723.2515/2661: Telegram

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

87. [Paraphrase.] Your telegrams Nos. 72, October 8, 6 p.m., and 74, October 13, 4 p.m. I have talked personally and intimately with President Leguía and have explained the vital importance of a settlement of the Tacna-Arica question to all American countries, especially to Peru and Chile. I asked him if he could not, speaking frankly and personally, suggest some practical way out. The President agreed with me on importance of a settlement and said that he thought it could be brought about. The difficulty, he said, was the disposition of the city of Arica; that this involved a matter of sentiment for Peru and that cession of the city to Chile would create sharp and dangerous situation in Peru. He did not say, but I think he feels, that cession of Arica City would lead to overthrow of his Government and that the state of chaos which would then ensue in Peru would entail loss of what has been gained during his administration for the economic development and the material progress of his country.

The President said that he felt that Peru would be willing to accept neutralization, or nationalization, of the provinces immediately, whatever it might be called. During our conversation he asked me what I understood by “internationalization.” I said that it might be interpreted in more than one way but that I should use the word to mean the establishment of an independent government for the provinces under the joint protection, either express or implied, of all the other republics of South America. I said that some question had [Page 498] been raised about the expenses of such a government as had been sketched, and also about danger of other countries secretly influencing or manipulating the provinces. The President replied that he was unable to see how there would be opportunity for influence of that nature to be exerted if the provinces were demilitarized. He said that once the present military control were lifted, the provinces would then assert themselves and that under influence of South American public good will there would be no difficulty about the government’s local administration. The government’s local expenses, he said, would be small; they could be met, in part, no doubt, by the payment of some revenue by Bolivia as an exchange for certain port facilities, and the local expenses would be adequately taken care of by the regular port dues, which would be greatly increased under independent administration.

The President stated that when the provinces were freed Tacna Province would again become agriculturally productive, as it had been formerly, and that its products would find a ready market. This production had decreased greatly under present regime but would reappear once the provinces were independent. I myself perceive no insurmountable difficulties in way of such internationalization; in some respects it would be happiest solution. I explained to President, however, that no matter how attractive such a program might be, practical difficulties existed which might be insurmountable in view of Chile’s refusal to accept that sort of plan.

President Leguía intimated that he was willing to enter into a compact of peace, of demilitarization of the provinces, and trade or tariff reciprocity, but from way he spoke of that feature of the matter it did not seem as though he regarded it as of paramount importance. He suggested that an international memorial should be made of the Morro, and he repeated that, in spite of his earnest desire to see question settled, it would not be possible to obtain consent of Peruvian people to assignment of city of Arica to Chile. [End paraphrase.]

I urged the President, in view of the paramount importance of the matter and of his profound knowledge of the situation, to give it his most earnest attention and give me the benefit of any suggestions which might occur to him as a basis of a practical settlement. He said that he would most gladly do so at once and after thinking it over for a few days would call me to talk it over with him again and added that he thought that we might work out some settlement of the problem.

[Paraphrase.] In reply to your inquiry about amount Bolivia ought to pay for a free port at Arica and possession of, or at least use of, a railroad corridor to the Pacific, that is matter which necessarily must be subject to more or less arbitrary assessment. The fact that [Page 499] Bolivia is completely hemmed in, the vital advantage to her of access to the coast and the paramount interest that Bolivia feels in obtaining that access, I feel she should pay not less than $15,000,000 gold, this amount to be acquired by a loan with terms of interest and amortization which would make it financially possible. The distribution of the immediate proceeds would be made to Chile and Peru by you in such way as to promote settlement of the problem most effectively.

One essential feature in effecting a settlement is to get in touch with someone who can speak with final authority for Chile as President Leguía speaks for Peru. If direct and preferably personal communication could be had with such a representative of Chile, and also of Bolivia, arrangement could possibly be made. If properly presented, the advantages to Chile of a commercial compact with Peru might be very persuasive.

President Leguía said that it appears as if some features of Tacna-Arica question had been overlooked, and added that railroad from Arica to La Paz passes through Tarata which has already been allotted to Peru by the Arbitrator. [End paraphrase.]

  1. Telegram in two sections.