Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Caribbean and Central American Affairs (Cochran)2


Subject: Trip of Congressional Party Over Inter-American Highway

While we discussed this matter, it occurs to me that it might be helpful to you to have a memorandum with regard to the approaching trip over the Inter-American Highway of representatives of the Senate and House Roads Committees.3

… It seems to me that the Foreign Service officer who goes along will have two important functions, as follows:

(1) He should miss no opportunity to emphasize that neither the Department of State nor PRA had anything to do with the Army’s Pioneer Highway venture. The Army decided that this was a war-essential measure. When War so notified State, we negotiated the agreements permitting their operation. There our responsibility stopped. We had nothing to do with the selection of route, (which does not always follow the Inter-American Highway line), with the [Page 169] construction contracts, with the methods employed or with the amount of money spent.4

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

(2) After much prodding, we have been able to get PRA to introduce a bill in Congress to provide an additional $25,000,000 for the completion of the Inter-American Highway.5 … Our position must be that the standards of construction, the estimates of cost, the methods of construction and the amounts expended are all technical problems already within the Constance [province?] of PRA, with which we have nothing to do.

On the other hand, we are extremely interested in pressing the bill because (1) the completion of this Highway is an extremely important factor in our relations with and our prestige in the six countries involved, and (2) that the Government of the United States is committed to the completion of this road.6

The accompanying officer should also be aware of the fact that the pending bill appropriates $17,000,000 of the $25,000,000 for the completion of the construction in Costa Rica and involves a departure [Page 170] from present legislation, in that it is not contemplated that Costa Rica shall contribute ⅓ of the cost.7 This provision was necessary because Costa Rica cannot so contribute in view of its poor financial condition. The pending bill further provides funds on a two-thirds–one-third basis for the construction of a spur of the Inter-American Highway to Tegucigalpa. The justification for this proposal is contained in the Staff Committee documents already mentioned.

The accompanying officer should also be aware of the provision of the new law, suggested by Senator McKellar, whereby the expenditure of these funds would be conditioned upon the countries’ agreeing to free traffic over the road.8

While the pending legislation has not been referred to the House Roads Committee (but rather to the Foreign Relations Committee)9 the members of the Roads Committee making the trip will have both an interest in and an important influence on the legislation and I feel that the foregoing points should be made very clear to them during their trip.

  1. Addressed to the Assistant Chiefs of the Division of Caribbean and Central American Affairs (Barber and Newbegin).
  2. The Committee on Roads, House of Representatives (Chairman, J. W. Robinson, of Utah), inspected the highway in February and March 1946; its report of December 18, 1946 noted an implied promise by the United States to complete the road and recommended that completion be financed by the United States in cooperation with the Central American Republics (The Inter-American Highway: Interim Report from the Committee on Roads, House of Representatives, Pursuant to H. Res. 255 … December 18, 1946).

    The Senate Special Committee To Investigate the National Defense Program (Chairman, James M. Mead, of New York) inspected the highway in August 1946; for report on the Inter-American Highway submitted by Senator Homer Ferguson of Michigan to Congress on July 7, 1947, see U.S. 80th Cong., 1st sess., Senate Report No. 440; for discussion of the report in the Senate on July 7, see the Congressional Record, vol. 93, pt. 7, pp. 8321–8325.

  3. The Pioneer Highway was a military project undertaken by the War Department in June 1942 to establish as soon as possible a through line of communication from the Mexico–Guatemala border to the Panama Canal; all work on this project was stopped on October 31, 1943, as the result of mounting costs and vanishing needs for this emergency road. On the other hand, the Inter-American Highway was being built on a cooperative basis, the Central American Governments putting up either borrowed money or their own funds to cooperate with the United States in the building of the highway primarily for peacetime uses.
  4. The Department, having received from the Public Roads Administration (PRA) in December 1943 estimates which showed the need for additional funds to complete the highway, on various occasions urged PRA to introduce a bill into Congress providing funds for the highway. On February 21, 1944, a Departmental memorandum to President Roosevelt informed him of the urgent need for additional appropriation of $25 million, and, on April 24, 1945, a Departmental memorandum advised President Truman, also, of the situation. President Truman, in his message to Congress on September 6, 1945, recommended an appropriation of $25 million “to continue the construction of the Inter-American Highway through the Central American republics to the Canal Zone”. On May 9, 1945, PRA had introduced to Congress the bills H.R. 3172 and S. 1104 which would have provided $25 million additional funds. In response to a request from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Department, in a letter of June 18, 1945, expressed full support of the measure and urged that H.R. 3172 be given favorable consideration because of this Government’s moral commitment to complete the road.
  5. The various commitments were outlined in a memorandum of March 8, 1946, by Assistant Secretary Spruille Braden, not printed. The clear intent of Congress that a through road, rather than intermittent portions thereof, would be built was established by the provisions of the highway appropriation bill (Public Law 375, December 26, 1941, 55 Stat. 860) authorizing $20 million to provide for cooperation with the five Central American Republics and Panama in the construction of the Inter-American Highway. The six countries concerned gave the necessary assurances and agreed to furnish one-third of the funds required, in the clear understanding that a through road would be constructed (Department of State Executive Agreement Series Nos. 293, 294, 295, 296, 345, and 365, or 56 Stat. (pt. 2) 1840, 1842, 1845, and 1848, and 57 Stat. (pt. 2) 1111 and 1298, respectively).
  6. Highway construction in northern Costa Rica had been suspended in April 1945 and in southern Costa Rica in March 1946, because available funds had been exhausted.
  7. In introducing the Inter-American Highway bill in the Senate, Senator Kenneth D. McKellar (President pro tempore) inserted amendments providing that the funds appropriated could not be obligated or used in any cooperating country unless and until that country had signed a “treaty” with the United States providing (1) that it would impose no restriction on the use of the highway or levy taxes on vehicles of any country member of the Pan-American Union, which did not apply equally to its national vehicles and (2) that it would grant reciprocal recognition of registration and drivers’ licenses to all members of the Pan-American Union.
  8. The House Foreign Affairs Committee handled the original legislation. The Committee, however, held no hearings on H.R. 3172, and the bill died with the adjournment of the 79th Congress.