Memorandum by Mr. Philip W. Bonsai of the Division of the American Republics to the Chief of the Division (Duggan)

Mr. Duggan: Attached is the current file with reference to the Declaration of Panama. It is significant, I believe, that this subject was not mentioned by any of the higher officers of the Department in the course of recent conversations with regard to the Habana meeting. It may fairly be assumed that we do not propose to offer anything on this subject. The war situation has changed to such an extent since the formulation of the Neutrality Committee’s recommendation [Page 326] on the Declaration and particularly since the 10th of May1 that any action of a positive nature on the part of the American republics might injure our friends and help our potential enemies.

There are, however, two matters related to the Declaration to which we may wish to give some attention at the Meeting: (1)—the treatment to be accorded to belligerent merchant vessels which have abandoned for the time being the normal channels of trade and have sought refuge in the ports or waters of the American republics; (2)—the desirability of excluding belligerent submarines from the ports and waters of the American republics.

I have discussed the first of these topics with Mr. Hackworth. He tells me that although the President of the United States has the power, in individual instances, to control and to restrain the movements of belligerent merchant vessels, additional legislation would be needed in order to enable him to intern such merchant vessels as a class merely because they were seeking refuge in our ports. Although I do not believe that we wish to present anything at Habana on this subject, I presume that we would be willing to support a resolution under item 2 of Chapter I of the Agenda to the effect that the Meeting recommends to the Governments of the American republics the desirability of adding to their standards of neutrality a provision restricting the freedom of action of refuged merchant vessels. It is of interest, in this connection, that the President of Brazil on July 4 signed a decree providing for the detention of refuged merchant vessels of belligerents in accordance with a portion of the recommendation of the Neutrality Committee on the Declaration of Panama. A copy of this decree is attached.2

With regard to the question of belligerent submarines, we have adopted measures excluding them from our ports. We have also encouraged the other American republics to adopt similar provisions.3 At the present time, 14 of the 19 republics, including the United States, which have sea coasts, have enacted laws or decrees to this effect. The attitude of Argentina has been negative; we know nothing about the point of view of Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica, and Haiti which are the other republics understood not to provide for the exclusion of belligerent submarines. Informal discussion of this matter at Habana may be profitable.

Philip W. Bonsal
  1. Germany invaded Holland, Belgium, and Luxemburg on May 10. France signed armistice terms on June 22.
  2. Published in the Diario Oficial, July 5, 1940, as Decree Law No. 2360, July 3, 1940, p. 12771.
  3. See vol. i, pp. 776 ff.