The Ambassador in Cuba ( Messersmith ) to the Secretary of State

No. 428

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the Department’s circular telegram of June 17, 1940, 10 a.m. addressed to the [Page 184] Governments of the American Republics and suggesting the desirability of holding a conference at the earliest moment possible to discuss questions which may arise in connection with the possessions and colonies of non-American States in the Western Hemisphere in view of developing conditions in Europe. The substance of this telegram had been communicated to me by telephone by the Department on the morning of June 17 and I immediately sought an interview with Dr. Campa, the Secretary of State. He informed me that the Cuban Government was entirely in accord that such a meeting should be held at the earliest possible date and I so informed the Department by telephone on the afternoon of June 17.

The Department’s circular telegram of June 17, 10 a.m. did not reach this Embassy until late that evening and after it was decoded I called on the Secretary of State, accompanied by Mr. Beaulac, the First Secretary of the Embassy. I communicated to him the substance of the Department’s telegram and in my telegram of June 18, 10 a.m. [noon]10 to the Department I have been able to give the following reactions of the Cuban Government.

The Cuban Government agrees as to the urgency of a second consultation of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs following that of Panama and is of the opinion that this meeting should be held at the earliest possible moment.

The Cuban Government is prepared to have this meeting in Habana at the earliest date which may be agreeable to the other Governments. The Secretary of State expressed the hope that it would be possible to give sufficient time for the Foreign Ministers of the more distant countries to reach Habana, but at the same time he expressed his complete understanding of the urgency of the meeting.

The Secretary of State further informed me that he would transmit his memorandum on a proposed preliminary agenda for the October meeting which he had already prepared and which I have already forwarded to the Department, to the other American Governments today, but he made it clear that he would arrange to have omitted from the proposed agenda that part relating to ships. He further said that in transmitting his memorandum to the other American States he would make it clear that his suggestions for the October meeting were entirely preliminary and without prejudice to the earlier immediate meeting which our Government has proposed and which he believes may usefully be confined to the questions of possessions of non-American States in this Hemisphere.

At the request of the Secretary of State I called on him this morning and he handed me the appended confidential memorandum for transmission to my Government which memorandum the Department [Page 185] will note is practically textually the same as the copy of the memorandum I transmitted some days ago. When I saw the Secretary of State last evening I suggested to him the desirability of leaving out of this memorandum the reference to ships and he agreed that he would do so. This morning when he handed me the appended memorandum he said that the reference to ships remained in the memorandum but he was making the necessary arrangements through the Cuban Embassy in Washington to have this part of the memorandum eliminated by the Pan-American Union when any agenda for the October meeting was prepared.

It was my hope that I might be able to persuade the Secretary of State not to send this memorandum at this time and immediately following our initiative in suggesting an immediate meeting, but for various reasons I did not deem it advisable to press this point, particularly as he was prepared on our suggestion to eliminate the reference in the preliminary agenda to ships. The Secretary of State feels a very definite responsibility with respect to the October meeting in view of the resolution of the Panama conference and that it is the duty of the Cuban Government to take some preliminary steps with respect to the Habana meeting.

It will be of interest to the Department to know that the Secretary of State was very definitely of the opinion that it would be desirable to hold a meeting such as the one we suggest at Habana at the earliest possible date to discuss the questions arising out of the possessions and colonies of non-American States in the Western Hemisphere. He indicated that the Cuban Government would be prepared to have this conference take place in Habana at any moment that our Government and the other American States may deem it advisable. He has already taken steps to make available the necessary personnel for such a meeting if it should be held within the next six or seven days. Just before I saw him he had called in Senator Verdeja, the President of the Senate, in order to make the arrangements with him for making available the facilities of the Senate Chamber and offices.

In view of the urgency of the discussion by the American States of the question raised by our Government he believes that this conference should take place at the earliest possible moment and as time would not be available for the preparation of a full agenda of other subjects which could usefully be discussed it is his thought that the meeting contemplated by our Government at Habana be confined to the consideration of the question which we have raised and that in the meantime the Pan-American Union proceed with the elaboration of the agenda for a meeting to follow which would also be held at Habana.

The question arose as to whether it would be possible for the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the more distant countries to reach [Page 186] Habana for this urgent meeting. The Secretary of State strongly expressed the hope that it would be possible for the Foreign Ministers of the more distant countries to participate in this first as well as in the following meeting. In case it were not possible for the Foreign Ministers of any American States to attend the urgent meeting I suggested that certain Governments might find it desirable to give proper powers to their diplomatic representatives in Cuba, Washington, or contiguous States to represent them at this first meeting in order that there may be no delay in its taking place. The Secretary of State expressed himself as believing that this was a solution which some of the States might have to find for this immediate meeting in view of its great urgency. I brought out, however, that in case the meeting is held five or six days hence there would be time for the Foreign Ministers to arrive here by air.

