The Ambassador in Mexico (Sheffield) to the Secretary of State

No. 562

Sir: Confirming my telegram No. 88 of April 30, 1925, 3 P.M.,74 I have the honor to enclose herewith a copy with translation of a note from the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Relations in reply to my note of February 19, last, with which I transmitted a copy of the draft convention for the settlement of the Chamizal case.

. . . . . . .

I have [etc.]

James R. Sheffield

The Mexican Minister for Foreign Affairs (Sáenz) to the American Ambassador (Sheffield)

Mr. Ambassador: I have the honor to refer to Your Excellency’s courteous note No. 306 of February 19, last, in which incidentally there is discussed the matter of the Chamizal and principally the fixing of the international boundary line in the vicinity of the City of El Paso.

Your Excellency first states that although the Government of the United States will instruct the American Commissioner on the International Boundary Commission to carry out, together with the Mexican Commissioner, the surveys of the bancos which the latter suggested, it cannot, however, instruct him to decide pending cases and eliminate the bancos concerned until the Chamizal case has been disposed of and the treaty construction connected therewith settled in such a manner as to allow the Commission usefully to function in this respect. With respect to this, I on my part state to Your Excellency that the Mexican Government believes that the Chamizal case and the case of the elimination of the newly formed bancos are distinct matters and, therefore, must be treated separately. It likewise believes that the action postponing the elimination of these bancos signifies on the part of the Government of the United States a disregard, or at least an unacceptable suspension of conventions fully in force and regarding the application and interpretation of which there is not the least doubt. Therefore, my Government desires that the Commission commence immediately the necessary work for [Page 570] the elimination of the bancos, which would be to the advantage of both countries.

With particular reference to the Chamizal case, Your Excellency states that upon the understanding that the Mexican Government is not disposed unconditionally to abandon its claim in the Chamizal case, the American Government proposes an agreement, a draft of which you enclose and which, principally, as I said above, has for its object the rectification of the boundary between both countries in the vicinity of El Paso.

Mexico certainly cannot abandon its rights to a territory which it believes was fundamentally its from the beginning, and which was awarded to it in part by an arbitral decision which it considers perfectly valid; but, nevertheless, as it has already stated on several occasions to the Government of the United States, it has the highest desire to reach a practical solution in this case, provided one can be reached on the basis of equity which will not injure Mexican sovereignty in any way.

Your Excellency states that you have received instructions to renew the negotiations for such a solution, taking them up at the point where they were interrupted in the year 1913, and upon this understanding you present the draft convention mentioned above.

Your Excellency calls attention to the fact that this draft embodies the fundamental ideas of the memorandum, which, it is said, was presented by the Mexican Embassy at Washington to the Department of State on January 27, 1913, but adds that these fundamental ideas are modified in accordance with what was proposed by the Department on the 3rd day of March of the same year 1913. In this connection I must make clear to Your Excellency that the Mexican Embassy at Washington did not formally present to the Department of State any memorandum dated January 27, 1913. Your Excellency cannot be unaware that about the end of the year 1912 the then Ambassador of Mexico, Señor Don Manuel Calero, had conversations on this subject with the Department of State and especially with the Secretary of State, Mr. Knox, and with the Counselor, Mr. Chandler Anderson, with the result that Mr. Anderson agreed to submit to the Ambassador certain propositions upon which the terms of the agreement would be worked out. At the end of the same year of 1912 Señor Calero left the United States to return to Mexico, and during those same days the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Señor Lie. Don Pedro Lascuráin, availing himself of his trip to New York, went to Washington where he conferred witht Mr. Knox regarding the Chamizal. Nothing definite came of this beyond a promise by Señor Lascuráin (who was ignorant, as he repeatedly declared, of the details of the conferences which Señor Calero had with the Department [Page 571] of State) to present a proposition for the settlement of the matter. On his return to Mexico Señor Lascuráin familiarized himself in detail with the negotiations which had been carried on, and, as a result he instructed the Mexican Chargé d’Affaires, Señor Lie. Arturo de la Cueva, to speak personally with Mr. Knox regarding the propositions which Mr. Anderson was to submit as above mentioned. Señor de la Cueva in compliance with his instructions, sought an appointment with Mr. Knox to deliver to him a memorandum on the matter. He did not speak with Mr. Knox, but with the Counselor, Mr. Anderson, who told him that in order that the conference with Mr. Knox might be successful he must inform him (Mr. Anderson) in advance how he desired to treat the Chamizal matter. Señor de la Cueva replied that he had a memorandum to present to Mr. Knox and that he would not deliver it except to Mr. Knox personally; but as he had with him a paper on which he had written certain propositions regarding which Mr. Knox and he were to converse, he was going to read it to him (Mr. Anderson), which he did. He finally left this paper with Mr. Anderson who agreed to speak with Mr. Knox and to make a formal appointment for him in order that he might comply with the instructions of the Mexican Government. The conference with Mr. Knox did not take place, because Señor de la Cueva left Washington and because, as Your Excellency knows, during the first days of February 1913, the anti-Madero revolution broke out.

The paper which Señor de la Cueva informally delivered to Mr. Anderson, contained only the propositions which Mr. Anderson had agreed to submit to Señor Calero for their discussion, as above stated, and, therefore, it cannot be considered either as an official document of the Mexican Embassy or, much less, as implying that Mexico was in agreement with the propositions emanating from the Department of State.

