The Chargé in Guatemala ( Drew ) to the Secretary of State

No. 3798

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my airgram No. 206 of April 8, 5 pm, 1943,1 transcribing the text of a communication from the Commanding General of the Panama Canal Department2 with regard to the proposal to transfer to the Guatemalan Government the defense installations in Puerto Barrios and to withdraw our forces from that port.

On December 21 General Brett paid a courtesy call on President Ubico. In the course of the conversation President Ubico proposed the replacement of certain United States forces by Guatemalan troops. It has now been decided by our Military Authorities that the artillery installations at Puerto Barrios can be turned over to the Guatemalans and that there is no longer any need to continue our detachment at that point.

Lt. Colonel Glenn Frum, G. S. C, representing General Brett, came to Guatemala to discuss the proposed withdrawal of our forces. In consultation with the Commanding Officer of the local Army Base3 it was agreed that it would be necessary to refer to Washington certain aspects of the proposed transfer, and consequently, no discussions of the subject have been held with the Guatemalan authorities. It is not doubted, however, that they will accept our proposal, if satisfactory financial arrangements can be made.

The Legation’s despatch No. 2901 of May 27, 1942, transmitted the text of the Guatemalan Foreign Office note dated May 26,4 granting permission for the installation of an artillery battery and the accompanying military detachment at Puerto Barrios. In addition, reference is made to the Puerto Barrios installation in the Air Base Agreement which was concluded at the time of the signature of the [Page 343] Lend-Lease Agreement.5 It is assumed that it will be considered desirable to effect an exchange of notes with the Guatemalan Government terminating the understanding contained in the documents referred to.

It will also be necessary to provide through the customary channels for the transfer to Guatemala under the Lend-Lease Agreement of the artillery installations now in Puerto Barrios. It is not known whether the charge for this equipment will be part of the three million dollars of equipment which we have agreed to furnish Guatemala without charge, or, in the event that this sum has already been obligated by Guatemalan requests, whether it will then be sold to Guatemala as part of the additional amount of two million dollars of equipment established in the Lend-Lease Agreement. In the latter event it is assumed that the price to be fixed will take into consideration the fact that the equipment is not new and that Guatemala will also be entitled to a reduction of 40% from the scheduled price of the equipment.

It is recommended that we transfer without cost to the Guatemalan Government all the installations and equipment of a fixed nature as contemplated in numbered paragraph 4 of the note of November 16, 1942,6 in view of the fact that such property would in any event accrue to the Guatemalan Government upon our withdrawal from Puerto Barrios after the war. The proposed withdrawal from Puerto Barrios will undoubtedly establish a precedent for our future withdrawal from the base at Guatemala City and it is suggested that our arrangements be worked out with that in mind. If we are to derive full benefit from this gesture we should nevertheless not remove from our installations at Puerto Barrios any material or equipment which the Government of Guatemala would feel should properly be included in the transfer. Both Lt. Colonel From and Colonel Lauth, Commander of the local Base, are in agreement with this recommendation.

President Ubico is understood to have suggested to General Brett that a small training cadre composed of the requisite number of United States Army personnel be retained at Puerto Barrios for the period necessary to train the Guatemalan detachment which will take over our installations there. It is assumed that the War Department will wish to have adequate provision for that purpose included in the suggested exchange of notes with the Guatemalan Government.

I am confident that the withdrawal of our forces from Puerto Barrios will be appreciated by the Guatemalan Government as a [Page 344] gesture of cooperation on our part and will also have a helpful psychological effect on the people of Guatemala.

There is some fear in Guatemala and perhaps in other countries of Latin America where we maintain military detachments, that our forces will not be withdrawn after the war, a fear which is doubtless held even by many sincere friends of the United States. It is believed that our withdrawal from Puerto Barrios, while of no major strategic importance, should help to counteract this apprehension, I have suggested to Lt. Col. Frum that General Brett might wish to arrange an appropriate ceremony on the occasion of our transfer of the Puerto Barrios installations to Guatemala and that he might be willing to come to Guatemala to attend the ceremony. The War Department might consider it desirable to give suitable publicity to the transfer because of the psychological factor which I have mentioned.

Lt. Colonel Frum informs me that he is submitting a report to General Brett on this subject on his return to the Canal Zone tomorrow and I assume that an appropriate communication will be forwarded to the War Department.

I shall await the Department’s instructions.

Respectfully yours,

Gerald A. Drew
  1. Not printed.
  2. Gen. George H. Brett.
  3. Col. Lauth, Commander at Puerto Barrios.
  4. Neither printed.
  5. For correspondence concerning these agreements signed November 16, 1942, see Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. vi, pp. 433 ff.; for text of the Air Base Agreement, see ibid., p. 448, and for text of the Lend-Lease Agreement, see ibid., p. 444.
  6. Note No. 337, from the American Minister in Guatemala to the Guatemalan Minister for Foreign Affairs, ibid., p. 443.