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

No. 3232

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Department’s air mail instruction No. 974 of January 9, 1936, concerning the negotiations relative to agrarian claims filed with the General Claims Commission.

I called on Mr. Sierra this afternoon by appointment and told him that while in Washington I had discussed the proposed protocol at considerable length with officials of the Department of State and that they had reached the conclusion that if an agreement were not reached by the first of February the American Agent would have to proceed with the filing of memorials in the agrarian claims, since the time within which these memorials could be filed under the protocol of 1934 was fast disappearing. Mr. Sierra replied that under the protocol the American Agent had a perfect right to file these memorials, but remarked that the Mexican Agency, already hard pressed would have a very difficult time handling this additional work.

Mr. Sierra said that he had just completed a somewhat lengthy review of the negotiations which he intended to submit to the Foreign Minister immediately, at which time he would also discuss the subject with him and endeavor to obtain his views and instructions as to how he should proceed in the present stage of these negotiations. He then inquired whether the American Government would be willing to consider some more simplified procedure for arriving at an en bloc settlement and mentioned the expeditious settlement of the special claims which were adjusted within a few months after having dragged for many years.

I replied that any proposal advanced by him would receive my careful and sympathetic consideration, but that the success of a simplified en bloc settlement, such as he suggested, was, of course, dependent upon the amount or percentage offered and that what the American claimants were primarily interested in was, of course, to receive adequate compensation as quickly as possible. I added that many American claimants were insisting upon filing the memorials in agrarian claims without further delay. Mr. Sierra was uncertain of the amount represented by the agrarian claims and would not venture an opinion as to the amount or percentage which the Mexican Government might be willing to offer.

In answer to my question, Mr. Sierra said that he thought that the definition of agrarian claims was the principal obstacle to an agreement. He admitted that the claims arising from the nullification of titles and the sub-division of large estates were negligible and constituted [Page 751] but a very small percentage of the total of agrarian claims, but said that the Mexican Government must insist that these be included as a matter of principle and to avoid a precedent in that the Mexican position was that agrarian claims were those arising from the application of the land provisions of Article 27 of the Constitution.53 I pointed out at some length that ever since the Bucareli Conference in 192354 the usual definition agreed upon by both Governments of agrarian claims was land taken for ejidos and the benefit of centers of population and that it seemed that the all-embracing definition given the term by Mr. Sierra might be made to include not only the splitting up of large estates but also the cancellation of subsoil rights which were likewise covered by Article 27 of the Constitution. I suggested that since his objections to our definition of agrarian claims was simply one of principle, it might be possible for him to work out some formula that his Government could accept but which would only cover purely agrarian claims as we considered them, that is, lands actually expropriated for ejidos and for the benefit of centers of population as contemplated under the Mexican Agrarian Code. He seemed doubtful of this, saying that there were the other countries to be considered and that any concession made to us would likewise have to be granted to the Spanish, the British and other foreign nationals as well as to the Mexicans themselves.

I made it plain that our Government could not agree to waive the right to insist that settlement must be made on the basis of “justice, equity and international law”, and pointed out that the General Claims Convention of 1923,55 Article 9, ratified by both Governments, recognized that the principles of international law, justice and equity would govern and that our Government felt it could not agree that any settlement could be reached upon any other basis, and that the treaty of 1934 had not changed that right.

Mr. Sierra asked whether I had brought him a written memorandum covering the present status of the negotiations as a result of my conferences in Washington, So I gave him a memorandum which I had prepared, based on the Department’s instruction referred to above and of which a copy is enclosed herewith. Mr. Sierra took it and said that he would study the memorandum in connection with the review which he had prepared and would take up the whole matter with the [Page 752] Foreign Minister at the earliest possible moment and would then let me know what could be done.

I emphasized to Mr. Sierra that the American Government had made a sincere effort to meet the views of the Mexican Government insofar as possible without jeopardizing the rights of its citizens under the Claims Convention, and in order to meet the wishes of the Mexican Government that its laws should not be passed upon by an international tribunal had agreed that the Commissioners should merely record their decisions in each case without assigning reasons therefor, and that since the lump sum settlement might be arrived at from these bare decisions the Mexican agrarian laws would in no wise be brought into question. I urged him to do his utmost to expedite the negotiations so that an agreement might be reached before February first and in this way avoid the necessity for filing of memorials on agrarian claims with the General Claims Commission, which, as he said, was already hard pressed to keep up with its present schedule.

I expressed the hope that he could obtain and give me the views of the Foreign Minister this week or early in the coming week. He said he would do all he could for expedition.

