740.00112 European War 1939/1772

The Diplomatic Agent and Consul General at Tangier (White) to the Secretary of State

No. 19

Sir: I have the honor to report that in the course of my recent rather hurried trip to certain centers of the French and Spanish Zones (notably Rabat, Meknés, Fez, Marrakech, Casablanca, Larache and Tetuan), I made inquiries on various topics. Probably that of the most general and immediate importance concerned the restrictions upon international trade.

Sources of Restrictions

The restrictions upon international commerce are of various kinds. There is the ban upon trade between the French and Spanish Zones, which dates from the Dahirs of September 8 and 22, 1936. See despatch no. 1227 of December 5, 1936, and the Department’s instruction of January 8, 1937, no. 927.54 Though offset to a very limited extent by contraband which, despite agreements between France and Franco for trade renewal, are believed to cover Morocco, this restriction is still maintained rigorously by the French. In support of their action, I have heard the plea made of the necessity of preserving their own stocks. I suspect, however, that General Noguès’ anti-Spanish Zone policies are a stronger factor. There are also restrictions, prompted by considerations of scarcity, upon exports from the French and Spanish Zones to that of Tangier. Since the French laid down their arms, the British blockade of the French Zone has loomed larger in the public eye than other kinds of restrictions, and it should not be forgotten that this blockade is supplemented by an Italo-German embargo upon the departure of ships from French Moroccan ports; I believe in virtue of the terms of the Wiesbaden armistice which, however, I have not seen.

Unfortunate Effects

While I do not anticipate actual famine, at least in the French Zone, the cumulative effect of these restrictions upon the economy of the country is deplorable. Inquiries as to the state of business made by me in every place where I stopped, elicited practically the same answer, which most succinctly may be rendered by the word “flat”; and the reason given was also the same, namely the stoppage of imports [Page 582] and exports. (Note: A little business is being done in piece goods, I was sometimes told).

French Resentment Against the Blockade

It is of course the blockade which is the most keenly resented by the French. It is a restriction not of their own making; it is causing the Europeans in Morocco great inconvenience, besides working hardship to the natives; it raises many problems for the French Zone administration, and it also enables Frenchmen in Morocco to echo the protests of the Government of Vichy in regard to the blockade of France. Thus, when returning my official call, my French colleague in Tangier treated me to a diatribe on the dreadful famine in store for the inhabitants of this country attributable to Messieurs les Anglais—though he also did not fail to insinuate that the Department, by its refusal to apply decrees for the control of stocks to American ressortissants, will not be wholly exempt from the prospective guilt.

The Blockade as a Weapon of German Propaganda

When I presented my credentials to General Noguès as Foreign Minister to the Sultan, I had not been talking with him five minutes before he expressed the fear that as a result of the blockade, the British would acquire the reputation of being anti-Moslem. To a fresh arrival from India, this statement had a strange ring. Later another official, apparently friendly to the British, furnished the explanation by saying that the Germans were making strong anti-British propaganda among the Moors, which the French could do nothing to stop, and that one of its most important features was the attribution of all scarcity to the British.

As to the effectiveness of this propaganda, native opinion, as far as I was able to sense it, was by no means unanimous. I gathered that the propaganda might be making some headway in the towns, where radios are most numerous, bazaar rumors quickest started, and where the people are relatively sophisticated. To the country folk, I am rather disposed to apply the statement of a business man in a small town, to the effect that these people were not disposed to investigate the ulterior causes of scarcity, but rather resigned themselves thereto with the reflexion that such evils were the will of Allah.

Possibility of Disturbances by Reason of Shortage

In view of complaints of scarcity, I frequently asked whether disturbances on this account, were to be anticipated. On this point I received the impression that the French are more nervous than the Moors and Jews. The former seemed to think that anything is possible, [Page 583] whereas most of the natives with whom I talked, expressed the opinion that there would be no disturbances of order worth mentioning.

