The American Delegate (Braden) to the Secretary of State

No. 474

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my despatch No. 406 of April 20, 1937, wherein I commented on the many delays encountered by the Peace Conference and stated that “the Conference must now demonstrate that definite progress towards a final solution is being made, otherwise its prestige will be undermined, its authority weakened and the opportunity for a final peace lost”.

On April 23 the Conference formally approved the regulations for transit, control, and policing;12 on June 16 Colonel Trabal (Uruguayan Army) and Captain Vacca (Argentine Army) were despatched to the Chaco to put the regulations in force; on May 25 the Bolivian and Paraguayan Foreign Ministers exchanged telegrams declaring diplomatic relations renewed; on June 8 the Conference resolved that direct negotiations on the fundamental question were opened; and on July 12 the Conference reaffirmed this resolution. Nevertheless, the regulations are not in force; ministers have not been appointed, hence diplomatic relations have not been effectively renewed; and little useful discussion on the territorial question has been had in the Conference since last December.

This lamentable state of affairs, aside from those reasons listed in my aforesaid despatch No. 406, in my opinion may be ascribed to a combination of the following: [Page 20]

Unfortunately phrased public statements by Dr. Stefanich, Paraguayan Foreign Minister, and also by Dr. Finot, Bolivian ex-Foreign Minister, in contravention of their solemn promises to refrain from so doing.
Further delays and quibbling over interpretations by the Paraguayans through Dr. Ramírez, head of their delegation.
As I have, on various occasions, informed the Department, it has become increasingly apparent during the last several months that the supreme consideration of Dr. Saavedra Lamas, Conference president, is to preserve his personal reputation as the Great Peacemaker. He fears to face the difficulties which necessarily will arise in the territorial negotiations or the drafting of the arbitral compromise and frequently has admitted of late that his earnest hope is to pass the Chaco question to the World Court for solution. Failing in this, his program will be through procrastination and obstruction to avoid the Conference actively entering the territorial negotiations until he has retired from office, so that the responsibility will fall on his successor as Foreign Minister and Conference president. Last year, at Geneva and elsewhere, he had it widely circulated that nothing remained to be settled in the Chaco but a mere question of boundaries such as exists between many countries (sic). Thus, he would disparage success as an unimportant detail made possible by his own efforts, and ridicule failure as evidence of incompetence by his successor in contrast to the accomplishments attained under his own leadership.
Dr. Saavedra Lamas’ desire for Argentine domination—at least economically—over the Chaco and southeastern Bolivia, coupled with a fantastic fear that his country is surrounded by envious neighbors who are forming “blocs” with one another directed against Argentine interests. This reasoning by the Foreign Minister perhaps leads him to believe that the best policy to pursue is either to make the final peace alone, free from the other mediatory powers, or to perpetuate the division between at least two of Argentina’s five neighbors—divide et impera.

The Conference failure to make measurable progress this year may largely be attributed to (c), although (a) and (b) definitely are factors. I mention (d) as a possibility, although I am not prepared to affirm that it has been an element of any importance.

Now, in my opinion, the essential facts are:

The Conference, during 1937, can point to little, if any, constructive accomplishment.
Enough is known of the opposing Bolivian and Paraguayan theses to warrant the belief that a final territorial agreement, though extremely difficult of attainment, nevertheless is possible if only a determined, intelligent, uninterrupted effort be made by the Conference. Whether such an intensive effort can be had under the presidency of Dr. Saavedra Lamas remains to be seen.
Unless a solution of the territorial question can be reached by the Conference another Chaco War, sooner or later, will be inevitable.
The evasive, face-saving program of Dr. Saavedra Lamas outlined under (c) will not solve the territorial differences but on the contrary will open the way for a renewal of hostilities.
Interpreting what I understand to be the Department’s wishes, my attitude in the Conference has always been that every conceivable effort must be made to arrive at a solution of the Chaco problem at this Conference, and if possible before the Justo government goes out of office.
Previously, my Brazilian and Chilean colleagues (Ambassadors Rodrigues Alves and Nieto del Río) and I have been able to circumvent Dr. Saavedra Lamas’ personal peculiarities, delays and obstructions by reasoning, flattery, and other means, doubtless because his and our final objectives were then identical; now they are different and it has been amply proven that our former methods with him no longer are successful. Therefore they must be changed.

As the opening broadside in my new campaign (activating the dismay at the El Mundo article transmitted in my despatch No. 468 of July 29, 193713), I read my enclosed statement of July 30 at the Conference session held that day at my insistence after it had been cancelled by Dr. Saavedra Lamas. He did not attend. It had a decided effect. Also, it brought out the fact that my Uruguayan and Peruvian colleagues apparently have not been presenting to their governments a true picture of the sad course of this Conference, and they made it clear to me that were my statement to appear in the minutes they would be subject to criticism by their governments. I therefore agreed that it should not appear in the minutes but threatened to read it in should there be any further cancellation of meetings and procrastination. This mild piece of blackmail will, I hope, have a salutary effect. During the session of July 301 likewise commented upon the unjustifiable number of meetings which had been cancelled (see enclosed schedule for July).13

As a second step in my program I refer to the special report from the Military Observers dated July 28 and the personal letter dated July 27 addressed to me by Major John A. Weeks, both enclosed with my despatch No. 473 of August 2, 1937.13 The situation described in those two communications is dangerous and, in view of that fact, at the session of August 21 read the statement appearing as enclosure No. 2. The essential was the removal of Bolivian and Paraguayan troops from their present positions almost in contact with one another. Hence when Sr. Ramírez, Paraguayan delegate, was invited to the meeting, he was informed this withdrawal of the troops from near the line of “hitos” must take place without delay. I repeated to him that [Page 22]if this is not done, I shall in duty bound have to recommend to my government that it discontinue its moral guarantee. Sr. Ramírez did not answer; this may be an indication that he was impressed.

