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

No. 220

Sir: I have the honor to report that upon receipt of the Department’s telegraphic instruction No. 68 dated November 16, 7 p.m., I requested an audience with President Somoza and yesterday conferred with him, and with the Foreign Minister at the same time, regarding the proposal of a treaty for the canalization of the San Juan River covered by my despatch No. 20524 and the whole matter of reference to the Bryan–Chamorro Treaty in the new Nicaraguan Constitution or in the legislative enactments of the Constituent Assembly.

A brief but inclusive report of the conference will be transmitted by telegram today, (No. 113, November 19, 11 a.m.24) supplementing which the following particulars are given:

The interview was carried on in an informal manner and was marked by cordial good feeling.

I first acquainted the President with the American Government’s appreciation of the frankness with which he had been pleased to treat it in the matter in question, explaining that my Government wished to respond in the same spirit.

He replied that I knew that his personal inclination and official policy was to act in accord with our Government, stating that he felt that the interests of Nicaragua are closely bound up with and to a large extent dependent upon our interest and friendly assistance.

I then informed him of the Department’s viewpoint as set forth in its telegram No. 66 of November 7, 8 p.m., that while the Constitution of Nicaragua is essentially a concern of the Nicaraguan people, the United States is satisfied with the juridical status of the Bryan–Chamorro Treaty and does not consider that anything would be gained by reaffirming its validity either in a provision in the new Constitution or by legislative act of the Constituent Assembly, the latter process being actually the one which the Nicaraguan Government had in mind. I also invited his attention to the possibility of contention with the neighboring states if the Treaty were brought up for consideration in any manner.

After a certain amount of discussion the President acquiesced in the viewpoint of the Department, though with some reluctance. Throughout this discussion he frequently reiterated his desire for friendly cooperation with the American Government and his wish to accept its viewpoint as far as possible.

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The matter of a proposed general canal treaty clause in the new Constitution then came up, and the President showed me the pertinent Article, which will be transmitted to the Department, in translation, in my telegram of today. The Spanish text of this provision reads as follows:25


“Article Four.—The territory and sovereignty are indivisible and inalienable. Nevertheless, treaties may be celebrated which look toward union with one or several of the republics of Central America or which have as object the construction, sanitation, operation and defense of an interoceanic canal across the national territory.”

Here the personality and viewpoint of the Foreign Minister came into play. As the Department is aware, Dr. Cordero Reyes is of strongly legalistic mind and is prone stubbornly to defend a legal point. In many respects he has no great influence with the President, serving as an instrument to carry out the President’s ideas rather than as a maker of policies. In cases where a legal point or process is to be developed, however, the President, who recognizes his shortcomings in this field, is strongly inclined to defer to his Minister’s opinion. Dr. Cordero Reyes, accordingly, took up the matter of explaining and justifying the proposed constitutional provision.

He stated that there was no desire on the part of Nicaragua to question the validity of the Bryan–Chamorro Treaty, and that he had included in his memorandum transmitted in copy with my despatch No. 205 a complete review of the arguments against the legality of the Treaty not with the idea of assailing its validity but in order to give the Government of the United States, in carrying out the preliminary informative purpose of his memorandum, precise particulars of the grounds on which it had been criticized.

He then stated that the projected Article in the new Constitution is designed to be an article of general scope, necessary to enable the Congress to provide such treaty and legislation as will be required before actual canal construction can begin. He had in mind the contingency of a treaty ceding territory and sovereign rights which, he said, Article 2 of the existing Constitution makes unconstitutional. Since the nation is to have a new Constitution this defect may now be rectified.

He emphasized his point that the inclusion of the proposed article in the new Constitution is a matter of Nicaraguan interest, without regard to the Bryan–Chamorro Treaty, which is a matter accepted and past. General provision must be made, he held, that the hands of Congress may not be tied when the celebration of a treaty definitely providing for canal construction comes under consideration. He insisted upon the opinion that the provision is necessary from the [Page 802] Nicaraguan viewpoint, to enable the country to take advantage of its greatest natural resource when the occasion arises.

The President has accepted the view expressed by Dr. Cordero Reyes, and the article is drafted as quoted, for submission to the Constituent Assembly.

The President asked, however, that I submit it to the Department, the inference being clear that he desires an expression of the Department’s opinion. While I might have cited to him the general principle set forth in the Department’s telegram No. 66, that the Constitution is a matter of purely Nicaraguan competence, in deference to the President’s request and in view of the importance of the issue involved, I have thought that a special reference to the Department is warranted. I have therefore to request the Department’s comments, even though they be merely a restatement of its basic position. It would also be appreciated if communication of the Department’s comments might be by telegram as early as convenience permits, since the Constituent Assembly which is to consider the provision will convene on December 15th.

My personal reaction to the matter is that an opinion adverse to the provision would meet with considerable resistance. While Dr. Cordero Reyes showed no enthusiasm for the President’s idea of revalidating the Bryan–Chamorro Treaty, it was evident that the President was disappointed at our failure to agree with it. It was clear in our interview that he is now strongly favorable to the adoption of the more general provision.

The project of having the Constituent Assembly pass, in its capacity as a legislative body, a measure revalidating the Bryan–Chamorro Treaty is, of course dropped. I was so specifically informed by the President.

Nor will the memorandum transmitted in copy with my despatch No. 20526 be presented to the Department by the Nicaraguan Minister in Washington. The Foreign Minister stated that the Department has now the copy which I forwarded and has considered it, and that the matter is accordingly closed except that possibly at some future time the Nicaraguan Government may wish to make reference to the memorandum since it was carefully drawn up and sets forth the Nicaraguan position with particular precision.

At the close of our conference, the President stated, after considering the Department’s offer of assistance in obtaining technical service in connection with any canalization survey work undertaken by Nicaragua, that he appreciated this offer and would study the matter.

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I beg to reaffirm my impression that the canal project has been brought to the fore at this time and in this manner in the hope of hastening action by our Government looking to early construction. The canal subject, and reports that President Somoza will soon visit Washington in this regard, receive much attention in the local press.

Respectfully yours,

For the Minister:
Reginald S. Castelman

Secretary of Legation
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