810.20 Defense/58⅙

The Under Secretary of State (Welles) to the Ambassador in Brazil (Caffery)
No. 28

Dear Jeff: During the time that General Marshall51 was in Brazil and subsequently during the period that General Góes Monteiro52 was in this country, General Marshall and [had?] conversation with the latter and with Aranha.53

General Marshall informs me that the views expressed to him by these two officials of the Brazilian Government and particularly by General Góes Monteiro may be summarized as follows:

(a)
In the event of a world war and even prior to United States involvement, Brazil’s geographical position and situation with respect to South American countries will require concentration of the bulk of her forces in the south, as in fact they are at present concentrated.
(b)
Brazil must then keep sea communications open with and insure the territorial integrity of her northeast region.
(c)
To do this will require outside aid. This Brazil would like from the United States.
(d)
In exchange Brazil would offer us the use of bases in the Natal area, including the Island of Fernando do Noronha.

As you know, such bases are limited in number and all need development. If we are to operate air forces from that area in time of emergency, existing bases must be improved and new ones built. If our assistance in this work is desired, it would probably have to be limited to technical advice and assistance. Furthermore, even though Brazil is willing to occupy Fernando do Noronha with forces adequate to prevent its seizure through sea or air attack, and has such forces available, the danger may conceivably arise before Brazil has acted.

In a secret memorandum the President has asked me to take up this question. I have had a discussion with General Marshall and Admiral Stark,54 and the requests I now make of you meet with the President’s approval and with that of the Chief of Staff and the Chief of Naval Operations.

I suggest that you have a completely personal and confidential conversation with Aranha first of all, and in this conversation take up the following questions:

1.
Refer to the views communicated to General Marshall as given in the first part of this letter.
2.
Stress the strategic importance of the Island of Fernando do Noronha and the Natal area, both within ferrying range of European bombers operating from West African bases and both of which could be used to facilitate the transfer of planes, men and munitions to the Western Hemisphere.
3.
The part such transfers could play in the support of subversive movements fostered on the South American continent by European or other non-American governments.
4.
The vulnerability of Fernando do Noronha to surprise seizure by European powers.
5.
The deep concern of the United States over this potential danger, particularly in view of the suddenness with which it might arise.
6.
Finally I suggest that you then inquire as to the steps which the Brazilian Government contemplates to make definitely certain that this Island will not be used by any European nations in case the European war spreads, and inquire as to the specific assistance, if any, which the Brazilian Government may desire from the United States in order to provide for the defense of this Island in connection with the development of possible bases in the Natal area.

I assume that the Brazilian Government will be cooperative in this regard and that they would be glad to have some kind of technical [Page 42]advice or assistance from us, which I assume could in part be furnished by the officers we already have in Rio and in part by the aviation mission which we will send to Rio as soon as possible, in accordance with the requests made of us two days ago. You may wish to say to Aranha that the President himself is responsible for the inquiries we are making, and that I personally will of course be glad to do anything I can at this end to facilitate any cooperative steps which President Vargas, he, or General Góes Monteiro might regard as helpful.

I assume it would be better not to telegraph but to communicate with each other on this matter by air mail pouch. I may be mistaken but I am beginning to have a considerable amount of suspicion that our codes are available to the German Government and in a matter of this kind I would rather use every precaution possible.

Believe me

Yours ever,

Sumner Welles
  1. Gen. George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the United States Army.
  2. Gen. Pedro A. Góes Monteiro, Chief of Staff of the Brazilian Army.
  3. Oswaldo Aranha, Brazilian Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  4. See memorandum dated April 30, 1940, from President Roosevelt to Admiral Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, printed in F. D. R., His Personal Letters, 1928–1945 (New York, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1950), vol. ii, p. 1016.