Needless to say, I shall, as heretofore, exercise every precaution, in carrying forward these new tactics, to avoid any serious clash with Dr. Saavedra Lamas. But I trust the Department will agree with me that it is impossible to permit things to continue as they were going, and that it is imperative that action be obtained.

Respectfully yours,

Spruille Braden
[Enclosure 1]

Statement by the American Delegate (Braden)

The United States Delegation is gravely concerned by the little progress made this year in the Peace Conference and by its present status.
At the end of 1936, aside from some minor matters, there remained three important problems to be settled: (a) renewal of diplomatic relations, (b) regulation of transit, control and policing, and (c) the fundamental question of territory and boundaries. Seven months of this year have gone by, the diplomatic relations are not effective, the regulations are not in force, and there has been almost no discussion of territory and boundaries, so that matters stand practically as they did last December.
After the regulations were approved in the latter part of April, it was repeatedly declared in the sessions of this Conference by several delegates including myself, that we were then resolved to enter the fundamental question with energy, dedication and determination, at the same time giving sufficient publicity to our activities so that the world would know of our endeavors. At that time there was unanimity of opinion that the periods of two and three months for direct negotiations and drafting of the arbitral compromise respectively, be adopted for the internal order of the Conference. Three months have passed and, despite the fact that nearly two months ago, in our June 8th resolution, we formally declared, in a published resolution, that the period for direct negotiations was inaugurated, actually nothing has been done.
Ambassador Barreda Laos, on December 28th (Act 108), proposed, was seconded by me, and it was unanimously agreed, that we should meet daily in order, in particular, to forward the territory-boundary negotiations. Again, on May 7th (Act 133), I had the honor to refer to my distinguished Peruvian colleague’s resolution and [Page 23]urge that it be carried out. In deference to the wishes of some of those present, it was decided that instead of meeting daily, we should meet on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays of each week. This we have not done by any manner of means. How can we expect the parties to respect our resolutions and acts if we, ourselves, do not live up to them?
I want to emphasize again the unanimous opinion which has been stated time and again in this Conference, that the Peace Conference must wind up its work in Buenos Aires, before the Government of President Justo goes out of office and our distinguished President’s present term of office is over. I fully appreciate, however, that some of the delegates and, in particular, our distinguished President, have many other obligations and responsibilities, which may impede their attending every session, but I am sure that we can always count upon the attendance of the other Argentine delegates and, in the case of any very important action or resolution, we should, of course, whenever possible, defer its passage until the absent delegates have had an opportunity to express their opinions so that our resolution may, as always, be unanimous.
It is the opinion of this delegation, expressed many times heretofore, that the only manner in which we may hope successfully to arrive at a territory-boundary agreement, will be by following a procedure similar to that adopted by the prisoners’ committee, whose success was crowned by the signing of the January 21st, 1936 Protocol15—that is, by meeting morning and afternoon and, if necessary, at night, in what were practically all-day sessions every day. This delegation will have the honor, within the near future I hope, to propose the formal adoption of such a procedure but, in the meantime, it urges that the Conference rigidly adhere to the resolution of May 7th, now in force, and that hereafter no scheduled sessions be cancelled.
[Enclosure 2]

Statement by the American Delegate (Braden)

The situation described in the special report dated July 28 received from the Military Observers and Major Weeks’ letter of July 27, which I have just roughly translated, can be directly traced to the regulations not being in force.

While I stated, at our last session, that in my opinion the strictly correct procedure for the Conference to pursue with respect to the regulations, would be to put them in effect and then listen to and decide [Page 24]upon any protests which might be made by either of the parties, I do not, at this meeting, propose such action but may do so soon.

During the last several months, many of the mediatory delegates, including myself, often have expressed their grave concern respecting troop movements in the Chaco and the purchase of arms and munitions by the ex-belligerents. Repeatedly, I have stated my preoccupation that, under present conditions, Bolivian and Paraguayan troop units might come in contact along the intermediary line, thus making it possible, if not probable, that some incident would occur leading to a renewal of hostilities. It is well-nigh impossible to apportion responsibility in such cases, but that such incidents can generate a major conflict is proven by the last war.

Hence, in view of the deeply disturbing news received today, I am compelled to advise the Conference that unless all troops are removed from the area within the lines of withdrawal, I shall, in duty bound, have to recommend to my government that it discontinue its moral guarantee given in the January 21 Protocolized Act.

I submit that there is no reason why Chapter II of the regulations should not immediately be put in effect. In order that this may be done, I move that Captain Vacca and, if possible, Colonel Trabal be despatched to the Chaco, not later than the 4th instant, by airplane, with instructions that, together with the Military Observers in Villa Montes, they put Chapter II of the regulations in force. Furthermore, I request that this airplane be employed by the aforesaid officers, to fly over all of the zone comprehended between the lines of withdrawal, in order to check and make certain that all troops actually have been removed from that area.

My motion is before the Conference.

  1. See The Chaco Peace Conference, pp. 23, 106, 108.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Foreign Relations, 1936, vol. v, p. 36.