817.00 Johnson Electoral Mission/213

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

No. 405

Sir: With reference to the Department’s telegram No. 139 of June 15, 1931, and previous correspondence on the subject of municipal elections to be held in Nicaragua this year, and concerning certain preliminaries to American supervision of the presidential elections of next year, I have the honor to transmit herewith copies and translations of correspondence exchanged between President Moncada and me on that subject.

[Page 882]

In compliance with the Department’s instruction No. 135 of March 7, 1931, and following the receipt of the Department’s telegram No. 125 of May 27, 1931, I addressed a letter to President Moncada on May 27, 1931, a copy of which is enclosed,60 informing him of the resignation as Vice Chairman of the National Board of Elections of Commander Andrew S. Hickey, U.S.N., and requesting the designation of Major Charles F. B. Price, U.S.M.C., in his stead. A copy and translation of President Moncada’s acknowledgement, dated June 1, 1931, are likewise enclosed.60

During the interim between the dates of the two letters I had discussed the matter of elections with President Moncada and a majority of the members of the Supreme Court, with the results expressed in my telegram No. 91 of May 29, 1931.

Following the receipt of the Department’s telegrams No. 135 of June 11, 1931, and No. 139 of June 15, 1931, I addressed to President Moncada on June 16, 1931, two letters, copies of which are enclosed,61 the first expressing the opinion of the Government of the United States that Major Price should be present in Nicaragua prior to and during the municipal elections of 1931, to observe them and report on them, and the second expressing the willingness of the Department of State to request the resignation of Captain Johnson as Chairman of the National Board of Elections, and requesting assurances from the Government of Nicaragua that certain measures, including necessary changes, reforms, etc., to the Electoral Law of March 23, 1923, and the resignation of the Nicaraguan President of the National Board of Elections in favor of the American to be designated to supervise the Presidential Elections of 1932 be effected in ample time prior to those elections.

I have just received President Moncada’s reply, dated June 18, 1931, to my two letters of June 16, in which he accepts the Department’s proposal to send Major Price to Nicaragua to observe the municipal elections of 1931, and expresses the belief that Captain Johnson’s resignation as President of the National Board of Elections is desirable. A copy and translation of the letter are enclosed.

The President’s letter, while acceptable in the sense that it expresses agreement with certain of the Department’s suggestions, is in other respects not so satisfactory, in that it contains inaccuracies and statements capable of misinterpretation. For example, in the first paragraph of his letter President Moncada refers to a desire alleged to have been expressed in my first letter of June 16 that Major Price be appointed President of the National Board of Elections. The Department [Page 883]will note that in my acknowledgment of the President’s letter, enclosed herewith, I corrected this inaccuracy.

In his third paragraph President Moncada states that the Department of State, prior to the Presidential Election last year, “thought of extending the activities of the National Board of Elections, especially in municipal changes in the Department of Chontales”. It is my recollection that the Department at that time expressed its willingness that the National Board of Elections under the Presidency of Captain Johnson should supervise municipal elections in that Department if the Nicaraguan Government so desired, but that it was a matter for that Government’s decision.

In his fifth paragraph President Moncada appears to be of the impression that Major Price’s appointment as President of the National Board of Elections is still being requested, whereas my letter of June 16, to which the President’s letter refers, in its first paragraph states that “it obviously is not practicable to proceed further at this time with the proposed appointment of Major Charles F. B. Price, U.S.M.C., to the National Board of Elections under Article XVI of that decree”.

In the eighth paragraph of the President’s letter he refers to the wish of the Department of State that he make a new statement regarding the necessity of an American President of the National Board of Elections during the next Presidential election. I expressed no such wish in either of my letters to which he refers. In my second letter of June 16, 1931, I expressed the Department’s wish, set forth in its telegram No. 139 of June 15, 1931, for assurances that certain preliminaries to the supervision of the Presidential elections of 1931, including the resignation of the Nicaraguan President of the Board in favor of the American to be named, be effected in ample time prior to the elections. It was doubtless this statement which the President had in mind.

While it would appear that the misstatements and inaccuracies in the President’s letter should be cleared for the sake of the record, I shall make no attempt to do this on my own initiative, since the destruction of the Legation’s archives has made it impossible to make concise references to documents which the Legation formerly possessed. It is believed, however, that the Department has in its possession material with which to clear the record if it considers this step desirable.

From the general tone of President Moncada’s letter, and especially from the contents of the last paragraph, in which he refers to the acquiescence of Congress and the Judicial Power as part of the support for the suspension of the fundamental laws of the Republic, I have gained the impression that the President may be preparing legal [Page 884]grounds on which the Nicaraguan Government may object to possible changes in the Electoral Law prior to the 1932 elections. It will be remembered in this connection that the amendment covering the election of 1930 was made by executive decree, without reference to Congress, and was not officially submitted to the Supreme Court. The Department will likewise note, in this connection, that the President in his letter does not give the assurance requested by the Department that the necessary changes, alterations, etc., in the Electoral Law of 1923 will be made in ample time prior to the elections of 1932.

With reference to the fourth paragraph of the Department’s telegram No. 135 of June 11, 1931, instructing me to make certain changes in the text of the “Statement of Policy with respect to the Elections in Nicaragua between now and November, 1932”, I wish to state that it is my intention to delay releasing that statement until informed by the Department of the date on which it will make it public in the United States. I would therefore appreciate receiving telegraphic advice of that date.

