The Ambassador in Mexico (Messersmith) to the Secretary of State

No. 2309

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the Department’s strictly confidential air mail instruction No. 804 of June 8, 1942, referring to its instruction No. 557 of May 7, 1942,60 regarding proposals under consideration by the appropriate agencies of our Government for the importation of workers from Mexico to supply the increasing demand for labor, especially in agriculture, during the existing emergency. I also have to acknowledge the receipt of the Department’s strictly confidential instruction No. 848 of June 12, 1942,61 referring to its instruction of June 8, 1942 above mentioned. In this connection, parenthetically, I wish to note that the instructions of June 8 and June 12 under reference both reached this Embassy on June 15, 1942. This is characteristic of the delays to which the air mail from the Department to this Embassy is subjected somewhere along the route. There is no reason to believe that this delay is caused in Mexico, but that it occurs somewhere along the route in the United States after the Department has mailed the envelopes.

Immediately on the receipt of the instructions under reference the Embassy took up this matter informally with the Ministry of Foreign Relations. The proposal and its importance to us was presented to the Ministry and the desire was expressed that we be given an indication at the earliest possible moment whether the Mexican Government would be prepared in principle to enter into conversations on this subject. It was emphasized that we were not taking up the matter with respect to any arrangement of detail at this moment, but that if the Mexican Government was prepared to consider the matter my Government was prepared to send appropriate officials immediately to discuss the matter. We did not leave any written communication with the Ministry, but did leave a copy of the proposed contract provisions61 which was an enclosure to instruction No. 804 of June 8, 1942.

The Ministry agreed to give the matter its immediate consideration and to give a reply as promptly as possible, but called attention to the fact that it was a matter on which various agencies of the Mexican Government would have to be consulted. Our attention was also directed to the fact that the matter involved, in itself, considerations which it would be difficult to solve in spite of the best will of both Governments.

[Page 541]

I took occasion this morning to discuss this matter with the Under Secretary, Mr. Torres Bodet, during the temporary absence of the Minister. I found him fully informed. He said that immediately on our bringing this matter to the attention of the Ministry it had given it consideration and it was being given consideration in other Ministries and agencies of the Mexican Government which had to be consulted, principally the Ministries of Labor and Gobernación. He said their study of the matter was being facilitated as much as possible; that it had not been completed and would not be completed for several weeks. This delay was not due to any lack of diligence but due to the necessity of going into the matter very carefully.

The Under Secretary went on to say that naturally there were important aspects of the problem for both governments to consider. He said Mexican labor had gone to the United States before and the results had not been too good. There were these discriminations which had taken place against Mexican labor and the Mexican Government understood that no action by our Government could remove these discriminations in a short period of time; that they were the result of local action rather than of government. It would be undesirable when our relationships were on such a good basis that any element should be injected into these relationships which would bring about a renewal of any former situations. He said there were internal factors which the Mexican Government had to consider and that some of these were serious. In the first place, the news that labor could be recruited for the United States would immediately bring about a considerable number of requests to go in the belief that they were going to an Eldorado. The Mexican Government had to consider that the wages of the laborers in the United States would be considerably greater than in Mexico. They had to consider that these laborers would go for a temporary period. On their return these laborers would be dissatisfied with the conditions which would be theirs. As a rule the laborers return having spent all of their money and their position in some ways was worse after they returned than before they went. Problems in this respect had been created for the Mexican Government under similar circumstances. He said that various agencies of the Mexican Government were carefully studying the matter to determine what action would, in their opinion, have to be taken by our Government and by the Mexican Government in order to insure that such a temporary movement of laborers would not prove to be a distressing or disturbing factor for either our country or for Mexico.

Among other things he said the Mexican Government was studying the possibility of setting up an organization which would receive a certain part of the wages of the laborers in trust for them until they returned to Mexico. In other words, they were considering that a [Page 542] percentage of the wages of the laborers should be paid in the United States and a certain part should be retained by this Government organization which would return the money to the laborers on their return to Mexico. They were also considering the possibility that they receive a certain amount of their wages in the form of farm implements which they could use in tilling small tracts of land on their return to Mexico. This would help to alleviate the problems arising through dissatisfaction of the laborers on their return to their country.

The Under Secretary showed by the foregoing and other remarks which he made that the matter was receiving the earnest consideration of the Mexican Government but that it was concerned with the problems involved. He did not say so, but it was clear from his discussion that it was the desire of the Mexican Government to avoid creating any new problems in our relationships when we were endeavoring to solve old problems and were engaged in an active program of collaboration.

The Under Secretary said that the Mexican Government was giving this matter its serious consideration because we were allies in the war and it desired to help in any way that it could. He said there was unemployed labor in Mexico and there was need of these agricultural workers in the United States. The Mexican Government, therefore, was earnestly seeking a basis on which such a movement of laborers could take place without such a movement becoming a disturbing influence in our relationships. He said that it would be unwise for the Mexican Government to proceed on such a program without being absolutely sure of its ground, as otherwise it would only create a ground for criticism of the United States on the part of those who were always prepared to criticize but who had to be taken into account.

