The American Delegate to the Chaco Peace Conference (Braden) to the Secretary of State

No. 406

Sir: I have the honor to present for the Department’s comments and approval my suggestions on the policy to be pursued in the Chaco Peace Conference negotiations on the territorial question.

That the Chaco Peace Conference has been in session since June 19352 largely may be attributed to and justified by: (a) delays occasioned by the ambiguities of the June 12, 1935, Protocol;3 (b) the inherent difficulties of the problem mostly resulting from the fact that the war ended with theoretically neither a victorious nor a vanquished party; (c) the revolutions in Bolivia and Paraguay;4 (d) the intractable personalities of some of the mediatory and ex-belligerent delegates; (e) the Indian suspiciousness especially of the Paraguayans; (f) the precautions made necessary in order to avoid any crisis occurring prior to or during the Maintenance of Peace Conference.5 With the exception of (f) these considerations still prevail but are not generally appreciated, hence the Conference must now demonstrate that definite progress towards a final solution is being [Page 5]made, otherwise its prestige will be undermined, its authority weakened and the opportunity for a final peace lost.

Paraguayan attitude. A few men formerly in power, notably ex-President Ayala and General Estigarribia, realize that it would be advantageous for Paraguay to make certain concessions in order to obtain a settlement and permanent peace. Unfortunately, however, the Franco government is determined to remain in power at all costs and lacks both the courage and intelligence to adopt such a patriotic viewpoint. They fear to make the slightest concession in view of the pressure of short-sighted younger army officers, a sedulously cultivated jingo public opinion and the criticism which political enemies would direct at any agreement. In such circumstances inaction seems best to them—and this accounts for the interminable delays, trifling but time-consuming objections, shameless contradictions and refusals to listen to reason. Furthermore, most Paraguayans are genuinely convinced they won the war, that the Chaco is rightfully theirs, that it would be reprehensible to withdraw one inch from their present positions or extend any port facilities to Bolivia and that were hostilities renewed they would again be victorious. Moreover, great store is set by the June 12 Protocol provision that the Conference cannot be dissolved until the arbitral compromise is definitely agreed upon. Strict compliance with this clause would enable the Paraguayans, through their insistence upon the inclusion of unreasonable conditions, to defer more or less indefinitely the drafting of the arbitral compromise; thus their Fabian tactics would keep the Conference alive and ipso facto leave them, guaranteed by the six mediatory nations, in their war’s-end positions in the Chaco.…

Bolivian attitude. Many Bolivians believe, with some reason according to neutral military authorities, that were hostilities renewed Paraguay would be driven eastward. But the ex-combatants are war-weary and prefer a face-saving settlement. Certain mining and financial interests, pursuant to arguments gradually developed by Ambassador Nieto of Chile and myself during the last year, now state that they are willing to supply up to £200,000 for payment to Paraguay as an inducement for a final settlement. Foreign Minister Finot frequently acts or speaks precipitously and unwisely but so far when the facts are presented has been willing to resume a reasonable course. Dr. Alvéstegui, chairman of the Bolivian delegation, until now has been intelligent and cooperative.

Mediatory nations’ attitude. Chile realizes that a failure to conclude a definitive Chaco peace might entail a renewal by Bolivia of annoying attempts to obtain an outlet to the Pacific. Ambassador Nieto, together with a few other Chileans, believes that a corridor to the ocean should eventually be ceded to Bolivia but does not wish [Page 6]the question forced upon Chile now. Hence Chile desires a final settlement which, insofar as possible, will be satisfactory to Bolivia. Ambassador Nieto throughout has been one of the most useful members of the Conference. Last November he presented his credentials as Ambassador in Brazil; twice I have intervened in order to obtain his continued presence here until now, but in another thirty days he must depart for Rio de Janeiro…

Peru logically might be expected to have the same attitude as Chile but instead the Lima government so far has shown relatively small interest in the negotiations.…

Uruguay appears to have scant interest one way or the other. Delegate Manini Ríos was helpful until he, in effect, withdrew from our deliberations in December 1935.…

Brazil’s contribution has been of the greatest value and Ambassador Rodrigues Alves the ablest member of the Conference. Unfortunately, despite his two months’ vacation during January to March of this year Dr. Rodrigues Alves is worn by the grind of the Conference and, notwithstanding such encouragement as I have been able to give him, is developing a defeatist attitude towards the Chaco problem, which I sense is reflected in the Brazilian Foreign Office.

