723.2515/1886: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Consul at Arica (Von Tresckow)


For Lassiter. Your February 1, 1 p.m.

(1) I hope that appeal will not be taken. In interest of expediting plebiscite you may be able to dissuade parties from doing so. If appeal should be taken, however, endeavor to have parties agree to summary disposition, without hearing, or the submission of written evidence. Arbitrator is not forced to grant hearings; he would prefer to have parties agree in advance to submission on cable record. He will, in any event, be ready to dispose of any and all appeals which may be taken to him.

(2) I am not unmindful of your feeling and that of others that fair plebiscite may prove impossible. I think that we must assume at this stage of the proceedings, however, that a plebiscite can be held and should be held, and cannot be abandoned on record as it now stands or on information we now possess. I do not think we should now contemplate an abandonment no matter how difficult and unpromising the conditions may appear. On what may happen in the future, I think we shall have to reach our decisions in light of concrete conditions as they arise, after regulations are in force, and registration and election are attempted. At this stage or under present conditions, a finding that plebiscite is impossible would raise questions of fact which could not be finally determined satisfactorily to both parties, and would only serve to embitter and perpetuate existing controversy, besides making it possible for one or both of the parties to place blame on the Arbitrator.

Award contemplates that election might be held which Commission and Arbitrator might hold invalid on ground that plebiscite vote as announced had been affected by intimidation, bribery, or fraud to such an extent that result reached did not represent will of people of Tacna and Arica having the right to vote; in such event, the Plebiscitary Commission and the Arbitrator may set election aside and decree new plebiscite within three months (pp. 46–49 of award). Award contains no provision which looks to abandonment of the proceedings because in opinion of Plebiscitary Commission, or of a majority of it, conditions will not permit fair plebiscite, and will not justify it in holding one. Award looks to holding of a plebiscite and determination afterwards of question whether proceedings are vitiated by fraud, intimidation, or bribery to extent that will of people of Tacna and Arica is defeated.

Only contingency which could justify failure now to hold plebiscite is encountering of obstacles which would render physically impossible [Page 287] functioning of the election machinery—should Chilean Government, for instance, practically exclude activities of Plebiscitary Commission. I give this as an instance.

I do not think we are justified in abandoning plebiscite on conditions as now reported in various past investigations. In regard to future, I am clear that plebiscite should not be abandoned despite adverse circumstances or any general preliminary opinion at which you may arrive to the effect that fair plebiscite cannot be held, thus placing you and the Arbitrator in the position of being obliged to justify an abandonment of the plebiscite on any disputed issues of fact.

Should the Commissioner either of Chile or Peru be withdrawn by his respective Government, you have complete authority to appoint another and to continue with the plebiscite (award, pp. 43, 44). I think that, in spite of the discouraging conditions, the thing for you to do is to give Chile and Peru to understand that you are going ahead to hold an election and that if that election is vitiated by intimidation or fraud or bribery by either party you will vote to have election set aside, and a new one authorized. It might happen that the circumstances in which plebiscite was held or frustration of a proper plebiscite might justify Arbitrator in not ordering a new plebiscite and in deciding that plebiscite as contemplated by the treaties had been rendered impossible. If the parties to the plebiscite are given this understanding I doubt that they will try to jockey you into position of abandoning present plebiscite when you or Arbitrator might be blamed for failure. To put it differently, I feel that if Chile and Peru understand that result of their failure to cooperate and to protect election may result in having plebiscite set aside (an action which would be in nature of a judicial decision against country violating the election) they will hesitate.

(3) I am pleased that your relations with both parties are cordial and I hope they will remain so, for your personal relation at this juncture is supremely important. I feel that your position will be almost impregnable through maintaining scrupulously impartial and judicial attitude towards both parties.

(4) It is probable that the investigations which have been pursued in the past few months were necessary in order to permit intelligent formation of rules and regulations. As you know, these investigations and manner of making them have been subject of bitter criticism by one of parties. I am not disposed to justify this criticism, but I suggest whether you will not be able (in addition to keeping generally informed about what is going on) to place upon the power charged with the administration of the territory the responsibility of maintaining order and to impress upon it the consequences of any failure.