714.44A15/115: Telegram

The Minister in Guatemala (Des Portes) to the Secretary of State

9. Department’s telegram No. 5, January 31, 11 a.m. The Minister for Foreign Affairs this morning commented that the British note regarding Belize constituted an effort to make it appear that Great Britain sought and Guatemala rejected arbitration of the question. He said the Guatemalan reply would accept the third British alternative for arbitration but would insist that the Treaty of 1859 was void and in view of the tone of the British note would be “strong”. The Minister seemed disappointed and indignant at the British note.

In reply I commented as called for in the Department’s instruction.

The Minister replied that the British terms were no better than those offered years ago; that Guatemala had for decades asked almost on her knees for a settlement of the matter; that for Guatemala it was not a question of lucre but of national dignity; and that to Great Britain’s minimum concession Guatemala would answer with maximum demands.

He referred to the difference in tone between the present British note and that of September when Great Britain wished to keep Guatemala quiet at the Panama Conference.

I suggested that an arbitral decision in favor of Guatemala would be the best possible satisfaction to Guatemala’s dignity, but that such an award necessarily implied previous agreement regarding terms of reference. I again urged patient negotiation, and hinted that the British proposals might be subject to modification.

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In spite of the Minister’s indignation and his evident determination to send a strong reply, it was clear both from his statements and their implication that he did intend to take the proposals as a basis for discussion and to negotiate for their improvement. However, the President returns from a tour of inspection only tomorrow. There is danger that his reaction may be even stronger than the Minister’s and that things may be said publicly which will lead to a breakdown in the negotiations.

Des Portes