The Minister in Guatemala (Des Portes) to the Secretary of State

No. 2632

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my despatch No. 2602 of March 4, 1942 (File No. 711/824.2),7 reporting the preliminary reaction of the Guatemalan Government to the observations contained in the Department’s telegram No. 78 of February 19, 9 p.m., 1942, the substance of which was conveyed to the Guatemalan Minister for Foreign Affairs in a Note of February 20, 1942, regarding the furnishing of military equipment to this Republic.

The Foreign Office by a Note No. 3229 of March 6, 1942, a copy and translation of which are enclosed, has now made formal reply setting forth its point of view relative to the type of engagement which it deems appropriate for the procurement of the arms and ammunition. It may be observed that the spirit and sense of the formal reply closely approximates that of the preliminary response as contained in the President’s oral statements and the Ministry’s Memorandum7 summarizing negotiations in the matter.

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No material technical difficulty should be encountered in supplying the Guatemalan Government with the equipment it desires for its own immediate military needs and for which it proposes to pay cash. The matter of the larger amount of equipment which Guatemala needs for cooperation with the United States Government in hemisphere defense presents a much more difficult problem. It occurs to me that this phase might possibly be solved by an arrangement whereby Guatemala would secure the equipment under the normal terms of the Lend-Lease Act, without any exceptions of principle in its favor which might be considered as unfair departures by other American Republics, but at the same time the contract to be so drawn as to afford in substance the end sought by Guatemala. Concretely, it is suggested as a compromise that perhaps Guatemala might be induced to make small installment payments over the usual period of years, with the proviso that at the end of the war the Guatemalan Government would be permitted, as it evidently desires, to return to the United States such equipment as it has not expended and which is in good condition. The value of the equipment so returned would be credited against the obligation contracted by this Republic under the Lend-Lease Act. If the amount of equipment returned were to exceed the monetary balance due by Guatemala subsequent to installments effected, the sum of the excess would be refunded to the Guatemalan Treasury. If the equipment returned were not sufficient to liquidate the monetary balance due, the Guatemalan Government would be obligated to discharge the sum of the deficit. Such a proposal of course presupposes, on the side of the United States, that the arrangement is legally possible and within the policy adopted, and, on the Guatemalan side, that the installment payments called for would be so spaced and in such moderate amounts that the demands could be met by Guatemala within its extraordinary budgetary resources and without resort to public loans.

I do not know whether such a plan would be agreeable to the Guatemalan authorities. Doubtless the Department may evolve a more satisfactory arrangement, the present suggestion being advanced by me merely as one solution which might merit exploration and without any attempt to pass on the justice of Guatemalan pretensions. The ostensible value of the plan, which the Legation ventures to submit for examination, is that the United States would be assured of payments in keeping with the provisions of the Lend-Lease Act and Guatemala would obtain acceptance of its contention that it be not obliged to pay for arms and ammunition over and above its immediate needs and which are not actually expended by it.

Respectfully yours,

Fay Allen Des Portes
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The Guatemalan Ministry for Foreign Affairs to the American Legation

No. 3229


The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has the honor to refer to the memorandum from the Legation of the United States dated February 20 last, relative to the matter of furnishing arms in accordance with the lend-lease act.

The Ministry had delayed replying to the kind memorandum of the Legation in order to make clear the status of pending negotiations. The questions which arose having been elucidated, the Minister is today able to make a clarifying and definitive reply with regard to the decision of the Government of the Republic relative to the draft contract submitted for its consideration.

The President of the Republic has taken up directly with His Excellency the Minister of the United States the different phases of the pending negotiations; and His Excellency the Minister is aware of the good will of the Government of Guatemala to cooperate with that of the United States in matters pertaining to continental defense. Apart from this consideration, on which the Ministry for Foreign Affairs wishes to emphasize the resolve of this Government, it believes that it will be advantageous and useful to state as clearly as possible the attitude of the Government of the Republic regarding the matter of arms.


The Government of Guatemala is grateful for the benevolent offer of the United States to furnish to it armament and munitions of war; and declares that, as regards arms which it needs for its own defense and local use, it has determined to pay in currency and for cash.

This Government considers that the payment, made at the moment of the delivery of the material, ought not to bring to it greater burdens (no ha de reportarle may ores gravámenes), and, moreover gives it the right to the usual discounts to those who pay cash.

A simple and clear contract could be drawn up setting forth exactly the reciprocal obligations of buyer and seller; and, as soon as that draft contract is approved, this Government would proceed to sign it without further delay.


Having concluded drawing up the terms of the contract for the purchase of arms for Guatemala’s own defense and local use as set forth in the preceding paragraphs, it is pertinent to consider another [Page 438] aspect of the special situation of the Republic in relation to the present international emergency: This aspect is as follows:

As the Legation is aware, the Government of Guatemala has placed at the disposition of the United States whatever it has and possesses in its territory which could be used for cooperation in defense of the fundamental interests of the hemisphere at the head of which the United States has placed itself in the crusade for liberty and human rights. Notwithstanding the danger of thereby attracting attacks of totalitarian forces, airports and coasts of the Republic have been fortified or are being fortified for the defense of the continent.

It is logical, as a consequence of the measures of military nature that, in order to collaborate with the United States forces presently and in the future on Guatemalan soil, the Guatemalan Army needs to import arms adequate for the defense which is being organized: The Government of the Republic deems that its conduct in this matter is to cooperate with the United States in the collective defense; it does not consider it just that, under the circumstances referred to in the preceding paragraph, the armament which may have been ceded to it for mutual defense and which may be in good condition and not needed after the cessation of hostilities, should be an expense to the Guatemalan Government.

The Government of Guatemala has been referring to this type of armament, as His Excellency the Minister of the United States will recall, with the insistent request that such matériel be furnished as a loan under the United States law of March 11, 1941, with the option of returning it after the war, provided it is in good condition or unused.

The Government of Guatemala has not pretended that, under similar circumstances, it be given advantageous concessions over the other American Republics. Now, by reason of the explanations made, whether orally or in the extract of the diplomatic correspondence which the Ministry for Foreign Affairs had the honor to place in the hands of His Excellency the Minister of the United States, it (the Ministry for Foreign Affairs) understands that the matter is elucidated and crystallized in the aforementioned terms.

In summary, the Government of Guatemala is disposed:

To buy arms which it needs for its own defense and local use, paying cash;
To obtain under the terms of the lend-lease law, arms which are needed to collaborate with the United States in the defense of the American continent.

As has been explained, the Government of Guatemala has hastened to place at the service of collective defense all the national resources [Page 439] which are necessary to repel direct aggressions of the Axis powers: In order to fight against those forces, the Government of Guatemala will have to make great sacrifices over and above the material damages which the aggressors may cause. This not being exactly the case of the other American Republics which have already signed contracts for arms with the United States, and, on the other hand, which probably will not pay cash for those for local use only, the Government of Guatemala does not see the reason why those Republics should find unfair the conditions proposed by Guatemala. Moreover, if Guatemala gives as much as it has and proposes the return after the war of the arms in good condition or unused, it surely is not seeking a unilateral agreement for the exclusive benefit of Guatemala.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs takes this opportunity to reiterate to the Legation of the United States the assurances of its highest and most distinguished consideration.

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