The Secretary of State to the Minister in Guatemala (Des Portes)

No. 291

Sir: With reference to your despatch No. 841 of March 15, 1939 and previous correspondence concerning the controversy between Great Britain and Guatemala over matters relating to the boundary between British Honduras and Guatemala, you are requested to deliver the enclosed memorandum personally to President Ubico. You may inform him that a similar memorandum is being handed to the British Ambassador in Washington.9

Very truly yours,

For the Secretary of State:
Sumner Welles

Memorandum To Be Handed to the President of Guatemala (Ubico)

The Government of the United States has had its attention drawn on a number of occasions to the controversy which has unfortunately existed for many years between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Guatemala over matters relating to the boundary between that country and British Honduras. It is understood that the controversy is concerned primarily with the application and interpretation of the Treaty of 1859 between the two Governments, in which connection it is recalled that an agreement for carrying out certain of the provisions of that Treaty was entered into in 186310 between representatives of the Government of the United Kingdom and of Guatemala, but that it was never ratified by either party.

In October, 1938, the Government of Guatemala published a White Book relating the history of this controversy and giving the texts of [Page 178] documents and official correspondence including notes exchanged at various times between His Majesty’s Government and the Guatemalan Government with respect to the possibility of a settlement. The most recent correspondence on that subject apparently began on February 21, 1933, on which date the British Chargé d’Affaires ad interim in Guatemala City addressed a note to the Guatemalan Minister for Foreign Affairs regarding the desire of His Majesty’s Government that the delimitation of the boundary between British Honduras and Guatemala be undertaken. In the exchange of notes which ensued there was discussed likewise the question of the fulfillment of the provisions of Article 7 of the Treaty of 1859 regarding the establishment of a means of communication between British Honduras and Guatemala City. Unfortunately the two Governments were unable to reach an agreement concerning the questions at issue, and no recent progress appears to have been made toward a settlement.

The Government of the United States naturally has no desire to express any opinion either as to the merits of the issues involved or as to possible methods of adjustment. It has, however, a very genuine interest in the friendly settlement of any dispute the existence of which tends to impair the cordial relations now prevailing in this hemisphere, and it accordingly could but view with the most profound satisfaction the initiation of practical steps toward an equitable solution of the present problem.

During recent years very notable progress has been made in the settlement of boundary disputes in the New World.

The solution of the Tacna Arica problem13 occurred in 1929 after fifty years of controversy between Chile and Peru. Incidents in the Leticia area between Colombia and Peru brought those countries almost to the verge of hostilities before an amicable settlement was effected in 1934.14 The solution of the Chaco controversy between Bolivia and Paraguay15 was one of the most important achievements for peace during the past year and as a result the relations of the two countries are now on a cordial and satisfactory basis. In 1933 the Governments of Guatemala and Honduras accepted a mutually satisfactory arbitral settlement of their frontier, which has since been delimited.16 Although territorial problems still exist as between Peru and Ecuador,17 and between Nicaragua and Honduras, these controversies have recently been the subject of amicable negotiation, giving rise to the hope that final settlements may not be impossible of attainment.

[Page 179]

The Government of the United States would look with especial pleasure upon a renewal of efforts on the part of the Governments of Great Britain and Guatemala to obtain a satisfactory adjustment of the problems relating to the British Honduras-Guatemala frontier, and it is the earnest hope of the Government of the United States that steps in that direction may be undertaken at an early date. A friendly solution of this long-standing controversy would be a signal example, particularly timely in view of present world conditions, of the value of the pacific method of settlement of international differences.

A similar memorandum is being transmitted to the British Government.

  1. Handed by the Under Secretary of State to the British Ambassador, June 15.
  2. For text of the convention signed August 5, 1863, between the Plenipotentiaries of Guatemala and of Her Britannic Majesty to give compliance to article VII of the convention of April 30, 1859, see Guatemala, White Book, p. 245.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1929, vol. i, pp. 720 ff.
  4. See ibid., 1934, vol. iv, pp. 321 ff.
  5. See ibid., 1938, vol. v, pp. 89 ff.
  6. See ibid., 1932, vol. v, pp. 372 ff.
  7. See pp. 141 ff.