It is probably to this paper or document that Your Excellency refers in alluding to the memorandum presented on January 27, 1913, by the Mexican Embassy, proposing that the negotiations be renewed from that point with the modifications which were proposed by the United States on March 3, 1913. Mexico cannot, in spite of its great desire to end the Chamizal case, renew the negotiations from that point, since it cannot consider as accepted the propositions made in the document informally delivered by Señor de la Cueva and which was published by the Government of the United States in the volume entitled Foreign Relations of the United States, 1913, on page 971, which publication was made without the consent of the Mexican Government. Neither can Mexico take into account the propositions made by the Department of State on March 3, 1913, to a spurious government and one which was never recognized by the United States itself.

[Page 572]

Therefore, Mexico would propose in the highest spirit of friendship for the United States that the negotiations be renewed from a date prior to January 27, 1913, and, more precisely, from the point where Mr. Chandler Anderson agreed to submit to the Mexican Ambassador a proposition as a basis for discussion.

Since the present nature of the relations of Mexico with the United States is that of a perfect understanding and that of a friendship which does not exclude but rather demands absolute frankness on the part of the two Governments, I consider myself obliged to notify Your Excellency in advance that the Mexican Government would not be disposed to consider any proposal which contained the first proposition which is made in the document published by the American Government in its volume Foreign Relations of the United States, 1913, page 971, where it is printed erroneously as an official Mexican document. In fact, Mexico has believed and continues to believe that the award of the arbitral tribunal in the Chamizal case is perfectly valid and binding on both Governments. The well-founded claims which Mexico had to a part of the Chamizal prior to the award were strengthened by the terms of the award, and it does not see why it should abandon the advantageous position given it by this award when to abandon it would have so disastrous an effect upon Mexican public opinion and make it impossible to carry out any arrangement of a practical nature for settling the question.

My Government desires at once to assure Your Excellency’s Government that Mexico, although it gives every validity to the award, is disposed to enter into an agreement because it understands that the carrying out of the award would be materially impracticable, or at least very difficult, because it would perhaps be necessary, in order to fix the line followed by the Rio Grande in 1869, to destroy the very thing claimed, which is part of the City of El Paso built upon the land of the Chamizal. But aside from this, and inasmuch as the two Governments wish to reach a practical solution of the question and one which will remove the Chamizal case from the realm of controversy, my Government insists that the best beginning would be not to touch upon principles but to seek a practical arrangement. Let me explain:

The Government of the United States cannot be unaware that the difficulty on the part of Mexico definitely to settle this matter of the Chamizal, notwithstanding the many years it has been discussed, is that it deals with a portion of our territory, and affects our national sovereignty. Mexican public opinion has always been very jealous with respect to this, and it can scarcely be expected that by conducting a campaign to enlighten it and demonstrating that that sovereignty is not at all affected, that an arrangement could be [Page 573] reached whereby the two nations renounce the same rights and exchange identical things. This difficulty of controlling public opinion is accentuated all the more, since the rights of Mexico have been confirmed by an arbitration legal in every way.

From the foregoing statement Your Excellency’s Government will understand that this question cannot be settled by denying the validity of the award; and in reality a statement in a convention reciting that each of the High Contracting Parties persists in its attitude as to the validity of the arbitral award would mean nothing else, for after all even though Mexico should state that the award is valid, it would not be carried out, and thus the point of view of the United States would prevail.

In addition to the fact that the recognition of the validity of the award would make it possible for the two Governments to enter into a practical arrangement in the matter, such a course would have the advantage, not to be depreciated, of affirming throughout the world, and especially in America, confidence in arbitration. My Government does not pretend, of course, to judge what is, or is not, convenient for the United States; but it ventures to presume that the position of this great nation in the world, with regard to peaceful solution of international conflicts, would be rendered preeminent by respecting the award and that, on the contrary, the nonacceptance of it would lessen confidence in the nation which has been such a constant and effective champion of arbitral procedure.

For these reasons my Government cannot enter into a consideration of the draft convention which was submitted to it by the Department of State through Your Excellency, since it is necessary to reach an agreement on the essential points of the draft before entering upon an examination of the details.

If the foregoing views should not be acceptable—a situation which Mexico does not expect in view of the good relations it maintains with the United States and the good faith of Your Excellency’s Government—I would call Your Excellency’s attention to the following:

The controversy between Mexico and the United States over the Chamizal has changed. Now the question to be decided is whether the award is valid, as Mexico maintains, or is null, as the United States maintains. Since the United States maintains that it is null and presents a draft convention regarding the boundary, which Mexico must reject, the United States does not surrender any of the rights it believes it possesses. On the other hand, if Mexico accepted the said convention, it would surrender all its rights to the Chamizal, would admit that it had maintained them without cause and would leave the award without effect thereby inexplicably changing its attitude.

[Page 574]

When an arbitral award can be challenged on any of the known grounds determined by international law, the recourse is for the interested governments to submit the award to a court of review created ad hoc. In order, therefore, to settle the present difficulty, as stated—supposing that the foregoing views are not acceptable—Mexico makes the following proposition:

That Mexico and the United States designate the Hague Tribunal to decide solely on the evidence before the arbitral tribunal of the Chamizal case up to the time of its award, whether the award is valid or not.
If the Hague Tribunal should decide that the award is valid, Mexico will not demand that it be carried out, since it recognizes beforehand the great difficulty in doing so; but it shall receive a just and equitable compensation from the United States, on the principle that the two nations relinquish the same rights and exchange equivalent things.

I am [etc.]

Aarón Sáenz
  1. Not printed.
  2. File translation revised.