I think I should take this opportunity to inform the Department that Dr. Campa placed great stress on the importance of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of all the American States to be present at the October meeting, the actual holding of which he said he thought could also be advanced if this seems desirable in the opinion of the American States. He indicated that in his opinion the experience at the first consultation in Panama showed clearly the desirability of having persons with proper authority and adequate responsibility attend these meetings.

The Secretary of State showed not only a full comprehension of the importance of the meeting which our Government has proposed, but a very real desire on the part of the Cuban Government and on his part to cooperate to the fullest possible extent in this meeting.

Respectfully yours,

George S. Messersmith

Memorandum of the Government of Cuba to the Nations of America Concerning the Second Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs

The First Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, held in Panamá, agreed, in its Resolution XIII, that the Second Consultative Meeting would be held in the city of Habana, capital of the Republic of Cuba, in the month of October next, or earlier if necessary.

In accordance with that Resolution, and conscious of the high honor conferred upon it, the Cuban Government is taking all the steps necessary in order that this conference may have the solemnity and importance which characterized the meeting at Panamá.

During recent months the world perspective has been fundamentally changed. The problems outlined in the First Meeting have taken [Page 187] on a clearer and more disquieting form, and the dangers so wisely pointed out then by American statesmen are now clearly seen to constitute a direct menace to the institutions and to the security of our continent.

The space of time separating the two meetings reveals a curve of increasing gravity in the development of affairs in Europe. These developments are gradually disclosing a tragic and imminent reality which cannot be met with simple precautionary measures of isolation or of respectful reserve in the face of the enormity of the sufferings of others, but which constitute a terrible situation of justified alarm which America must contemplate with prudence and without nervousness, with the firm decision to foresee and protect its responsibilities and its legitimate interests.

This means, in the opinion of the Cuban Government, that from precautionary measures we should proceed to methods of a practical nature, to ensure the efficiency of the collective defense of America.

The Panamá Agenda contained three Chapters, within which the Government of Cuba believes that the steps to be discussed at the Habana meeting might continue to be placed.

(1) Under the heading of neutrality may be included the adjustment of the work performed by the permanent Commission at Rio de Janeiro12 in order to give uniform character to that work with a view to its being placed in effect immediately in the American Republics.

Furthermore, it is desirable that all the American countries be represented on that Commission, either directly or through the delegation of a third American country, in order to bring about rapidly and unanimously the execution of its agreements.

In this Commission there might be prepared for immediate execution not only measures to cause American neutrality to be respected, but also the interchange of intergovernmental information and help to prevent individual or collective activities of belligerents within the territory (of any American nation).

(2) Among the economic measures, and taking advantage of the work of the economic commission at Washington,13 it would be desirable to carry out certain urgent measures to

Substitute provisionally for the duration of the war those products of European industry which can be replaced by American articles, maintaining in that interchange a level of equality in the volume of what is purchased and what is sold.
Utilize tonnage interned in American ports exclusively for the purposes of inter-American commerce, through a legal formula—such as embargo or requisition—establishing a uniform rental charge for its use during the war. These sums would be paid after the peace, [Page 188] in such manner that the rental would not increase the economic capacity of any of the belligerents.

(3) Maintenance of peace.

Creation of a commission of American defense to study from a general point of view continental defense, military and naval necessities and the strategic possibilities in the eventuality of an attack by non-American powers, including also the measures of cooperation of each American power.
Reaffirmation of the principle of American solidarity set forth in Panama, through a legal formula—for example, that presented by the Dominican Republic and Colombia—for the purpose of giving it a more perceptible expression, a kind of provisional or permanent League of Nations, of which the Pan American Union, which has proved its utility during the last 50 years, would be the Secretariat General, and whose governing body (órgano resolutivo) might be constituted by the periodic meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of America.
A definite declaration, without euphonism of America’s purpose—an amplification of Resolution XVII voted in Panama—not to permit the occupation or transfer, in any form, of American regions belonging to non-American powers as a result of agreements or acts from the present conflict.

The Cuban Government does not attempt in this memorandum to exhaust the materials which the Habana meeting may study—and it hopes that the illustrious governments to which this document is addressed will so interpret it —, but simply to establish a pre-arranged base in order to prepare, after having heard the respected opinion of each of the interested nations, in accordance with the Pan American Union, a definite agenda for the Second Meeting, inspired by the humane, peaceful and foresighted sentiments which are characteristic of the ideals of America.

  1. Not printed.
  2. File translation revised by the editors.
  3. See section entitled “The Inter-American Neutrality Committee,” pp. 257 ff.
  4. See bracketed note, p. 345.