The Ambassador in Uruguay (Briggs) to the Secretary of State

No. 546

Subject: Uruguyan Relations With the United States, Especially With Reference to Existing Rio de la Plata Tensions.

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my despatch no. 539 of August 4, 1948,1 on the subject of the effect upon Uruguay of various existing tensions involving the countries of the Rio de la Plata zone and Brazil, and to submit the following observations relative to our own relations with Uruguay:

The friendship between Uruguay and the United States coupled with the generous feeling of most Uruguayan citizens toward our country have a firm basis in ideological concepts. Uruguay as a country is as genuinely democratic as the United States, and individual Uruguayans cherish human liberties and decencies and the dignity of the individual precisely as we do. Uruguay is one of the favored countries in the world today: it has an abundance of food, a substantial middle class, no grave internal problem, no racial or minority difficulties, and no national aspirations beyond the desire to live at peace and continue to develop its own compact country. The Government is reasonably efficient and there is a high degree of honesty in government service. In particular Uruguay is not impelled by any driving compulsion or jealousy; her people are contented and they covet nothing that belongs to anyone else.

AH in all, Uruguay is a fine country. It is one which merits our friendship and our respect.

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The most frequent criticism I have heard of the United States during the past year is that “Uncle Sam is a fair weather friend”. This is then often explained along the following lines: whereas we eagerly grasped Uruguayan friendship and sought Uruguayan cooperation during the war (when having a pro-United States sentinel on the north bank of the Rio de la Plata was of great importance to us), once the war was won we started taking Uruguay for granted. “We failed to provide merchant ships. We have not made any naval or much military materiel available. We have “forgiven Argentina” and are now doing favors for that country, selling them arms, entertaining military and naval officials, et cetera. We are now “treating all the American republics alike” whether they have liberal democratic governments resting on the freely expressed will of the people, or whether they are administered by dictators. Our recognition after Bogota of the puppet Somoza Government in Nicaragua2 is frequently cited as having been discouraging to many of our friends in Uruguay.

It is only fair to say that comments such as the foregoing are not heard every day and of course not voiced by everyone, but they have been heard from enough different kinds of people and in enough different quarters to lead me to believe that we ought to take them into account. The attitude of which they are the expression might in time, or in the event of some situation in regard to which our support had been sought and was not forthcoming, result in serious impairment of Uruguayan-American relations.

What could we or should we do to meet this situation? Very careful consideration over several months has brought me to the conclusion that there are four points we might consider, as follows:

1) From the point of view of Uruguay the most useful thing we could do would be to give Uruguay a clear and positive assurance that in the event of pressure from Argentina, our Government would come to Uruguay’s assistance. (Uruguayan officials are generally well aware of the fact that an armed aggression against Uruguay would result in United States armed assistance; as indicated in recent correspondence from our Embassy in Buenos Aires this likewise seems well understood by Argentina, and hence not likely to occur).

What concerns the Uruguayans is not so much the possibility of armed aggression as the much less remote prospect of continuing Argentine politico-economic pressure, penetration, et cetera. Against that pressure, the Uruguayans want our assurance of support—diplomatic and economic. (Uruguay recalls that when Argentina tried to exert a squeeze in wheat and salt in 1946, we promptly promised supplies; Uruguay remembers that when a new wheat squeeze was applied in [Page 744] 1947, we replied to the effect that “Argentina is your normal source of supply”).

The Department will recall various efforts made by the Uruguayan Government in the past year through conversations here and in Washington to elicit definite assurances of future United States support. Our replies while couched in friendly terms, fell somewhat short of meeting Uruguayan hopes. They produced therefore not satisfaction, but disappointment.

2) The second thing we could do is to meet, within the limits we consider reasonable—and to meet promptly—Uruguay’s military preparedness requests. Specifically we could agree to supply and then promptly furnish a reasonable number of military planes, plus guns and other requested items of equipment that fall within the standardization program. (Please see my telegram no. 238, Aug. 3, 6 p. m.3). We could again line up personnel for the military air mission so that if this contract should, as President Batlle Berres stated on August 2 that he anticipated, be approved this month, personnel could be sent to Uruguay without delay. We could accept the self-propelled visit of Admiral Aguiar, Chief of Staff of the Uruguayan Navy, and see to it that he has a pleasant, and within the limitations imposed by our circumstances, as successful a stay in the United States as possible.

3) We could in addition consider the desirability of negotiating a new treaty of friendship, commerce and navigation with Uruguay, as suggested in the Embassy’s telegram no. 227 of July 30, 5 p. m.3 While such an agreement might lack wide intrinsic importance from our point of view, entering into it might well be considered as a useful move by Uruguay at this time, as showing a friendly prevailing atmosphere. Uruguay’s relations with Argentina would probably be a factor in Uruguay’s willingness to sign such a treaty with us: that is, the more strained Uruguay’s relations with Argentina, (or the greater Uruguay’s concern over Argentine intentions), the more eager Uruguay might be for a treaty of friendship with the United States.

4) Lastly, there is the possibility that Uruguay may seek a loan either from the Export-Import Bank or the World Bank. While our willingness to meet a request for the former would of course depend on the character of the transaction suggested by Uruguay, our general attitude in the premises ought to be sympathetic and friendly, and perhaps above all we should be prepared to make a prompt examination of any proposals and give an equally prompt reply.

Favorable action in the fields outlined above would go a long way toward convincing this small free country and the good people who [Page 745] live in it that the United States is, as I earnestly believe we should be, a genuine friend of Uruguay.

Respectfully yours,

Ellis O. Briggs
  1. Not printed.
  2. For documentation on this subject, see pp. 99 ff.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Not printed.