuance of American forces in any of those countries is fraught with many possibilities of misunderstanding.

Continued presence of American troops, such as that which has taken place in Nicaragua for the last eleven years, has at times given rise to the assertion, however unjustified it may be, that the United States Government is maintaining in office a government which would otherwise perhaps not be strong enough to maintain itself against the attacks of its political opponents. On the other hand, in the present instance, should the Marines suddenly be withdrawn there appears reason to believe that political disturbances might ensue.

While desiring, of course, to do nothing which could result in disturbances and bloodshed, the Department has, nevertheless, felt that now that the Dodds electoral law has been enacted the opportunity will present itself for the withdrawal of the Marines upon the installation in January, 1925, of the government to be elected in October, 1924, through the operation of the new law.

[Page 608]

In this connection the Department has given careful consideration to the views expressed in your interesting despatch of July 7,5 discussing the political situation.

The Department desires to be of any possible assistance to the Nicaraguan Government in the conduct of the approaching elections. It feels that there may be a considerable amount of confusion in the enforcement of the new electoral law because its provisions will be unfamiliar to the officials of Nicaragua and its execution will require the application of methods which have, perhaps, not hitherto been used in Nicaraguan elections. The Department feels that it could render very considerable help in installing the new electoral system by requesting Mr. Dodds to go to Managua some months in advance of the election to counsel and advise with the Nicaraguan officials in the carrying out of the provisions of the law, should the Nicaraguan Government ask the good offices of the Department in this matter.

The Department considers that the success of the whole plan of withdrawal depends upon the Government coming into office as the result of the next elections having the support of the majority of the people in order that it will be in such a strong position that when the Marines are then withdrawn there will be no occasion for political disturbances. To bring this about free and fair elections are essential, and the Department, therefore, desires to assist the Nicaraguan Government, if that Government so requests, in measures to secure this result. The Department feels that especially valuable assistance could be rendered by sending observers to travel throughout the country to help to make the provisions of the new law familiar to the local officials and to report to the authorities at Managua upon the manner in which the law is being enforced. You will, of course, understand and if necessary discreetly inform the Nicaraguan authorities, that the expenses of Mr. Dodds and the observers would be borne by the Department.

The Department desires, of course, that withdrawal of the Marines should not be attended by any disorder or instability in Nicaragua. It is, therefore, contemplating offering to the Nicaraguan Government its assistance in the organization of an effective constabulary if the Nicaraguan Government desires its aid in carrying out the provisions of Article II of the Convention for the Limitation of Armaments, signed at the recent Conference on Central American Affairs.6 It will be glad either to place at the disposal of the Nicaraguan Government such officers of the United States military forces as may be necessary for this purpose or to suggest [Page 609] civilian police experts to serve as instructors. These officers or civil experts would, of course, be employed by the Nicaraguan Government under such conditions as that Government might desire.

In view of the above, it is desired that you should address the following note to the Nicaraguan Government:

“I have the honor to inform Your Excellency that my Government desires that the Legation Guard, which has remained in Nicaragua since Your Excellency’s Government requested the assistance of the Government of the United States in 1912, in the maintenance of constitutional order, should be withdrawn as soon as practicable. My Government, however, does not desire to make any sudden radical change which would inject a new element into the situation in Central America that might perhaps be a cause for unrest and disturbance.

“In this connection I am instructed to state that my Government has noted with gratification and with sympathetic appreciation the steps which have already been taken by the Nicaraguan Government to assure freedom and fairness in the approaching elections. The enactment of the electoral law, drafted by an expert employed by the Nicaraguan Government for this purpose, may be regarded as the first step toward assuring the people of Nicaragua that complete freedom will exist during the electoral period, and my Government is confident that this step will be followed by such effective measures during the electoral period as will assure a free expression of the will of the people and convince all parties that the Government which may result from the elections will have the support of the majority of the people of Nicaragua. Therefore, my Government instructs me to inform Your Excellency that upon the installation in January, 1925, of the government coming into office as the result of the elections to be held in October, 1924, it will feel that there is no further reason to maintain a Legation Guard at Managua and the American Marines will accordingly be withdrawn at that time.

“I am further instructed by my Government to state that the American Marines will be retained in Managua during the approaching electoral period only if the Nicaraguan Government considers that their presence will assist the constituted authorities in assuring complete freedom in the presidential elections, and that they remain specifically for the purpose of helping to maintain tranquility and order during the electoral period.

