The American Delegate (Braden) to the Secretary of State

No. 420

Sir: I have the honor to transmit in Spanish text and English translation a memorandum of the conversation which took place at the dinner with General Justo, President of the Argentine Republic, on April 29. The dinner was reported briefly in my telegram No. 63 of April 30, 6 p.m.9

Each of the three delegates participating in the dinner have retained one signed copy. This memorandum is being made available only to the Brazilian and Chilean Foreign Offices and the State Department.

Respectfully yours,

Spruille Braden

Memorandum of Conversation Between Ambassadors Rodrigues Alves, Braden and Nieto del Río and President Justo at the Dinner Given by Vice President Roca on April 29, 1937 at 9:30 p.m. in the Private Dining Room of the Plaza Hotel, the Minister of Foreign Relations Sr. Saavedra Lamas Being Also Present

The Special Delegates Ambassadors of the United States of America, Brazil and Chile, distressed at the slow pace that the President of the Conference wishes to give to the fundamental negotiations, in opposition to the views of their respective governments in putting an end as soon as possible to the territorial dispute of the Chaco, considered the situation and arrived at the following conclusions: [Page 11]

A lamentable atmosphere is being created by the delays of the Conference: In Bolivia a spirit of disillusion and desperation and in Paraguay a growing intransigence since its program of procrastination prospers;
There is need to arrive at a solution before the end of the term of office of President Justo;
That the resolution adopted at the session of December 25, 1936 must be kept in mind, whereby a system of time limits was suggested by the Committee of Three;
That the indefinite prolongation of the Conference is inadmissible without concrete expectation of a solution;
That there is a grave danger of the renewal of hostilities in case the Conference through inaction or consideration of extreme positions, maintains the actual status quo;
That a new conflict in the Chaco would destroy the American Peace system and would bring disrepute upon all the mediatory governments;
That the fundamental question may be avoided only through a real rebellion of the parties, or of one of them, to the letter and the spirit of the Protocols, the Conference in that case having to indicate precisely the causes which oblige it to desist from mediation;
That the President of the Conference was taking as acts of sabotage on the part of certain Delegations, the loyal efforts looking to avoid a rupture of the same, renewing suspicions and fears which he showed every time at moments of crisis when he did not see a possibility of solution.

These conclusions having been examined from all angles, the means were studied to influence the spirit of the President of the Conference to make him change his policies. In various sessions ideas of this nature were voiced, especially when it was necessary to exercise real pressure for the quick termination of the Regulations on the road and the distancing of the nuclei of troops. In private conversations also, we tried to reflect the urgency of the solution of the fundamental question, but all this without arriving at a definite answer from Sr. Saavedra Lamas, whose general attitude is the deprecation of ideas. It was also necessary to take into account the attitude of General Martínez Pita, President of the Special Military Commission, which has the same tendencies as those of Sr. Saavedra Lamas, the former having stated that politicians and diplomats make the Chaco more confused, whose solution only military men can achieve. And lastly, we had to consider the Paraguayan policy which consists in delaying the fundamental solution as much as possible, since nothing interests it except the consolidation of the occupied territory.

Convinced that direct action on Sr. Saavedra Lamas would not have the desired effect, the Delegate of Chile proposed and the idea was accepted, to seek an intimate conversation with Dr. Julio Roca, Vice President of the Republic, then Acting President, so that he might carry the result to the knowledge of the President of the Nation. The [Page 12]said delegate invited Dr. Roca to dine with Delegates Rodrigues Alves and Braden on April 23 in a private dining room of the Plaza Hotel. With the necessary prudence, the situation was explained to the Vice President. Convinced of the value of our observations, Dr. Roca promised to speak to General Justo and moreover, to demonstrate the personal interest which he had in helping and the consideration which he had for the three delegates, suggested the idea of having in the same place a dinner with the President of the Republic and the Minister of Foreign Relations, which was naturally accepted, as it was considered of great importance. Dr. Roca suggested extending the invitation to the other delegates. The representatives pointed out to Dr. Roca that the others are permanent Ambassadors accredited to the Argentine Government, which would prevent them from expressing their opinions with the full freedom which the case demanded, the reason for which the Chilean Delegate had not invited them.

In short, the conversation with Dr. Roca was the greatest opportunity. With the well known correctness of his conduct as the perfect gentleman, he informed the Foreign Minister of the invitation which had been extended to him. The first question which he set forth was that the success of the Conference depended on the individual disinterestedness that each of the mediatory governments would display, since if each one, or some, pursued determined advantages at the expense of a solution of the Chaco, then the unity of the Conference was lost and with it the possibility of reaching a common objective. It was easy to see that Sr. Saavedra Lamas had thrown over the spirit of the Vice President an odious doubt regarding the mediators. He had once more expressed his lack of confidence in the other governments and his obsession of sabotage. With energy and an abundance of arguments, the Delegates took away from Dr. Roca the last trace of doubt that the words of the Foreign Minister might have left there. He suggested action by the presidents of the other mediatory countries to collaborate with the Argentine Executive.

