352.1121 Blodgett, Walton/83
The Ambassador in Spain (Bowers) to the Acting Secretary of State
[Received August 12.]
Sir: With reference to my telegram No. 43 of July 22, 12 noon, 1933,38 concerning the five Americans who have until recently been held in prison in Mallorca, I desire to place before you the following observations concerning this case and the situation in Mallorca arising from the unfortunate activities of other Americans there.
While the five Americans,… at Palma have been released on bail on the orders of Azaña,39 the incident will not be closed until the case is finally disposed of through a trial or a dismissal of the case. This is appreciated by the Foreign Office and by Azaña here, and both the latter and Sr. de los Ríos40 have voluntarily assured me that they will continue to interest themselves personally until the case finally is disposed of.
Consul General Dawson reports that a representative of the International News Service informs him, after a conversation with the Juez [Page 710] Instructor, that the military authorities in Palma plan to proceed with the trial with the view to giving the Americans the minimum sentence. This would mean serving a longer time in jail. I have reasons to believe that this is not in accord with Azaña’s idea. This Juez Instructor has been summoned to Madrid, and I have no doubt that Azaña has sought to impress upon him the importance of abandoning the trial or of limiting the sentence, in case of trial, to the seven weeks already served, which would mean the unconditional release of the prisoners. I shall talk with Sr. de los Ríos and try to impress him with the importance of following this course.
In view of possible contingencies certain fundamental facts should be in your possession. Evidently there has been a wholly erroneous impression in the United States regarding the case.
- First, this is not a police court case, or anything like it. The offense is considered one of the most serious in Spain, not only now, but it was during the monarchy.
- Second, the Guardia Civil is not an organization of policemen under the civil authority despite its apparent direction by the Department of the Interior, but it is the very cream of the military organization, and no attack on, or resistance to, its members is a matter for the civil courts.
- Third, there was nothing unusual in the proceedings against the five Americans, and their legal rights, and all their legal rights, were scrupulously observed.
We had, then, no legal grounds on which to protest. We had to make our play on public policy—the effect on public opinion in the United States.
Aside from the legal phase, there are political complications in this case. The Guardia Civil since the fifth decade of the last century has been a high-grade and very efficient agency in the maintenance of law and order. It was organized to meet the crime and lawlessness that developed between the time of the Napoleonic invasion and the time of its formation. It speedily vindicated itself. It has been efficient because its members have been more or less sacrosanct; because it has been understood that to resist or attack a member of the organization would mean a severe punishment by a military court. The result has been that for generations a few of the guard have been able to cow a mob. This has made them both respected and feared. Among the disorderly elements it has made them hated.
In recent months a number have been killed by the subversive forces [Page 711] and this has made the guards all the more arrogant and intolerant of opposition or even criticism and all the more insistent with the civil authorities in demanding all their privileges under the law.
In the initial stages of the Revolution the republic was suspicious of the loyalty of the Guardia Civil, and, without interfering with them, a purely republican military organization was perfected with the probable ultimate view to disbanding the Guards entirely. Time has failed to disclose the feared disloyalty, and the Government probably is now convinced that the old military organization is the most dependable of all in the maintenance of law and order. Just now there is an unmistakable tendency in the Government to cultivate its good will. This has embarrassed even Azaña in brushing it aside rather arbitrarily in the case of the five Americans.
There is another explanation for the evident prejudice of the Guardian military authorities in Palma in this case. In a despatch No. 217 of February 21, 1933,41 Consul General Dawson informed the Department of the increasing embarrassment to Americans and American officials here, due to the conduct of so many of our people in Mallorca. There are many Americans in Mallorca who conduct themselves in such a way as to reflect credit upon us; there are many others, and these are increasing, who are a disgrace to us. These are an irresponsible group who live in a chronic state of drunkenness and indecency, parading the streets half clothed, offending local feeling, treating the natives with arrogance, and their laws and regulations with a jeering levity. These have been attacked even in the Madrid press. The English colony in Palma refuses to associate with them, and the respectable American element there is constantly humiliated. The military authorities in Palma have had much trouble with them, and this explains in large measure its uncompromising attitude in the case of the five Americans—whose offense happens to have been the straw to break the camel’s back.
This is unfortunate, since these five are not of the disreputable group that has caused the most trouble. They have done serious work as painters, have excellent family connections, and but one of these was drunk at the time of the fracas. The trouble was caused by this one man.
In the midst of the attempts to serve these five Americans, Theodore Pratt’s42 scurrilous article sneering at the people of Mallorca and [Page 712] shamelessly slandering them appeared, and but for the Guardia Civil he would have been roughly handled.
It is possible that the severity of the punishment of the five may have a sobering effect upon the irresponsibles of the American colony. If not, we shall be continuously involved in unpleasant incidents that reflect seriously on the American character, and the Consulate at Barcelona and the Embassy will be devoting much of its [their] time and energy to demanding that there shall be no interference with the drunken and indecent element which violates the laws of Spain.