723.2515/1830: Telegram

The Ambassador in Peru ( Poindexter ) to the Secretary of State


1. Department’s No. 1, January 4, 3 p.m. I shall be glad to follow out instructions if suggestions such as you describe are made to me by the representatives of Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil, or other countries. I have talked recently with the representatives of the countries named, however, and all have expressed views and sentiments which are quite the contrary of those reported from Santiago as coming from representatives of these countries there. Bolivian representative here has advised me that satisfactory agreement had been reached between him and President Leguía that should Peru win plebiscite, she would give Bolivia a port in Province of Arica. President Leguía confirmed this in conversation with me, stating that he was quite willing to sign such an agreement in writing should it be desired, and subsequently made same statement in public speech.

Both Argentine Minister and Brazilian Chargé d’Affaires have recently expressed opinion to me that plebiscite should be held as provided in award and under conditions stipulated by General Pershing in the orders and findings lately made by Plebiscitary Commission and approved by General Pershing. Both Minister and Chargé, however, recognize difficulty of enforcing these conditions as long as policing of plebiscite and execution of orders of Commission remain under Chile’s control, thus leaving Commission subject to will and desires of one of parties to the controversy. Many observers here have commented on fact that Chilean delegate on Commission has made public and formal announcement that Chile would not comply with Commission’s orders except when they comported with Chilean approval of Commission’s jurisdiction; and also on ex-President Alessandri’s public declarations that Chile would never surrender the provinces. They have also commented on statement made by Barros Jarpa, when Chilean Minister for Foreign Affairs, that Chile looked on plebiscite as a disguised cession of the provinces, and the same observers comment generally on anomalous position in which such declarations leave General Pershing and the Plebiscitary Commission, together [Page 270] with Chile’s failure to comply with either letter or spirit of word [work?] of Commission already effected and the violent attacks which have been made on General Pershing and other Americans on the Commission by a Chilean official. On the facts of Chile’s conduct affecting the plebiscite, representatives of Latin American countries and other disinterested observers here are disposed to accept opinions of General Pershing and the other members of American delegation instead of Chilean charges of partiality and prejudice, though all seem to recognize difficulties of situation created by this attitude of Chile’s and by power left in her hands to block proceedings.

In regard to your suggestion that General Pershing’s successor might be compelled to direct Peru to send in her voters in order to test practically the question of whether conditions in the provinces are such that plebiscite can actually be held, news has arrived here from Arica, since receipt of Department’s telegram, of mob attacks on group of Peruvian plebiscitary workers and voters already arrived in the provinces. Detailed reports of the affair can doubtless be obtained from the Commission. It is possibly true that Peru might assert that, as long as that condition exists and also in consideration of the comparatively helpless situation of the Peruvians in the provinces, no further tests are required.

In regard to statement in Department’s telegram that neither party desires a plebiscite, I am assured, after complete information from highest Government sources as well as from other sources, that Peru is very desirous that plebiscite should be held if freedom of movement of Peruvian citizens in the provinces, their freedom to carry on legitimate plebiscitary work and propaganda, their freedom to express their opinions, and their safety when voting should be guaranteed along lines to some extent already indicated by General Pershing. It is also probably true that Peru would refuse to proceed without the guarantees, just stated, actually being put into effect; and, while I have carefully withheld expressing myself on any phase of the subject here, my opinion is that such action on Peru’s part would meet with approval of Argentine, Brazilian, and other Latin American representatives here.

Peru is confident that she can win the plebiscite if given fair chance at polls (this outcome would be conclusive political victory for Leguía regime), and believes that if holding of plebiscite is rendered impossible by Chile, either through official acts of Chilean Government or through turbulence of Chileans in the provinces, the President of the Plebiscitary Commission will be obliged to call off plebiscite and place onus for this act squarely on Chile, an outcome which would also be great political success for President Leguía, as it would be popularly accepted here as great moral victory for Peru. Feeling is running so high in Peru that were the Government to accept a compromise [Page 271] no matter how favorable, through diplomatic pressure or otherwise, it would almost inevitably be overthrown, and I do not believe that the President will take that risk.