He was then shown the extreme urgency of reaching the fundamental question, this being principally based on the nearness of the presidential elections in Argentina and the danger of war which would be brought on by the unjustified abandonment of the question while one of the parties is in possession of territory under discussion. Since the procedure to be followed is laid down in the Protocols, there is no valid reason not to exercise the authority that the mediatory countries have.

The Delegates had a satsfactory impression of the step they had just taken, without discounting the dangers in it, since in the last analysis the conversation with Dr. Roca and that which they would [Page 13]soon have with H. E. the President consisted in very daring diplomacy. But they would have no reason to regret it, no matter what were the consequences, in view of the attitude of the Argentine Foreign Minister which was evaluated as being fatal for the peace of America and the prestige of the mediatory governments. Moreover, the eminent personality of Dr. Roca, free of all international prejudices, as well as that no less eminent one of General Justo, were sufficient protection for the propriety of the delicate step.

On Thursday, April 29, the dinner with the President of the Nation occurred in the same place as before. The Delegates had beforehand exchanged ideas and decided what it would be necessary to discuss. It was early seen that Sr. Saavedra Lamas was trying to keep the conversation on subjects foreign to the principal objective, an easy thing for him who possesses in the highest measure a gift of talking. Two or three attempts to broach the subject were turned off with undisguised design. Finally, the President himself cleverly made the opening for discussion of the matter.

The conversation may be resumed as follows:

Delegate of the United States:

While we are all keenly aware of the urgent necessity of arriving at a territorial settlement, and look with horror upon the possible renewal of hostilities with all of the bloodshed and suffering involved, nevertheless, more important than these considerations or the interests of Bolivia and Paraguay is the preservation of the American peace system developed by President Justo and his Foreign Minister, together with the other presidents and foreign ministers, particularly of the mediatory nations. Naturally I am especially concerned respecting my own president—President Roosevelt—and Secretary Hull, and that their contributions to this system shall not be dissipated through a renewal of hostilities. Certainly another Chaco war would do untold damage to the American peace system and to the authority and prestige of all our presidents and statesmen and would bring ridicule upon us delegates who have been directly involved in the negotiations.

I am entirely convinced that if we fail to reach a solution to the territorial problem another war is inevitable. Two things may happen: (a) If the Bolivians feel that they have sufficient documentary and other evidence in hand as a result of the various Conference declarations and agreements they may make a unilateral appeal to the Permanent Court of International Justice in order to place themselves in a strong legal position and prove to the world that they are not the aggressors in a new war. (b) If the Bolivians did not follow this course then within a month from the date of the failure of [Page 14]the Peace Conference the Bolivians would seize the road and the adjacent territory. There is in Bolivia a certain spirit of revenge. The younger army officers, headed by Colonel Busch, are determined to erase the black marks of defeat.

Ambassador Braden said that while he greatly respected General Martínez Pita’s opinion, in this instance he could not agree with him. In fact, the very distinguished position held by General Martínez Pita—General of Division of the Argentine army, President of the Special Military Commission and Special Delegate—placed him in a position where he was regarded with awe by the ex-belligerent lesser officers so that during his short stay in the Chaco—one week in Asunción and five or six days in Villa Montes—those officers did not dare display to him their real sentiments. Whereas, Major Weeks,10 in addition to the trips made in company with General Martínez Pita, has lived for six months in the Chaco during 1936 where he slept, ate, drank, played cards with and was on terms of intimate comradeship with both the Bolivian and Paraguayan officers, who have unbosomed themselves to him frankly. Major Weeks declares that if the Conference fails he considers that there is an 80% probability that war will be renewed within a year and thereafter this percentage will increase rapidly.

The American Delegate joined with his colleagues to insist that the mediatory nations must, as a unit, attack the territorial question with determination, energy and with the exercise of all the influence and prestige within their power.

At an opportune moment, in answer to a question by President Justo, Ambassador Braden explained why the other delegates were not present. The three that were present, he said, had no duties outside the Conference. We eat, sleep and breathe the Chaco and therefore can and do dedicate all our time and effort to it. He added that nevertheless, the other delegates were entirely in accord with the program to pursue the territorial question energetically in order to conclude a final peace before President Justo and Sr. Saavedra Lamas left office. He then read a statement which that very afternoon he had read to the Conference in the name of his government:

“In view of the seriousness of the deliberations on which we are now entering, I keep the State Department informed of all the details possible. I am therefore pleased to inform Your Excellencies that my government has instructed me to express its pleasure at the fact that all the mediatory delegates agree completely with my statement made at the meeting of April 21 and repeated yesterday. That is, that we are resolved to go to the bottom of the territorial question with energy, wholeheartedness and determination, giving at the same [Page 15]time sufficient publicity to our activities so that the world may know of our labors. In accordance with this firm intention of the Conference my government agrees with our resolution taken yesterday but believes that the only chance of success lies in our being prepared to meet everyday and if necessary, all day, at any time and any place—i. e. imitating the work which was so effective in seeking a solution for the prisoners’ problem, a procedure which it is easy to follow.