Argentina’s antagonism during most of 1936 to the Franco régime has evaporated and there is reason to believe that the appalling delay of three months in getting the Special Military Commission to the Chaco is partly due to Argentine (Saavedra Lamas’?) willingness to play the Paraguayan game of procrastination—an assumption which coincides with the widely held impression that Argentina directly assisted Paraguay during the war.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

In view of the serious situation we now face it appears advisable that soon an appeal should be made to President Justo to restrain his Foreign Minister. Ambassadors Rodrigues Alves, Nieto and I already have taken certain steps in this direction and hope to discuss the situation frankly and fully with acting president Julio Roca at a dinner to be attended only by the four of us and which Nieto hopes to arrange within the next week or ten days.

An appeal to the personal pride of President Justo and Dr. Saavedra Lamas should be effective—on the basis that for them to go out of office this year with the Chaco question unsettled would more than destroy any credit (including the Nobel prize)6 they might have received in its composition to date.

My interpretation of the United States attitude is: Being entirely free of any direct interest in the dispute our sole objective is the [Page 7]consummation of a permanent peace between Bolivia and Paraguay, not alone for reasons of humanity and good neighborliness but still more to prevent the almost inevitable resumption of war, sooner or later, following upon a failure of the Conference. Of greater importance than the Chaco or the pretensions of the two ex-belligerent nations is the preservation of the laboriously constructed American peace system recently strengthened at the Maintenance of Peace Conference. Another war would greatly damage this peace structure and probably throw back to European influence those discouraged elements of Latin America which under the recent strong leadership of the United States have been signally oriented toward pan-American cooperation. So prominent has been our Latin American policy that a failure of this Conference would react with especial force on the United States. Also, there would be loss of prestige for all the mediatory governments and the heaping of reproach and ridicule upon the individuals involved.

It is an accomplishment for the Conference that the Bolivian Foreign Minister and delegates now, in private conversations with Ambassador Rodrigues Alves, Nieto and me, frankly contemplate a final agreement which would: (a) give Bolivia a free instead of a sovereign port on the Paraguay river; (b) establish a permanent frontier 75 to 150 kilometers east of the intermediary line; (c) have Bolivia pay £200,000 to Paraguay. These terms should satisfy Paraguay—ex-President Ayala and General Estigarribia, I am sure, would approve them—but unhappily it is quite another matter to obtain their acceptance by the Franco government. In fact, Ambassador Nieto of Chile and I are the only two persons acquainted with the negotiations who see any chance for a territorial settlement. This chance may be slight but so long as it exists the mediatory nations, in a united front, must redouble their efforts, patience and ingenuity in order to achieve a territorial agreement.

From the foregoing analysis of the situation it becomes obvious that the principal obstacle to a final peace is the frame of mind of present Paraguayan leaders. In order to bring them to reason two methods are at hand: inducement and pressure.

Regardless of whether or not the transit and security regulations7 are accepted the trips of certain mediatory delegates—notably Ambassador Rodrigues Alves of Brazil, Ambassador Nieto del Río of Chile, Dr. Bunge of Argentina and myself—to La Paz and Asuncíon should be taken as soon as possible. On our visit to the latter city it will be necessary for us to approach those really in control, one after another, and convince them of the manifold advantages of a [Page 8]settlement which may be synthetized as follows: Peace will allow full and free economic development, foreign capital will feel safer, and a cash payment from Bolivia is a prize much needed to bolster sadly deficient public finances. Paraguayan objectives in the war will be substantially satisfied by apportioning to that country a major portion of the Chaco and the refusal of a sovereign port to Bolivia. On the other hand, Paraguay cannot expect to repeat her successes of the recent war but, on the contrary, may be driven back so that a far less satisfactory settlement would result from another conflict. In urging the delegates’ trips to Asunción I am not forgetful of the possible embarrassments which may arise and that we may be treated in cavalier fashion; nevertheless, I think these visits should be taken.

