The Ambassador in Mexico ( Clark ) to the Secretary of State

No. 2255


[The portion of this despatch here omitted recounts past incidents in American-Mexican relations.]

As I have stated, these various matters indicated a growing disposition of friendliness towards the United States, and a desire that closer and more intimate relations should exist between the two countries.

When Mr. James T. Williams, Jr.45 was here in late August and early September of 1932, he had a conversation with President Abelardo L. Rodriguez, then Minister of War, in the course of which President made suggestions, on his own initiation, along the following lines:

President Rodriguez stated he felt the people of the United States did not appreciate that there would come a time when the United States would need Mexico (apparently in times of war); that he wished the people of the United States could be brought to understand this, with the idea of bringing about a better feeling between the two countries; that he hoped it might be possible to work out a plan by which in such time of need the United States could furnish to Mexico some naval tonnage, apparently to be used in joint naval operations. Commenting upon Mr. Williams’ suggestion that the latter had read that Mexico intends to build some naval vessels, President Rodriguez replied that the vessels they had in mind in this connection were merely police boats and were not of the character of vessels that he was now discussing.

[Page 831]

When I made my first call upon President Abelardo L. Rodriguez on September 5, 1932, I referred (in the brief conversation which I had with him) to his conversation with Mr. James T. Williams, Jr., which Mr. Williams had reported to me, and stated that I fully agreed with the President in his suggestions; that I had given some thought to his expressions; and that I was prepared at some convenient time to take up, either directly with him or with the Minister for Foreign Affairs (who was present at the interview) the question which he had mentioned to Mr. Williams.

President Rodriguez indicated that he thought we might discuss the general question informally as “two friends”, and stated that he would look to the Minister for Foreign Affairs in connection with the discussion of the matter.

On my way back from the National Palace to the Foreign Office, after the close of the interview with the President, I outlined briefly to the Minister for Foreign Affairs the statement which I understood President Rodriguez had made to Mr. Williams, and told the Minister that, as a matter of fact, since hearing of the conversation between the President and Mr. Williams, I had sketched out a few ideas in the rough which I thought might be properly discussed. I explained to the Minister that I was moving forward in a purely tentative way, without having consulted my Government, because I did not know what the attitude of the Mexican Government might be and what it might be possible to develop.

I stated that I had no idea that we should attempt at this time to make a formal treaty, but that I thought we might, proceeding on a strictly mutual basis—neither country asking what it would not grant—discuss such matters as: the possibility of our supplying some destroyers for them to use for police protection purposes on their coast, thus saving them the necessity, in their present financial condition, of building vessels for that purpose; and also the question of other cooperative defensive measures. I suggested it might perhaps ultimately be possible to exchange notes covering the matter. The Minister stated that he would be glad to talk the question over with me.

On October 11, 1932, I had another conversation with Minister Téllez. I recalled to the Minister’s mind the conversation which I had had with him on September 5th on our return to the Foreign Office from the National Palace after I had paid my first call on President Abelardo L. Rodriguez. I referred specifically to that part of the conversation which dealt with the possibility of some kind of an arrangement which would cover a situation that might arise in case of war between the United States and a Pacific power, and to the need of Mexico to secure marine tonnage.

The Minister stated that it looked to him as though war between the United States and Japan was inevitable.

[Page 832]

I said that I presumed a great many people had the same feeling, although personally I felt that such a war would be a crime, since it would be a war for which there would be no adequate cause. The Minister replied that there would be a commercial reason.

I then said that as to the marine tonnage, we had a considerable lot of it which had to be scrapped, and which I thought it might be possible to make some arrangement to have transferred to Mexico in some kind of way,—it might be by merely lending it to Mexico. I stated that the difficulty in the matter resulted from the provisions of the Limitation of Arms Treaty of 1922.46 The Minister replied that the difficulty would arise from Article XII; that he had held long conversations with Mr. Hughes about that Article. I stated that I did not recall the number of the Article, but that it forbade us to transfer naval tonnage to other powers (the number of the Article is XVIII). I said to the Minister that I had been wondering whether or not he and I could not sign a memorandum in which we would agree to recommend to our respective superiors the appointment of a joint commission to consider certain questions involved in the subject matter of my conversation with him on the day we came back from the National Palace. I added that I would like to have something concrete before taking the matter up even initially with the Department of State, and that I would be glad to submit a memorandum along the lines I had in mind, if he cared to see it. The Minister stated that he would be glad to have the memorandum, but that before expressing any opinion on the feasibility of doing what I had in mind, he would talk the matter over with President Rodriguez and General Calles.

