Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)

Mr. William K. Jackson,31 together with the Washington representative of the United Fruit Company, came in to see me yesterday, at Mr. Jackson’s request. He wished the assistance of the Department in the following manner:

The United Fruit Company owns the Unida Company, a German corporation. This subsidiary owns a ship, the Wesermunde, which is under the German flag and is now blockaded in Curaçao. United Fruit wishes to transfer this to the Honduran flag; says it has the consent of the German government; wishes to have the transfer recognized by the British government, and wants our assistance.

I told him that I did not see that we could intervene in the matter. The ship had never been American and was not coming to American registry. While it was true that we had at various times endeavored to give assistance on the basis of mere ownership of stock, I thought it unwise, in a single situation, to set up the precedent that the Government would intervene with one belligerent to secure recognition of transfer from an opposing belligerent to a neutral flag.

I added that I thought it not impossible that the problem of all of the German blockaded ships and their transfer might come up eventually; further, I noted the British objection to any transaction which might make foreign exchange available to the Germans.

Mr. Jackson said that since this was a mere book transfer, with no money coming to the Germans, he thought everything was all right. I said that in that case his assurances to the British probably would be more persuasive than ours, since it was obviously impossible for us to check through the very long ramifications of the United Fruit Company financing and thus be able to give our assurance to the British that the Germans would not be advantaged by the transfer.

I added that of course we had not any objection to the Company’s making any representation to the British Embassy which it cared to do.

The United Fruit Company was not particularly happy about this, but they accepted the situation. I should be inclined to think that they may ask further consideration of the matter.

A. A. Berle, Jr.
  1. Vice president of the United Fruit Company.