Memorandum of Conference Between Representatives of the Departments of State and Agriculture 32

The object of the conference was to reach a decision between the Departments of State and Agriculture regarding the next step to be taken in extending the cooperation to be given by the United States in the advancement of the Inter-American highway project.

It was agreed that the instrument survey through Central America should be undertaken and that assistance in the form of bridges to be placed at points along the route in Central America where they might be of immediate use was desirable.

Mr. MacDonald said that he was very anxious, however, not to go ahead with the work contemplated until another effort had been made to bring Mexico into the picture. He had recently returned from the Mexican border and had the impression that there was a real desire on the part of the Mexican highway officials for our assistance. He thought perhaps an acceptance from Mexico of our proffered assistance might be better obtained by working through the highway officials there than by making a direct approach to the Mexican Government. Upon being asked whether or not Mexico was not already doing all it could be expected to do and more than any other Latin American country on the highway project, Mr. MacDonald replied that this was true as far as the section between the American border and Mexico City was concerned. There would be more obstacles in the way of completing the route between Mexico City and the Guatemalan border, however, and we should always remember that Mexico has it within her power to prevent the completion of the highway by failing to construct its southern section. For this reason he thought it highly desirable that we get Mexico’s cooperation in the very beginning.

Mr. Welles said that sounded highly reasonable and that he would begin by speaking to the Mexican Ambassador on the subject the same afternoon.

Mr. MacDonald said he would also like to continue the Reconnaissance Survey south of Panama. He said that the time element was always the most important in executing such a project. If the Reconnaissance Survey south of Panama is not undertaken now it will mean that the highway project will be delayed by one or two more years. He would like to start the Reconnaissance Survey right away and was certain that there was a desire for the survey to be made on the parts of the South American countries.

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Mr. Wilson questioned the advisability of approaching the South American Governments at this time. He suggested that in addition to the desirability of concentrating the work to be done with the limited amount of funds available in the Central American area where some results of our work might become apparent, there was reason to doubt the advisability of approaching Colombia, for example, the first country south of Panama. He was not at all sure that Colombia wanted our engineers down there at the present time. Mr. Welles said he saw no reason why Colombia should object if Colombian engineers accompanied American engineers. Mr. MacDonald agreed that it would be preferable from his point of view if they did this.

Mr. Welles agreed that steps should be taken to extend our offer to conduct a Reconnaissance Survey to the countries south of Panama. If all countries did not accept, the survey could be made through those countries accepting. At least it could be begun and Mr. MacDonald said that he had received assurance from members of the next Congress that additional funds for this survey would be made available, if needed. He explained that no appropriations were necessary, that the Bureau of Public Roads had an administrative fund which it was accumulating and that all that was needed was an authorization to make expenditures out of this fund.

It was agreed in conclusion that another approach would be made to Mexico, that steps would be taken to offer to make a Reconnaissance Survey in the countries south of Panama, and that until Mexico’s reply had been received no work on the highway should be undertaken in Central America.

W. L. Beaulac
  1. Present were Assistant Secretary of State Sumner Welles; Messrs. Edwin C. Wilson, Willard L. Beaulac, and William R. Manning of the Division of Latin American Affairs; Mr. Thomas H. MacDonald, Chief of the Bureau of Public Roads, and Mr. E. W. James of the same Bureau.