740.0011 European War 1939/1192: Telegram

The Ambassador in Argentina (Armour) to the Secretary of State

291. Department’s circular telegram of December 15, 1 p.m., and Embassy’s telegram 290, December 16, noon. Minister for Foreign [Page 101]Affairs has just handed me a draft statement which he has prepared on the basis of our draft but with certain changes which he feels would make it stronger and more effective. While he agrees that reference should be made to other merchant vessels sunk by the Graf von Spee he points out that there have been similar cases of attack within the zone by British war vessels since the Panamá Declaration and that some reference to these should also be made.

Finally he feels that to impress the belligerents with the seriousness of the situation, even in this preliminary declaration reference should be made to steps which the American Republics may find it necessary to take to prevent a repetition of similar incidents in the future.

The Minister asked me to state that of course these were only suggestions and that he would be glad to consider any further observations we might have to make although of course he agrees that the sooner the declaration can be issued the better.

Translation of the text of the Argentine Government’s draft declaration follows:

“The American Governments are officially informed of the naval engagement which took place on the 13th instant off the northeastern coast of Uruguay, between certain British naval vessels and the German vessel Graf von Spee which, according to reliable reports, attempted to overhaul the French merchant vessel Formose between Brazil and the port of Montevideo after having sunk other merchant vessels.

On the other hand, the sinking or detention of German merchant vessels by British vessels in American waters is publicly known, as appears, to begin with, from the recent cases of the Dusseldorf, Ussukuma and others.

All these facts which affect the neutrality of American waters, compromise the aims of continental protection provided for by the Declaration of Panamá of October 3, 1939, the first paragraph of which establishes: (here follows quotation of text)25

Therefore in accordance with the method provided for in that instrument and with a view to avoiding the repetition of further events of the nature to which reference is made above, the American nations resolve to lodge a protest with the belligerent countries and to initiate the necessary consultation in order to strengthen the system of protection in common, through the adoption of rules to prevent belligerent vessels from supplying themselves and repairing damages in American ports, when the said vessels have committed warlike acts within the zone of security established in the Declaration of Panamá.”

Dr. Cantilo has just telephoned to ask me whether in view of the death of the President of Panama our Government would not perhaps wish to consider transmitting the declaration to the belligerent powers. I told him that it was my understanding that the declaration would be sent by the Acting President of Panama.

  1. Ante, p. 36.