I expressed to the Under Secretary our appreciation of the attention which he was giving this matter and of what was obviously the sympathetic consideration which the various agencies of the Mexican Government had already accorded it. I told him I appreciated the need for the time under the best circumstances for them to formulate their thoughts, but remarked that these laborers were needed for agricultural work, some of which was already starting. I said it would be helpful if I could tell my Government that the attitude of the Mexican Government was sympathetic to the idea. He said that I could inform my Government that the Mexican Government was earnestly seeking to find a basis for such a movement of laborers, but that it was not yet prepared to discuss details. I said I would like to revert to our original discussion of this matter when we stated that if the Mexican Government was sympathetic to the idea we would [Page 543] like to send several competent persons to discuss the matter with the appropriate officials here.

The Under Secretary said that he did not think the time had yet arrived for anyone to come from the United States to discuss this matter; that the Mexican officials had not yet come to the point where they were actually prepared to discuss the matter with anyone else. He thought that by the tenth of July they would be prepared to do so. I said that this was going to delay considerably any solution and that there were pressing reasons for proceeding as rapidly as possible. The Under Secretary said that he appreciated all these factors but that he thought arriving at a proper solution and arrangement was even more important than any precipitate action. He emphasized again that the nature of the matter was such that it would have to be given the most careful consideration by the various agencies of the Mexican Government and that this was in progress.

While the Under Secretary did not mention them, he undoubtedly had in mind the newspaper reports coming from Washington on this labor matter. Various articles have appeared in the press here from the news agencies in Washington calling attention to the statements of Senator Wheeler63 in this connection. These have served no useful purpose here. The Under Secretary undoubtedly fears any publicity on this matter at this time and he is entirely correct, in my opinion, in this. The matter has to be carefully handled and there should be no publicity of any kind until the final arrangements between the two governments are reached. I think I should say frankly that the publicity so far given to this matter in the press at home has not helped the matter here.

The Under Secretary agreed that I could inform the Department that the Mexican Government was sympathetic to the idea solely on the ground of a cooperative measure with our Government in view of the war. The Mexican Government was not prepared to say yet that an agreement could be made. It was prepared to say that it was viewing and examining the matter in an entirely sympathetic manner in the hope that a satisfactory arrangement can be reached. The Under Secretary said that I could inform my Government that if several competent persons came here between July 10 and 15 he felt confident that the Mexican officials would be prepared to discuss the matter with them and expressed the hope and the belief that a satisfactory arrangement could be worked out. He indicated, however, that if several such persons did come here around July 10 for this purpose, there should be no public announcement at home or here with regard to the matter and no publicity with respect to the negotiations or the visit. He also expressed the opinion that it would be helpful if the competent persons who came here were able to speak [Page 544] Spanish, as the Ministers and officials of the Mexican Government with whom they would have to talk would speak only that language and that it would greatly facilitate matters and complete understanding if the Americans were able to speak Spanish.

I am in thorough agreement with the observations of the Under Secretary with regard to publicity which I consider most important. There is no certainty that an agreement can be reached, although I have the personal belief that, in view of the sympathetic view which the Mexican Government is taking, an agreement can be worked out. It is clear, however, that the Mexican Government is not going to permit itself to be hurried into any decision, as it believes that the present status of Mexican-American relations is more important than the possibility of injecting a discordant note through this labor exchange. It wishes to take all the proper precautions to assure that such a labor exchange will not create a problem either here or in the United States or between the two countries. In this connection I think we should bear in mind that there was undoubtedly objection raised at home in various quarters against the bringing in of Mexican labor; that various agencies of our Government had to get themselves into accord before they could approach the Department on the matter. It was not until these discussions had taken place that the approach could be made by the Department through this Embassy to the Mexican Government. It will be appreciated, therefore, by the agencies at home concerned that the Mexican Government has its similar problems to consider which from its point of view are as important as those we had to consider. It has to be borne in mind that there is considerable opinion in Mexico against labor being permitted to move. I am sure, therefore, that the Department will appreciate, as I do, that the action of the Mexican Government in examining this matter so carefully is not through any lack of desire to cooperate.

I think the Department may therefore inform the appropriate agencies of the Government in confidence of as much of the foregoing as it may deem desirable, and in the meantime an effort may be made to find two, and I believe a maximum of three, persons who can come to discuss this matter between July 10 and 15 and who use Spanish. This will greatly facilitate the conversations because in a matter of this kind the conversations will have to take place directly between them and the officials of the Mexican Government directly concerned. While the Embassy is prepared, of course, to supply officers as interpreters, it is obvious from the nature of the problem such direct conversations in Spanish will greatly facilitate understanding and agreement.

I wish to emphasize the great importance of there being no publicity whatever. There should be no publicity whatever to the fact [Page 545] that the Mexican Government is considering this matter in a sympathetic light; that we may be eventually sending these men here to talk about the matter, and that negotiations are in progress. It will hamper the Mexican Government in arriving at a satisfactory arrangement if there should be such publicity. I realize that it may be difficult to avoid such publicity at home, but it may be noted that the publicity there has been in this matter has come from home. It will be in the interest of the agencies which are concerned with this matter to see that the appropriate reserve is maintained. I consider this essential to the successful negotiation and carrying through of any arrangement. It is only until after an agreement has been reached and appropriate understandings have been reached as to the publicity to be given that there can be any discussion in the press.

Respectfully yours,

G. S. Messersmith
  1. Latter not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Burton K. Wheeler, Senator from Montana.