On October 13, 1932, I again saw Minister Téllez and handed to him a draft memorandum reading as follows:

“The undersigned agree to recommend to their respective superiors that the Governments of the United States and Mexico appoint an informal joint commission to study and report to the two Governments upon the following problems:

  • “(a) The placing by the Government of the United States at the disposal of the Government of Mexico of a certain amount of marine tonnage, to be agreed upon by the two Governments, for use and operation by Mexico for prevention of narcotic and other smuggling and for other police purposes.
  • “(b) Problems touching the use by each of the naval bases and harbors of the other for combined naval manoeuvers, and otherwise, and touching the interchange of military and naval officers for purposes of training.
  • “(c) Plans for the mutual passage of troops and of military and naval aircraft belonging to the one over the territory of the other, as also for measures of cooperation in case of armed disturbances and for the protection of border towns in case of armed uprisings threatening the peace and safety thereof.
  • d) Regulations for the ferrying, in time of peace, of military and naval aircraft belonging to the one over the territory of the other, and for combined manoeuvers.”

At a later date (which, as my recollection goes, was in early November 1932) I again brought up the matter with Minister Téllez, who stated that he had talked the matter over with General Calles and was meeting with some difficulty. He added that he would like me to go with him to see General Calles at some time and to discuss the matter myself with the General. I told Minister Téllez that I would be very happy to have a conversation with General Calles about the subject.

Before I had an opportunity again to take the matter up with Minister Téllez, the question of his resignation as Minister for Foreign Affairs became imminent, and he did in fact resign on December 20, 1932.

In his conversation with me in early November, Minister Téllez pointed out that it would not be possible for Mexico to discuss the matters covered by paragraph (c) of the draft above given, since it would involve the passage of American troops into Mexican territory. I briefly recounted to the Minister the incidents which had happened in 1911, 1914, 1919, and 1929 at the border points of Agua Prieta, Juárez, and Naco,47 and stated that unless some arrangement could be made covering the matter, we might reasonably look for real difficulties. The Minister laughed and said he would leave me to discuss that matter with General Calles.

After Dr. Puig came in as Minister for Foreign Affairs (January 2, 1933) I confined my efforts entirely to closing the Convention for river rectification in the El Paso–Juárez valley.48

The Department’s records will show that in a conversation which I had with General Calles on February 6, 1932, the General brought up the question of the situation existing at that time between China and Japan, and raised the query as to whether or not the great powers would do something to protect China. He indicated at that time his apprehension with reference to Japan’s course and his displeasure and anxiety over the aggressive spirit with which Japan was moving forward.

It will be recalled that I reported to the Department at the time (see Embassy’s telegram number 35 of February 6, 1932)49 that General Calles had stated that in case of difficulties between the United States and Japan, the attitude of Mexico would be one of “benevolent neutrality”, and I was assured that General Calles understood the exact meaning of the phrase “benevolent neutrality”.

[Page 834]

This conversation with General Calles gave point and impetus to the general consideration which I had for some time been giving to the situation which would arise between the United States and Mexico in the event of difficulty between the United States and Japan. I felt that real difficulty between the two countries must be visualized as a possibility, however much such a situation was to be deprecated, and that wisdom required that some account be taken of such an eventuality.

I was mindful, in this relation, of the following, among other matters: that Japan always strikes without waiting for the formalities of a notification that she intends to declare war; that there are Japanese fishing stations upon the western coast of Mexico, notably one at Magdalena Bay; that this fishing station possibly might be used as a base from which to sow submarine mines, even before we were advised that Japan intended to make war upon us; that we should be forced probably to ferry rapidly and immediately over Mexican territory numbers of airplanes to the Panama Canal; that General Calles might not be so influential in Mexican circles when such time came as he is now, indeed he might even be dead, and so we could not safely count upon his influence in behalf of “benevolent neutrality”; that the negotiations of an arrangement at the time might be impossible of immediate consummation, and yet the exigencies of our situation might require us immediately, and without Mexico’s consent, to destroy any submarine mine base at Magdalena Bay, or at any other point on Mexico’s coast, or to move our airplanes across Mexican territory, either of which operations, without Mexico’s consent, would be a violation of Mexican sovereignty, and would tend to throw popular Mexican sentiment against us.

