The Ambassador in Nicaragua (Warren) to the Assistant Secretary of State for American Republic Affairs (Braden)


Dear Chief: During the visit of the Congressional and Military Road Mission to Nicaragua over the week-end of March 3, I had the opportunity to speak for a few minutes with the Honorable J. W. Robinson of Utah, Chairman of the Committee on Roads and head of the group visiting Managua. He was good enough to tell me in confidence of his reaction to what he had learned and, perhaps, the reaction of the other members of the Committee accompanying him.

… If I have understood correctly the attitude of Mr. Robinson, this places the responsibility for the continuation of the Inter-American Highway and the Rama Road squarely on the Department of State. It is a great responsibility, but it is one we should welcome in view of the tremendous obligation which the Department of State now has throughout the world for the maintenance of world peace. I believe that every activity of the American Government and of every American firm and institution operating in the American republics will be affected by our decision on the construction of the roads. Having no doubt whatever as to the compelling need for the completion of the roads as quickly as possible, I would like to set forth the following reasons why I consider the program should go forward in Nicaragua:

We should complete the Inter-American Highway and the Rama Road because to fail to do so would be a tremendous blow to the prestige of the United States in this Central American republic and do untold damage to the Good Neighbor Policy as a permanent principle for the conduct of our foreign relations. Nicaragua considers she has been promised the Inter-American Highway and Rama Road. [Page 173] If we now say that we cannot complete them, the Nicaraguans will feel that we have gone back on our word. During the second World War we appealed to Nicaragua and obtained full cooperation in the war effort. The Nicaraguan Government and people felt that they were standing by the United States in an all-out effort to defend the way of life of the Western Hemisphere. There was a unity of purpose, attitude, and action that appealed to the Latin mind and spirit. There was a display and exercise of force by the Allies that had a particular appeal to a people who respect and admire the use of force and who desire to be on the winning side. This people felt that it was part and parcel of the greatest endeavor made in the history of the human race. If we now say that we cannot complete the highway or the road, the Nicaraguans will be told, as some already believe, that we only appealed to them when we were in trouble and now that the war is finished we are abandoning them. In other words, the failure to complete the road-building program will be cited and taken as proof that we don’t have the interest in this people that we professed during the war. Our prestige will drop to the lowest point in a half century.
A decision to withdraw from the road-building program in Central America will augment and encourage the forces opposing the efforts for world peace as we envisage that ideal today. In order to secure that peace we must have a peaceful and cooperative Central America. For years the names of Nicaragua and Central America have been synonomous with revolution. Revolutionary undertakings will continue to thrive in the Central American republics as long as they remain the isolated states which we now know. Nicaragua will continue to be two jealous states under one government as long as the East Coast is divided by the great land barrier—the jungle reaching from Honduras to Costa Rica. In Nicaragua that barrier will exist indefinitely unless the United States Government lives up to the promise of President Roosevelt to build the Rama Road connecting Managua with navigation on the East Coast. If the Inter-American Highway is fully constructed as it should be from the Costa Rican to the Honduran border, I shall expect to see a rapid and a dampening effect on revolutionary activity in Nicaragua and a gradual improvement in relations between Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras. If the highway is not constructed, we shall contribute to continued unsettled conditions in this section and lend aid and comfort to those who oppose our efforts to assist these republics.
The completion of the United States road-building program in Nicaragua is important because of our need for Hemispheric solidarity. It would be difficult to overestimate the value of the aid given the United States and her allies by Nicaragua and the other American republics in winning the second World War. We are now trying to win and insure the peace. We realize that the cornerstone of any structure for world peace must rest on the solidarity of all the American republics. Our attitude toward Argentina recognizes this. If we have the respect of all the American republics we have a basis for attaining the solidarity of the Western Hemisphere. The Inter-American Highway has become a symbol of Hemispheric solidarity. If we do not complete it, we will play into the hands of our enemies who are attempting to undermine that solidarity.
We should complete the Inter-American Highway and the Rama Road because to do so will create a predisposition on the part of Nicaraguans to understand and support us when we have to refuse future requests for assistance. During the second World War we spent money at home and abroad as we have never done before. We knew that we had to spend in order to win. The Nicaraguans also realized this. Consequently, laudable undertakings which we sponsored and carried through during the war period will never receive the recognition from the Nicaraguans which they merit. The Nicaraguans feel that we had to carry through those undertakings. However, the Nicaraguans are beginning to realize that that period has come to an end. In the future we must examine every proposal for expenditures with more care than heretofore. Consequently, there will be many things that we will want to do in Nicaragua and that Nicaragua will want done which will have to be denied to ourselves and the Nicaraguans. I believe we can make the Nicaraguans understand our position if we keep our promise regarding the road-building program. If we do not keep that promise, we can not expect the understanding that we would desire.
We should carry through our road-building program in Nicaragua because it will help to draw this country closer to us. We want Nicaragua to have a democratic government that will bind it culturally, intellectually, and ideologically as close as possible to the United States. With such a government we can feel that American firms and individuals who desire to do business will have the same support from the Government and people of Nicaragua that we grant to Nicaraguans in the United States desiring to carry on trade and commerce there. Throughout Latin America, when a native desires to indicate an exact time he says, “hora inglesa”. In other words, the Englishman is known in all the Americas for being punctual. We can be sure that if we do not complete our road program in Nicaragua that a “compromiso Americano” will not be a synonym for keeping one’s word.
We can not afford to abandon construction of the two highways because to do so would cause the loss of the sums which Nicaragua and the United States have already spent on the roads. Until those roads are completed we will not get the returns which we have a right to expect from our expenditures. Conceivably the United States can write off her part of the expenditure as a portion of the cost of the war. However, Nicaragua can not afford to expend her part in that way. She would only be justified in spending the amount if the work is finally finished. If we doom construction by withdrawing our assistance, Nicaraguans will blame us for generations.
The Inter-American Highway and the Rama Road should be completed because of the increased American tourist trade that would be brought to this country. In the next decade Nicaragua is expected to have a decreasing yearly amount of foreign exchange. During that period she will need more foreign exchange than normally to purchase automobiles, trucks, heavy and agricultural machinery, tires, gasoline, railway rolling stock, and many consumers goods which she has been unable to procure during the war years. If during the decade the tourist trade from the United States can be effectively [Page 175] stimulated, the resulting increase in foreign exchange will be a godsend to Nicaragua in meeting the critical demand for more dollars. The completion of the two roads should bring an ever increasing tourist travel to this country.
Although the construction of the two highways is not to be justified on military grounds, there is still an important military aspect. The Embassy does not presume to speak for the military in this matter, but certain factors appear obvious. With the cessation of hostilities the military urgency for the construction of the Inter-American Highway and the Rama Road no longer existed. However there remained what might be termed a “latent military requirement.” This requirement for highway transport facilities in foreign lands is similar to the necessity of maintaining through military or civil means a system of air bases throughout the world. Should we have to fight another war, we would then need these highways more than we did in 1941–45.

In concluding let me emphasize that although the paragraphs which I have written above for the most part cover intangible and spiritual values in the relations of our country and Nicaragua, they are values that cover the entire range of all our activities in this country. I believe those activities are big and broad enough so that we can not afford to abandon the Inter-American and Rama Roads. I have no fear that the years will show how truly justified we are.

Cordially and sincerely yours,

Fletcher Warren