“Several of the mediatory nations have special ambassadors accredited to the Conference who devote their time exclusively to the Chaco and are disposed at all times to give their collaboration to the intense work required by the Conference in accordance with the plan of time limits fixed and approved by the Conference as its own internal program from now on at the meeting of December 25 last.”

The delegate added that the program outlined therein had met with unanimous approval, and Sr. Saavedra Lamas said he agreed and that this was an accurate statement of the program.

In entire agreement with the opinion of his colleagues Ambassador Braden further emphasized that there was complete accord and unity between each and every one of the mediatory delegates and repeated his simile previously made that the Conference might be compared to a football team, in which individual skill only is of little use, for victory cannot be obtained excepting through complete coordination and team play.

President Justo remarked that the presidents of the other five mediatory nations might also help the Conference to which he replied that undoubtedly they could and would do so when called upon, but that in the final analysis the playing field was in Buenos Aires and therefore President Jusio’s intervention would prove the most effective.

When Sr. Saavedra Lamas objected that President Justo should not be requested to intervene unless the Conference were absolutely sure of success on the territorial question Ambassador Braden rejoined that a Conference failure would be a greater blow to President Justo’s prestige and that precisely to protect his prestige it would be desirable for him to exercise his great influence and power.

Upon President Justo’s expressing some doubts as to whether the intransigence of the parties could be overcome, the American delegate replied that he had reached his position as a leader of a great nation only by boldly facing stubborn intransigence and that many a time he undoubtedly had overcome what appeared to be unsurmountable obstacles by sheer determination and energy and that the Conference, with the President’s support, could with similar determination and energy confidently overcome all obstacles and reach the final peace.

Delegate of Brazil:

The Brazilian Ambassador, when he took part in the conversation, insisted on the need to observe the time limits fixed in the session of [Page 16]December 25, since it was not possible for the Conference to meet indefinitely, awaiting that the parties should arrive at a direct agreement. And later added: One must not lose sight of the fact that the Conference was born in Buenos Aires at the time of the visit of President Vargas, taking advantage of the magnificent atmosphere and under the propitious situation of an extensive cordiality throughout America. It was called by President Justo and it must end before the expiration of the actual administration. The administration to come will not have the same interests or the same responsibility as that which called it and would find the subject already worn by the natural action of the elapsed time. We therefore must hurry, that the fundamental question may be considered with a will to solve it as soon as possible using every effort to reach this goal. This is the desire of all the delegates which have maintained an immovable solidarity. Let us take advantage of this spirit and we will arrive at the end of our difficult task. The Delegate of Brazil pointed out that this was the opinion of his government which has no other aim than to cooperate with all the mediators, with the hope that the solution will come out of Buenos Aires.

He maintained the same arguments as Ambassadors Nieto and Braden on the dangers to which we were exposed, of a new armed conflict on the day the parties should feel helpless and on their own. On account of this, he said, come our justified apprehensions and fears. This is not a baseless opinion, since our Military Observers who have lived the life of the Chaco in the most complete intimacy with Paraguayan and Bolivian officers had received the same painful impression.

The argument of Nieto’s that we had a sum of money which Bolivia is willing to put at the disposal of the Conference once the problem were about to be definitely solved, caused a profound impression. For the rich men of Bolivia, that is the miners, are those who suffered most during the war and will continue to suffer before the uncertainties and dangers of a new war.

Delegate of Chile:

The Chilean Ambassador from the beginning of the conversation pointed out the real dangers of a new war if the Conference without justified and categorical reason left things as they are under the pretext that calm and prudence are advisable when it is not necessary to call upon them, but on the contrary to use them in the measure that they are ordinarily used in any serious endeavor, while now the need was especially for authority and the prestige of mediation to overcome the tendency to be seen in Paraguay to consolidate its conquests over a territory in dispute. It is necessary to clear up the procedure in accordance with the time limits adopted at the session of December [Page 17]25, 1936. He quoted the opinion of reliable military men, such as General Fuentes, Major Weeks and Captain Bastos, besides other trustworthy reports. He said it would be sad to arrive at the VIII Pan American Conference in Lima11 with a war impending, or without having resolved the territorial question.

