740.0011 E.W./12–1144: Telegram

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

1905. For Armour from Wright. The Ambassador, Brooks and I spent well over an hour with the President and Fernández in Viña yesterday afternoon in a most cordial, understanding, and I believe useful interview. The President opened conversation by making it clear that he proposed to speak in complete frankness and hoped we would do the same. He viewed entire matter as one of friendly discussion between United States and Chile and spontaneously said that he approached problem on premise that United States had simply made to Chile a suggestion of something Chile might well do in its own interest. Nothing even resembling pressure was involved.

A lengthy discussion of subject matter then ensued but I shall not burden you with details. Suffice to say that every facet of problem was covered. Net of situation is this: President and Fernández are fully appreciative of great desirability of Chile taking this step. [Page 695] They are seriously searching their minds for ways and means to do it. In our discussion a number of possible formulae were mentioned but one which seems most to appeal to them (and one on which although we made first suggestion the pride of authorship is now arising in them) is a legalistic formula going back to the Lima and Panamá declarations71 which provide that aggression against one American power by a non-American power constitutes aggression against all; then following the chain of reasoning that Chile, upon breaking relations with Axis72 and taking steps necessary to implement that break in relations (and these have been really considerable) has, in fact, placed itself in a state of belligerency albeit riot a formal one. When relations were broken President stated publicly that this was tantamount to belligerency and he is now examining the possibility of going back to that statement and in some way either with previous or subsequent Congressional approval, making a further statement that since a given date Chile finds itself in state of belligerency. I wish to emphasize that this is only one of several plans under consideration.

There was considerable discussion on what constituted belligerency. I cited the cases of Bolivia and Colombia where we had told those countries that a positive statement of the government of the Country concerned that a legal state of war existed would suffice and that we would not go behind the authorized statement of a government in a matter of that kind.73

I am positive that if Chile takes this action there will have to be certain accompanying naval and perhaps even military steps taken by us. The President dwelt at length on Chile’s long coast and on vulnerability of Straits of Magellan. He said that although Chile has a treaty with Argentina which precluded Chile’s fortifying the Straits74 as such, nevertheless Chile could establish a large base near entrance of Straits in a way which would give same protection but which would not violate treaty. He wanted very much to do this and made it rather clear that if Chile became a belligerent, this would practically be a necessity. He emphasized that he would want to do nil of this in cooperation with United States and with our aid. He again pointedly referred to Naval Mission and we were able to tell him good news contained in the Department’s telegram No. 1219, [Page 696] December 9, 8 p.m.75 (My strong recommendation is that immediately a formal request is received, an officer of at least Rear Admiral rank be sent at once to Chile. It would be a sorry mistake to send an officer of lower rank owing to fact that Peru has stationed in Lima a Rear Admiral in charge of American Naval Mission.) President went on to say that base which they hoped to establish near Straits would assure for United States and for hemisphere defense from outside aggression against that part of world. He cleverly interwove within his argument thesis that base would also add to Chile’s security from aggression from Argentina. There is no question but that President and Fernández are rather seriously worried about intentions of Argentina vis-à-vis its neighbors.

The President several times referred to his disappointment in not having been able to accept President Roosevelt’s invitation to visit him in Washington.76 He kept coming back to this subject throughout conversation. We, of course, expressed in appropriate terms our great disappointment at his not having been able to make visit and our hope that an appropriate occasion would present itself in near future at a time mutually agreeable to him and to President Roosevelt when invitation could be accepted. This matter was left with understanding that he probably would not be able to come to United States before elections in March but that when he was able to set a tentative period during which visit could be effected he would notify Ambassador Bowers so that we could ascertain whether President Roosevelt might be available at that time to receive him. I have not slightest doubt but that a trip to Washington as guest of President Roosevelt is one of things dearest to President’s heart. I also believe that nothing would give him more pleasure than to be the one to go to Washington to sign United Nations Declaration if this is done.

Owing to fact that we have asked Chile to take initiative in matter which is the subject of my visit here and Chile has agreed to examine every possibility of taking this initiative, we had to take responsibility of telling President that we would not approach any other of six countries on our own initiative without first consulting Chile. We have made it clear that Ecuador had already approached us and that if she acted independently, we could not control this. Also, it was made clear that if any other nation acted independently this, of course, would also be something without our control. However, I cannot emphasize too strongly necessity of our giving Chile a few days or even a few weeks in which to find a satisfactory solution. Our position will be infinitely better if the initiative comes from Chile and, [Page 697] as we have previously agreed, it would net us next to nothing to have the other five take the action if Chile failed to do so. Consequently, I hope that you will send me instructions in Lima to return to Washington, pausing only in Lima long enough to give White background (he already fully understands he is to do nothing). I question the desirability at this stage of my presenting matter at all to Embassies in Quito and Caracas. I personally fear leaks if this matter is spread too much and if Chile takes initiative, I believe that our position will be better at that time to answer any question which may be asked in Caracas (which we will, in any event, have to in Montevideo and Asunción). Ecuadorian Government already knows our views on subject and so does Scotten.77

I shall leave Santiago for Lima tomorrow morning, December 12, and shall be in Lima all day December 13. [Wright.]

  1. For text of the Declaration of Lima, see Declaration of the Principles of the Solidarity of America, approved December 24, 1938, Report of the Delegation of the United States of America to the Eighth International Conference of American States, Lima, Peru, December 9–27, 1938 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1941), p. 189. For text of the Declaration of Panamá, see Foreign Relations, 1939, vol. v, p. 36.
  2. See ibid., 1943, vol. v., pp. 795 ff.
  3. For correspondence on the policy of the Department of State with respect to the Bolivian war declaration, see ibid., pp. 543 ff.
  4. See treaty signed at Buenos Aires, July 23, 1881, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. lxxii, p. 1103.
  5. Not printed; the good news was the willingness of the Navy Department, subject to the receipt of an official request, to cooperate in sending a naval mission to Chile (825.20 Missions/12–544).
  6. Concerning this proposed visit, see Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. vi, pp. 3235 and 3944, passim.
  7. Robert M. Scotten, Ambassador in Ecuador.