It seemed to me, therefore, that the sensible thing for the United States to do would be to try to negotiate beforehand some arrangement, formal or informal, which would enable us to act immediately if necessity should arise, without violating Mexican sovereignty.

As stated above, I had made no mention of the matter to Minister Puig.

At a luncheon which President Rodriguez and his wife gave to Mrs. Clark and myself on Tuesday, January 31, 1933, the question of the fishing industry on the west coast came up in the conversation at the table and the President informed me that the packing plant which the Japanese had at Magdalena Bay had been burned down, though the fishing station was still there. He stated further that the Japanese were attempting to secure another fishing plant upon the west coast of Lower California.

Last Thursday (February 2, 1933) I had opportunity, at an informal dinner party, to hold a personal and informal conversation with President Rodriguez. I again adverted to this general problem and said that I thought Minister Puig and myself might well sign a memorandum [Page 835] agreeing to recommend to our respective Governments that each consider the making of some arrangement which would cover the general situation between the two countries in case of war with some third power. I called attention to the draft which I had left with Minister Téllez last October. In the course of my talk, I pointed out Mexico’s inability to protect her own sovereignty from violation by Japan or any other great power.

President Rodriguez replied to the effect that he felt the United States would need Mexico in case of difficulties with Japan; that the suggestion I had made in October about the possibility of letting them have some destroyers was impracticable because Mexico was too poor even to maintain the destroyers in operation; that their recent contracts with Spain called merely for the building of some police and small transport boats; that he thought, however, that the United States ought to make some kind of an arrangement by which it would be possible for Mexico really to assist in case of trouble between the United States and Japan.

I told the President that I agreed with him as to the advisability of the two Governments reaching an understanding. I stated that I had not consulted the Department of State about the matter because I thought that all that could be done at the present time would be to arrange for some sort of conference at which the possibilities of the situation could be explored; that there was not time for me to consult the Department in detail about the matter; and that, therefore, I proposed that Dr. Puig and myself merely sign a memorandum suggesting that the two Governments appoint a Commission to give preliminary consideration to the question.

The President replied that he thought this should be done, and that it should be done immediately. He stated that he was seeing Minister Puig on the following day (Friday, February 3, 1933) and that he would talk with the Minister about it.

I told the President that I would submit to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, before he had his meeting with the President on the following morning, a draft of what I thought the two of us (Minister Puig and myself) might sign.

Accordingly I drew a memorandum, reading as follows, attaching to my draft a rough Spanish translation:

“The undersigned agree that they will recommend to their respective Governments that each Government appoint a small Commission, the two Commissions so appointed to meet together as soon as convenient. This joint Commission shall confidentially consider and discuss, in an informal, general, and preliminary way, matters connected with common measures of mutual self defense, and shall report thereon to their respective Governments for further study. The report so made shall impose no obligation upon, nor give any rights to, either Government, but if mutually acceptable to both Governments, [Page 836] may give a basis for further development. It is understood that no publicity whatsoever will be given by either Government to the appointment of this Commission, nor to its work, nor to its report.”

I then sought and secured an interview with Dr. Puig on the morning of February 3, 1933. I told him of my conversation of the preceding evening with the President and handed him a copy of my foregoing proposal. I made with Dr. Puig, as I had with the President, the point as to Mexico’s inability to protect her own sovereignty against any great power.

Minister Puig stated that he was certain I felt no more keenly about the necessities of this situation than he felt; that he felt sure we would be in absolute agreement on the matter; and that he would take the matter up with the President and see me on the following day, February 4, 1933.

However, Minister Puig acted at once. When he returned from his acuerdo with the President, Minister Puig sent word to me by telephone and asked me to come to see him at 6 p.m. on the same evening (Friday, February 3rd). Accordingly, I went to the Foreign Office, as he requested, and he then handed back to me a memorandum modifying in one or two minor particulars, the terms of the memorandum which I had handed to him in the morning.

I gave this memorandum consideration and on the following morning returned to him a draft (English and Spanish), the English text of which reads as follows:

[The text of the draft here omitted is the same as the memorandum signed February 4, 1933, printed infra.]

The Department will observe that the full extent of my commitment is met by this sending by me of this memorandum to the Department as my recommendation. I carefully explained to the President and to the Minister for Foreign Affairs that I was dealing in this matter entirely upon my own responsibility; that I had not discussed the matter with the Department, but that I would urge the Department to act in accordance with the recommendation; and that I felt confident the Department would be glad to undertake an exploration of the possibilities of the situation.

