The Minister in Paraguay (Wheeler) to the Secretary of State

No. 445

Sir: In my telegram of today4 I have had the honor to transmit the significant points of a memorandum handed me yesterday by Dr. Arbo giving Paraguay’s view of the draft-Pact of Non-Aggression5 submitted by the Paraguayan and Bolivian delegations at Washington to their Governments and received here by air-mail on May 25th. I am enclosing, herewith, full text and translation.

The memorandum was at the same time handed to the other Neutral representatives here and later copies were given to the Ministers of Brazil and Argentina. Dr. Arbo informed me that he was not cabling the text to his delegation. I assume that it will go forward by air-mail, if it was not already on its way when the copy was handed me.

On May twenty-eighth I had a conversation with him concerning the draft-Pact, which he said was being studied but that no decision had as yet been arrived at as to instructions to the Delegates. He considered the project “good in some respects”, but was not yet prepared to discuss it in detail. Ayala had told me confidentially that he himself had already discussed it both with Arbo and with the President (Guggiari) and that the agreement had been reached that Paraguay would be justified in signing such a Pact only in case an effective guarantee be provided.

Ayala’s personal attitude toward the question was the subject of my telegram No. 29 of May 3.6 He believes strongly that the only effective guarantee that stands any chance of consideration by Bolivia [Page 14] is the indirect one provided by a mutual reduction of the troops of both countries. That alone would tend to prevent clashes by the necessitated limitation of forces in the Chaco. He does not consider Vasconsellos’ objection wholly ingenuous, and believes that he fears such a proposal would arouse popular protest here and injure him politically. Ayala tells me that, as the result of his country-wide speech-making since his return to Paraguay, in which he has repeatedly introduced this question without sign of popular resentment and with every indication of public approval, he is convinced that public opinion here, even if there should be some agitation by the opposition, would accept the proposal enthusiastically. Arbo, he assures me, would be for it, as would Guggiari, provided of course that the Government here is not put in the position of initiating the proposal. Ayala’s hope is that the Neutral and Associated Representatives at the proper moment may see their way clear to laying formally before the two Delegations a concrete proposal for troop-reduction; this the Delegations must of necessity refer to their two Governments and Ayala is apparently confident that he could control the Cabinet decision here.

I must say that I do not feel so sure of this. Ayala’s idea of troop-limitation has been so long misrepresented to the public and has so far proven so unpopular among the rank and file of the Army, that an immediate unfavorable reaction seems to me certain, and it remains to be seen whether this can be overcome within the limited period and with the Government’s resources of propaganda. In view of this situation it seems to me by no means certain that the Ministers of War and of Interior would countenance the proposal, except in the event of Bolivia’s declared approval.

Dr. Arbo, in our conversations, has avoided giving any suggestion as to the possible character of a direct guarantee which Paraguay would consider adequate or desirable. The two South American Powers contiguous, whose influence and ambitions more nearly balance, Argentina and Brazil, naturally suggest themselves in such a connection. Dr. Ayala is of opinion that Brazil independently would be willing to assume no responsibilities whatsoever, but that at the initiation of Argentina she would agree to take part in any joint action which the other favored. My Brazilian colleague here, however, is convinced that his Government would under no circumstances consider such a proposal.

The only newspaper comment so far on the draft-Pact is that of today’s Orden (Independent) which holds that in Article V the Delegation exceeded its powers, that the Article is a tacit recognition [Page 15] of Bolivia’s usurped positions, and that no agreement can be accepted which does not provide for her withdrawal therefrom.

Tomorrow’s El Liberal (Government) will say editorially: “The reading (of the draft) has caused us an unexpected disappointment. The good-will of the United States and the complete impartiality which animates the personages who have drafted it, and concerning whom it is not possible to entertain a moment’s doubt, are not reflected in its contents.…7 The Washington proposal has nothing of a Pact of Non-aggression except the name.” It will take the attitude of the Foreign Office Memorandum, that if Paraguay signs a Pact it must provide either a guarantee or a provision for an arbitration on the basic question.

Respectfully yours,

Post Wheeler

The Paraguayan Minister for Foreign Affairs (Arbo) to the American Minister (Wheeler)


The project offered by Mr. White as a basis of discussion during the verbal conferences to be held by the delegates of Paraguay and Bolivia suggests the following observations.

A) In it is considered the pact of non-aggression proposed by Bolivia; but it does not take into consideration the counter-proposal of Paraguay. Therefore, it does not seek an intermediate solution between both projects, as we hoped. This circumstance places the delegates of Paraguay in an unfavorable situation.

Notwithstanding the above, Paraguay with a spirit of good-will, will agree to study the project referred to.

B) Paraguay is willing to sign a pact of non-aggression if it offers effective guarantees that aggression will not occur. The pact should guarantee peace. The contrary would mean that it is one more diplomatic document to be added to those already negotiated between Paraguay and Bolivia, and which have not served to prevent the state of permanent aggression in which Bolivia has placed itself in having advanced its military positions from the year 19138 for some time past, thus violating the pact of 1907.9

The pact of non-aggression should remove the possibility of clashes [Page 16] of the armed forces of both countries, for only in this manner can a spiritual environment be created which will render practicable diplomatic negotiations. It should also offer the possibility of diminishing the armed forces of occupation of the fortínes of the Chaco, for only in this fashion will both countries gain a substantial benefit from the pact which an effort is being made to subscribe, in being able to eliminate from their budgets that factor of disturbance or neglect of other absolute necessities of the nation. A Pact of non-aggression which obliges us to remain with guns on our shoulders, without the possibility of diminishing, without serious risk our military budget, offers us no advantage. Neither does it contribute anything to the peace of America.