Respectfully yours,

Matthew E. Hanna
[Enclosure 1—Translation]

The President of Nicaragua (Moncada) to the American Minister (Hanna)

Excellency: I have read with close attention Your Excellency’s letter of June 16, 1931, with reference to the National Board of Elections and the desire to name Major F. B. Price, United States Marine Corps, as President of that Board.

Notwithstanding the good will of my Government to comply with the desire of the Department of State to achieve free elections in Nicaragua, not only with respect to Supreme Authorities, but also with reference to Municipal Authorities, an obstacle has been encountered in the Constitution and the laws of Nicaragua.

During the elections for Senators and Deputies last year, under the Presidency of the National Board, filled by an American delegate, Captain Johnson, the Department of State thought of extending the activities of the National Board of Elections, especially in municipal changes in the Department of Chontales. But the Organic Law of Municipalities, the Dodds Law, and the Political Constitution, itself, of Nicaragua, establish the right of mayors of municipalities to accept nominations and declare them, and to make the final count, and consequently the right of appeal to the Supreme Court for an injunction in case any of the candidates considered himself prejudiced [Page 885]by the non-compliance with the express laws of the Republic. Since the good will of the American Government has been directed toward the progress of our institutions and the development of the Republic in Central America, the Department of State has been confronted with the obstacle of our Constitution, and it has been necessary, in various ways, to study and meditate concerning the friction between the emergency laws originating in the Tipitapa agreements62 and dictated with the advice of General Frank R. McCoy and Captain Johnson, and the Fundamental Law of the Republic, already referred to. This latter has been placed aside with the consent of the two principal parties, the Liberal and the Conservative, that is, with the concensus of the well established majority of the Nicaragua people, which, under the Republican form of Government definitely solves these problems.

But it is one thing to obey necessity and another to obey the law. If my Government had consented to the manifest desires of Captain Johnson to hold Municipal elections, the supervision would have lost its prestige; and the Supreme Court of Justice, notwithstanding its good will to cooperate with Captain Johnson, would have been obliged to declare an injunction against all those municipalities elected in contravention to the Fundamental Charter of the Republic, to the Organic Law of Municipalities, and to the Dodds Law.

The same results would follow today the supervision of Major F. B. Price, United States Marines, if he intervened in municipal elections. I am sure that if in the last emergency Captain Johnson did not esteem these reasons pertinent, the Department of State will so consider them now, conceding that my Government is fully justified.

Consequently, I applaud and accept the designation of Major Price as an expert observer in the future municipal elections, which I hope and wish will be absolutely free, with the ready and efficient aid of the National Guard.63

Your Excellency sent with the note referred to another in which you tell me that Captain Johnson can resign if my Government so desires, I believe it is advisable, in order that the Supreme Court may be free to follow the provisions and spirit of the Dodds Law.

With respect to the wish of the Department of State that I make a new statement regarding the necessity of an American President of the National Board of Elections during the next Presidential elections, Your Excellency may assure the Department that is a great pleasure [Page 886]for me, and an imperative duty, to carry out my word already given, which arises from my own convictions.

It is obvious that as in the case of the McCoy and Johnson Laws, this suspension of the Electoral Law of March, 1923, is unconstitutional and that in suspending it we have as support only the acquiescence of the two political parties in which the Republic is divided, of their representatives in Congress, of the good will of the Judicial Power and of the Executive Power—since the emergency laws referred to are not based on our constitution’s precepts or the statutes of the Republic.

I have [etc.]

J. M. Moncada
[Enclosure 2]

The American Minister (Hanna) to the President of Nicaragua (Moncada)

Excellency: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of Your Excellency’s reply of June 18, 1931, to my two letters of June 16, 1931, one of which related to the contemplated visit to Nicaragua of Major Charles F. B. Price, United States Marine Corps, in connection with the municipal elections of this year, and the other related to the probable desire of the Nicaraguan Government to name a Nicaraguan citizen Chairman of the National Board of Elections to serve in connection with those municipal elections. I am gratified to note that Your Excellency is pleased to accept the suggestion of the Department of State that Major Price act as an observer of those elections. I also note that Your Excellency accepts the proffer of the Department of State to request Captain A. W. Johnson, United States Navy, to resign as Chairman of the National Board of Elections to the end that a Nicaraguan citizen may be appointed to that position for the approaching municipal elections. I shall lose no time in transmitting a copy of Your Excellency’s reply to the Department of State.

The first paragraph of Your Excellency’s letter, in which you refer to my letter of June 16 as expressing a desire that Major Price be named President of the National Board of Elections, indicates that there may exist some misunderstanding on that point, and I therefore wish to point out that, in my letter referred to, I did not suggest that Major Price be appointed to that position, but did, in view of certain legal circumstances which Your Excellency had previously mentioned to me, express my Government’s desire to send Major Price to Nicaragua as an observer of the coming municipal elections.

I avail myself [etc.]

Matthew E. Hanna
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Neither printed.
  4. i. e., the agreement between Colonel Stimson and General Moncada, confirmed by Colonel Stimson’s note to General Moncada, dated at Tipitapa, May 11, 1927, Foreign Relations, 1927, vol. iii, p. 345.
  5. Major Price arrived in Managua on July 23, 1931.