The Chargé at Tangier ( Childs ) to the Secretary of State

No. 640

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Legation’s despatch no. 258 of July 14, 1941,58 and in particular to the note enclosed in that communication, [Page 487] addressed by the Legation to Colonel Carvajal, at that time Civil Governor of Tangier, taking exception to various taxes levied incident to the importation of goods through the Tangier Customs.

On February 16, 1942, my Spanish colleague,59 acting presumably in his capacity of Chief of the Diplomatic Cabinet of General Uriarte, Delegate in Tangier of the Spanish High Commissioner,60 called on me with reference to the above mentioned note.

My Spanish colleague remarked that his Government did not think this was the time to discuss with the United States the question of principle raised in the note. He pointed out that the “Social Relief Tax” mentioned in our note was in reality perhaps poorly defined. It was, he stated, a fund used for social protection and was employed solely for charitable purposes among all classes of the population.

He added that we have accepted a number of taxes not having a charitable character, imposed by the former International Administration, and he had been sent to inquire if we were not disposed to agree to the payment by American ressortissants of this particular tax imposed for charitable purposes.

The Chief of the Diplomatic Cabinet remarked that if we were to accept the payment of this tax, it would, he wished to emphasize, be without any prejudice to our treaty position. If, on the other hand, we wished to continue to insist on the exemption of American ressortissants from this tax, I had only to inform him of this and the High Commissioner would issue the necessary instructions exempting American ressortissants from its payment.

My Spanish colleague spent some time with me during which we discussed at some considerable length the American treaty position here in Morocco. His attitude was extremely conciliatory and he appeared to have a perfect comprehension of our position and showed no disposition to question it. He remarked that after the war, at the Peace Conference, the question of Tangier and Morocco would no doubt come before the Conference, and we might safely leave until then the raising of questions of principle, which the Spanish authorities wished now to avoid.

I am at a loss to account for the raising by the Spanish authorities of our possible acceptance of the five per cent ad valorem “Social Relief Tax” by the Customs. In view of the absence of any apparent reason therefor, I hesitate to speculate concerning the Spanish motives involved. The collection of the tax is really for the moment one of almost academic significance, in view of the fact that practically all imports made by non-official Americans have virtually ceased.

[Page 488]

For several reasons, notwithstanding his assurances, I am disinclined to suggest acquiescence in my Spanish colleague’s proposal.

The limitation of this proposal to the five per cent “Social Relief Tax” alone among all the other taxes to which exception was taken in the Legation’s note might lead us into an embarrassing dilemma. Our refusal to grant a concession in regard to what my Spanish colleague termed a charitable contribution might eventually be used as an item of anti-American propaganda. On the other hand, our giving way in regard to this particular illegal levy might be construed by the Spanish as a recession from our position of principle on the other taxes. In as much as the Legation’s note alluded to by Mr. Soriano recalled that the Spanish Government had admitted the principle that these illegally levied taxes are reimbursable, it may very well be that they are anxious to find or to produce a flaw in our position in this respect, for the reason that this is a strong point upon which we may hold up our recognition of the Spanish position in Morocco, as long as it may suit us to do so.

Mr. Soriano’s reference to our acceptance of taxes instituted by the former International Administration of Tangier, notwithstanding our failure to recognize that Administration, suggests an argument on the part of the Spanish authorities that their own similarly unrecognized position in Morocco ought not to debar our acceptance of taxation imposed by them. They overlook the fact that the American Government’s assent to taxes and other legislation emanating from the Tangier International Administration was negotiated, not with that unrecognized entity, but with the Resident General of France in his recognized capacity of Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Sultan, which was therefore entirely in keeping with our treaty position.

In view of the importance of the effect of custom and usage in this country, prejudice to that position would depend upon the consistency of our attitude and acts rather than upon assurances to the contrary by the unrecognized Spanish authorities. Mr. Soriano’s suggestion that we should mutually agree to eschew all reference to treaty principle at this time, leaving this theme for discussion at the Peace Conference after the war, and confining ourselves until then to the problem of practical collaboration, appears to be an unacceptable inversion of the situation. The Spanish can claim no authority, as Mr. Soriano hinted, incidental to their presence or de facto control in North Africa, to justify the suspension or overriding of established principles on which American treaty rights repose. It is rather the question of eventual reparation of Spanish disregard of American treaty rights and interests which might be deferred for discussion at some ulterior date.

In French Morocco we have been able to turn the difficulty by giving temporary and withdrawable assent to certain taxation measures, [Page 489] but there we were dealing with authorities whom we have formally recognized. It would not seem that similar action could be properly adopted in regard to the unrecognized Spanish Administration. It is suggested, moreover, that formal assent to any of the enactments of the Spanish Administration might be construed as tantamount to some measure of recognition.

In any event, it would seem to be a useful principle to follow not to accept requests from the Spanish authorities for the application to American ressortissants of Spanish taxes as long as we have not recognized either the Spanish Zone or the occupation of Tangier by the Spanish. (See in this connection pages 5 and 6 of the Legation’s despatch no. 258 of July 14, 1941.)

In reply to the Spanish Consul’s suggestions under reference the Legation believes that, while reiterating its desire to afford the Spanish all practical cooperation in the general interests of the community in this exceptional period, it is not deemed possible that any concession can be made on the principles recalled in the Legation’s note to Colonel Carvajal affecting any single item of taxation therein referred to. At the same time it might be pointed out that the material object and the present needs of the Spanish Administration, namely, the raising of revenue for social relief purposes, is in fact being attained, in so far as American ressortissants may be concerned. The latter, albeit under protest, are actually paying this and other taxes legally inapplicable to them, into the Customs to enable them to obtain the clearance of their goods. In the present circumstances the Legation is willing to refrain from disturbing this procedure pending more opportune conditions for an ulterior adjustment of this situation. In this sense, and subject to the Department’s approval, the Legation proposes to leave with the Spanish Consul an Aide-Mémoire along the lines of the enclosed draft.61

Respectfully yours,

J. Rives Childs
  1. ibid., p. 559.
  2. Rafael Soriano, Spanish Consul at Tangier.
  3. Gen. Luis Orgaz.
  4. Not printed.