He then said to the President that he had in his hands the opportunity to take advantage of the excellent disposition of Chile, Brazil and the United States to arrive at a rapid solution, since these countries had a close unity of views, a single complete loyalty to the work of the Conference and a common desire not to lose time. That moreover, none of them nor the other mediatory countries had special interests or advantages to obtain from a solution of the Chaco, aside from the common advantage of international peace. To a question of the President as to what could be effectively done to initiate the fundamental question, the Delegate of Chile answered that there would be many ways of giving an atmosphere of authority to the negotiations; that at the moment a means of great effect occurred to him, that the debate on the problem be declared solemnly open in a session with the parties, given added dignity if presided over by H. E. the President of the Argentine Republic, which in no way would mean a diminution of the authority of the President of the Conference. The delegate recalled that the presidents of Chile and Argentina had personally risked their prestige in taking the initiative in stopping a war which was raging; that President Justo had inaugurated the Chaco Conference without any assurance of success; that President Roosevelt had come to Buenos Aires to open the Conference for the Maintenance of Peace. The Delegate of Chile supported all the views of his colleagues on the principal points of the conversation. At the last, Ambassador Nieto said more or less as follows: “I believe, Mr. Minister, that an understanding will not be so difficult if at a given moment pecuniary compensation is called into play. On this I have something to say. It would be almost a lack of respect to ask of H. E. the President of the Nation and the Foreign Minister, to keep this completely confidential; but I dare to ask it for the good success of the negotiations. I may assure you that Bolivia will supply a considerable sum of money, perhaps two hundred thousand pounds, for a prompt and good arrangement. After long negotiations which began last year, just as in the case of the subsidy for the prisoners, the final word I obtained a few days ago from my Bolivian mining friends, so that the Conference has at its disposal a most useful element—a nervum rerun—to convince the Paraguayan government, if we do not allow a long time to pass, for we must be aware of the price of tin.”

[Page 18]

The Minister of Foreign Relations:

He insisted various times on the need to conduct the fundamental negotiations slowly, step by step, seeking out all the means of prudence. He referred quickly to the unstable conditions of the internal politics of Paraguay and Bolivia. He maintained with tenacity the nonexistence of any danger of the renewal of hostilities, saying that this was the opinion of the Argentine military officers, General Martínez Pita, Captain Vacca, etc., for Bolivia after its warlike shattering was not in a situation to renew the war, nor was Paraguay due to the latter’s financial weakness. He gave no value whatever to the contrary opinions set forth by the delegates on the logical basis of the reports of their military men. He rejected the idea of direct action by President Justo, before there were assurances of an arrangement. He gave some attention to the report by the Delegate of Chile regarding the sum of money which could be counted on, but this impression did not determine him to outline any plan for rapid action, but on the contrary repeated his comments favoring the policy of indefinite time. When he was reminded of the definite time limits which he himself had enthusiastically adopted at the session of December 25, he was quiet as though surprised at something that he did not recall. When the President interrupted him to add the words “and firmness” to those of tranquillity and patience which he had used, the Foreign Minister did not give any sign of agreeing with the clear intent of General Justo, nor at the time that the Delegate of Brazil repeated these words. He had the same indifferent attitude when after dinner the President gave a graphic representation with fists and foot of a reply General Foch gave on the way in which he expected to resolve the problems of the Single Command during the Great War.

In short, the delegates had the following impressions:

That the Foreign Minister saw with profound displeasure this meeting for the purpose of showing the President and Vice President that the Conference is taking a wrong course under the policy of Sr. Saavedra Lamas.
That the President got a thorough idea of the object of the meeting and, although he did not exactly indicate what he intended to do, used the word “firmness” in a tone equivalent to an order directed at his Minister for Foreign Relations.
That he got a direct statement that there were no individual interests nor divergent opinions among the mediatory nations, and moreover that they were probably circulated by the Foreign Minister to conspire against the Buenos Aires negotiations.
That the mediators are interested in having the subject liquidated before the end of his administration.
That no pretext would be good to undo the effects of the Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace.
That at least the opinions and rationalizations of Sr. Saavedra Lamas that he might have used to support his dilatory policy have been weakened in the mind of the President, since he cannot overlook those to the contrary expressed in all frankness by the delegates of three friendly countries.
That Sr. Saavedra Lamas, through wounded amour propre, may increase his policy, carrying it into the realm of personalities, and in this case it is incumbent upon the governments to keep together and to seek the support of General Justo who is more disposed to accommodating action.

These are the impressions of the three delegates who sign the present document, drafted by Ambassador Nieto del Río and approved after close examination. The facts and résumé of the conversations are correct.

[File copy not signed]
  1. Not printed.
  2. Maj. John A. Weeks, Military Observer for the United States, member of the Special Military Commission.
  3. See pp. 1 ff.