740.00111 A.R./1022

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

No. 624

Sir: With reference to the Embassy’s confidential telegram No. 112 of April 19, 6 p.m., “For the Secretary”, I have the honor to transmit herewith a memorandum of my conversation with the Minister for Foreign Affairs on April 19 last, of which the telegram mentioned above was a summary.

As pointed out in the memorandum, Dr. Cantilo did not appear to have worked out the details of his somewhat startling proposal. He explained that he had only just come from the President with whom he had apparently discussed the matter for the first time, but whose enthusiastic endorsement of the idea he assured me he had secured. In fact, as will be noted, the President felt that if our Government approved the idea, he would favor having us both go on with it, even in the event the Brazilian Government should not be disposed to fall into line.

What prompted Dr. Cantilo to advance the suggestion at this time does not appear clear. In discussing the advantages which he felt would result from the abandonment of the present position of neutrality in favor of a non-belligerent status, the Minister mentioned several times the difficulties of the present situation from an internal point of view. (While he did not elaborate on this point or cite any instances, it seems reasonable to believe that he had in mind the problem presented by the internment of the officers and sailors of the [Page 749] Graf Spee82 as well, possibly, as the difficulties presented by a large German colony in Argentina, the presence of the several German ships, etc.)

As the Department is aware, Dr. Cantilo has for some time been doubtful as to the practicability of effectively maintaining the 300-mile security zone. Both in the Wakama and Hannover incidents,83 he has somewhat reluctantly agreed to his Government joining in the protests to the belligerent powers, expressing scepticism as to the probability of any useful results being accomplished by such protests.

The Minister appeared to be equally sceptical as to the Neutrality Commission84 in Rio de Janeiro being able to formulate any plan of procedure which would result in strengthening the neutral position of the American Republics. As he pointed out in one of my talks with him regarding the Hannover incident, even if the Rio Commission were to reach an agreement on proposals in the nature of sanctions, any attempt to enforce these might even result in bringing us into the war.

It seems entirely possible therefore that Dr. Cantilo’s somewhat sudden proposal to abandon our neutral status may have arisen out of his attempt, or the attempts of his Government, to find some substitute for the security zone as a method of keeping the war away from the American continent.

I must frankly admit that it was not clear to me just what Dr. Cantilo means by “non-belligerence” as contrasted with, or distinguished from neutrality. The most definite answer he could give me when I asked him was to point to the case of Italy as an example of non-belligerence, as distinguished from neutrality.

While I was careful not to express any opinion which might have been taken to indicate approval on the part of our Government of his proposal, after expressing interest in the suggestion, I ventured to point out what, even admitting our willingness to consider the idea, I felt would be the difficulties confronting our Government from a mechanical viewpoint (so to speak), e. g., the necessity for congressional action, in view of the revised neutrality law passed by Congress under which we are now functioning.

My personal feeling is that perhaps the greatest importance to be attached to Dr. Cantilo’s suggestion is the indication it affords of the lines along which he and his Government are thinking at the present time. As I have pointed out in previous despatches, Dr. Cantilo has several times referred to a suggestion which he states was made [Page 750] in 1916 (at which time he was Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs) by the Argentine Minister for Foreign Affairs through their Ambassador at Washington for a conference of the American Republics to discuss the situation created at that time by Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare. (See Embassy’s despatch No. 136 of September 19, 1939).85 In these references Dr. Cantilo pointed to the rejection of the Argentine Government’s proposal by the then Secretary of State as justifying the Argentine Government’s decision a year later not to follow our lead in declaring war on Germany in contrast with the course adopted later by other of the American Republics.

On one or two occasions recently, the Foreign Minister has expressed to me the opinion that, with the evolution which the war is now taking in Europe, while admitting the natural desire of our Government to avoid being drawn in, he cannot see how it will be possible eventually for us to keep out, particularly if things should come to a point where a defeat for the democracies would seem to be a possibility.

