740.0011 Pacific War/1512

The Ambassador in Argentina ( Armour ) to the Secretary of State

No. 3740

Sir: Supplementing my recent telegrams and telephone conversations with Mr. Duggan, I have the honor to inform the Department that the position of the Argentine Government at this moment, and with particular reference to the forthcoming conference of American Foreign Ministers in Río de Janeiro, is in considerable doubt. An analysis of developments during the past two weeks may be useful in arriving at some idea of the actual situation, although it would be premature and hazardous to venture any definite prediction of the attitude that this Government may finally adopt. Obviously the decision of the Argentine Government in this respect will depend upon a variety of factors, not least of which will be the degree of solidarity that may be manifested by the other American Republics during the next few crucial weeks.

The action of the Argentine Government in issuing the decrees of December 9 and 13, 1941, whereby it was declared that the United States would not be considered as a belligerent in the war with Japan, Germany and Italy, was accepted at the time as an indication of an intention on the part of this Government to cooperate with us and [Page 67] with the other countries of this hemisphere in the common task of continental defense. (Reference Embassy’s telegrams nos. 1411 of December 9, 10 P.M., and 1457 of December 13, 2 P.M.) This belief was strengthened by the action of the Acting President, Dr. Castillo, in sending a personal message to President Roosevelt on December 9, in which he concluded with an expression of the friendship of the Argentine Government and people. This action appeared particularly significant in that it was the first time that Dr. Castillo had seen fit to address such a message to the President of the United States.

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On December 16 the Government issued a decree proclaiming a state of siege throughout the Republic. On the basis of this decree, as reported in my telegrams Nos. 1492 of December 17, 12 noon, and 1516 of December 20, 3 p.m.,19 the police authorities have been instructed not to permit the holding of public assemblies, or to permit the publication in the press of any articles or comment which can be construed as critical of the Government’s international policy, which “may affect the neutrality of Argentina toward other nations in conflict”, or which may tend to disturb internal order.

The decision of the Government to impose a state of siege was foreshadowed in an exclusive interview which the Acting President gave to La Razón on December 15, and which was published in three columns on the front page. It would appear that in granting this interview Dr. Castillo was seeking to justify a state of siege in advance, and to make it more acceptable to the country, on the ground that the Government required this additional power in order to carry out quickly and effectively the international obligations which it had assumed through declaring that it would not consider the United States as a belligerent in the present war. According to the account of the interview as published by La Razón, the Acting President went so far as to say that “The Executive Power considers that the propaganda which is being carried on in favor of the countries which are at war with the United States should cease, because, if it should not cease, one would be engaging in a flagrant violation of the very decree of non-belligerency (of the United States)”.

Any belief that the state of siege would be used by the Government primarily to squelch pro-totalitarian propaganda and subversive activities, that may have been created by the Acting President’s declarations on December 15, has been dissipated by the events which have followed. The preamble of the decree itself mentions the necessity of strengthening the moral unity of the nation in order to maintain fully and effectively the position adopted by Argentina toward the war, and also mentions the obligations imposed by Pan American [Page 68] undertakings which can not effectively be carried out within the limits of the constitutional guarantees intended for normal times. This portion of the preamble, however, includes a clause referring to the necessity for safeguarding neutrality, which in itself is hardly consonant with the idea of cooperation for continental defense against totalitarian aggression. (According to the Under Secretary of the Interior, this reference to neutrality was inserted by the Minister of Foreign Affairs after the decree had been prepared by the Ministry of the Interior.) Aside from this, the preamble specifically refers to the necessity of suppressing “all activity tending to increase the passions aroused by the war which in disturbing public order may endanger public tranquillity by subversive appeals or undesirable methods of expression”.

It may be noted that the action of the Government in proclaiming a state of siege throughout the Republic is based upon the authority conferred by Article 23 and paragraph 19 of Article 86 of the Constitution. The provisions of the Constitution authorize the declaration of a state of siege “in the event of internal disorder or external attack”. In the present instance the Government has declared a state of siege in the absence of either of these conditions, asserting in the preamble to the decree of December 16 that “the suspension of certain guarantees of this kind may be decided upon as a preventive measure”. It may be observed furthermore that Article 86, paragraph 19, provides that a state of siege may be declared only for a limited period, whereas the present decree specifies no time limit.

In actual practice thus far the application of the restrictive measures against public assemblies and the press has operated to prevent public expressions of support for the United States on the part of the large majority of the press and public which favor the democratic cause. Even if similar restrictions are enforced against pro-totalitarian organs, as the Minister of the Interior has asserted to me is the case, the ultimate effect is, nevertheless, to muzzle public expression and to weaken the general demand upon the Government for a more open and energetic collaboration by Argentina with the United States and other American countries against all forms of totalitarian aggression. As reported in my telegram No. 1493 of December 17, 10 p.m.20 and in subsequent telegrams, the mass meeting scheduled for last Saturday in homage to President Roosevelt, at which I had expected to read the President’s message of appreciation, was suspended without further public explanation than that it could not be held under the existing state of siege. I am submitting a full report of this incident by separate despatch.

