825.248/246: Telegram

The Ambassador in Chile (Bowers) to the Secretary of State

117. The following telegram has been sent to Rio de Janeiro.

January 20, 10 p.m. For Welles.5 Your January 19, 1 p.m.,6 could only be finally decoded due to garbles after I had already had a talk [Page 2] today with the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs Señor del Pedregal on the subject of the signing of the Metals Reserve contract.8

Del Pedregal used this occasion to say to me with the appearance of the greatest feeling that if Chile had military equipment she would not only be willing to break relations but would go to war with the Axis. He said that the Army had ammunition for about 15 minutes of fighting and no planes or anti-aircraft guns. He said that the Japanese Minister assured him that if Chile maintained its neutral position she would not be attacked by Japan. He agreed with the objection that this assurance from an Axis nation meant nothing and said that Japan would attack to suit her convenience. However, he said that if it restrained Japan from attacking one ship that was clear gain in Chile’s present defenseless position. He went on to say that the people of Chile were all for solidarity of action and for fulfilling their obligations but as [that?] they were not prepared for sudden action against the Axis unless some dramatic incident occurred to wake them up. He deplored this attitude but [said] that it was general throughout Chile.

The only thing I can see to break this attitude for Chile is to have you after consultation with our War and Navy Departments give categorical assurances to Rossetti9 and through me to the Chilean Government that the United States is prepared instantly to send down sufficient reconnaissance planes and fighters to ensure protection for the vulnerable strategic coast points of Chile notably the oil deposit at San Antonio, copper power plants at Coya and Tocopilla, et cetera. Airplanes and personnel sent might be ostensible addition to the training equipment of the United States Air Mission in Chile and also to the three navy flying boats now visiting Valparaiso; if it is possible to couple with assurances of the instant despatch of minimum need of defense equipment the firm opinion of our Navy and Army authorities that for some time to come Japan will be incapable of anything except a hit and run aerial attack or submarine activity against Chile this would help. On this basis I would try to persuade the Vice President10 and the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs to revise their instructions to Rossetti.

I will endeavor within the next few weeks to furnish you and the Department with a statement of the minimum defense equipment required. To us it appears very evident that it is a matter of air and navy defense rather than equipment for land fighting.

Repeated to Department.

  1. Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles was attending the Third Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the American Republics at Rio de Janeiro as the representative of the United States.
  2. Not printed.
  3. For correspondence on the acquisition of strategic materials by the United States from Chile, see pp. 47 ff.
  4. Juan B. Rossetti, Chilean Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  5. Gerónimo Méndez Arancibia exercised the presidential office as Vice President after the resignation of President Pedro Aguirre Cerda and became Acting President after his death.