The Minister in Ecuador ( Gonzalez ) to the Secretary of State
[Received July 18.]
Sir: I have the honor to report that my British Colleague in Quito has informed me that he is in receipt of instructions from his Government to take up with the Ecuadorean authorities, after consultation and in conjunction with the American Legation, the possibility of internationalizing the Galápagos Islands for the purpose of plant and animal conservation and as a place for scientific study. He added [Page 521] that his Foreign Office states that the British Museum, as well as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, is deeply interested in the project and that the British Embassy has been instructed to consult with the Department as to the feasibility of the scheme. He further stated that he planned to do nothing in the matter until I was in a position to take similar action. I replied that I had no instructions from my Government and that I could take no action, formal or otherwise, pending the receipt of specific instructions. In view of the fact that the British Chargé will await what instructions the Department may care to give me in the matter, I should appreciate it if these instructions were forwarded me as soon as possible.
In connection with this project, it would seem appropriate to point out that a scheme for internationalizing the Islands might meet with favor among a definite group of Ecuadoreans. It is known that they realize the strategic importance of these islands in connection with the defense of the Panama Canal and that they are apprehensive as to possible Japanese movements in and about the Islands (see my strictly confidential despatch No. 69 of June 13, 193519). I feel certain that they would definitely oppose any encroachment by the Japanese or any other non-American country. Among a small group of Ecuadoreans, definitely a minority, a feeling exists that the Islands should be controlled by the United States, but this is by no means general and it would be seriously opposed by Ecuador as well as other American countries.
However, another development has recently occurred which might prevent the carrying out of the project in which the British Government has expressed an interest. I refer to the conviction of the authorities that the fishing privileges in and around the Islands offer a possible source of appreciable revenues for the Government (see my despatch No. 63 of May 28, 193519). In this connection I might add that the Minister of War, Marine and Aviation has informed me that negotiations are now being concluded in New York for the purchase of the American yacht Ara, formerly the property of Mr. William K. Vanderbilt. I understand that this vessel was commissioned in the American Navy during the war at which time gun emplacements were installed. It is the purpose of the Ecuadorean authorities to place small guns on this vessel and employ it as a patrol vessel to prevent illegal fishing in the Islands. This vessel will cost approximately $75,000 and the authorities have expressed the conviction that the vessel will be paid for in a very short time from revenues obtained from the the fishing rights which will be granted in the Islands. Under these circumstances, should the Department [Page 522] be interested in cooperating with the British in the project mentioned, I anticipate that some provision would have to be made whereunder the Ecuadorean Government would be allowed to retain its jurisdiction over fishing rights in the Islands.
In this connection, I have the honor to refer to the interview which I had with President Roosevelt in February of this year in which he took the opportunity to express to me some ideas relative to the Galápagos Islands. At the time I informed Mr. Edwin C. Wilson, Chief of the Latin American Division, of the substance of that conversation. I would recall that President Roosevelt suggested the expediency of the internationalization of the Islands by the American States for the preservation of the plant and animal life thereon. If I recall correctly, the President was willing that the United States Government might assume up to one-half of the expenses incidental to the maintenance of the Islands for that purpose. The President definitely had no ideas of acquisition by lease or purchase for the exclusive use of our country, but desired simply to preserve the animal and plant life and to obviate the Islands being utilized by any country in time of war. In view of the active interests which the President exhibited at the time of my interview with him, I feel that it might be expedient to consult him at this time with respect to the proposal made by the British Government.