724.34119/80: Telegram

The Ambassador in Argentina ( Weddell ) to the Secretary of State

156. From Gibson. Since my telegram No. 141, of July 20, 8 p.m., we have been kept fully occupied but the course of events has been so erratic that I have felt that the Department would not wish to be burdened with detailed telegraphic reports since the chairman’s almost daily changes of front would deprive these of value. However, it may be well to submit the following summary of recent developments:

On July 19th a committee was set up to deal with prisoners of war. First meeting on July 23rd indicated possibility of agreement on the basis of a compromise proposal which I submitted to the logically neutral members. On the 24th when we were on the point of sounding the parties Nieto del Rio and I had a chance meeting with Saavedra Lamas who, before learning of our plan, burst forth in an alarmingly [Page 106] violent tirade against seeking any solutions at the present time. He said that he proposed to precipitate a conflict of the opposing points of view on the fundamental territorial question and that we must hold all subsidiary problems in abeyance to be used as bargaining points to bring about final agreement. This was a complete reversal of his previous stand and in disregard of the views which had been expressed to him by various delegates. He revealed himself as openly pro-Paraguay; said that we must recognize that Paraguay had won the war, that Bolivia must pay reparations and that if war indemnity were fixed at sufficiently high sum, concessions might be purchased from former which would bring about general agreement. On our objection that we were proceeding on the ground that there was neither victor nor vanquished and that the question of responsibility and reparations remain to be settled by a tribunal, he said that this was mere humbug for oratorical purposes and that we must face the realities. In spite of recent representations to him he again maintained that the United States and Chile should make material contributions to the settlement, the United States in the form of a reconstruction loan to both parties, and Chile in a “noble gesture” which was an obvious allusion to a Pacific port. Naturally I did not fail once more to make clear the Department’s position in definite terms.
He went on to say that the committee on prisoners of war must not seek solution and it was charged merely with reporting on the applicable principles of international law. His statements were in the form of peremptory orders in complete disregard of facts and his voice was shrill and at times hysterical.
After pressing our point of view without apparent success we got Rodriguez Alves to take the matter up informally on the following day when he found that the chairman had again reversed himself in characteristic fashion and said that he was ready to go ahead on the very grounds we had advocated. In the meeting which followed this interview he took the line he had promised and in the ensuing debate the Brazilian and Chilean delegates and I also advocated the idea of informal proceedings in order to get our views clearly on the record. We were supported by the Bolivian and Paraguayan delegations.
In the minutes of the meeting the chairman’s remarks were given in full and our share of the debate completely deleted. They also referred to the committee on prisoners of war as “the special committee designated for the study of matters concerned with the exchange and repatriation of prisoners, in their juridical aspect.”
(All of the foregoing reported fully in air mail despatches sent the day before yesterday.)
There was general indignation among the delegates at the tricky methods of the chairman and at the meeting on the 26th the Brazilian delegate and I took a firm stand that the minutes could not be approved [Page 107] until they were amended to give a true picture of the proceedings. The chairman gave in without argument and blamed the Secretary General for what had happened.
I then brought up the subject of the terms of reference of the committee and the chairman, sensing that the Conference was of one mind, crumpled up and stated clearly that the committee was charged with the whole subject of prisoners of war, including the steps taken for agreement.
As a result of the eccentric methods of the chairman we have been kept busy but have achieved nothing. Under present conditions there is little prospect of early accomplishment and I cannot but feel that our chances of success grow progressively less favorable with the passage of time.
At present the chairman seems to have but one definite plan—to drag the Conference out as long as possible without attempting anything. It is his chief subject of conversation; he alludes frequently to the length of the Leticia Conference67 and the possibility that this one may last for a couple of years. After first advocating that the tribunal on responsibility and reparations sit in some distant capital as a convenient expedient to expedite discussion here which might prejudice agreement, he now openly proposes to have it sit in Buenos Aires concurrently with this Conference in order that we may “influence” its deliberations and decision.
After daily contact with the members of the Conference since June 9th my impressions may be reliably summarized.
The Bolivian and Paraguayan delegates appear reasonable and desirous of prompt discussions with a view to early agreement.
The other members of the Conference express themselves as ready to go ahead.
The only factors working against this are the internal Bolivian political situation and the strategy of the chairman.
It will obviously be impossible for any definite agreement to be reached until the Bolivian situation is settled but the preliminary presentation of the contending parties’ points of view can properly be undertaken without delay.
Saavedra Lamas desires a solution but only on condition that he appear as its sole author. We are continuing in our efforts to convince him that he can have all the credit, that our only interest is in reaching a satisfactory solution and that we will support him in any steps in that direction. We have managed to maintain friendly personal relations with him and feel that our best hope lies in keeping him on the rails as far as this can be done, opposing him only when his trickery is too flagrant, and in urging him on in the right direction.
The Brazilians and Chileans have cooperated in this general policy but the Peruvians and the Uruguayans have not responded to overtures for investigations and action. Peru and Uruguay are represented by their local Ambassadors (except for occasional participation of Maninirios [Manini Rios]69 who seems to take little interest). Their position as diplomatic representatives regularly accredited to the Argentine Government coupled with their lack of force and ability makes them tend to be subservient to Saavedra Lamas. Typical of their timidity it may be mentioned that Peruvian Ambassador absented himself from seventh plenary meeting on the ground that he could not be present at so delicate a discussion as that on setting up a tribunal to deal with the question of responsibility.
It is possible, in view of the colorless role of the Peruvians and Uruguayans, that there may later be talk of an American-Brazilian-Chilean bloc. Nothing of the sort has appeared as yet. We are alive to this danger and scrupulously avoid anything which could be interpreted as joint action.
It seems clear that we should continue in session until we have succeeded in obtaining a general discussion of the territorial question and tried to reach agreement about prisoners of war. When that is accomplished, if the chairman still maintains that nothing can be done Until after the completion of the demobilization, it would be wise to adjourn all meetings until we are ready to get to work. When we come to real work the chairman’s mischievous activities will be an unavoidable hazard but if there is to be a period of 6 weeks or more of deliberate delay, it would be well to avoid unnecessary risks by a recess. Experience has shown that under present circumstances practically all our time and effort are devoted to straightening out the tangles created by the chairman.
I feel this entire situation should be reported now in order that the Department may be fully advised in the event that it later becomes desirable to take action looking to a recess. [Gibson.]

  1. See pp. 199 ff.
  2. Pedro Manini Rios, Uruguayan delegate.