On other hand, while I have heard statement made as coming from Chile, since recent developments in Plebiscitary Commission, that Chile through influence of Army and Navy does not desire plebiscite to be held, I feel sure that Chile does desire it to take place if it can be held under her control and under existing conditions to which General Pershing has already declared his objections. Peru is beginning to send her voters into the provinces, apparently confident that a way will be found to support General Pershing and to enforce the orders of the Plebiscitary Commission and that intent of orders already made will be observed. I have referred above to reception in Arica of one group 5 other and larger groups are in preparation for early passage and President Leguía has given orders for preparation of cantonments to receive them.

In accordance with instructions in Department’s telegram under reference, I shall report promptly any information that may come to me of views of Peruvian Government or officers in regard to a possible settlement outside the plebiscite. I note your statement that so far the Department has no information regarding views of President Leguía and influential members of Peruvian Congress on this point; I beg to refer to previous communications from this Embassy on it, specifically to my No. 75, October 27, 1925, 11 a.m.,80 wherein I reported, after having made careful inquiry, that such a suggestion would come as a distinct shock to Peru and that the Peruvian Government would not consider any proposition to divide the provinces. At a later date I referred to the remarks made to me in the Embassy by Mr. Mariategui, President of the Chamber of Deputies and one of the most influential members of Congress, to the effect that Peru would not consider any offer, no matter how favorable, from Chile on this subject and that the Peruvian Government would insist that the whole matter be settled by the United States. Still later I informed the Department that, in an interview with President Leguía, he had expressed the hope that the plebiscitary formula would be fulfilled to the letter; and that the leading Peruvian newspaper, El Comercio, had denied an assertion appearing in New York World that identity of the Arbitrator could be kept distinct from that of Chief Executive of the United States and had made assertion that as President of the United States had accepted task of arbitration the prestige and good work of the United States is gravely involved.

No matter what the facts may be, the activity of Latin American countries looking toward a further arbitration [or?] diplomatic settlement [Page 272] is regarded here as Chilean intrigue. Any connection of the American representatives in those several countries with such a movement would be prejudicial to American prestige here. The question is asked what use would there be of a further arbitration when Chile refuses, as it is alleged, to comply with the award already made? The suggestion is then added that there is no more reason to expect that Chile would comply with another award if it were unfavorable to her, or not in accordance with her wishes, than there is to expect a compliance with the one already rendered.

In regard to a diplomatic settlement, Mr. Mariategui and others point out that futile efforts toward a settlement of that nature have been undertaken from time to time during the last 40 years, and that in view of the recent declarations made by Chilean spokesmen it is plainly less reasonable to hope for a favorable result from further efforts to that end now than it was heretofore. I believe that these expressions fairly represent all public opinion of any weight here.

I am satisfied in my own mind, however, that if those Latin American countries who may indicate an active interest in settlement of question could induce Chile through their good offices to consent to a neutralization of the provinces during plebiscite period, and could in this way succeed in bringing about an arrangement by which plebiscite could in every respect be held actually under control of the representatives of the three countries composing the Plebiscitary Commission as provided for in award, Peru would go through with it very willingly and would abide by the result in good faith. The assertion could not well be made that a plebiscite under those conditions would be unfair to Chile or that Chile, if willing to consent to a fair plebiscite as implied in Treaty of Ancon81 and protocol of Washington,82 could either reasonably object to an arrangement of that sort or could refuse to abide by the result. Question has been asked here what would be done should Chile refuse to accept result of plebiscite if it were adverse. I do not believe that this question is of much moment here at present, and in my interview with President Leguía the middle of last December he pointed out that it might well be left for future determination.

The suggestion has also been made that if military party in Chile desires continuance of issue over the provinces (as stated in Department’s telegram), it would use its influence against settlement by any other means should it be successful in preventing holding of a fair plebiscite.

I realize fully difficulties of situation with which Department has to deal, and I shall cooperate fully with Department in any aspect [Page 273] of representations which may arise here; but if I may be permitted the suggestion, I am of opinion that easiest and at same time best solution of these difficulties would be firm and strong support of General Pershing in the spirit, intent, and letter of conclusions he has reached and by a clear declaration of the Arbitrator stating it.