Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Latin American Affairs, Department of State (White)

The Bolivian Minister called on the Secretary of State at twelve o’clock on Monday, May 5. The Secretary stated that he had invited the Minister to come in as Mr. White had told him that the Minister desired to speak with him regarding his note1 asking the United States to use its good offices to bring about a modification of the Treaty of 1904 between Bolivia and Chile2 in order that the former might obtain an outlet to the sea.

The Minister stated that if the Department’s reply to his note was to be favorable he merely desired to thank the Department but if however the Secretary could not see his way clear to giving a favorable answer he would like to discuss the matter with him. The Secretary replied that it is the desire of this Government to be helpful to the other countries of America in composing and settling their difficulties and that it is very glad to do so when asked by all parties concerned which in this case would be Bolivia and Chile; that this Government of course cannot take such action unless it is requested to do so by all concerned and in this case Chile had not yet asked this Government to take any action in the matter and the Secretary must therefore to his regret decline to take the action requested.

The Minister stated that he was sure that the desire existed in Chile for a settlement of this question; that he had been told so by President Alessandri himself and also by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and other Cabinet officers of Chile. The Secretary stated that while this Government was glad at all times to be of help it would soon fritter away the helpful position which it now has should it [Page 321] intervene in questions between two foreign governments without knowing that it was agreeable to both sides; that it was not sufficient for one party to say that it desired the intervention of the United States and it felt sure that the other side would also; that if this desire existed in Chile it would be very easy for the Chilean Government to inform us thereof or it could be made evident in the correspondence comprising the negotiations between Bolivia and Chile and that until this Government was informed by both parties it could not take the action requested. The Secretary added that in the Tacna-Arica case this Government had taken no action until it had been assured that both parties to the dispute would welcome the assistance of the United States. The Minister stated that in the Tacna-Arica case he had seen, as he was then Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bolivia, in the interchange of telegrams between Chile and Perú that the negotiations fell through and that the United States had inquired of both Governments whether an invitation to come to Washington to carry on the negotiations would be acceptable and that both parties had agreed.3 There was evidence he said in the direct exchange of telegrams between the Chilean and Peruvian Foreign Offices that such a meeting would be acceptable to both parties; that what Bolivia now wants is the United States to inquire of Bolivia and Chile whether an invitation from the United States for those Governments to send representatives to Washington to discuss the matter would be agreeable.

The Secretary replied that in the Tacna-Arica case the inquiry as to whether an invitation would be acceptable had been sent only after this Government had been informally advised by both parties that such action on the part of the United States would be agreeable to the two parties to the dispute. The Secretary added that even after the Peruvian and Chilean delegates had arrived in Washington the United States took no part in bringing about agreements or arrangements between them except when asked to use its good offices by both parties.

The Minister then inquired whether this statement by the Secretary was to be taken as a definite statement of policy of the United States for all time, in other words could he take it that the United States would never enter into a discussion between two Latin American countries or in his country’s case between Bolivia and any of its neighbors unless requested to do so by both parties. The Secretary replied that he was not formulating any rules of law nor could he of course prescribe what action his successors in office might adopt nor could he discuss any suppositional or hypothetical questions; [Page 322] that this Government dealt with each question as it came up as wisdom and friendship would seem to dictate and that it could not permit the discussion to take the phase of binding the United States to any definite policy in the future in cases which had not arisen. The Minister said that he understood the Secretary’s point of view; that in this case if the United States would not take action his Government had misinterpreted the addresses of the Secretary and President Coolidge which had expressed a desire to be helpful to Latin American countries. The Secretary replied that of course this Government as President Coolidge had stated desired to be helpful in any way it properly could but that it could not take action without the request of both parties.

Referring back to the question of policy the Minister stated that he was talking purely and simply of the matter connected with his note which dealt with the ardent desire of Bolivia to have an outlet to the sea. Bolivia was now moved with a great feeling in this regard, the question had been taken up in the League of Nations and then directly with Chile and now with the United States and he wanted to know whether the determination of the United States not to take part in this discussion meant that the United States as far as this question was concerned would in its future developments refuse to take any part whatsoever.

The Secretary replied that he would not bind this Government’s action for the future; that the case before him was the note of the Bolivian Minister dealing with the situation that actually exists; that in the case as it now is the United States has not been requested by Chile to intervene in the matter and he very much regretted that this Government could not at this time intervene as requested by Bolivia. The Secretary could not foresee what the situation might be in the future or what later developments might occur and he therefore would do nothing now which might hamper the action of this Government in dealing in the future with a case which might arise, that in the actual case the United States could not meet the Bolivian Minister’s desires. As the Minister was leaving the Secretary expressed his regret to him that he was unable to comply with his wishes in the matter.

  1. Not printed.
  2. British and Foreign State Papers, 1904–1905, vol. xcviii, p. 763.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1922, vol i, pp. 447 ff.