724.34119/95: Telegram

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

168. From Gibson. After exhaustive discussions and the elaboration of a number of tentative texts submitted to the delegates of the contending parties for consideration and comment, the Prisoners of War Committee of which I am chairman, last night completed a draft agreement which Bolivian and Paraguayan delegates have referred to their Governments.

The Bolivian stand has been that all prisoners should be returned immediately or at the latest at the termination of demobilization. However, faced by the absolute refusal of Paraguay to concede this, the Bolivians have fallen back on their fundamental desideratum of a clear-cut decision that all prisoners will be repatriated on the reestablishment of peace. Their idea is thus to frustrate the apparent Paraguayan plan to hold the prisoners in order to extort concessions on the territorial question or even for a longer period as hostages against possible Bolivian aggression.

Paraguay has desired a man-for-man exchange to recover all prisoners held in Bolivia and has insisted that release of the balance held in Paraguay could not be entertained until the passage of time had allayed public passions and had made Bolivian intentions clearer.

The substance of the draft may be summarized as follows: [Page 115]

It contains the declaration desired by Bolivia but this is toned down to meet Paraguayan desires (reference is for that reason purposely made to the reestablishment of peace, an indefinite term, instead of to the termination of war, the time for which is definitely established in article 3, paragraph 4 of the Protocol).
Exchange, preference being given to students, is agreed upon as desired by Paraguay with the exception of a few hundred men Bolivia wishes to hold as a matter of principle against the far greater number held in Paraguay.
In addition both agree to the return of all sick, disabled and men of over 50.
The Conference will continue negotiations looking to the return of the remaining prisoners as soon as demobilization is completed.
Reimbursement of advances, costs, etc., will be in conformity with the provisions of the Geneva Convention of 1929.74
Restoration of diplomatic relations as soon as war is declared at an end by the Conference (this with the purpose of making easier the eventual acceptance by Paraguay of the idea that peace will then also be reestablished).

Some 2,000 prisoners from Bolivia and between 5,000 and 6,000 from Paraguay would thus be immediately returned and the repatriation of the remainder ensured within a reasonable, although unspecified period.

The agreement has been drafted with the greatest care to balance one concession against another and modifications of substance by one or the other party would destroy the entire structure. Unless the two Governments accept without material change this draft which we consider eminently fair to both and which contains the maximum which can now be obtained, it is difficult to see any other way of meeting the situation.

The Argentine Government is telegraphing to La Paz and Asunción urging acceptance of the draft without change. The Brazilian and Chilean delegations are requesting their Governments to take similar action. I trust that in view of the foregoing the Department will feel justified in expressing its hope that Bolivia and Paraguay will see their way to accept the agreement as it stands in order that the Conference may have some accomplishment to its credit and approach the fundamental territorial question with greater confidence.

The importance we all attach to this matter is to be found in the belief that if at this stage of the Conference we are unable to ratify agreement on a secondary question, even in this attenuated form, there will be no hope of dealing successfully with the fundamental problem.

Repeated to La Paz and Asunción for their information. [Gibson.]