The Ambassador in Peru (Pawley) to the Secretary of State

No. 1227

Sir: I have the honor to report that I took occasion on March 25, 1946, to discuss the future status of the United States Air Base “El Pato” at Talara, Peru, with the Peruvian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Enrique García Sayán. Discussion of the subject consumed more than two hours during which time the Minister reiterated the previously expressed fears of President Jose Luis Bustamante y Rivero that the sovereignty of Peru is intimately involved in approval of the draft contract proposed by the Department and that approval of the contract proposed may occasion disturbing domestic political repercussions in Peru. The Foreign Minister declared the President to be both willing and anxious to cooperate with the United States in consolidating a program of hemisphere defense and to find no objection to dedication of the Talara base to joint use by the United States and Peru under this program. However, in the words of the Foreign Minister, the President prefers to approach the subject of the future status of the “El Pato” base not via negotiation of a unilateral agreement or contract with the United States, but rather in concert with all the American republics within whose several territories strategic bases are located.

Dr. García Sayán informed me that during the course of his conference with Peru’s chief executive on this subject, President Bustamante y Rivero had suggested that an Inter-American Conference might be convened for the express purpose of designating the strategic air bases essential to accomplishment of the program of hemisphere defense, bases both projected and those already in existence. All interested American republics represented at such a conference could, thereupon, mutually and by common consent establish an equitable basis for joint maintenance and use of the bases designated. Resulting [Page 1211] assurance that all of the American republics would be mutually and equitably bound in the interests of the hemisphere defense program would, in the opinion of President Bustamante y Rivero, serve to allay damaging domestic criticism which would inevitably arise should the Peruvian Government alone commit the “El Pato,” Talara base to the program through negotiation of a contract with the United States on a unilateral basis.

The Foreign Minister assured me that the President at no time has expressed an intention or desire to disturb the present temporary and informal agreement for use of the “El Pato” base by the United States Army Air Forces, but that the President desires a permanent and final solution of the problem in the immediate future.

I mentioned to the Foreign Minister in reply, that President Bustamante’s suggestion of a Pan-American conference on hemispheric defense for the selection of and negotiation for strategic air bases would be submitted to the Department. I pointed out, however, that much time would be consumed thereby, even if the suggestion appeared feasible to the other American republics, and that in the meantime the United States would be unable to expend funds for repair of the runway of the “El Pato” air base which is of no use in its present condition. I declared that I could not recommend that the United States proceed further on the basis of the hemisphere defense program in so far as Peru was concerned until I received more definite assurances that the Peruvian Government was genuinely interested in the subject and prepared to lend serious cooperation and assistance.

I explained to the Foreign Minister that it was difficult for me to understand how the question of sovereignty could be raised in connection with the joint use of an air base constructed by the United States Government on lands owned in fee by a Canadian corporation, 90 per cent owned and controlled by citizens of the United States. I reminded the Foreign Minister that in supplying of military aircraft to the Peruvian Air Force, that the “El Pato” base at Talara had been designated as the principal base for training and that the United States Government, in its desire to continue a policy of cooperation, was furnishing a large number of technical personnel, including officers and enlisted men of the United States Army Air Forces who are scheduled to remain in Peru, based at Talara, at the United States Government’s expense, for the sole purpose of training Peruvian pilots and mechanics in the operation and maintenance of the most modern type of aircraft which is now being made available to Peru by the United States Government. I informed the Foreign Minister that in good faith and upon receipt of repeated assurances that Peru was willing and determined to participate actively in the program of hemisphere defense, the United States Government had expended [Page 1212] over $100,000 (U.S.) during the past sixty days in the installation of some of the finest radio equipment obtainable, equipment superior to anything installed in any other country in South America.

I stated to the Foreign Minister that I could not understand how Peru, unable at present to finance the building and maintenance of a strategic air base such as Talara, which now requires an expenditure of $350,000 (U.S.) for the re-building of the runway (which has deteriorated to a point where it is dangerous to use it), would hesitate to enter into a contract with the United States Government in the accomplishment of a matter of such vital importance to Peru itself, to say nothing of the program of hemispheric defense. I then referred the Foreign Minister to the discussions in the National Congress of Peru of the new legislation which will enable foreign petroleum companies to expend a possible 150 million dollars in the eastern Montana for exploration and exploitation of acknowledged oil reserves. I sought to emphasize that if oil were produced in the quantities which everyone believes it will be, the defenses of this tremendous Peruvian industry will be vital and that the “El Pato” base at Talara, which has already been constructed and which can be made available, is the logical air base of defense.

I told the Foreign Minister that the United States has demonstrated over a period of twenty-five years its great respect for the sovereignty of the smaller nations; that the people of the United States have fought two wars at a tremendous sacrifice of men and matériel as a result of which Peru and other smaller nations continue to exist as independent and free countries; and that the Government of the United States is now endeavoring to fortify and strengthen its neighboring republics of the Americas in the hope of avoiding further conflict. I said that I was drawn to the conclusion that a request on the part of the United States Government for permission to use the strategic air base “El Pato” at Talara jointly with the Peruvian Air Forces constitutes an extremely small contribution on the part of the Peruvian Government.

The Foreign Minister unhesitatingly declared that he understood my point of view thoroughly and expressed personal agreement that the point of view was both logical and consistent. He said that the President had wished to speak with me for the past week but had been engaged on domestic political matters of the moment. The Foreign Minister said, however, that a meeting would be arranged for the next day or two and that he would greatly appreciate my conveying the same message directly to the President. In the meantime, he added, he would inform him of my views.

I do not believe that the Peruvian Government has any intention of asking us to withdraw from Talara. I do believe, however, that [Page 1213] the basis of resolving this matter in contractual form is important. I shall ask the President, who is a very capable lawyer, to suggest an alternative basis in the hope of finding some solution to the “El Pato” Talara air base negotiations without resorting to a hemispheric conference, although a conference convened for this purpose at a later date might fulfill a desirable function.

Respectfully yours,

William D. Pawley