The American Delegate (Braden) to the Secretary of State
[Received May 2.]
Sir: With reference to previous despatches concerning the Special Repatriation Commission charged with supervising the exchange of prisoners between Bolivia and Paraguay, I have the honor to report that this Commission has actively continued preparatory work.
Plans have been worked out for the transportation of prisoners within Argentine territory and arrangements made with the authorities of the Argentine State Railways for the furnishing of transportation facilities. Two routes are still under consideration: Formosa–Embarcación–Jujuy–La Quiaca and Formosa–Embarcación–Aguaray. All Paraguayan prisoners will be repatriated by the first route by one train a week carrying five or six hundred men going from La Quiaca to Formosa. For the repartriation of Bolivian prisoners, it is probable that two trains a week carrying one thousand men each will go from Formosa to Aguaray and one train a week carrying seven hundred men from Formosa to La Quiaca. The alternative plan is for three trains a week from Formosa to La Quiaca each carrying six to seven hundred men and the abandonment of the Aguaray route.
Sanitary arrangements are also being advanced. Prisoners are to be examined and inoculated before leaving the countries in which they are held, will be disinfected on entering Argentine territory and will be given medical care and attention by Argentine physicians during their stay therein. A commission of Argentine and Bolivian doctors has already arrived in Asunción to begin the examination of Paraguayan prisoners. A Paraguayan doctor left Buenos Aires for Bolivia on April 14; he will be joined en route at Jujuy by Argentine doctors, and the medical commission thus formed will function in an analogous manner in Bolivia.
Sub-committees to supervise the concentration of prisoners in Paraguay and Bolivia have been designated. The committee in Paraguay is to be composed of Major Pery C. Bevilacqua, Brazilian Military Attaché at Asunción and member of the Special Repatriation Commission, and Lieutenant Colonel Jose Rivera, Bolivian representative on the Special Repatriation Commission; that in Bolivia will be composed of Lieutenant Colonel Jose M. Santa Cruz, Chilean Military Attaché at La Paz and member of the Special Repatriation Commission, and Lieutenant Colonel Eduardo Torreani V., Paraguayan representative on the Special Repatriation Commission. The two neutral members of these sub-committees were already on duty at their posts when designated, while Lieutenant Colonel Rivera and a Bolivian [Page 48] assistant have arrived in Asunción. Lieutenant Colonel Torreani expects to leave Buenos Aires on April 22, proceeding first to La Paz to join Lieutenant Colonel Santa Cruz, then to the prison camps in the south Yungas Valley and at Potosi and Cochabamba, and finally to Villazón, which is to be the concentration point for Paraguayan prisoners in Bolivia.
The sub-committees of the Special Repatriation Commission in Paraguay and Bolivia will undoubtedly have to be increased later by the addition of further neutral members. Should this be done, it is probable that Lieutenant Colonel Lester D. Baker, United States Army, who will replace Captain Frederick D. Sharp as the American member of the Special Repatriation Commission on his arrival April 29, will be a member of the sub-committee in Paraguay. The Special Repatriation Commission hopes to be able to begin active repatriation between April 25 and April 30, but it is likely to be further delayed a few days.
Various difficulties have arisen in connection with the preparations made for repatriation. The most important of these has been in regard to the route by which Bolivian prisoners in Paraguay are to be repatriated. The Bolivians desire to receive 2,000 men a week at Villa Montes via Aguaray and 700 a week at La Quiaca, whereas the Paraguayan representatives on the Special Repatriation Commission have insisted that all repatriation be through La Quiaca. The Bolivian stand appears to be based on the following considerations: (1) receipt of the bulk of the prisoners at Villa Montes, where the headquarters of the Bolivian army are temporarily established, will enable the army authorities to control the propaganda to which the returning prisoners are subjected on first entering the country, whereas in the La Quiaca and Villazón region, where civilian authorities are in control, there is alleged to be considerable radical influence; (2) barracks, hospital facilities, et cetera, are available at Villa Montes, remaining from the period of Chaco hostilities, whereas at La Quiaca such facilities do not exist; and (3) transportation by highway from Villa Montes to the interior of Bolivia will be considerably less expensive than the round-about rail trip from Embarcación to La Quiaca. The opposition of the Paraguayans to any repatriation through Villa Montes seems to be caused by the fear that returning prisoners might be incorporated in the Bolivian army there and used for military operations against them. It is probable that the Paraguayan objection can be satisfactorily met by provisions that each contingent should be cleared from Villa Montes for the interior of Bolivia before the arrival of the next, that in no case should more than 1,500 men be present, that the operations be subject to the control and supervision of the neutral military observers in the Chaco, et cetera. However, it has been impossible as yet to reach a decision on [Page 49] this point because of the fact that the new Paraguayan delegate to the Peace Conference, Dr. Miguel A. Soler, is not yet authorized to represent his country in a plenipotentiary capacity in deliberations with the Executive Committee of the Conference. It is hoped that this matter will be satisfactorily arranged within the next few days.
Upon the arrival in Asunción of Lieutenant Colonel Rivera and the Bolivian doctors mentioned above, the Paraguayan authorities placed obstacles in their way, alleging that no official advice concerning the missions of the Bolivians had been received and that in any event it was not understood why any Bolivian officials should come to Paraguay in connection with repatriation. This difficulty is typical of the rather haphazard manner in which the new Paraguayan Government is functioning, since the sending of Bolivian and Paraguayan officers and doctors to Paraguay and Bolivia respectively had been decided upon by the Special Repatriation Commission with the full concurrence of the Bolivian and Paraguayan representatives on that Commission. Steps have been taken to point out to the Paraguayan Government that its representatives, Lieutenant Colonel Torreani and a Paraguayan doctor, are going to Bolivia in similar capacities to those of Lieutenant Colonel Rivera and the Bolivian doctors. No further difficulty is expected on this score.
The question of prisoners who might not desire to return to their countries also presented possibilities of trouble for a time. The Bolivians insist that all prisoners should be sent to neutral territory and that any desiring not to return to their country should make a declaration to that effect there in the presence of representatives of their own nationality and of the neutrals so as to avoid all possibility of coercion by Paraguayan authorities. The Executive Committee of the Conference yesterday adopted a resolution providing for procedure satisfactory to the Bolivians.
A further difficulty may arise due to the fact that it now seems probable that the number of Bolivian prisoners in Paraguay will not exceed 15,000 instead of being 18,000 as estimated by the Paraguayans up to the time of the signature of the January 21st Protocol. The Bolivian delegate to the Peace Conference has suggested to me informally that his Government may feel it necessary to attempt to secure a reduction in the amount to be paid by Bolivia to Paraguay for upkeep of prisoners under the Protocol (already deposited with the Chairman of the Peace Conference), if the number of returned prisoners falls appreciably below the original estimates. It would appear, however, that any such endeavor would be unsuccessful, even if morally justified, in view of the fact that the language of the Protocol provides for a definite lump sum payment without mentioning the number of prisoners.