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Sugar and Gasolene, the Principal Shortage. Their Relative Importance

I append hereto an incomplete list,55 given me by a French economic official at Rabat, of the supplies of which there is considered to be the most urgent need, together with import statistics for the year 1938, which apply to the French Zone. The shortage that is most serious is in sugar and gasolene. Of cereals, vegetables and meat, as far as I am aware, there is no marked scarcity in the French Zone. In the Spanish Zone there is a shortage of cereals and vegetables, especially in the country districts, which is partly made up by distributions from Spain.

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Idle French Shipping

I was informed by a French economic official that there are 70,000 tons of French shipping lying idle in Casablanca and that this should be sufficient, if allowed free circulation, to keep Morocco supplied.

The British Attitude in Regard to the Blockade of French Morocco

According to my British colleague in Tangier, all French colonies that follow Pétain and not de Gaulle56 are subject to blockade. As regards French Morocco, the British are annoyed at the treatment there of refugees from Gibraltar, at the expulsion of the British Consuls, and at the retention in French Moroccan ports of “British allied” ships of which, according to Mr. Goold,57 there are now 23 so detained. He stated that the release of these ships and the return of the Consuls is a sine qua non for any blockade relaxations.

Mr. Gascoigne58 agreed that the blockade of Morocco was of no advantage to Great Britain, indeed there are certain products of this country which could advantageously be consumed there. He said that he had put out feelers through business men to try to get to terms with the French authorities in the “Protectorat”, but so far these had brought no response. In Casablanca I was told that General Noguès had put out feelers for relief from the blockade, in London, through [Page 584] business men, also without result. I suppose that German pressure upon France is sufficient to prevent any concessions by the Protectorate authorities to the British.

Mr. Gascoigne expressed optimism as to the Anglo-Spanish negotiations for relaxing the blockade, and if these are successful, they should help the situation in the International and Spanish Zones.

Surmise as to the Attitude of the Axis Powers

In this connection one must assume an interest in embroiling the French with the British; but Moroccan territory does not seem necessary for the consummation of this end. The Axis powers, if they relaxed their embargo upon the sailing of French ships, would presumably wish to make sure that no Moroccan products reached England. When in Casablanca, I asked a member of the Italian Commission for the carrying out of the armistice in the French Zone, whether he thought that Italy would interpose great objections to the release of French ships for Moroccan trade, and he replied that he thought not. The member of the Commission whom I asked was not responsible in the matter, and the Commission as a whole is endeavoring to be as conciliatory to the French as possible. Even so, however, it was something that my informant should not have rejected the idea.

The Blockade of Morocco Superfluous as a World War Measure

A glance at the map will show that if Morocco could be considered as the dominion of the Sultan, and not as colonies of European powers, there is no reason why trade should not be permitted between this country and neutral nations outside of Europe. Exports from Morocco to Europe by sea should easily be preventable by ships stationed in the Straits of Gibraltar. Exports to Algeria by rail or truck could be controlled at Oudjda; this control might, I should think, be exercised in the name of the powers controlling the government of the Tangier Zone, or their agents, as amongst these powers are both Great Britain and Italy. There is stated to be enough French tonnage available in Casablanca to keep the country supplied, and if desirable this should be transferred to Moroccan register.

If in the next few weeks France does not go to war with her former ally over the blockade, and French Morocco continues to reject the de Gaulle solution, a real service could be rendered by any neutral power that could bring the belligerents to seeing the futility, from all points of view, of the hardships imposed upon this country by the throttling of its trade. As a condition to any restoration of external trade, it should of course be insisted that the French do away with the restrictions on internal trade beween their and the Spanish Zones.

Respectfully yours,

J. C. White
  1. Neither printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Gen. Charles de Gaulle, leader of Free French forces.
  4. Herbert S. Goold, American Consul General at Casablanca.
  5. A. D. F. Gascoigne, British Consul General at Tangier.