817.00 Johnson Electoral Mission/203: Telegram

The Minister in Nicaragua (Hanna) to the Secretary of State

91. Your May 27, 1 p.m. I have discussed the matter of Major Price’s appointment with President Moncada. A majority of the members of the Supreme Court were present by President Moncada’s request. They expressed the opinion that the plan proposed by the Department would be illegal for the following reasons.

Executive decreie number 102 of July 26, 1930, making changes in the electoral law of 1923 specifies in its article 3 that those changes [Page 877]shall have force only when an American citizen designated by the President of the United States and appointed by the Supreme Court of Justice of Nicaragua is President of the National Board of Elections and “during elections for supreme authorities”. The changes consequently are not in force for the municipal elections this year and the electoral law of 1923 will govern the municipal elections this year. The electoral law of 1923 makes no provision for the appointment of an alternate to the chairman of the National Board of Elections. President Moncada and the four members of the Supreme Court present were of the opinion that the purposes the Department has in view may be accomplished in one of the following ways:

The executive might submit to the Nicaraguan Congress now in session a bill modifying the existing legal situation so as to legalize the appointment of Major Price as alternate with the right to succeed to the chairmanship of the National Board of Elections in the absence of Captain Johnson. This bill might or might not provide also that the electoral law as modified by the executive decree of July 26th, 1930, would be applicable during the municipal elections this year. This plan was deemed objectionable by those present because of the discussion it would provoke in Congress and the probability that the bill would not be approved.
The executive might delay action until the Congress adjourned and then make the necessary changes in the law by executive decree under the authority conferred upon him by article 111, paragraph 2 and 33, of the Constitution. This procedure might involve considerable delay because Congress may take a recess and prolong its ordinary session indefinitely.
If Captain Johnson will resign as President of the National Board of Elections the Supreme Court may appoint Major Price to the position, under the provisions of the electoral law of 1923. The law does not, in the opinion of the members of the Supreme Court present at the conference, preclude the appointment of an American to that position. This plan seemed to be the least objectionable to those present.

President Moncada authorized me to present the foregoing for your consideration and advice. I noted no disposition on the part of those present to oppose the general purpose of the Department’s plan. On the contrary they seemed to be making a serious effort to find a legal way to put the plan into effect.

The following procedure occurred to me but did not propose it. Captain Johnson might resign as President of the National Board of Elections and this Government might then fill the vacancy by the appointment of a Nicaraguan in accordance with the electoral law of 1923. Major Price could then be designated as an observer after an exchange of notes with this Government which would insure his being so recognized by this Government and being given ample facilities to enable him to accomplish his mission. I perceive strong objections to [Page 878]Major Price acting as President of the National Board of Elections under the electoral law of 1923. He would have great responsibility without adequate powers and his position consequently would be extremely difficult. His presence would be considered as constituting American supervision, especially by the opposition party, and this probably would give rise to serious complaints, unjust conclusions and misjudging of our true purpose. If he were here as an observer only he could fairly well accomplish the main purpose we have in mind and could avoid all responsibility in connection with the elections but his presence nevertheless would exercise a moral effect. There would be little or no ground for a claim that the elections were being supervised. I prefer this plan.