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

No. 843

Sir: I have the honor to report that a controversy has arisen between the local Spanish authorities and my British colleague65 concerning an attempt on the part of the former to open ten cases and four parcels of official supplies and printed matter addressed to the British Consulate General. Details concerning this controversy will be found in the enclosed copy of a communication, dated June 9, 1942, [Page 495] addressed by my British colleague to General Uriarte, the Delegate in Tangier of the Spanish High Commission, the paraphrase of a telegram dated June 9, 1942, addressed by my British colleague to the Foreign Office on the subject, and a copy of General Uriarte’s communication of June 15, 1942, to the British Consulate General,66 stating that it “is not within the latter’s power to interfere with the customs regime in force in Spain and in the Zone of the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco”, adding that “this measure in no way interferes with rights and privileges and that it affects all persons in general”.

My British colleague informs me today that the position with him at the moment is that he is waiting to see whether the Foreign Office feels inclined to give him any guidance in the matter. He adds that if he permits the Spaniards to open these parcels it may create an awkward precedent. He observes that if he sends the parcels back to Gibraltar whence they came, the Spanish will be likely to harbor suspicions against him and it does not seem that it will solve the problem for the future. Incidentally, while the British packages consist of nine cases of paper and office supplies, four cases comprise propaganda material intended for distribution in Spanish North Africa.

This morning I sent a servant of the Legation to the Spanish post office to withdraw seven parcels addressed to the Legation by the American Embassy in Madrid, presumably containing magazines which are thought to be copies of En Guardia or Selecciones which we have been distributing in this area. The customs official in attendance insisted that the packages be opened for examination. The Legation servant declined to permit this and left the parcels in care of the post office, returning to the Legation to report the occurrence.

As there did not appear to be any great urgency in obtaining delivery of the seven parcels, I have thought it preferable to forward under cover of this despatch to the Department a copy of a note which I propose to address to my Spanish colleague67 who is Chief of General Uriarte’s Diplomatic Cabinet. I would appreciate receiving as soon as possible by telegram any comments the Department may have to make on my draft.

At the same time I am requesting the Embassy in Madrid to forward future shipments of publicity material to us in a sealed diplomatic pouch through the open mail. In this connection my Spanish colleague is reported to have suggested to my British colleague the advisability of pursuing this practice in order to avoid raising the issue which is the subject of this despatch.

[Page 496]

My British colleague has informed me that he understands the Spanish are applying the new regulation concerning the opening of packages addressed to diplomatic and consular establishments in Tangier, other than diplomatic pouches, to the German Consulate General, but he has not yet been able to obtain any particulars on the subject.

Respectfully yours,

J. Rives Childs

Draft of Proposed Note From the American Chargé at Tangier (Childs) to the Spanish Consul at Tangier (Soriano)

Mr. Consul and Dear Colleague: I have the honor to inform you that when on June 17, 1942 a moghzani of this Legation, duly provided with the customary pass addressed to the Customs Administration, presented himself at the Spanish Post Office in Tangier to withdraw seven parcels addressed to the Legation by the American Embassy in Madrid, the customs official in attendance required him to open the packets for examination. This the moghzani declined to do, left the parcels in the care of the Post Office, and returned to the Legation to report the occurrence.

This is the first occasion in the history of the Legation in which such a pretension has been put forward by the Moroccan Customs Administration in regard to the examination of the contents of parcels, addressed to the personnel of the Legation or to the Legation itself under cover of a pass from the latter and it is contrary, as you are no doubt aware, to treaty, custom and usage in this regard. Immunity from the attempted inspection which is the subject of this protest proceeds from the construction which has been invariably applied for nearly a century to the provisions of Article 3 of the British-Moroccan General Treaty of 185668 and of Article 3 of the Spanish-Moroccan Treaty of 1861.69 The sole requirement of these in respect of articles imported free of duty by diplomatic or consular officers in Morocco, is the furnishing by them to the Customs of a note in writing as to the number of packages so imported.

In a telephone communication on the subject between the Legation and the Chief of Customs this morning, the latter was understood to state that as to customs examination a distinction was to be made between goods and mail matter received by diplomatic missions, and that in connection with the latter, diplomatic pouches alone were [Page 497] exempt from inspection. The Legation feels bound, on the basis of our treaty rights, to take exception to such a theory.

In as much as it is presumed that the position taken by the Customs Administrator in the premises can be due only to a misapprehension on his part of the treaty situation, I shall therefore be grateful if you will take the necessary measures to cause the Customs Administration to desist in its obstruction to delivery by the Customs Administration at the Spanish Post Office of the packages under reference.

Please accept etc.

  1. A. Gascoigne, British Consul General at Tangier.
  2. None printed.
  3. Rafael Soriano, Spanish Consul at Tangier.
  4. Signed at Tangier, December 9, 1856, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. xlvi, p. 188.
  5. Signed at Madrid, November 20, 1861, ibid., vol. liii, p. 1089.