The Minister in Honduras (Lay) to the Secretary of State

No. 187

Sir: Referring to the Department’s telegram No. 8 of January 30, 1931, 4 P.M. and my reply of February 3, 1931, 5 P.M. thereto, the Department’s instruction No. 93 of January 29, 1931,19 and previous correspondence regarding the embargo on arms and ammunition that the Department has been maintaining for the past six years at the request of the Honduran Government, I have the honor to make the following observations on the irregularities practiced here in connection with the arms trade at the present time.

As far as this Legation has been able to ascertain, army rifles and cartridges for these rifles of 30 and 45 calibre have not been lawfully imported into Honduras during the past year. These munitions are smuggled, however, through Honduras for the bandits on the Nicaraguan frontier. It is known that these bandits have recently been well supplied with ammunition for rifles and machine guns.

[Page 587]

Upon examination of the records of this Legation, it was found that about 1,000,000 rounds of cartridges of 32 and 38 calibre for revolvers have alone been imported under embargo permit by the Department during the past year. Since this enormous quantity of cartridges of these calibres could not possibly be actually used by the Honduran Army and Police, I have made inquiries of the Minister of Foreign Affairs as to the destination of these cartridges and was informed that his Government considered these cartridges for Government use inasmuch as import permits were issued by the Government to dealers in firearms and cartridges in consideration of a reduction in its outstanding accounts with these firms for other merchandise previously purchased by the Government from these firms. In other words, our embargo assists the Government here to pay its bills. The firms to whom these permits are granted are chiefly the large German Importing and Exporting houses who have many small branch stores throughout the country where these cartridges are sold to Syrian traders. This dealing in permits which I strongly suspect does not benefit only the Government in the way described but also some of the higher officials of the Government, does not explain the destination and the use made of the enormous quantities of revolver ammunition that is being imported to Honduras. Consequently, upon receipt of the Department’s telegram, I asked the President of the Republic how a million revolver cartridges could be used in Honduras by the civilian population in that length of time, even admitting that every male adult who can afford it carries a revolver in this country. Without hesitation he admitted frankly that most of these cartridges were being smuggled across the border into Salvador and Guatemala but that he did not believe many of them reached the Sandino bandits on the Nicaraguan frontier, where he stated a patrol is maintained and furthermore the bandits used very little revolver ammunition. The only suggestion he had to offer to remedy the situation was that the Department issue permits for a much smaller quantity of cartridges.

The Naval Attachè at this Legation is informed by a firm that deals in large quantities of cartridges for civilian use that permits must be obtained from the Honduran Government for all arms and munitions from whatever country imported and that if the quantity from the United States were limited to those for actual use in Honduras, an additional quantity to be smuggled to Salvador and Guatemala would be imported from other countries at possibly greater cost than American cartridges owing to higher freight, and this firm made some allusion to possible difficulties of shipping cartridges through the Panama Canal.

In my telegram No. 28 of February 3, 1931, 5 PM, I have suggested that it is advisable to continue the United States embargo in order to [Page 588] retain a certain check on the destination of ammunition, especially for rifles but except for this purpose I cannot perceive what benefit is derived by retaining our embargo. I am certain that the Department will not approve of continuing the embargo for this doubtful advantage when by so doing the Department is aiding corrupt trade in munition permits among Honduran officials and may be laying itself open to the chargé of maintaining an embargo that facilitates the smuggling of munitions from Honduras into Salvador and Guatemala, where the Governments of these last two named countries try to maintain a strict control over the sale of munitions by a system of rationing among their dealers.

After careful consideration of this subject and discussion with the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I recommend that the Department authorize me to say to the President that in as much as our embargo is not accomplishing the purposes for which it was imposed that the Department had decided to withdraw the embargo. Or, if the Department prefers, I can suggest that we might continue the embargo if the Honduran Government would limit permits for revolver cartridges other than 30 and 45 calibre to quantities required for the actual use of the Honduran civilian population, Army and Police. I believe that I can make such an arrangement with the President and if so it will be less objectionable to him than withdrawing our embargo.

I have no confidence that Honduras could limit the sale of munitions in this country by adopting the ration system.

Respectfully yours,

Julius G. Lay
  1. Not printed.