The Acting Secretary of State to President Roosevelt

My Dear Mr. President: You will recall that during President Somoza’s visit to Washington in May of 1939 you had an opportunity [Page 571] of discussing with him the desirability of linking the east and west coast regions of Nicaragua. The particularly close relations which have always existed between Nicaragua and the United States and the history of the interoceanic canal project make this a problem in which this Government has a very special interest.

Your conversations with President Somoza led to an exchange of letters on May 22, 1939 (copies of which are enclosed)11 in accordance with which this Government undertook the survey of a “canalization and highway project to link the eastern and western regions of Nicaragua”. This was in response to President Somoza’s suggestion “for the canalization of the San Juan River for vessels of moderate draft”. In your reply you pointed to the fact that “should occasion arise, the existence of such a water way would have a very important bearing upon the defense of the hemisphere” and stated that on the basis of the reports of the survey, “we can take such further action as seems in the common interest of our two countries”.

The surveys of the barge or light draft canal project led to the conclusion that the benefits to be derived would not be commensurate with the cost, which was estimated at about $30,000,000. However, President Somoza feels that this Government made a commitment to cooperate in a practical manner in the establishment of communication between the two sections of Nicaragua.

It now appears that in the opinion both of the Nicaraguan Government and of the Department, the cooperation in question can best be rendered through the construction of a road which, branching off from the Inter-American Highway at a point known as San Benito, about twenty-two miles north of Managua, would proceed in an easterly direction to the river port of Rama, on the Escondido River. The distance from San Benito to Rama is about one hundred and fifty miles.

From Rama to El Bluff on the Atlantic Ocean, there is a distance of sixty miles which is navigable for vessels with less than twelve feet draught, so that barge communication is entirely feasible. Eventually it will probably be desirable to construct a road from Rama to El Bluff, but the exact factors involved are as yet unknown, since no detailed survey has been made.

I have taken this matter up with the War Department, with a view to ascertaining the utility of this road proposal in relation to hemisphere defense. There is enclosed herewith a copy of a letter dated April 2, 1942,12 which I have received from Major General Eisenhower, the substance of which is that the proposed road between Rama and San Benito would have a very definite military value.

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In view of all these circumstances, I recommend that funds, estimated to be in the neighborhood of $2,000,000, be made available from your emergency fund for the following purposes:

To construct a paved road from San Benito to Rama;
To make a survey of a road from Rama to El Bluff.

It would be understood that the carrying out of the above projects would completely relieve this Government of any obligation in this matter to the Nicaraguan Government. It would furthermore be specifically understood that this Government is not entering into any undertaking either for the financing or for the construction of the road from Rama to El Bluff.

There has been drafted a note, a copy of which I enclose,13 incorporating the above proposals, which, if you approve,14 I propose to submit to the consideration of the Nicaraguan Foreign Minister, who is presently in Washington.

Faithfully yours,

Sumner Welles
  1. Foreign Relations, 1939, vol. v, pp. 725731.
  2. Supra.
  3. For copy of note as sent on April 8, see p. 574.
  4. This letter was returned to Mr. Welles by President Roosevelt with the following notation in the margin: O.K., F.D.R.