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

The Peruvian Ambassador12 called to see me today by instruction of his Government.

The Ambassador stated that the Foreign Minister of Peru felt it would be helpful to the United States to obtain the Peruvian point of view with regard to the present status of the boundary dispute with Ecuador. The Ambassador said—

Peru is not disposed to take into consideration the tender of good offices or the offer of mediation on the part of any other American government which would not as a prerequisite be based upon the retention by Peru—in any settlement of the boundary dispute which might result from such offer—of the territories held by Peru for over a century.
Peru would not agree to any offer of arbitration which did not recognize the right of Peru to retain the provinces of Tumbes and Jaén—and likewise the provinces of Amazonas and Loreto.
The Peruvian Government feels that the present moment is not propitious for a settlement of the boundary dispute because of the pressure which Ecuador is bringing to bear upon Peru for a settlement and because of the publicity attendant upon such Ecuadoran efforts.
The Peruvian Government suggests that for the time being the best solution would be for both Peru and Ecuador to regard as the temporary line of division the line based upon the military outposts now held by both Governments.
The Peruvian Government wishes the United States to be assured that Peru believes only in the pacific adjustment of this dispute and in no event will resort to force unless attacked by Ecuador.

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I replied to the Ambassador that I was appreciative of the friendly spirit in which this message was conveyed by his Government to the United States, but that I regretted to say that it seemed to me of a very negative character.

I said that the Ambassador and I both knew that the Government of Ecuador would never agree to fixing a temporary line between Peru and Ecuador based upon present military posts of both countries inasmuch as Ecuador would maintain that if this were done, Peru would postpone indefinitely any final settlement and would maintain for an indefinite period jurisdiction over territories claimed by Ecuador.

I said that I wanted to make it very clear to the Peruvian Foreign Minister, through the Ambassador, that this Government, while not intervening in any official way in the controversy, had done its utmost to counsel Ecuador to refrain from a public ventilation of the dispute which would result in exacerbation of tempers on both sides. I said that I likewise had counseled the Foreign Minister of Ecuador to postpone demanding the creation of a commission to be set up as a result of the Habana resolution13 since Peru had made an express reservation to the resolution and would, I knew, not agree to submit to the jurisdiction of the commission. But, I said, nevertheless this Government believed that the controversy over the boundary between Peru and Ecuador was the most serious element of danger today in the entire Western Hemisphere inasmuch as foreign agents could perhaps at a given moment stir up the controversy to such a point as to provoke an incident which might result in actual bloodshed. I said it seemed to us that it was in the highest degree necessary for the sake of the peace of the continent that the dispute be settled in an equitable manner by pacific means as soon as possible.

I stated that I was glad to receive the message from the Foreign Minister which emphasized the peaceful intention of Peru and I said this message confirmed, of course, the opinion this government had of the noble purposes and pacific policy of the Government of Peru. I said further that I had not discussed for at least four years the possibility of immediate arbitration of the dispute but that I had the utmost faith in the efficacy of Dr. Aranha, the Brazilian Foreign Minister, as an impartial friend of both sides who could unquestionably, through the exercise of his good offices, bring about a friendly, equitable and permanent settlement of the dispute. I said I knew of no other man in the Hemisphere today who was as well qualified [Page 218] because of his innate ability, as well as because of the position he occupied, to render effectively this great service to the cause of peace in the New World. I expressed my very fervent hope that the Government of Peru and the Government of Ecuador would have resort to his services.

S[umner] W[elles]
  1. Manuel de Freyre y Santander.
  2. Fourteenth resolution, The Peaceful Solution of Conflicts, passed at the Second Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the American Republics, Habana, July 21–30, 1940; for text, see Department of State Bulletin, August 24, 1940, p. 136. For Peruvian reservation, see ibid., p. 144.