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While there is some difference of opinion in political and other circles regarding all of the considerations which may have played a part in determining the Government to invoke a state of siege at this time, there is general agreement that the principal objective is to assure firmer control of the internal political situation. Developments in recent weeks suggest the growing unpopularity of the Government and a constant narrowing of the basis of support upon which it can rely.…

The position of President Ortiz may have been a factor in the decision of the Government to declare a state of siege at this time. Various members of the Radical Party have told me in recent weeks that pressure was being brought to bear upon the President by various persons to persuade him to return to power. Honorio Pueyrredon21 told me that he had urged the President to do so for the sake of the Party, regardless of the state of his health, and that Ortiz had asked for 48 hours to think the matter over. Another story, which comes from a source very close to General Justo and may have a basis in fact, is that the President has been considering the idea of submitting his formal resignation from office, thereby forcing the calling of the Congress into session to consider it. If this report is true it would explain the Government’s haste in declaring a state of siege in order to avoid the necessity of convening the Congress. (President Ortiz’ comments regarding the policy of the Government are reported in my strictly confidential despatch No. 3725 of December 19, 1941.22)

The position of General Agustín P. Justo may also have been a factor in the Government’s decision, particularly since the General made such a public display of solidarity with us after December 7. Reports of dissension within the Cabinet, which have circulated in recent weeks, have usually involved the names of the two Ministers generally considered to be followers of Justo—Culaciati and General Tonazzi—and the rumor has been that efforts were being made to force them out. The latest rumor of this kind was given publicity last week by the evening newspaper Noticias Gráficas, which suggested that the Acting President intended to reorganize the Cabinet, including the elimination of these two Ministers and the reshufflement of other portfolios, with the view to strengthening his own personal control of the Government. This report was denied to me by the Under Secretary of the Interior, Dr. Castells, who insisted that there was nothing to it. On the other hand, my British colleague tells me that he has received information from a source close to Culaciati to the effect that the latter actually handed in his resignation recently, but that it was turned down by [Page 70] Dr. Castillo. Whatever the exact truth may be, it appears evident that the imposition of the state of siege has also served to close down the channels of publicity which General Justo has been using to promote his campaign for the Presidency in 1943.

An element in the internal situation which is, of course, particularly disturbing, and which it is not possible to gauge with accuracy at this time, is the extent of the influence in the Government of various groups known to have pro-totalitarian sympathies. …

The extent of the influence of the foregoing elements in the present Government can not, as I have already remarked, be accurately gauged at this time; but there is little doubt that such influence exists and is making itself felt. …

A number of reports have come to me of what transpired at the Cabinet meeting last evening which serve only to strengthen the impression that the Government intends to do nothing more in the direction of full collaboration with us unless and until it feels compelled to do so. The meeting of the Cabinet had been announced as for the purpose of deciding the position to be adopted by the Government at the forthcoming conference at Río de Janeiro. After the session the Acting President informed the press that the Foreign Minister had presented a report on the principal points of the agenda for the Río conference, with a view to determining the policy to be followed by the Argentine delegation; that several remaining points would be considered at a further Cabinet meeting next Tuesday; and that it had been decided to extend the present budget with certain minor changes for the year 1942. At the same time a decree was made public announcing the membership of the Argentine delegation to the forthcoming conference, which had already been made public by the Foreign Office several days earlier. (Embassy telegram No. 1517 of December 20, 3 p.m.23) According to the information which I have received, the Foreign Minister’s statement at yesterday’s session of the Cabinet consisted essentially of an argument against any closer cooperation with us and in favor of maintaining the strictest possible neutrality. As a result, the Cabinet postponed reaching a decision despite the fact that a majority of the Ministers are said to have favored adoption of a fairly strong position which would have been made the basis of a statement in support of continental solidarity.

A Conservative point of view which should not be overlooked is one that has been reflected in recent days in the comments of various members of the Conservative group to which Castillo belongs. This is to the effect that they are well satisfied with the manner in which Argentina is living up to its Inter-American commitments, and resent any suggestion, especially from a North American source, that it should go further.

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In the absence of any concrete indication to the contrary, I believe that the Government will continue to follow a day to day policy of procrastination and evasion, and will be influenced in its final decision with regard to the commitments to be undertaken at Río de Janeiro largely by the course of the war and the position taken by the other American Governments.

Norman Armour
  1. Latter not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Head of the Radical Party.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Not printed.