Miller Files, Lot 53 D 26

The Officer in Charge of River Plate Affairs (Birgfeld) to the Chargé in Argentina (Mallory)


Dear Les: I am taking an hour out from conference work this morning to write you on a few points which you might like to know about prior to the return to Buenos Aires of the Argentine delegation to the IAM. Please tell Joe Walstrom and Jack Pool that I am well aware that I owe them letters, but there is nothing I can do about it until the conference closes.

At the risk of encountering the fate which overtakes nearly all who endeavor to prognosticate, it now appears that the conference might close within the allotted two weeks. Final sessions have been scheduled for April 6 and 7 and invitations for the closing reception by the Foreign Ministers have been sent for the 7th also. Most of the log jams, principally on economic matters, apparently were broken yesterday.

Argentine policy at the conference apparently has been conducted on the basis of the same “masterly inaction” policy which has been ours for the last several weeks. The Argentines have avoided getting too deep into any of the economic debates in the subcommittees, but Paz did second in a plenary session a resolution on civil rights. Also, the Argentines joined in the approval by acclamation of the Declaration of Washington.1

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Despite fears and forebodings on our part, and numerous reports that the Argentines planned to sabotage the conference, they have not done so yet. Until the last curtain goes down anything could happen but I will stick my neck out by saying it has been my impression and belief since the conference began, barring some unexpected flareup, that the Argentines will cooperate within certain limits. Following the first plenary session on Tuesday, March 27 Vittone2 remarked that we were all in the groove and would stay together throughout the conference. This alone might or might not have meant anything, and the two alternatives are still open, but his remark would fit in with a long luncheon conversation I had on March 26 with two of the Economic Counselors to the Embassy here in Washington and with a half hour conversation I had alone with Paz on Sunday, April 1 (even though April Fools Day).

Excepting for the above-mentioned March 26 luncheon with the Argentine Economic Counselors and also excepting the statements made by Paz and Vittone, the remainder of the Argentine delegation, both those from Buenos Aires and those attached to the Embassy here, has been considerably cooler than usual. For a week now such personal friends and acquaintances as Campos, Pelliza, Bunge, Schiopetto, Quirós, Cafiero, Biritos,3 etc., have carefully refrained from any corridor conversation on substantive points and in general are considerably less cordial than they were two weeks ago. Since I know some of these people real well I cannot help but have the impression that they are following a deliberate policy. Vittone’s favorite topic of conversation in recent days has been the need to extend the conference on some minor procedural points so that they will have time to visit various parts of the United States and Cafiero’s (Financial Attaché) attitude seems to be reflected in his characterization of the conference as “este loquero”.

Our policy vis-à-vis Argentina has been well established now for some three weeks, and is one of strict correctness in all matters. We are engaging in all of the customary social amenities and routine business relationships. However, we are avoiding where possible making any requests of Argentina, although we are pleased to consider on their merits any requests of us by the Argentines. Within this framework, for example, we are dragging our feet on any action regarding Williams’ request for credit to finance tungsten and sulphurmining,4 [Page 1098] we have refrained from asking the Argentine delegation for its opinion regarding our reservation to the Bogota Charter, but we did casually inform the Argentine Embassy of its invitation to participate on the International Pulp and Paper Committee.5

All of us here, from Ed Miller down are watching the Argentine situation very closely and discussing developments or lack of developments daily. Incidentally there is no one here endeavoring or with any inclination to attempt to carry on his own shoulders all of the weight of this problem. In this connection, I think you can be assured that we did understand what Jack Pool meant in his despatch6 which I spoke of so highly a few weeks ago and, with respect to TR’s letter7 to Tom Mann and Tom’s reply thereto,8 I deliberately limit myself to saying that TR’s fears are and were unfounded.

Returning again to the conference, continued vehement denunciations by the US press could reach such a stage that the Argentines would feel it impossible to overlook them. Press comment has been constant, daily, and reasonably widespread. Most of the Washington papers have something on the subject of Peronismo or La Prensa9 or dictatorship in Argentina, etc., nearly every day. The National Press Club of Washington has now called for a day of mourning on Friday, April 6 to commemorate the passing of La Prensa and this morning’s Washington Post editorialized on the distinct possibility that Perón will conspire with the Soviets, since there is little distinction between leftist and rightist totalitarianism. This subject of press attacks on Argentina was one of those which I discussed with Paz alone last Sunday. Paz referred of course to similar attacks which he would [Page 1099] receive from the press in Buenos Aires. Paz’ entire attitude supported what you have reported to the effect that he wishes to work with us. I could not help but believe him sincere, and only hope that he can survive the press attacks during the remainder of the conference and whatever might be awaiting for him when he gets back to Buenos Aires.

With kind personal regards and best wishes,

Sincerely yours,

Clarence E. Birgfeld
  1. For text, see Pan American Union, Fourth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs Held in Washington, D.C. March 26–April 7, 1951: Proceedings (Washington, 1951), pp. 236–237.
  2. José Carlos Vittone, Director of the Political Department, Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  3. The Argentine officials named here are identified as follows: Eusebio Campos, Under Secretary of Economy; Oscar Luis Pelliza, Under Secretary of Industry and Commerce; César Augusto Bunge y Alvarez Calderón, Economic Counselor, Argentine Embassy: Ovidio V. Schiopetto, Economic Counselor, Argentine Embassy; Carlos A. Quirós, Argentine Chargé; Antonio Francisco Cafiero. Financial Attaché; Eduardo Biritos Guevara, Economic Counselor, Argentine Embassy.
  4. Thomas J. Williams, a United States citizen with extensive business interests in Argentina, had applied through Minerales y Metales, S. A. (MINMET) to the Export-Import Bank for a loan of $5,000,000 on behalf of Sociedad Minera, S. A. (SOMINAR), a firm in which he was a majority owner, in order to finance the purchase of equipment in the United States for the production of tungsten and sulphur in Argentina. Documents relating to the loan application are in decimal files 103–XMB, 835.14, and 835.2546.
  5. The Pulp and Paper Committee was one of six commodity committees established through the initiative of the United States, Great Britain, and France early in 1951. These committees collectively constituted the International Materials Conference (IMC); they were charged with reviewing the international supply position for scarce raw materials, and with recommending to governments measures to insure equitable distribution. For further information on the origin and development of the IMC, see Willis C. Armstrong (Acting Special Assistant, Office of International Materials Policy), “The International Materials Conference,” Department of State Bulletin, July 2, 1951, pp. 23–30.
  6. Reference uncertain.
  7. T. R. Martin’s letter of March 21, supra.
  8. Not printed.
  9. In a memorandum to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs (Sargeant), dated March 28, 1951, the Assistant Chief of the Division of Public Liaison (Patterson) had attributed severe press criticism of the Department of State’s position regarding La Prensa to Under Secretary of State James E. Webb’s public statement that the closing of La Prensa was an internal Argentine matter and to the action of the United States delegation to the Twelfth Session of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, held at Santiago, Chile, February 20–March 21, 1951, in voting not to raise this issue (953.61/3–2851).