The Assistant Chief of the Division of Caribbean and Central American Affairs (Cochran) to the Ambassador in El Salvador (Simmons)

Dear Jack: I see that the reaction in El Salvador to our recognition of the Aguirre regime has been as unfavorable as you had anticipated. I feel that it would be wrong to make any public statement to the newspapers on the matter. In the first place, this would appear to be a defense or justification of our attitude, which I do not consider necessary. In the second place, we should have to criticize the Aguirre regime, which would be improper. However, I think that you and all the members of your staff should discuss the matter freely with any Salvadorans who may raise it in order to remove from their minds the numerous misconceptions which have crept into their thinking.

It seems to me that there are one or two very clear principles involved. In the first place, it would seem to me to be inconsistent with international law, with the Good-Neighbor Policy and with our commitments regarding non-intervention25 for us to attempt to use recognition or non-recognition as a weapon of policy. It is not for us to pass judgment upon the sins of omission or commission of the Aguirre régime in their internal aspects.

There are certain well established requirements of international law for recognition: (a) Control of the machinery of Government; (b) General popular support without active opposition; and (c) willingness and ability to observe international obligations. Due to the war, the Committee for Political Defense of Montevideo established a fourth—whereby when a Government came into power through force, the countries of the hemisphere would consult to determine whether its assumption to power demonstrated direct or indirect Axis influence. There was no charge that such had been the case in the October 20 turnover in El Salvador.

Immediately after the October 20 overthrow, the consultations envisaged by Resolution 22 of the Committee for Political Defense were begun. It immediately became apparent that there was no consensus [Page 1073]in favor of extending recognition. The feeling seemed to be that the second traditional requirement for recognition had not been fulfilled, in view of the widespread opposition to the Aguirre regime both within and without El Salvador. However, with the failure of the attempted invasion of December 8 from Guatemala,26 and with the holding of elections—however farcical—without violence, to continue to charge that there was active and effective opposition became a matter of opinion rather than one of fact, on which we could hardly sit in judgment, and on which basis we would hardly have been justified in withholding recognition and, had we done so, we would clearly have opened ourselves to a charge of interference in the internal affairs of El Salvador.

Frankly, I think that the withholding of recognition for a period of four months should have amply demonstrated that the Aguirre regime enjoyed little sympathy from the Government of the United States. On the other hand, I hope you can make it clear to your contacts that it is no portion of the responsibility of the Government of the United States to impose democracy upon or to guarantee democracy to the other countries of the hemisphere. To attempt to use recognition as a weapon in either sense would be a clear violation of our non-intervention commitments. If the American Republics at Mexico City want to establish such a requirement for recognition as a part of the hemisphere policy that would be another matter. Frankly, I do not think that they will adopt any such attitude. The minute it were done, it would be an invasion of sovereign rights. If it were done the loser in any election would immediately charge fraud and coercion and it would seem to me that a necessary corollary would be to provide international electoral commissions in all cases. I have no vaguest reason to believe that the United States or any of the sovereign nations of the hemisphere would leave the operation of their electoral processes to the supervision of an international commission.

I hope you can convey to the Salvadorans that we are by no means insensitive to their desires to establish a true democracy and that they can count upon our warmest sympathies. Nevertheless, our nonintervention commitments are binding. We did not say that we would not intervene except in behalf of democracy. We have committed ourselves in international instruments not to intervene period and we intend to observe that commitment. You will remember that every intervention into which we have injected ourselves has had its genesis in the most altruistic of motives; but that this motivation has not protected us from the resulting criticism. I also feel that there is [Page 1074]no such thing as “a little bit of intervention”. Once intervention has begun, one cannot back down and I have no idea that we are going to send armed forces to intervene. Consequently I do not wish us to start a current of events which might put us in a position of having to send armed forces to support our position.

I believe that our position as regards the recognition of El Salvador was right. I do not believe that a policy can be responsive to every vagary of public opinion whether in the country concerned or in the United States. We cannot be a weather vane responsive to every cry of “Democracy”—for one thing, the word is used far too easily and sometimes erroneously. Our decision was taken after much self searching and in the light of international law and hemisphere practice. I believe that in the long run, it will stand up. I also think that it will stand up in the long run far better than any of the possible alternatives would have done. I realize that your position as far as the non-thinking public is concerned is somewhat difficult. I nevertheless hope that you can get it across slowly that, while we are wholly in sympathy with any effort of the Salvadoran people to democratize their Government, we are unable, in view of our nonintervention commitments, to take any positive steps to guarantee that they receive that blessing.

Frankly, I see a good bit of inconsistency in the Guatemalan attitude. I know that early in the game Uruguay expressed itself very forcefully against any attempt to make the observance of democratic practices a condition to recognition.27 Guatemala’s campaign to do so, and its refusal to recognize Aguirre, would seem to me inconsistent in that Guatemala does not simultaneously withdraw recognition (as it has done in the case of Spain) from all the other non-democratic governments of the hemisphere. This would make a fine kettle of fish and split the hemisphere wide open, wouldn’t it?—Half the nations of the continent refusing to recognize the other half on a holier-than-thou basis, with allegations that “we are purer on the basis of democracy than you are.” No, I think that the Guatemalan argument, and that used by Salvadorans who are concerned, to our recognition, if pursued far enough becomes a reductio ad absurdum and falls of its own weight. I am sorry that these considerations are not more widely understood and hope, as I say, that you and your staff can clarify the considerations involved to the members of the Salvadoran public with whom you come in contact in such a way as to overcome their present indignation, based in my opinion upon misconceptions as to the bases of recognition in the international field.

Very sincerely yours,

William P. Cochran, Jr.
  1. See Additional Protocol relative to non-intervention, between the United States and tbe other American Republics, signed at Buenos Aires, December 23, 1936, Department of State Treaty Series No. 923, or 51 Stat. 41.
  2. Invasion by a force composed largely of Salvadoran exiles in Guatemala.
  3. See telegram 1168, December 12, 1944, from Montevideo, Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. vii, p. 1112.