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

No. 922

Sir: I have received and given careful attention to your Embassy’s despatch No. 2980 of October 15, 1935,5 wherein Mr. Norweb reports [Page 755] you as recommending the acceptance of the draft protocol enclosed with the despatch as proposed by the Mexican Foreign Office for the adjustment of the so-called agrarian claims, but I regret to say that my consideration of this draft and the accompanying aide-mémoire does not lead me to agree with your opinion that the draft is fairly satisfactory from the standpoint of the United States.

I am particularly disturbed by statements contained in the aide-mémoire representing the interpretation which the Mexican Government places upon certain provisions of the proposed protocol and I have no doubt that if this Government should accept the draft, subsequent proceedings would clearly reveal that this interpretation would be upheld by Mexican officials dealing with the matter of these claims to the possible great detriment of this Government and its citizens who are claimants against Mexico on account of lands expropriated from them by the Mexican authorities.

It is stated in the discussion in the aide-mémoire of Articles II and III of the draft that the Mexican proposal stipulates that the memorials shall deal exclusively with facts, although it is admitted in the same sentence that the protocol of April 24, 1934, permits the memorials to state also “the legal principles the basis of a claim”. Moreover, in this same discussion the aide-mémoire cites as an evident advantage of the system the Mexican Government is proposing that “it satisfies the Mexican stand on the elimination of all legal discussions”. Furthermore, in discussing the provisions of Articles IV and V, it is stated in the aide-mémoire that the text of the draft protocol submitted by the Department in its instruction of September 20, 1935, would appear to admit the possibility of presenting arguments of a legal nature and that the text of the Mexican protocol is designed to overcome this difficulty.

In connection with the foregoing, I invite your attention to the provisions of the General Claims Convention between the United States and Mexico of September 8, 1923, wherein it is provided (Article III) that each Government may present to the General Claims Commission, orally or in writing, all the arguments deemed expedient in favor of or against any claim and wherein it is also provided (Article II) that the Commissioners shall make and subscribe a solemn declaration stating that they will decide the claims in accordance with the principles of international law, justice and equity. It is even set forth in Article IX of the Convention that in any case the Commission may decide that international law, justice and equity require that a property or right be restored to the claimant in addition to the amount awarded in any such case for all loss or damage sustained prior to the restoration.

The Convention clearly contemplates that the claims of American citizens on account of property expropriated for so-called agrarian [Page 756] purposes by the Mexican Government shall be supported by their Government with arguments of a legal nature and shall be decided in accordance with international law and consequently I am clearly of the opinion that I would not be justified in imperiling the interests of the claimants by agreeing to any provision which might later be construed to preclude this Government from supporting the claims by arguments directed to the legal issues involved. Moreover, in the absence of such arguments it is difficult to see how the persons appointed to deal with the claims, should the protocol be accepted, would have sufficient basis for reaching a rightful determination thereon. I am even doubtful whether it might not be necessary in the event that the draft protocol proposed by the Mexican Government be accepted, to submit the agreement to the Senate of the United States for its approval, in view of the divergencies between the provisions of the draft and the provisions of the General Claims Convention.

It is of course true that by the Protocols of 1932 and 1934 this Government agreed to an informal discussion of the agrarian claims pending before the General Claims Commission with a view to making an adjustment thereof and that pending such discussion it was agreed that no agrarian claims should be presented to the Commissioners or to the umpire. However, this agreement of 1934 expressly provided that the adjustment thereby contemplated should be “consistent with the rights and equities of the claimants and the right and obligations of the Mexican Government, as provided by the General Claims Protocol of June 18, 1932” and this Department is not willing to enter into any agreement which might be construed to curtail the rights and equities of the claimants or the rights and obligations of the Mexican Government. It clearly believes that should it refrain from presenting to the persons designated to pass upon the claims, the legal issues involved, it would be open to the serious criticism of having yielded rights and equities of the claimants or at least of having failed to support such rights and equities as it is morally obligated to do.

[Here follows discussion of specific articles in Mexican draft.]

You will please bring the substance of the foregoing to the attention of the Mexican Foreign Office and state that except as above indicated the draft authorized by the Department’s instruction of September 20, 1935, represents the limit to which the Department considers itself justified in going to meet the view of the Mexican Government respecting the disposition of the agrarian claims. Accordingly, you will ask to be advised at an early date whether the Mexican Government is disposed to conclude a protocol along the lines of that draft of the Department, with the few amendments which, as above indicated, the Department is willing to accept.

[Page 757]

For your information it may be stated that the Department feels strongly that American citizens having so-called agrarian claims against the Mexican Government would be in a better position to have a just and impartial determination upon their claims were these claims to be presented to the General Claims Commission as provided for in the General Claims Convention of 1923 rather than to be submitted to a Special Tribunal. The efforts which the Department has made to agree with the Mexican Government upon some special disposition of these claims have been made with the idea of meeting the views of the Mexican Government so far as is possible without betraying the interest of the claimants and further than it has gone in this respect the Department is unable to justify itself in proceeding.

It may be added that the Department is of the opinion that the negotiations which have been pending for six months past have been sufficiently prolonged so that it should now be clearly evident whether a satisfactory agreement is possible and that therefore unless it shall promptly appear that the Mexican Government recedes from its position as disclosed by the draft under consideration and the accompanying aide-mémoire, this Government will have no alternative but to consider the negotiations at an end and to proceed with the filing of the memorials of the so-called agrarian claims with the General Claims Commission, leaving it to the Mexican Government to answer them or not as it may see fit.

Very truly yours,

For the Secretary of State:
R. Walton Moore
  1. Not printed.