To sum up: Paraguay requires that the pact of non-aggression be backed by a sufficient and effective international guarantee.

The word or signature of Bolivia alone does not merit our confidence because we have the unhappy experience that for her pacts are “Chiffon de papier”.

Paraguay, in requiring “guarantees”, “securities”, is not to be understood as waiving any of the primordial rights of sovereignty, and in this it has for criterion mighty France in her discussion of the problem of disarmament.

C) Paraguay would also accept, almost without modifications, the proposal transmitted if simultaneously it could sign a protocol of arbitration, submitting to a legal arbitration the basic question, that is to say, that of limits, together with the other questions asserted by the parties in dispute, for in this case it would be justified in waiving the right of possession which it alleges in conformity with the pact of 1907 and its extensions, as a contribution to the peaceful solution of the dispute and to the peace of America.

What is the difficulty existing in the signing of a Protocol of Arbitration? The opposition of Bolivia. She demands that there be determined beforehand the zone which shall be submitted to arbitration, reserving from this moment a large part of the disputed territory. Paraguay also wishes, and with greater reason, because it has held the Chaco for approximately four centuries since the founding of Asunción in 1537, to establish beyond question its possession of all of the littoral; but convinced that she should neither impose her judgment upon Bolivia nor permit the latter’s to prevail, she has suggested a double arbitration, to the end that there first be determined the specific subject-matter of the question in dispute, an honorable proceeding that none of the parties may reasonably reject.

D) Considering concretely the White proposal, it is sufficient to point out:

[Page 17]

Article 1. It is harmless, unnecessary, inasmuch as Paraguay and Bolivia are adherents to the Pact of the League of Nations10 which covers the point in the article; to the Kellogg-Briand Pact;11 to the Gondra Treaty;12 and likewise the same obligation is contracted by both countries in the Díaz Léon-Gutiérrez Protocol of 1927,13 and in the final act of the Conferences of Buenos Aires of July, 1928,14 all of which, nevertheless, have not prevented military incidents in the fortines of the Chaco, and the repeated threats of aggression on the part of Bolivia. In spite of the above, Paraguay accepts article 1.

Article 2. Paraguay accepts the renewal of diplomatic relations with Bolivia, with the more reason because it did not cause their suspension. It was caused by a certain precipitancy of the Chancery of La Paz.

When the Argentine Chancery intervened in a friendly manner, before the two Governments, during the provisional presidency of General Uriburu, for the purpose of restoring relations, and when, not over two months ago, the present Chancellor of Argentina, Dr. Carlos Saavedra Lamas, made a suggestion to our Legation in Buenos Aires in the same tenor, Paraguay expressed, on both occasions, that it was disposed to renew relations.

As a proof of this good-will, the Paraguayan Government instructed its delegates in Washington to suggest immediate renewal of diplomatic relations, in a Protocol separate from the Pact under consideration; and in the proposed budget sent to the Congress, funds were included to provide for the Legation at La Paz.

Article 3. The agreement which this article imposes ought to be of a more concrete character. It should establish a clause such as the following, for example: “If this period expires (that of six months) and no agreement is arrived at, the Protocol of Arbitration to which the parties thereto subscribe on this date shall become effective. For this purpose it shall be considered as an integral part of this Pact”.

As concerns the Protocol of Arbitration, it might be agreed to plan it in accordance with the bases of the “General Inter-American Treaty of Arbitration” of January 5, 1929.15

Article 5. Establishes a measure which jeopardizes the peace. Bolivia will endeavor, with a mere announcement of agreement on [Page 18] this point, to advance her positions, following her policy of desiring to seize by military occupation the territory which is in dispute. This is able to cause the aggression to avoid which efforts are now being made.

Article 6. Upon the initiation of the Conferences in Washington, and later at the request of the Neutrals, Paraguay and Bolivia gave an undertaking not to advance their present positions and not to effect any movement or concentration of troops. Nevertheless Bolivia alarmed all America by the concentration of troops and military supplies which it made in Villa Montes.

Hence, a mere promise of Bolivia, without an effective guarantee, cannot offer Paraguay any assurance that the promise given will be carried out. It is for this reason that Paraguay demands the effective guarantee of an international character, in order that it may rest secure in the Pact which is signed.

Article 7. This article establishes the procedure of investigation in those cases in which incidents might occur between the armed forces of one or the other of the countries. This provision is unnecessary, both countries being signatories of the Gondra Treaty which establishes the method, tribunal, and procedures to be followed in investigations of the nature referred to.

If the Commission of Investigation is to be composed of citizens of those countries engaged in the dispute, it is not to be doubted that no conciliatory solution can be expected from the said Commission.

The same objection may be made to articles 7 [8], 9, and 10.

  1. No. 35, June 2, 6 p.m.; not printed.
  2. Supra.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Omission indicated in the original.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1914, pp. 27 ff.
  6. The Pinilla-Soler Protocol of January 12, 1907, ibid., 1907, pt. 1, p. 87.
  7. Treaties, Conventions, etc., Between the United States of America and Other Powers, 1910–1923 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1923), vol. iii, p. 3336.
  8. Foreign Relations, 1928, vol. i, p. 153.
  9. Ibid., 1923, vol. i, p. 308; see also ibid., 1928, vol. i, pp. 644 ff.
  10. Signed April 22, 1927; for text, see despatch No. 275, April 29, 1927, from the Chargé in Argentina, ibid., 1927, vol. i, p. 316.
  11. Ibid., 1928, vol. i, p. 675.
  12. Ibid., 1929, vol. i, p. 659.