Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Welles)

I asked the Ambassador of Ecuador to call upon me this morning and communicated to him the contents of the telegram sent to the Department by the American Minister in Quito under date of June 9, 6 p.m.

I explained to the Ambassador that I was very seriously preoccupied with the information transmitted and particularly by the impressions Mr. Gonzalez had communicated to me of the attitude and understanding of the position taken by this Government which were alleged to exist on the part of President Páez.

With regard to the allegation that, “The Department of State is preventing President Roosevelt from taking any positive action in the present impasse”, I said that, of course, the Ambassador knew better than I did what a strange misapprehension this was; that, as he knew, President Roosevelt was deeply interested in the successful termination of the negotiations between Peru and Ecuador for the solution of the boundary dispute; that he had himself addressed the two delegations, expressing his hope that an early agreement [Page 50] would be found, and that he had referred to the controversy in public addresses—in one of them made not long ago. I said that the President felt very strongly exactly as the Secretary of State and I felt that, in view of the fact that the President was named in the protocol between Peru and Ecuador as the contingent arbitrator of the dispute, he must be scrupulously careful to avoid taking any action which would give rise to the unfounded impressions that he was bringing pressure to bear on one or the other of the parties to the dispute. I said that President Roosevelt was animated solely by a spirit of equal and warm friendship for both countries and because of his passionate desire to see peace maintained upon firm foundations on the American continent. In so far as the belief had been expressed that the Department of State is influencing President Roosevelt counter to his own inclinations, I said to the Ambassador that I knew, from his personal acquaintance with the President, that he would know that President Roosevelt would be guided solely by what he himself thought right and in this instance the President was confident that the stand he had taken was the one which would prove most helpful in the settlement of the controversy.

In so far as our desire to be helpful was concerned, I reminded the Ambassador that he knew from my prior conversations with him of the talks I had had with Ambassador Concha8 during the latter’s recent visit to Washington. I said that I found Dr. Concha, here as in Buenos Aires, a sincere lover of peace, a very moderate minded and practical statesman, and that I knew from what he had said to me that Dr. Concha desired the negotiations in Washington to succeed. Dr. Concha had returned from Washington to Lima, had conferred with President Benavides; and I felt sure that his wise judgment would be given great importance by the President of Peru. I told the Ambassador further that it was generally reported in Lima that a new civilian government would soon be constituted in Peru and that there was considerable feeling that Dr. Concha himself would head this new government.

In view of all of these facts, I asked the Ambassador if he would not consider it peculiarly deplorable at this very moment, when the prospects seemed brighter than they have for some months past, for his Government to consider breaking off negotiations or even to contemplate hostilities. That, I said, was an inquiry which I made because of my friendship for him and for his country and from the standpoint of the interest of Ecuador itself. Another inquiry which I felt was not inappropriate was how it would be possible for the Government of Ecuador, after the peace treaties which it had signed [Page 51] at the Buenos Aires Conference9 and in view of the unanimous desire on the part of all of the American republics there expressed always to resort to peaceful means of adjudicating disputes, now to contemplate hostilities when no act of aggression had been committed against Ecuador by Peru. I said that I was afraid that if other important governments of the American continent, like Ecuador, were to take such a step as this, public opinion throughout the continent would rapidly begin to feel that all that the American delegations at Buenos Aires had given to the cause of peace was mere lip service and of no practical benefit.

Finally, I reminded the Ambassador that, inasmuch as the Government of Peru had specifically stated in her reservations to the various peace instruments in Buenos Aires that she would not regard the pending boundary controversy with Ecuador as within the scope and jurisdiction of any of the peace treaties and conventions there signed, the only machinery in existence for the peaceful settlement of the boundary dispute were the protocols of 192410 and 193611 and the negotiations now proceeding in Washington. If Ecuador withdrew from these negotiations, what peaceful means would be left for the solution of the controversy?

The Ambassador said that he would at once cable his Government along the lines of our conversation and would follow up this cable by an air mail letter to President Páez, in which he would go into great detail. He said that he felt that Mr. Gonzalez had probably unintentionally exaggerated and given the wrong color to the remarks which may have been made to him by President Páez. He said that, of course, his Government had been gravely disturbed by the allegations publicly made by Peru and was always fearful of a sudden rupture which would give rise to armed hostilities. He said, however, that he was confident that the Government of Ecuador would never make the first move. The Ambassador said further that he had consistently advised his Government never to be the first to break negotiations in Washington since these negotiations were the only definite guarantee which Ecuador could have for an eventual satisfactory settlement.

The Ambassador, as always, was most appreciative of the attitude which we took. He said that he fully understood the attitude assumed by President Roosevelt, which he believed the only possible and only truly helpful attitude; and that one of his own chief difficulties [Page 52] was the fact that the Ecuadoran delegates to the negotiations at Washington did not know American psychology nor understand the way in which they could be most helpful to their Government, and persisted in the belief that they must every day try to print in the newspapers attacks upon Peru or defenses of the Ecuadoran position.

In conclusion, I said that I felt the Ambassador knew us so well that there was no advice that I could give him as to how to deal with American public opinion. I stated finally that it was particularly regrettable that this incident had now arisen because I knew from our own Embassy in Lima that the opinion of the Peruvian Government towards the Government of Ecuador had become far more friendly and favorable as a result of the refusal of the Government of Ecuador last month to permit the Ecuadoran press to publish articles written by Aprista refugees attacking the President of Peru and the members of his administration.

The Ambassador said he would keep me closely in touch with all new developments of which he might learn.

S[umner] W[elles]
  1. Carlos Concha, Peruvian Ambassador in Chile and former Minister for Foreign Affairs, had made a trip to the United States in 1936.
  2. See Department of State Conference Series No. 33: Report of the Delegation of the United States of America to the Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace, Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 1–23, 1936 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1937).
  3. Foreign Relations, 1924, vol. i, p. 305.
  4. Ibid., 1936, vol. v, p. 116.