All possible legitimate pressure must be applied to Paraguay. In so doing it is essential that the six mediatory countries present a single front. Argentina, by reason of its unique influence in Paraguay, and the United States, because of its impartiality, will carry the greatest weight.

Any course now laid down for the territorial discussions may have to be changed because of future developments but the present program for the Conference is as follows:

In accordance with the plan approved by the Conference on December 25, 1936 (see my despatch No. 3538), a time limit (not more than two to three months) to be set for the active, direct negotiation of a possible frontier. On its expiration should an agreement not be in view a further period (not to exceed four months) to be allotted for the drafting of an arbitral compromise for submission to the Permanent Court of International Justice. Delegates’ trips to the ex-belligerent countries to be made during the above two periods. Should the draft agreement not be in sight at the conclusion of this latter period the Conference to adjourn and issue a declaration placing the blame where it belongs—probably, Paraguayan disinclination to reason. Were this procedure to be followed Paraguay could, and undoubtedly would, allege that the six mediatory nations had violated their solemn agreement under the June 12, 1935, Protocol (Article I (3), second paragraph) not to adjourn the Conference until a definite accord had been reached. Yet these six powers should not be forced to act as tools of Paraguayan intransigence and to remain indefinitely as the guardians of a Paraguayan occupation of disputed territory—an occupation which is recognized as temporary by the Protocols. Thus we are between the Scylla of a failure strictly to comply with our international commitments under the Protocols and the Charybdis of violating the spirit of those same instruments. If we follow the latter course we stultify ourselves, subject Bolivia to an injustice [Page 9]and open the way to future conflict. Therefore, it is my opinion that the Conference must place a time limit on its deliberations but I would like to receive the Department’s views in this particular.

The threat of a Conference declaration along the above lines might bring Paraguay to heel. It is even possible that its issuance would upset the Franco régime, bringing in other politicians who—especially if they have General Estigarribia at their head—would be willing to compromise and effect a settlement.

I submit the following specific recommendations for possible action by the Department:

That appropriate representations be made to the five other mediatory Foreign Offices, but especially to those of Brazil and Argentina, calling upon them for renewed arid vigorous efforts in an attempt to reach a successful conclusion. Also, it would be beneficial were the Chilean government induced to continue Ambassador Nieto at the Peace Conference.
At an appropriate moment, to be indicated by me, the presentation to the Paraguayan government by the American Minister in Asunción of a strong message stating United States expectation that a reasonable accord will be reached and that further delay be eschewed.
Unremitting pressure on the Paraguayan Minister in Washington.
Perhaps some use might be made of the Trade Agreements holding out a favorable accord as an inducement for Paraguay’s making peace with Bolivia.

The Department’s instructions, comments and suggestions are earnestly requested in view of the serious nature of the status of negotiations here.

Respectfully yours,

Spruille Braden
  1. See ibid., 1935, vol. iv, pp. 91 ff.
  2. See telegram No. 71, June 9, 1935, noon, from the Ambassador in Argentina, ibid., p. 73.
  3. See ibid., 1936, vol. v, pp. 220 ff. and 858 ff.
  4. Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace, Buenos Aires, December 1–23, 1936; see ibid., pp. 3 ff.
  5. Carlos Saavedra Lamas received the Nobel Peace Prize for 1936.
  6. See Department of State Conference Series No. 46: The Chaco Peace Conference, pp. 23, 106, 108.
  7. Dated January 14, 1937; not printed.