“The electoral law recently voted is as yet unfamiliar alike to the officials charged with its carrying out and enforcement, as to the Nicaraguan electorate which will exercise its rights according to its provisions. Therefore, in order to assist the Nicaraguan Government in the installation of this new electoral system with the least possible amount of confusion, my Government will be glad, should the Nicaraguan Government so desire, to ask Mr. Dodds, the author of the law, or some other qualified technical expert, to come to Nicaragua a few months in advance of the next election in order that he may, by his counsel and advice, assist the Nicaraguan authorities in putting the law into effect. My Government will also be glad to assist the Nicaraguan Government to obtain the services of such additional [Page 610] assistants as may be required to travel throughout Nicaragua to help the local authorities in the installation of the new system and in its proper enforcement, and to report to the authorities at Managua any difficulties that may be encountered throughout the country in the proper enforcement of the law in order that those difficulties may be promptly overcome.

“As another evidence of its desire to assist Nicaragua in the orderly and undisturbed conduct of its normal existence, my Government would be glad to assist the Nicaraguan Government in the organization and training of an efficient constabulary which would assure the maintenance of order after the Marines are withdrawn. In establishing a force of this nature the Nicaraguan Government would be carrying out the terms of Article II of the Convention for the Limitation of Armaments, signed at the recent Conference on Central American Affairs. If the Nicaraguan Government desires, my Government will be glad to suggest the names of persons suitable to act as instructors in the new constabulary, in order that their experience may be made available to Nicaragua.

“My Government feels that with the aid of Mr. Dodds and the other assistants in the efficient installation of the new electoral system, free and fair suffrage should be possible in the coming elections so that the government resulting therefrom should have the support of the majority of the Nicaraguan people and would, therefore, need no other assistance in maintaining order than that of the Nicaraguan constabulary, which my Government is ready to assist in training, and that, therefore, upon the installation of that government the Marines may be withdrawn without any noticeable effect upon the normal course of affairs in Nicaragua.

“The new government should be in a very strong position indeed, and it is hoped that long before its entry into office the General Treaty of Peace and Amity, signed at Washington on February 7, 1923, by the representatives of the five Central American powers, will have been ratified and put into effect so that any individual or group of individuals who might endeavor to overthrow the constituted authorities will know full well in advance that the other four Central American Governments will not, on account of Article II of that Treaty, recognize any government coming into power contrary to the provisions of that Treaty. In any case, the position and policy of the United States Government with regard to such recognition is and will continue to be that announced by the American Minister to Honduras under instructions from the Department of State of June 30, 1923,7 which is in complete consonance and accord with the stipulations of Article II of the General Treaty of Peace and Amity, as signed by the delegates of the five Central American Republics at Washington on February 7, last.”

In presenting this note you may state that should the Nicaraguan Government so request, the Department would be glad to present to the consideration of Congress the question of authorizing active members of the United States Marine Corps to enter the service of [Page 611] the Nicaraguan Government, a portion of their salaries being paid by the United States Government. In the meantime, pending action of the United States Congress on this matter, you may state that there would be no objection, should the Nicaraguan Government so request it, for officers of the Marine Corps, stationed in Nicaragua, to volunteer their services to assist in the formation, organization and instruction of the proposed constabulary force, and that the Department understands that the officers in question will be glad to render such service should the Nicaraguan Government so desire. In this connection it should, of course, be understood, and you will fully explain to the Nicaraguan Government, that the Marine officers would exercise only the functions of advising as to the formation, organization, instruction, et cetera, of the constabulary, and that such officers would withdraw altogether from any connection with the constabulary in the event of war or insurrection in Nicaragua.

You are requested to report by telegraph the result of your representations, and the reply of the Nicaraguan Government to the above quoted note.

In this connection it may be said, for your confidential information and guidance, as indicating the possible objections which may be raised by the Nicaraguan Government to the course of action outlined in the above note, that the Nicaraguan Minister has informally stated that his Government would not welcome any supervision of the elections because such action on the part of the United States would so seriously injure the prestige of the Conservative Party as to cost it many thousands of votes. General Chamorro felt that even the organization of the Constabulary under American officers would be regarded by the people of Nicaragua as a move towards the supervision of the elections by the United States, and that the detail of American officers for this purpose at this time would, therefore, not be welcomed by his Government. …

However, the reasonableness of the course of action proposed above will, it is hoped, appeal strongly to the Nicaraguan Government, especially when it is realized that it is not proposed to build up a Constabulary for the purpose of supervising the coming elections, but in order to create a force that will be able to replace the American Marines and to maintain order in their stead after their withdrawal. The Department will be glad to have a full expression of your views regarding this matter, and to have you bear in mind, in any recommendations which you may make, the Department’s desire to avoid any action which would injure either party in the forthcoming elections.

In order not to embarrass the Nicaraguan Government in any way in connection with this matter, the Department desires that any [Page 612] information, statements or publicity, regarding the note which you are instructed above to address to the Nicaraguan Government, should come from that Government and not from the Legation.

I am [etc.]

Charles E. Hughes
  1. Not printed.
  2. Conference on Central American Affairs, p. 339.
  3. Ante, p. 432.