837.51 Public Works Debt/322

The Ambassador in Cuba (Messersmith) to the Secretary of State

No. 572

Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith a memorandum of a conversation which I had with the President of Cuba, Dr. Laredo Brú, on Saturday afternoon, July 13.32 The memorandum is self-explanatory and I will confine myself for the immediate present to the following comment.

It will be noted that the President stated that in his opinion it would be desirable to separate the obligation of the Cuban Government to Purdy & Henderson from that due to Warren Brothers on the ground that it would be relatively easy to get action by the Congress on the settlement of the Warren Brothers matter but exceedingly difficult to do so in the case of the Purdy & Henderson claim. The Department will appreciate my surprise on hearing this expression of opinion from the President, as he had at no time in previous conversations indicated any such attitude and had always expressed, himself as being of the opinion that both of these claims should be settled without delay and that there was no advantage to be gained by any further discussion of the background of the obligations themselves.

As I stated in the accompanying memorandum, I am of the opinion that the President was largely acting under pressures in now endeavoring to make this distinction. I did not leave any doubt in the President’s mind as to our own attitude on the matter.

It is my opinion that the settlement of the obligations will now undergo further delays and that it is useless to hope that any action will be taken prior to the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the American States33 or until after that meeting. Some fundamental change in the attitude of the higher Cuban officials with respect to this matter seems to have taken place.

There is always the possibility that the House of Representatives, which is to meet on July 18, may begin to consider and even take action on the various bills which have been presented for the settlement of [Page 752] the obligations, but it is obvious that unless very great pressure is brought the settlement would be along lines to which we cannot agree. While I made our attitude thoroughly clear to the President in the interview under reference and conveyed to him the contents of the Department’s instruction to this Embassy of July 2, 1940, No. 137 (file no. 837.51 Public Works Debt/313), the circumstances surrounding the interview were such that I could not go into the matter as fully as is desirable. It is therefore my intention to see the President again in the next few days, and also the Secretary of State, Dr. Campa, and make it clear that our Government would not recognize any solution except on the basis embodied in the Casanova bill of November 1938, which represents the agreement reached between the Cuban Government and the creditors. The most that can be hoped for through such representations at this time is, I believe, that the Congress will not take action for the present in a sense contrary to the agreement of November 1938.

My thought is that the most I can do at this time is to prevent action in an unfavorable sense and that in view of the Conference to be held in Habana in the next days, it may not be desirable to press for action after the close of the Conference. Unless I receive instructions from the Department to the contrary, I shall proceed along these lines. I may say that it is my opinion that in our own interest and in that of Cuba that we must take a determined, unequivocal stand with respect to the settlement of these obligations and insist upon a settlement on the basis which we have, and which the Cuban Government has, recognized as equitable and desirable.

Respectfully yours,

George S. Messersmith
  1. Not printed.
  2. Second Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the American Republics held at Habana July 21–30, 1940; see pp. 180 ff.