Read in this light and in the background of his previous statements, Dr. Cantilo’s proposal, it would seem, can logically be interpreted as favoring a procedure which would have the effect of keeping the American Republics in step with us to the end that in the event of our being drawn into the war, this final step would for them also be a natural and logical consequence to those which had preceded it.

If this assumption is correct, it is suggested that whatever decision may be reached by our Government with regard to Dr. Cantilo’s proposal, in the wording of the reply due consideration be given to this apparently cooperative attitude on the part of the Argentine Government. In the event that our Government should not consider the proposal practicable, I feel sure the Department will consider it important to make it clear to Dr. Cantilo that we welcome—as I feel sure we do—all suggestions which indicate a desire to see a common front preserved by the American Governments in meeting the increasingly difficult situation created by the evolution of the war in Europe.

Respectfully yours,

Norman Armour

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Ambassador in Argentina (Armour)

[The first part of this memorandum, here omitted, is in substance the same as telegram No. 112, April 19, 6 p.m., from the Ambassador in Argentina, printed on page 743.]

[Page 751]

Dr. Cantilo asked me my opinion with regard to the proposal. I said that of course it was impossible for me to express an opinion on a matter of such importance until my Government had had an opportunity to study it. Speaking entirely personally, however, while I felt the suggestion was an extremely interesting one, I was afraid so far as we were concerned, regardless of the merits of the suggestion, the machinery by which such a change could be put into effect in the United States would, I felt, present certain difficulties. As he knew, we had a Neutrality Law86 which had been voted by Congress and any such action as that proposed, would presumably require congressional action or approval. As to his observations with regard to our neutrality, I pointed out that our neutrality law permitted the sale of supplies to any belligerents who could come and get them, and the fact that the Germans were not in a position to avail themselves of this did not alter the situation, even though the practical result, as he had stated, was that the Allies were the only ones able to purchase from us. Nor was I clear in my own mind as to what particular advantages a change from our present neutral status to one of non-belligerence would bring the situation.

Dr. Cantilo mentioned once or twice in the course of the conversation that the freeing of the Governments from the obligations—duties—automatically enforced by neutrality would be of considerable assistance in the internal situation, at least so far as Argentina was concerned. (While he did not explain what he had in mind, I presume he referred to incidents such as the internment of the officers and sailors of the Graf Spee—the handling of the large German colony in Argentina—Patagonian incident87—German ships, etc.)

Dr. Cantilo had obviously not worked out his ideas in any detail; in fact he told me that he hoped later to put his plan in more definite form. He explained that it was only that morning that he had discussed the matter with the President and had not wished to lose any time in putting the matter up to our Government for consideration. I told him that in order to present his ideas as accurately as possible, I would suggest his outlining the essence of what he had told me, for presentation to Washington, and in his presence I made notes for use in the telegram which I later despatched to the Secretary.

N[orman] A[rmour]
  1. See telegram No. 147, December 18, 1939, 5 p.m., from the Minister in Uruguay, Foreign Relations, 1939, Vol. v, p. 106.
  2. See section entitled “Violations by the Belligerents of the Security Zone Established by the Declaration of Panama,” pp. 681 ff.
  3. See Vol. v , section under General entitled “The Inter-American Neutrality Committee.”
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1939, Vol. v, p. 27, footnote 21.
  5. Approved November 4, 1939; 54 Stat. 4.
  6. The Habana Avance of April 10, 1939, gave publicity to a note allegedly sent to the Cuban Secretary of State by the German Minister in Cuba stating that Germany had no interest whatsoever in Patagonia. The newspaper said that the Minister had stated:

    “According to notices from abroad reproduced in the Cuban press, it is alleged that Germany, according to a document placed at the disposition of the Government of Argentina, has the intention to annex Patagonia. On behalf of my Government I have the honor to inform Your Excellency’s Government that insofar as the said document is concerned it is completely false.… So far as Germany is concerned there is no Patagonian question.” (835.00N/15)