The Representative of the President (Corrigan) to the Secretary of State

No. 587

Sir: I have the honor to report that I have held a number of conferences with Dr. José Santiago Rodríguez during his visit here in Caracas regarding the work of the Mediation Commission. Just before he embarked on the Pan American plane at Maiquetía yesterday to return to his post at Bogotá I had another visit with him about the future activities of the Mediation Commission in its efforts to settle the boundary controversy between Honduras and Nicaragua. We both agreed that there should be a reunion of the Commission not later than April of 1941 unless there should arise new factors that would make a reunion at that time inadvisable. One such factor that we discussed is the likely renewal of the attempt to settle the Panama-Costa [Page 458] Rica boundary dispute.19 Mr. José LeFevre, the retiring Minister from Panama to Venezuela, told me just before his departure that he believed that the new President of Panama, Dr. Arnulfo Arias, has already reached some understanding with the new President of Costa Rica, Dr. Calderon Guardia, on this subject and that both executives are agreed upon the desirability of an early settlement of the boundary dispute between their respective countries. We agreed that, in the event that active steps are taken toward a settlement of the Panama-Costa Rican boundary controversy, the work of our Commission should be held in abeyance for the time being so that there would be no risk of our activities impairing the success of the movement. Furthermore a successful outcome of such negotiations resulting in a settlement of the question would inevitably create a more favorable atmosphere for settling the other outstanding boundary dispute in Central America. In fact a settlement of either question would have a favorable effect on the other and it would seem that the negotiations most likely to be crowned with success should be started first. At this time it would appear that bilateral action by two new and enthusiastic Chiefs of State might afford better prospects of a prompt result and that our position should be to encourage their efforts and keep the Honduras-Nicaragua controversy in the background for the present.

The Department may have at hand or may obtain some later information on this subject which it would be useful for the Mediation Commission to have in its possession before determining a program of future activities. Dr. Rodríguez thinks, and I agree, that when we do meet again we should have ready two or three alternative propositions for presentation and try to secure a definitive settlement of the question.

I am still of the opinion that, prior to our meeting and before formulating any concrete proposals, we should have aerial photographs of at least that part of the Segovia River which is subject to violent changes and variations in the location of its bed. I have done a considerable amount of travel by airplane during the past few years and taken advantage of the opportunities thus presented to study and observe the course of rivers and their variations in many different countries and types of terrain. These observations lead to the conclusion that a river forms a fairly satisfactory dividing line in mountainous regions where it has cut a well defined canyon or clear-cut deep valley but that when it emerges from the mountains and flows out over a coastal plain it becomes utterly useless as a boundary line. Its bed shifts from year to year, from month to month and even from day to day. In my opinion our Government should not be a party to any boundary settlement based on such shifting streams. In this connection [Page 459] I may cite that my own native State of Ohio has legal provisions against the use of a river or stream as a property limit. I have recently reported a four mile shift in the location of the mouth of the Mitare River in Venezuela which does not appear on maps published as late as 1937 and which was shown to me personally by the Naval Attaché of this Embassy while we were flying over it on August 7, 1940. … I believe that the Commission should, for its own confidential information, ask for permission to have a survey made by a responsible scientific body like the American Geographical Society. Surely Honduras could not object to that procedure. The matter of cost, that is of paying for something that they do not want, seems to be of some moment to the Honduran Government and therefore the elimination of that possible objection on their part is another reason for suggesting that the survey be made by the Commission itself. Such a preliminary survey need not be as complete as the one originally planned but should include all of the river region which lies in the coastal plain. Estimates regarding the cost of the complete survey are already in the hands of the Department. Since it is presumed that Army equipment would be used the expense to the other two Governments involved would not be very great and the Commission still has a balance in its treasury that could be utilized in part at least. In the interests of economy perhaps one more effort should be made to get the Honduran Government to contribute to this survey at the same time assuring them that the report will be a confidential one for the use of the Commission only and will not be made public except with the consent of the Honduran Government. If they again refuse to contribute then I think the Commission should be empowered to go ahead and make its own survey.

I respectfully suggest therefore that if the Department agrees with the foregoing that I be instructed to confer with my colleagues on the Commission and to recommend such a plan of action. The most appropriate time for such a survey from the standpoint of weather conditions is during the months of February and March.

Respectfully yours,

Frank P. Corrigan