The Acting Secretary of State to the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (Pittman)

My Dear Senator Pittman: I have received your letter of March 14, 1939 with which you transmit a copy of Senate Resolution 100 [Page 176] with regard to the dispute between the Republic of Guatemala and Great Britain over the territory of British Honduras.

This dispute was referred to the Department in a note dated September 10, 19365 from the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala in which it was asked that “the United States would be so kind as to interpose its moral prestige …6 in favor of the right of Guatemala in this matter”. The reply of the Department stated that

“It is assumed that Your Excellency’s request contemplates the extension of good offices on the part of the United States to the end that a solution of the controversy satisfactory to Guatemala and Great Britain may be reached. Should this assumption be correct, I am glad to state that the Government of the United States will make available its good offices in the event that the British Government joins with that of Guatemala in requesting such good offices.

“If Your Excellency had in mind the submission of the controversy to arbitration by the United States, my Government would of course be glad to consider the possibility of acting as arbitrator in the matter, provided Guatemala and Great Britain jointly requested its assistance in that sense.

“I shall be glad to give further consideration to Your Excellency’s note of September 10, 1936, upon a reply from Your Excellency clarifying the scope of the request which Your Excellency wishes to make.”

Subsequently the Guatemalan Government in a note dated July 21, 1937 proposed to the British Government the arbitration of the dispute by the President of the United States. The British Government accepted the proposal of arbitration but in view of its opinion that the dispute was essentially legal in character, proposed that the problem be submitted to the Permanent Court of International Justice of The Hague. When the Guatemalan Government declined to accept arbitration by the Permanent Court, the British Government stated to the Guatemalan Government “that it would serve no useful purpose to pursue the matter further and that they have therefore no option but to treat the present boundary of British Honduras …6 as constituting the correct boundary.”7 The reply of the Government of Guatemala, as published on page 432 of the White Book referred to in Senate Resolution 100, stated that it

“renews its demand for integral compliance with the Convention of 1859,8 maintains the reservation of its rights, and rejects responsibilities for the consequences of non-compliance with a treaty, respect [Page 177] for which has been continuously solicited precisely by the Government of Guatemala.”

I wish to assure you that this Department has a very real interest in the settlement of pending boundary controversies in this hemisphere, whether between two American Republics or between one of the American Republics and a European state, and that it continues to stand ready to contribute in any practicable and proper manner to the early conclusion of a pacific settlement of this dispute.

Sincerely yours,

Sumner Welles
  1. Foreign Relations, 1937, vol. v, p. 121.
  2. Omission indicated in the original.
  3. Omission indicated in the original.
  4. See Guatemala, White Book, p. 431.
  5. Convention between Great Britain and Guatemala relative to the boundary of British Honduras, signed at Guatemala, April 30, 1859, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. xlix, p. 7.