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

No. 38

Sir: With reference to my telegram number 345 of December 9, 1930, 6 p.m.,32 summarizing my interview with the Minister for Foreign Affairs yesterday with respect to the meetings of the General and Special Claims Commissions, United States and Mexico, I have the honor to transmit herewith a memorandum describing the interview in detail.

Respectfully yours,

J. Reuben Clark, Jr.

Memorandum by the American Ambassador (Clark) of a Conversation With the Mexican Minister for Foreign Affairs (Estrada), December 9, 1930

I requested yesterday another interview with Mr. Estrada. The appointment was made for ten o’clock this morning. I went to the Foreign Office at the appointed hour and met Mr. Estrada, together with Subsecretary Schiaffino, who was present throughout the entire interview. Mr. Covarrubias acted as interpreter.

I told Mr. Estrada I had come to see if he had reached any conclusions on my suggestion as to the meeting of the Claims Commissions. He said that he thought the best thing to do with the two Commissions was to abolish them and make an en bloc settlement. I told him I understood that he desired to discuss that upon his return from the United States, to which he acquiesced.

[Page 502]

He then stated that he had taken up the Commission meetings with their legal officers, and launched into another long dissertation covering points in the history of these Commissions. He said that whenever there had been a renewal of the Conventions, the American Government had taken the position that time was most essential to the renewal; that not even a minute was to be lost, and that so eager had we been for renewals that we had wished the Commissions to go on immediately without any break whatever at the time of renewal. He illustrated his meaning by likening the situation to a smoker lighting one cigarette from another. He then stated that at the time of the last renewal, the Mexican Government had proposed the discussion of certain matters; that we had said we were willing to discuss after the renewal; that they had renewed but that the matters had never been discussed.

After talking about the general situation at considerable length, he stated that he was in agreement that there should be a meeting of the Special Claims Commission, more or less preliminary, which should take place about next February, and that we could then discuss the time and place of the next meeting of the General Commission. He also stated that at this Special Claims Commission meeting, he proposed that no cases involving the same principles as the Santa Isabel cases, and no cases involving the acts of Victoriano Huerta, should be discussed.

I refrained from entering into any discussion about any collateral matters, but when he had finished, I stated my understanding of his proposition to be this: there shall be no meeting of the Commissions until February, when the Special Claims Commission shall meet, but under arrangement that there will not be discussed at that session any cases involving the principles of the Santa Isabel cases or the acts of Victoriano Huerta.

Mr. Estrada stated that he was willing that the General Commission should continue its sessions until that time, though Mr. McGregor had indicated that he did not wish to go to Washington on account of moving his children back and forth, and he assumed that while they would want the Commission to meet in Mexico, we would want it to meet in Washington.

He stated that the discussions as to whether the Commission should meet need not wait until February but could be carried on immediately, as Mr. Schiaffino had full powers.

I then stated that there were certain preliminary questions which needed to be taken up, involving among them the question of evidence and the question of filing briefs; that these would have to be determined before the Commission could make any considerable progress. Mr. Estrada asked whether this had to be done by the Commission or whether it could be done otherwise. I said I thought they would have [Page 503] to be settled by the Commission, though probably the Agents could settle them if the Agents could reach an agreement. I then asked Mr. Schiaffino when we could begin our discussions, and suggested tomorrow. Mr. Schiaffino asked whether forenoon or afternoon, and I told him it made no difference to me. He then stated that he was one of the witnesses to the marriage of Mr. Estrada and would be busy in the morning, and intimated that the whole day would be taken up. I then suggested that we meet the following morning, the eleventh. He assented to this, but at this point, Mr. Estrada suggested that we make it Friday morning, to which I assented and the hour was fixed at eleven AM.

Mr. Estrada referred to the paragraph of my speech in which I spoke of the adjusting of international difficulties if both parties remained reasonable, etc. He said he would remember that. I told him I would always remember it, too.

He then again brought up the question of the United States being a large country and Mexico being a small country. I told him I would repeat to him what I had once before said to him: that we could get along a great deal better if he would forget that the United States was a big country and Mexico a small country; that as far as I was concerned, the fact that we had one hundred and twenty millions and that they had thirteen millions never crossed my mind when I was discussing matters with him; that I took for my guide the famous dictum of Mr. Chief Justice Marshall, delivered a hundred years ago, that “Russia and Genève are equal”.

Mr. Estrada then stated that while it was easy for Americans, Frenchmen, Mexicans, and Paraguayans to associate with one another personally on good terms and as equals, it was not possible for governments so to conduct themselves; that the mass of American people were different from individual Americans, and that the dealings between two governments had to be conducted on a different basis than did differences between individuals. He intimated very clearly, I thought, that his idea was to deal at arms’ length.

I told him that when two American business men had a difficult business negotiation, they never took their lawyers with them, but left them on the outside, because if they took the lawyers with them, the two lawyers would get into a fight and they never would make their agreement. I said that I was of the impression that if Mr. Estrada and Mr. Clark, or Mr. Schiaffino and Mr. Clark could get into a room and discuss matters and leave the Minister, the Subsecretary, and the Ambassador on the outside, it might be possible to accomplish much.

The interview left me with one distinct impression,—namely, that Mr. Estrada does not wish to accelerate this Claims Commission question. I am not sure whether he intends to try to avoid any further [Page 504] decisions by the Commission, pending discussions of an en bloc settlement, or whether he is intending to try to delay any further decisions or hearings by either Commission, pending the time when, an en bloc settlement failing, it becomes necessary to ask for a renewal, or whether he has both situations in mind.

He told me that at our interviews Mr. Schiaffino would have with him Mr. González Roa as his advisor, and that of course I might bring anybody that I desired to have.

J. Reuben Clark, Jr.

Mexico, December 9, 1930.

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