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

No. 1002

Sir: With reference to previous reports regarding the Belize question, I have the honor to inform the Department that several developments have recently occurred in connection therewith, the most notable of which is that the British Minister in this city is reported to have received instructions to begin negotiations to settle it.

As already reported in my despatches No. 966 of August 12, 1939, and No. 994 of September 13, 1939, the President has determined to press for an immediate settlement of the Belize question. In endeavoring to bring pressure he appears to have temporarily abandoned the idea of doing this through financial measures, inasmuch as he has now made good the June 30 default on the Guatemalan sterling debt. His latest idea, as particularly revealed by the memorandum enclosed with despatch No. 994, is to line up the American Republics solidly behind him and thereby embarrass Great Britain to the maximum extent possible in its relations with the Americas. The President is reported to hold the view that, inasmuch as eighty years of polite note writing and dignified protests have not accomplished anything toward remedying the wrong which Great Britain had done Guatemala, it is time to try more vigorous methods, which in similar cases have recently produced results in other parts of the world. There is no reason to suppose that, to a man of the President’s temperament, who is in a position at the present critical time to cause a very considerable amount of embarrassment, there will be any reluctance to cause that embarrassment, particularly after the barren results which mildness has hitherto secured. Counsels of prudence do not carry much conviction because of this latter circumstance.

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The local press has mentioned several items which show the measure of success which has attended the President’s efforts to attain a continental solidarity in favor of Guatemala’s claims. Despatch No. 993 of September 12, 1939,20 mentioned two articles recently written in the Costa Rican newspapers regarding the question. On September 18 Nuestro Diario transcribed an editorial which had been published in La Noticia of Managua supporting the Guatemalan claim. Moreover, El Imparcial on September 19 published a speech made by a Chilean Senator before the Congress of that country, upholding the Guatemalan contention. The evidence, taken in conjunction, clearly indicates that Guatemala is conducting a systematic campaign to secure the adherence of the other American nations to the resolution of continental solidarity mentioned in the memorandum sent on September 12, 1939, to this Legation.

I am very confidentially informed that the British Minister has just received instructions from his Government to begin Negotiations with the Guatemalan Government regarding the Belize question. Upon what basis these negotiations were to be undertaken was not mentioned. The Minister himself has informed me that he has just recommended to his Government that it accept President Ubico’s earlier proposal that the controversy be submitted to the arbitration of President Roosevelt (this recommendation was evidently made subsequent to the receipt of the above mentioned instructions). An official of the Foreign Office has confirmed to me that no negotiations have as yet been undertaken.

I am also confidentially informed … that the Foreign Minister … did not wish to convey President Ubico’s demands to the British Minister upon the latter’s arrival in this country, and that therefore the President entrusted this task to his friend. This gentleman (whose information I consider absolutely trustworthy) states that President Ubico demanded all of British Honduras south of the Sibun River, and £1,000,000, with which he agreed to pay off the British sterling debt.

I am under the impression that the British Minister … is of the opinion that the only hope of settling the controversy … is to accept the earlier Guatemalan proposal of arbitration by President Roosevelt.

The President is thus apparently determined to press for an immediate settlement and to utilize his nuisance value to the full in attaining his ends. For the moment he is invoking the continental solidarity of the Americas in support of his claims. He is evidently backing this by a propaganda campaign. The British Minister has been authorized to start negotiations looking to the settlement of the controversy, but has suggested to his Government that Great Britain [Page 184] accept the earlier Guatemalan proposal to submit the matter to the arbitration of President Roosevelt.

Respectfully yours,

Fay Allen Des Portes
  1. Not printed.