Memorandum of Conversation, by the Under Secretary of State (Welles)

The British Ambassador called to see me this morning at my request.

I reminded Lord Lothian that immediately after his return from England I had spoken with him regarding the incident created by the action of the British authorities in halting the Brazilian steamer Siqueira Campos, which was carrying armaments manufactured in Germany for the Brazilian Army from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, and taking the vessel to a British port. I had then told the Ambassador that before his return I had taken this question up repeatedly with the British Chargé d’Affaires, urging that the British Government give the most sympathetic consideration to the Brazilian request that the shipment be allowed to go through. I had further told the Ambassador that General Marshall had informed Sir Walter Layton that the action of the British authorities created an embarrassing situation for the United States Government since at the very time it was making every effort to permit the British Government to obtain all possible armaments in this country, the British Government was making it impossible for the Government of Brazil, in whose capacity for self defense we were vitally interested, to obtain armaments which it needed for its coastal defense. Finally, I had stated that both the British Ambassador in Rio de Janeiro as well as Lord Willingdon, now on special mission in Brazil, had most earnestly urged upon the British Government the action suggested by the Government of the United States. At that time I had warned the Ambassador that the action of the British authorities would undoubtedly create a very violent reaction on the part of the Brazilian Government, and particularly on the part of the Brazilian Army. From the standpoint of continental solidarity, and from the standpoint of American interests in Brazil, let alone British interests, it seemed to me, I said, [Page 642] that this action of the British authorities was destined to give tremendous support to German propaganda in Brazil and to incline Brazilian public opinion strongly against the British at the very moment when the British needed as much moral and material support as possible.

I said that today the Department had received a telegram from its Embassy in Rio de Janeiro70 relating that a British cruiser had yesterday, only 18 miles from the Brazilian coast, halted a Brazilian steamer engaged in coastwise trade proceeding from one Brazilian port to another and had taken off 22 alleged German passengers from the steamer. I said that not only was this action taken in complete disregard of the provisions of the Declaration of Panama71 and was consequently an action calculated to create unfavorable reaction throughout the Western Hemisphere, but coming on top of the other incident above referred to, would unquestionably create a still greater reaction against Great Britain in Brazil.

I then read to the Ambassador a portion of a memorandum attached to despatch no. 3927, sent by the American Chargé d’Affaires in Bio de Janeiro under date of November 27 last72 relating a conversation with General Goes Monteiro, the Brazilian Chief of Staff, in which the General inveighed in the most violent terms against Great Britain because of the action taken in the armament matter.

Lord Lothian said that immediately after his first conversation with me on this subject he had cabled his Government transmitting the views of this Government in that regard but that he had received no reply to his message. He said he would immediately cable again. He said that what he supposed had happened was that the Ministry of Economic Warfare had taken the law into its own hands and had disregarded both the wishes of the British Foreign Office as well as the wishes of the British Admiralty both of which he knew opposed the action taken. The Ambassador said he fully realized the importance and gravity of the situation which I had indicated to him and that he would do everything possible to try and get his Government to counteract the effect already created. I said that for our part we would do what might be possible to allay irritation in Brazil, but I reminded the Ambassador that for two weeks before the Siqueira Campos had been stopped by the British off Lisbon, I had urged through the British Embassy that this step be not taken, and no reply had ever been received from the British Government to these suggestions until after the vessel had been seized.

S[umner] W[elles]
  1. Telegram No. 625, December 2, 6 p.m., not printed.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1939, vol. v, p. 36.
  3. Not printed.