817.812/739: Telegram

The Minister in Nicaragua (Nicholson) to the Secretary of State

111. At the instance of the President the Foreign Minister18 called on me and handed me a copy of a memorandum19 setting forth Nicaraguan views regarding our assistance in canalizing the San Juan River which he proposes to send to the Nicaraguan Minister in Washington20 for submission to the Department. He stated that he wished me to “examine” it before it goes forward.

The memorandum suggests measures which differ in important respects from the proposition propounded to me by the President and reported in my telegram 107.

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It reviews at considerable length the history of canal discussions and negotiations and refutes the Costa Rican, Honduran and Salvadoran protests, against the Bryan–Chamorro Treaty. It covers discussions of the theory which has been cited in criticism of the treaty that it is a one-sided arrangement in which Nicaragua received an inadequate return and that its legality has been questioned under article 2 of the Nicaraguan constitution21 and in view of the nature of the government as [that?] negotiated it. In this latter connection it quotes Boot’s letter to Senator Fuller printed in appendix Sultan canal report.22

This is done however without rancor and it sets forth that Nicaragua regards the treaty with all its defects as in accord with the present position of the two countries and the defense policy of the United States which is the defense of all the American Republics.

Still, the memorandum holds, the Nicaraguan position deserves careful and just consideration. The treaty was signed by Nicaragua in spite of its defects and the insignificant return obtained in order to smooth the way for construction of the canal and not with the purpose of condemning to sterility the country’s greatest natural resource.

The Nicaraguan Government does not now propose to request the opening of the question of validity of the treaty but in view of the circumstances set forth it would be deeply appreciative if the Government of the United States would consent to open conversations with regard to a modification not of the treaty itself but of the negotiations which culminated in the treaty along the following lines; (firstly) a treaty supplementary to the Bryan–Chamorro Treaty whereby (1) the United States would engage (a) to supply the resources and technicians necessary for canalizing San Juan River; (b) to supply the resources required to cover Costa Rican claims on account of any material damages involved; (c) to deduct the amount thus advanced from what is eventually adjudged to be due to Nicaragua when the interoceanic canal is built; (2) Nicaragua would engage; (a) to satisfy any kinds of claims of Costa Rica; (b) in case of war or danger of war to allow to the United States free military passage across Nicaragua by the San Juan, Lake Nicaragua, Rivas isthmus route or any other route; (c) in the above contingency to grant free use by American air and naval forces of Nicaraguan air fields, territorial [Page 799] waters and lakes. (Secondly) the Nicaraguan Government would consent to ask the Constituent Assembly in its quality as a sovereign body to ratify and confirm (convalidar) the Bryan–Chamorro Treaty.

The Minister mentioned the possibility that a provision of a general character might be included in the new constitution modifying article 2 of the former constitution to empower the Government to alienate territory for the purposes of canal construction, without mentioning the Bryan–Chamorro Treaty.

I have not yet had opportunity to communicate with the President as indicated in the Department’s telegram number 66.

I beg to offer my opinion that while Nicaragua is not even remotely suggesting abrogation of the Treaty, it has brought up the matter at this time with a view to hastening action for economic reasons. A renewal of conversations now could hardly fail to arouse the neighbor states.

Obviously, indicated assurance that Nicaragua would meet any protests that might be made or claims for indemnities interposed by Costa Rica is not convincing.

I respectfully suggest that in view of all the circumstances it would be advisable to avoid having the subject introduced in the Constituent Assembly unless it were merely to empower the Government to alienate territory for canal construction as the Minister suggested. However, even this might provoke discussion as to the validity of the existing treaty, which was made under a constitution lacking such provision. I should be fearful of the consequences of a renewal not only of discussions by the press and public of the canal project but of other questions not germane to it both here and in the neighbor states.

I await further instructions.

Spanish text by direct air mail to reach you Monday.

  1. Manuel Cordero Reyes.
  2. Copy transmitted to the Department by the Minister in Nicaragua in his despatch No. 205, November 11, not printed.
  3. Léon De Bayle.
  4. Article 2 stated that sovereignty was inalienable and imprescriptible and resided in the people from whom were derived the powers and functions established by the constitution. The Government, therefore, had no authority to make pacts or treaties affecting the sovereignty of the nation. Nicaragua, Constitución Politico, de la República de Nicaragua … (Managua, 1930), p. 5.
  5. United States Army, Interoceanic Canal Board, Report with Appendices and Maps of the Chief of Engineers, United States Army, and the Interoceanic Canal Board, House Document No. 139, 72d Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1932), pp. 253–254.