831.20 Missions/1–2146

The Chargé in Venezuela ( Dawson ) to the Secretary of State

No. 8318

Sir: I have the honor to report that the Junta President Betancourt and War Minister Major Carlos Delgado Chalbaud have both within the past ten days expressed to me great interest in completing negotiations for the assignment to Venezuela of a United States Army Ground Mission and their concern at the delay which they feel has taken place in this.

In the case of Sr. Betancourt, he coupled his complaints about the lack of progress in the negotiations with comments on the necessity of obtaining likewise modern arms, munitions and equipment from surplus United States Army stocks. I explained to Sr. Betancourt that a Mission contract satisfactory to both Governments must first be agreed upon and that it was my understanding that these negotiations were being carried on in Washington. To this, Sr. Betancourt replied that Venezuela’s needs had been made very clear by Major Marcos Pérez Jiménez, Chief of Staff of the Venezuelan Army, on his recent trip to the United States and to Brigadier General Harold G. Waters of the Caribbean Defense Command during his similar visit to Venezuela and that some time had passed since then with no further appreciable advance.

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I endeavored to acquaint Sr. Betancourt with some of the complexities of the situation and the inevitable time-taking involved in even drafting the necessary contract and obtaining its approval by both Governments. I added that, in the present status of redeployment of the United States Army, it was probable that there would be additional delays in selecting appropriate personnel, which might not be readily available or be entitled to full leave after overseas service. On the question of acquisition by the Venezuelan Army of surplus arms, etc., I pointed out that the Lend-Lease legislation had expired, that legislation for the sale abroad of combat equipment did not at present exist, so far as I was informed, and that even cataloguing of surplus war material had not been completed.

I was under the distinct impression that Sr. Betancourt was far more concerned with the obtaining of arms than with the actual fate of the proposals for a Ground Mission. While he undoubtedly wants the Mission, part of his interest in it appeared to be distinctly predicated on the idea that having the Mission established would increase Venezuela’s chances of getting the desired arms more rapidly and surely.

On January 19, 1946, I had a long conversation with War Minister Delgado Chalbaud at a social gathering; Chief of Staff Pérez Jiménez and Captain Mario Vargas, Minister of Communications, were also present during part of the conversation. Majors Delgado Chalbaud and Pérez Jiménez and Captain Vargas immediately turned the conversation to the question of the Ground Mission. They seemed to have a far better understanding than Sr. Betancourt of the inevitability of delay and to be less concerned than he was with the question of arms, although the latter was also patently in their minds to some extent.

In a moment when I was apart with Major Pérez Jiménez and Captain Vargas, the former said frankly that the presence of a United States Army Ground Mission would be extremely helpful to the morale and discipline of the Venezuelan Army, which had, he admitted, suffered greatly since the October Revolution. It would, he said, be a stabilizing influence and give the Venezuelan Army greater prestige and authority in a situation in which, as he expressed it, there were a lot of enemies of the Revolution ready to do anything to embarrass the Government and the Army. Captain Vargas indicated general agreement with what Major Pérez Jiménez had to say.

Later, in conversation alone with Major Delgado Chalbaud (other features of this conversation are being covered in a separate despatch), he brought up the question of the Ground Mission once more and commented again on the need for having it arrive as soon as possible. [Page 1309] When I mentioned that Major Pérez Jiménez had suggested that it might be helpful to Venezuelan Army discipline, Major Delgado Chalbaud quickly said that this was not a factor, that the discipline of the Army had been fully reestablished, and that the reasons for his interest in the Ground Mission were that it would give his troops improved training, integrate them into the Pan American defense program and “keep them busy”. This latter remark would seem to be directly connected with the question of discipline and morale despite Major Delgado Chalbaud’s disclaimer.

It is the Embassy’s considered opinion that the entire question of the sending of a Ground Mission should be carefully considered by the Department from a broadly political point of view. On the one hand, it is manifestly desirable that Venezuela remain on an even keel and probable that any further revolutionary movement would set the country back and affect our interests adversely. It seems likely that the addition of a Ground Mission to the present Naval and Army Air Missions would be taken in a country as sensitive to relations with the United States as is Venezuela as an indication of direct support for the Revolutionary Junta and would thus discourage possible revolutionaries within and without the Venezuelan Army as well as having the related disciplinary and morale-raising effect mentioned by Major Pérez Jiménez.

On the other hand, unless the personnel of the proposed Mission were chosen with the greatest of care with a view to the selection of officers not only professionally competent but equipped to deal with the subtleties of the Latin American mind, it is quite conceivable that its members might find themselves placed in the position of unwittingly being used by one faction or another in the Venezuelan Army which, as indicated in a number of communications to the Department, is riddled with dissension. Of equal importance is the fact that the Revolutionary Junta of Government has already taken several measures adversely affecting United States business interests (the most important of which is Decree No. 112 of December 31, 1945, enacting an extraordinary income surtax, accepted by Venezuelan public opinion as directed against the oil companies20) and there is increasing evidence that further steps hitting American interests are in contemplation. While the Embassy believes that these do not necessarily reflect any definitely anti-American trend but may rather be the result of the Junta’s demagogic efforts to obtain increased popular support by radical and nationalistic steps, the fact still remains that a cooperative measure on our part, such as the sending of a Ground Mission, at [Page 1310] a time when the tendency seems to be toward increased difficulties for American business by Venezuelan Government action, might well be taken by Venezuelan officials and public as a tacit acquiescence in the apparently changed policies of the Junta.

The entire situation is, of course, a most complex one with a number of intangibles involved in it. In the Embassy’s opinion, it should not, under present uncertain circumstances, be decided as a routine matter with no deep implications but should instead be dealt with as one which is an integral part of our general policy toward Venezuela. Continued delay pending a clarification of the attitude of the Venezuelan Government toward American interests would seem to be a wise precaution. The Embassy feels that Ambassador Corrigan is best fitted to judge as to the importance of the various imponderables mentioned, in conjunction with the Department’s responsible officers.

The Embassy believes that, whatever decision may be reached as to the Ground Mission, it is advisable to proceed with plans for replacing members of the Air and Naval Missions whose terms of service are expiring. Any such replacements should, of course, be selected with great care. Expansion of these latter Missions, as desired by the Venezuelan Government, should, in the Embassy’s opinion, depend upon the decision reached in regard to the Ground Mission.

Respectfully yours,

Allan Dawson
  1. For documentation on the interest of the United States Government in this tax, see pp. 1330 ff.