Respectfully yours,

Josephus Daniels

The American Ambassador ( Daniels ) to the Chief of the Department of Political Affairs, Mexican Ministry for Foreign Affairs ( Sierra )


The General Claims Convention of September 8, 1923, as extended, provides for the settlement by arbitration of all outstanding claims between the two Governments including agrarian claims.
The Protocol signed on April 24, 1934,56 provides for an informal discussion of the agrarian claims pending before the General Claims Commission with a view to their adjustment. It provides that “pending such discussion no agrarian claims will be presented to the Commissioners” referred to in the Protocol, “nor, in turn, to the Umpire …” referred to therein but that “memorials of cases not yet memorialized may be filed in order to regularize the awards made upon the agreed adjustments”.
The discussions have pertained to a method of procedure by which the claims would be submitted to Commissioners for appraisal, looking to a lump sum settlement. The Mexican Government has desired that the pleadings in the cases should be limited to a memorial and answer, since it does not desire that the validity of the Mexican [Page 753] agrarian laws shall be brought into question before an international commission. The American Government, on the other hand, has contended that the cases could not be properly developed to the point where Commissioners could appraise them with any degree of certainty without further pleadings such as are provided for in the Protocol of 1934 with respect to other claims.
In order to meet the wishes of the Mexican Government that their agrarian laws should not be passed upon by a commission, the American Government has been willing at all times to agree that the Commissioners should merely record their decisions in the cases without assigning reasons therefor. Thus, the recorded decisions on which the two Governments would endeavor to reach a lump sum settlement would not bring into question Mexican agrarian laws. Furthermore, the American Government has indicated its readiness to include in the proposed Protocol a statement that any agreement reached with respect to agrarian claims shall be accepted by the two Governments as involving no compromise regarding the point of view of either of them as to the principles and precepts of law applicable and that it shall not constitute in any way a precedent “which may be binding on either of them in the future”.
Differences have also arisen as to the definition of agrarian claims. The American Government has taken the position that in accordance with the previous discussions between the two Governments agrarian claims should properly be limited to those arising from lands taken for dotations as ejidos but as a concession to the Mexican Government it has agreed to include within the agrarian claims those arising from the restitution of lands and the nullification of titles to lands for the benefit of centers of population. The Mexican Government, on the other hand, has contended that it alone should define the term agrarian claims and had indicated its desire to include therein all lands taken pursuant to the provisions of Article 27 of the Constitution of 1917.
Another matter on which the two Governments have been unable to agree is that with respect to the determination of the question as to whether certain claims filed as agrarian claims are, in fact, such. The Mexican representatives desire that this question should be determined by the Commissioners to be appointed to appraise the claims. The American Government has pointed out that to wait until the Commissioners shall decide this question would mean that if it should be decided in a given case that the claim was not to be regarded as an agrarian claim the decision would probably be so delayed that it would be too late to proceed with the claim before the General Claims Commission within the period allowed for the filing of memorials with the Commission. If, on the other hand, the General Claims Commission is given this authority and if the Commission should find [Page 754] that in a given case the claim was to be regarded as an agrarian claim, the memorial would already be before the Commission and the subsequent pleadings could be filed in their order. The American Government, therefore, feels that the only arrangement which may be expected to work smoothly with regard to these claims is one which would place the claims before the General Claims Commissioners, leaving it to them to determine which are agrarian claims and have these claims then referred to the other Commissioners to be disposed of by the method provided in Articles 4, 5 and 6 of the draft Protocol which the American Government has indicated its readiness to sign.
Representatives of the American Government were sent to Mexico City in April, 1935, and remained in Mexico for more than four months but were unable to reach an agreement with their Mexican colleagues. Following their departure the negotiations were continued by the American Ambassador. Nine months have, therefore elapsed since the negotiations were initiated and it seems fair to assume that this constitutes a reasonable length of time for the drawing up of a Protocol were an agreement possible. Because of the fact that the time within which memorials may be filed under the Protocol of 1934 is fast disappearing, the American Agent, in the event that an agreement is not reached by February 1, 1936, will be instructed to proceed with the filing of memorials in the agrarian claims.
  1. Foreign Relations, 1917, p. 955.
  2. The United States–Mexican Commission meeting at No. 85 Bucareli Street, Mexico City from May 14 to August 15, 1923, negotiated the General Claims Convention of September 8, 1923, and the Special Claims Convention of September 10, 1923, and resulted in the resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Mexico, See Foreign Relations, 1923, Vol. ii, pp. 522 ff., and Proceedings of the United States–Mexican Commission Convened in Mexico City, May 11, 1923 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1925).
  3. Signed at Washington, September 8, 1923, Foreign Relations, 1923, Vol. ii, p. 555.
  4. Foreign Relations, 1934, Vol. v, p. 470.