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

No. 4002

Sir: I have the honor to report that on Wednesday afternoon, October 7, 1936, upon invitation, I called with Colonel Marshburn, our Miliary Attaché, to have tea with President Cárdenas at his private home “Los Pinos”. On several occasions I had talked with the President about the agrarian25 and religious problems, particularly the latter. Recently I had represented to the Minister of Foreign [Page 716] Affairs the serious objections of my government to the dotation, without payment, of American-owned lands to campesinos of Mexico. President Cárdenas told me that General Hay26 had communicated my representations (see despatch No. 3939 of September 17, 193627) to him and he wished to talk with me about the matter and to assure me of his earnest desire, in so far as he could, to meet the wishes of my government as I had conveyed them to General Hay. At much length he discussed the agrarian situation in Mexico and his desire to meet the views of our Government in every way that was within his power. He said that he was prepared to say that in the next budget he would make provision for the payment for lands which had been in the possession of Americans and that he hoped to follow a plan that he believed would be “acceptable to you and to the American owners”. He plans to include funds for such payment in his budget of January 1, 1937. He is now having a special study prepared to ascertain how large a sum may be set aside for such payments. He said more than once that he would put in the budget as large a sum as the condition of the Federal Treasury would make possible, and he repeated that he believed we would regard it as “satisfactory”.

President Cárdenas discoursed upon what he regarded as Mexico’s three most important problems. In order he named them thus: 1. Educational; 2. Economic; 3. Religious. “With due regard to our educational and economic needs”, he said, “we will pay as much on the agrarian claims as we possibly can, and when payments are begun, they will be kept up.”

I told the President that at this time the two situations which disturbed the perfectly friendly relations between the two countries were the division of American lands without compensation and the feeling in the United States that full religious liberty was denied in Mexico. The latter, as I had told the President on other occasions, lessened the prestige of Mexico in the nations of the world. He spoke at length, and evidently after much thought, about the religious situation. He was very earnest in repudiating the suggestion that Mexico was either communistic or atheistic. He said he believed religion was the foundation of morality, and that he had stood for no persecution. “You have observed”, he said, “that in every State as new Governors in sympathy with my administration have been elected, more and more churches have been opened and a policy of moderation is growing all the time”. He enumerated six or eight States in which churches had been reopened, among them Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Colima, adding that he was desirous that the more moderate policy should extend to all the States of the Republic.

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“You must have observed”, added the President, “a disposition on the part of the present administration to relax any stringent laws affecting religion, and that is the fixed policy of the government. We are neither pro nor anti clergy. While realizing fully the necessity for religion, and believing that morality and education are necessary corollaries thereto, we have always insisted that the clergy must confine its activities to its religious sphere and not attempt to use influence in the domain of politics or government. You should realize that there is a difference between the clergy and its actions in the United States and in Mexico. The Church here has often been politically minded and when it directed education comparatively few of the people were educated. Without universal education we recognize that progress and prosperity cannot reach the whole population. Therefore we are building schools and carrying the opportunity of education to all the children in every part of the republic. We recognize that a better future for Mexico depends upon general education.” He added that in other days many of the clergy had not been in sympathy with the movements for social improvement of the great masses of the people.

Continuing, President Cárdenas said that several prelates of the Catholic Church had come from his family and that some of them were more interested in politics and control of government than in the social improvement of the people. “It was because of this that we were not in agreement”, he added. He then stated that the Mexican clergy are sharply divided as to the course that should be pursued in Mexico, and “it is because of this division among them that they have not been able to agree upon a successor to the late Archbishop Díaz.”

I then said to the President that while I had been pleased to note some steps toward moderation in some States, the fact remained that in the largest seaport city and one of its most largely populated States, Veracruz, no church was open for worship and no priests were authorized to officiate. “Veracruz is the show window of Mexico” I stated “and most people who come to this country from Europe and who come here by water from the United States arrive and depart from Veracruz. They find no church open in that State and they judge the whole country by what they see, and they go back to their countries and tell their people that the right to worship in their churches is denied to Mexicans.” I added that such impression was injurious to Mexico and showed that there did not exist the full religious freedom which the world believes should exist everywhere.

President Cárdenas said he recognized the impression produced by such condition in Veracruz and he had been giving it consideration. He added that the situation there had been difficult and there had been clashes between the clergy and the government party which had [Page 718] brought about the conditions I outlined. “But”, he added, “a new Governor will come into office on December 1st”, and, without making a direct declaration as to what policy the Governor would pursue, he intimated that he hoped the more moderate course pursued in other States would be followed in Veracruz. “Within a few months” he said, with a laugh, “the shade of the show window may be (or would be, I am not certain of his exact words) pulled down.”

President Cárdenas then said there were good openings in Mexico for investors, manufacturers and business men from the United States. He enumerated cheaper raw material and a lower scale of wages than existed in the United States and expressed the hope that these advantages would incline my countrymen to larger investments in Mexico. This gave me the opportunity to tell him that the Embassy had received many inquiries concerning a Mexican Expropriation Act now pending in the Congress. I told him that because of its vagueness investors and business men and manufacturers feared it might give the right, and in some cases it might be exercised, to take private property from its owners. I told him that the publication of that proposed measure had caused much apprehension among Americans and other foreigners doing business here. I added that unless the measure was drawn with great clearness and gave assurance that private property would be protected, instead of the further investments he desired, there would be such fear as would decrease investments and manufacturing plants and purchase of property here. The President replied that he was glad of an opportunity to discuss with me the proposed act, the contents of which he said had not yet been made public. He assured me that before taking any property under the proposed measure he would guarantee that an arrangement would be reached which would be entirely satisfactory, both to the owner of the property and to me as representing my country. “The law is being carefully studied” he went on to say, “both by a special committee of Congress and by very able men whom I have named. Nothing will be done until I have the result of these considered studies. The terms of the law, when and if enacted, will not apply to private industry.” He was emphatic in his statement that Mexico desires and needs United States capital to develop Mexican industries and assured me again that in every case of such bona fide investment in Mexico complete protection would be afforded the investors.

The President talked so freely and at such length that he had not observed that the tea which had been brought was getting cold, and, with a laugh, his secretary asked: “Do you like your tea hot or cold? If the former we will send for more tea.”

As I was leaving, the President invited me at some future day to accompany him to the base of the volcanoes where a hotel for visitors [Page 719] and a road to Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl was in process of construction. He asked: “Does the altitude affect you?” I replied that I had a good heart and never felt any perceptible difference between low and high altitudes. “I have a good heart physically and spiritually too, I hope”, I added and we both smiled.

In reporting the views of the President, summarized in a conversation of an hour and thirty five minutes, I have sought from memory to give his words. I may not always have succeeded in giving his exact words, but at least they are as near as I can recall.

Respectfully yours,

Josephus Daniels
  1. See pp. 691 ff.
  2. Eduardo Hay, Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  3. Ante, p. 695.