The Minister in Bolivia ( Norweb ) to the Secretary of State

No. 40

Sir: I have the honor to report that during a recent call at the Foreign Office Señor Finot20 stated that, outside of an honorable settlement of the Chaco,21 a trade agreement with the United States based on our consumption of tin was in his opinion the greatest single contribution he, as Foreign Minister, could make to the welfare of the country. He said that an agreement to supply the United States with tin had for years been one of the “great expectations” of the Bolivian people, but that in view of the present economic crisis and the need to give some new impetus to Bolivian trade its popular appeal would be even greater at this time. He had, he said, given much thought to a direct agreement between the two countries, and that from his conversations in Washington with members of the Department and others, he understood that some such course was not impossible, but that the degree of our cooperation was dependent upon pending legislation advocated as a measure of national defense by the Navy and War Departments.

As representative of Bolivia in Washington his personal interest in a direct deal between the two governments was well known, but the uncertainty of Congressional action, and his own country’s preoccupation with the war had precluded any serious approach to the problem. Now, however, with peace in the offing, and in his position as Foreign Minister, he authorized me to say to my government that, if we were willing, he desired to suggest the two governments undertake without delay to explore the possibilities so as to determine if sufficient mutual interest exists to justify a formal agreement.

I replied that I would be glad of course to report his interesting proposal, and suggested that Señor Guachalla,22 in Washington, be [Page 238] instructed as to the details and scope of any plan he had in mind. As this suggestion did not elicit any amplification of his ideas, as I had hoped, I asked him if he had taken into account the possibility that the Patiño interests might object. To this he replied that Señor Patiño was patriotic and would act for the best interest of the country, but that he was positive if an agreement between the two governments was feasible he could guarantee the Bolivian Government would see it through irrespective of possible obstructive tactics on the part of Patiño and the international tin pool. He added that if I could obtain an indication that his suggestion for exploratory negotiations would be well received in Washington he was prepared, on so being informed, to reduce his ideas to a formal written proposal.

Obviously Foreign Minister Finot would be happy to have the credit for initiating and negotiating an agreement guaranteeing a market in the United States. Because such an orientation to Bolivia’s trade would be popular and most welcome at this particular time when the country is suffering from a wave of “defeatism”, the plan undoubtedly would have the support of the present government, such as it may be worth. Though the Foreign Minister spoke with much assurance I do not know what measures the Bolivian Government could invoke if Mr. Patiño and his associates should, as evidence of their disapproval of the suggested governmental agreement, decide to curtail further the scale of their operations by leaving the tin in the ground. This inquiry is a very natural one in view of the evidence we have today of the policy of more or less passive resistance on the part of the miners, who have materially reduced the output of their mines as a defense against the Government’s action in taking increasingly large proportions of the foreign exchange derived from the export of tin.…

In connection with my undertaking to transmit his suggestion to Washington, I reminded the Foreign Minister that the matter of direct tin sales to the United States had a long history and that any new approach naturally would have to take into account the interest the American Congress has recently shown in this regard. It is my understanding that the Bolivian Minister in Washington is being instructed to confirm this conversation, and I shall await with interest the Department’s position. My only observation for the moment is that according to the Legation’s records this appears to be the first occasion the Bolivian Government has taken any positive step, and regardless of my doubts as to how fully the repercussions have been considered, at least the door is open for discussion if we wish to pursue the matter further.

Respectfully yours,

R. Henry Norweb
  1. Enrique Finot, Bolivian Minister for Foreign Affairs, and former Minister in the United States. Mr. Finot notified the Department of State of his departure from Washington on July 29, 1936. His letter of recall was transmitted by the Legation on September 21.
  2. See pp. 35 ff.
  3. Luis Fernando Guachalla, Bolivian Minister in the United States, presented his letters of credence on September 21.