852.2221/1589: Telegram

The Ambassador in Spain ( Bowers ), Then in France, to the Secretary of State

627. From Matthews:

“19. April 20, 11 a.m. My telegram No. 12 of April 17, 1 p.m.80 The question of the prisoners’ release is one which seems to become more confused. The Marques de Rialp still tells me that he ‘thinks’ they will be released this week as does the representative here of the International Red Cross. I am inclined to fear, however, that at least a further few days will elapse before they are finally taken to the border.

Rialp in whose hands the problem rests is either by nature or intent, I am not yet sure which, extremely vague. Furthermore, because of the transport question, et cetera, he seems for the present unwilling in spite of all efforts of persuasion to let our prisoners go until arrangements have been completed for those of other nationalities now in San Sebastian. He says that all is ready for the Danes; that the Swedish Minister has been away in Madrid and only returns here today, whereupon clearance for the Swedish prisoners, he hopes, will be promptly made (I shall call upon my Swedish colleague at the earliest possible moment); that so far the Cuban Consul at Biarritz with whom he has been dealing ‘has not yet answered to his letter’ [Page 807] concerning the Cuban prisoners he presumes because he has not yet heard from his Government. I am proceeding to Saint Jean de Luz this morning and will endeavor to communicate with the Cuban Consul. Rialp has also mentioned to me twice how he could not understand why Cuba had not yet recognized this government—a factor which may well enter into this matter.
Personal animosity between Rialp and the International Red Cross representatives who have in the past handled the mechanics of the exchange of prisoners is admitted.
The British still have about 20 prisoners scattered about Spain none of whom are in San Sebastian. They are naturally insisting that these be released immediately. The British Embassy takes the position that the British arranged for the release of the 167 Italian prisoners held by the Loyalist Government and that inasmuch as there were then only some 60 British prisoners they were glad to make up the remainder of this man-for-man exchange with Americans, that now, however, they are insisting with the Italian Embassy that since their ships saved the lives of the Italian prisoners it is up to the Italians to see that the other side of the bargain is carried out and the British prisoners promptly released. The Italian Embassy according to the British says that the Spanish Government has an ‘agreement with the Chilean and Cuban Governments’ with respect to their prisoners (no Chileans are now in San Sebastian). While the British say they would prefer to have all our prisoners included and the Cubans and Chileans omitted, they made it clear that they are naturally in any event going to insist upon the release of their own nationals. Just how far the Italian Embassy really does come into the picture I am not yet sure, but Rialp did vaguely mention its ‘interest’ in the matter. I understand that before approaching the British, the Italians through the Red Cross and Rialp made urgent appeals for American ships to take off from Alicante their nationals who were prisoners and whose lives they feared were in imminent danger. I fully comprehend the Department’s weighty reasons for not complying with this request. We can hardly expect, however, in view thereof that Italian influence here will be exerted in favor of the prompt release of American prisoners.
It would seem of course entirely logical now the war is over that the Spanish Government would be glad to release all foreign prisoners of war (not tried or convicted on other counts) immediately. Such is apparently far from the case, however, and I sense a desire on the part of the authorities to take their own good time on this and other questions. This applies particularly to those whom they feel declined to help them—at the very least—in their hour of need.

I have gone into this question at length because I feel the Department should have the full picture in weighing future developments. I shall keep after the question as far as the dictates of good judgment will permit and shall keep the Department informed. If it appears desirable to discuss the question at Burgos again I shall immediately go there.[”]

Copy to Paris.

  1. Not printed.