At 12 noon on Saturday, February 4, 1933, we signed the attached memorandum, enclosure 1 hereto. A copy of this memorandum is being transmitted herewith as enclosure 2.

I earnestly urge that the Department favorably consider the recommendation made in this memorandum. I feel quite sure that the present temper of the Mexican Government is such that it will be possible for us to work out an arrangement which will obviate the necessity of our violating Mexican sovereignty in case of any untoward eventuality between ourselves and Japan, or any other power.

In connection with any mention of such an eventuality as a possible [Page 837] war with Japan, I have always, in my conversations with the President and with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, stated that my only information regarding the possibility of any difficulties between the United States and Japan was derived from the press; that in my own view there was no real reason for any such an eventuality maturing between the two countries; and that I thought a war between the two countries under existing circumstances and conditions would be an unjustifiable tragedy.

I pointed out to the Minister for Foreign Affairs also that our historical attitude was against the making of alliances with foreign countries, and that I did not know how our Government would look at such a proposition as we were suggesting. Minister Puig stated that he entirely understood this point.

I have proceeded in this matter on the assumption that we should wish to make some arrangement or enter into some understanding with Mexico that would obviate the necessity of our violating Mexican sovereignty in case war should come between ourselves and some other power. I feel sure that the Mexican Government at the present time is entirely sympathetic with such a proposition. I appreciate that there will be difficult and fundamental problems to be considered in connection with making any such arrangement with Mexico. I would assume that we must avoid putting ourselves in a position where we might be under the necessity of going to war with Japan over some grievance Mexico might create, such as, for example, Mexico’s treatment of Japanese on the west coast of a kind with her treatment of the Chinese.50 But I believe the matter can be so handled and negotiated as to relieve us from that danger.

Minister Puig preferred not to appoint more than one member to such a Commission, although he stated that we might appoint more than one if we wished. I said that I assumed the matters would be handled by appointing one Commissioner and permitting him to have advisers. To this Minister Puig agreed.

From the standpoint of our relations with Mexico, quite independently of the question of mutual defense, the proposed arrangement should exert a beneficial effect; it should serve to allay any suspicion on the part of the present or a future Mexican Government that the United States harbors any hostile intention towards Mexico, a suspicion which, to judge from the tone of speeches, writings, and remarks of some Mexicans, has been at times prevalent in Mexico since the Tampico and Veracruz incidents in 1914 and the so-called “punitive expedition” in 1916.51

Should the Department determine to follow the recommendation, and pursue this matter, the outcome will probably depend, in good [Page 838] part, upon the character of the man sent to conduct the proposed explorations. Such a man as General McCoy52 would be able not only to get along with the Mexicans and come to some helpful conclusions, but would find it possible really to cement, if not enhance, the existing friendly relations. Furthermore, it is to be in mind that General McCoy understands the Japanese-Chinese situation. A man with less skill, sympathy, and knowledge than General McCoy could go far toward wrecking our existing friendly relationships.

Respectfully yours,

J. Reuben Clark, Jr.

Memorandum Signed by the American Ambassador (Clark) and the Mexican Minister for Foreign Affairs (Puig)53

The undersigned agree they will recommend to their respective Governments that each Government appoint a special commissioner to meet with the commissioner of the other country as soon as may be convenient to consider confidentially and to discuss in an informal manner, and in a general and preliminary way, matters connected with common measures for the mutual defense of both countries.

The special commissioners shall submit a report on the subject to their respective Governments for further and formal study of the question. The report submitted shall impose no obligation upon, nor give any rights to, either Government. But if mutually acceptable by both may serve as a basis for further development. It is understood that no publicity whatsoever shall be given by either Government to the appointment of its special commissioner, nor to the work of the Commission, nor to the report that might be submitted.

  • J. Reuben Clark, Jr.
  • Puig
  1. Journalist, associated with Hearst newspapers.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1922, vol. i, p. 247.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1911, pp. 349525 passim; ibid., 1914, pp. 443895 passim; ibid., 1919, vol. ii, pp. 555565; and ibid., 1929, vol. iii, pp. 336433 passim.
  4. Ante, p. 824.
  5. Not printed.
  6. See pp. 839 ff.
  7. See Foreign Relations, 1916, pp. 463626 passim.
  8. Major General Frank R. McCoy, U. S. A. In 1932 General McCoy was a member of the League of Nations Commission of Enquiry (the Lytton Commission) sent to the Far East.
  9. In English and Spanish; Spanish text not printed.