Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Current Information (McDermott) of Press Conference by the Secretary of State, Monday, April 20, 1931
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With reference to the trouble in Honduras the Secretary said that four ports were mentioned in the despatches received. In the first place the Memphis arrived at Ceiba at 12:35 this morning. Truxillo and Port Castillo have been mentioned as two places but they are in fact together, Port Castillo is the residential section of Truxillo. The U. S. S. Trenton is now on her way to that port but has not yet arrived. One of the United Fruit Company boats is also en route to Truxillo. The third port mentioned is Tela and there is a United Fruit Company’s boat there now. The fourth is Cortez and the Marblehead is on her way there from Guantanamo, Cuba. There are said to be 300 Americans at Ceiba, 242 at Castillo, 333 at Tela and 372 at Cortez, making a total of 1,252 in the disturbed areas of Honduras.
The Secretary then read the substance of despatches from our Minister to Honduras, Mr. Julius G. Lay, which were to the effect that a revolutionary movement broke out yesterday in the interior of the Tela, Port Castillo and Truxillo districts. The Vice Consuls at those places, believing that sizable bodies of armed men were advancing on the port and believing that American lives and property were in danger, sent out a request for American warships. It was on that request that the movements of Naval vessels above mentioned were made. In [Page 560]the Tela district a force estimated at two hundred men occupied Progreso and vicinity. They robbed the Bank of Honduras and requisitioned arms, railroad and other stock. The force advanced from Tela as far as Urico, a distance of about forty miles. It appears that the Honduran Government regained possession of Progreso. The port of Cortez is as yet unaffected. No permanent military or political leaders have yet been identified with this movement which seems to be made up entirely from the unemployed, the communists and the riffraff and criminals of North Honduras. No revolutionary forces have approached nearer than thirty miles to the ports mentioned and it is believed that the uprising will soon fade out. Our Consuls have been instructed to take appropriate measures for the protection of Americans and other foreign lives and property and to suggest to the managers of the fruit companies at the ports mentioned to keep their steamships within reach for the evacuation of Americans and other foreigners if it becomes necessary. Wherever possible American women have been brought out from the interior points by the fruit companies. They have informed the Consuls of all European Powers in Tegucigalpa that American Consuls will do all that they can to protect their nationals. They are in constant consultation with the authorities and the representatives of the United and Standard Fruit Companies.
A correspondent asked if the Secretary would make a comparison between the present situations in Honduras and in Nicaragua. The Secretary then read the following paragraph from a press release which was issued yesterday:
“The situation in Honduras is different from that in Nicaragua as there is apparently a revolutionary movement against the Honduran Government. The American forces will limit themselves to making provisions for the safety of American lives and property in the coast towns.”
For information and background only the Secretary said that our forces in Honduras have to be very careful not to take sides between the two contending forces, the revolutionary and those of the Government, and the forces which land must confine themselves very strictly to the protection of American and foreign lives and property and are not to take any part in the domestic warfare of Honduras.
A correspondent then asked if that statement was not tantamount to the recognition of the state of war. The Secretary said that it had nothing to do with the question of recognition of belligerency and that it was only the part of prudence when a foreign force lands in a country where there is combat and where the combatants are not attacking Americans not to take any part in the quarrel whatever. [Page 561]That is different from the situation in Nicaragua where outlaws are attacking our people.
The correspondent then asked if we were not according them the status of belligerents, to which the Secretary replied that we were merely keeping out of the way of two people who were fighting.
In answer to a question as to whether there was any indication of a connection between the rebels in Honduras and the bandits in Nicaragua, the Secretary said that on the contrary it had been known for a long time that there was an acute situation from an economic and labor viewpoint in Honduras and that the conditions were such that trouble might have come at any moment.
A correspondent said that as a result of the action in Nicaragua last week, particularly the refusal of the United States to employ Marines in the interior, there has come to be what is known as a new Administration policy and he enquired if that would be carried out in Honduras. The Secretary replied that the correspondent’s premise was incorrect, making the discussion of that point unnecessary. The statement which was given to the press on Saturday contained all that the Secretary desired to say at that time.
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