Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Middle American Affairs (Nufer) to the Director of the Office of Regional American Affairs (White)1


Subject: Assistance to Mexico in Procurement of Materials for Military Project No. 1

Ambassador de la Colina has held several informal discussions with Messrs. Mann and Rubottom over the past several months in which he has requested that his Government be assisted by the Department in procuring machine tools and other materials, valued at approximately $600,000, for the completion of its shell-loading factory, hereafter called Military Project No. 1. General Beteta,2 brother of Mexico’s Finance Minister, and Colonel de la Colina, brother of the Mexican Ambassador, have also visited Washington to press for aid in the completion of this project.

The Joint Mexican-United States Defense Commission has given detailed consideration to this project. At its meeting on December 7, [Page 1482] 1950, the Commission adopted a recommendation3 endorsing a program for the development of the military industry of Mexico, including Project No. 1. Following that action, the Department of Defense formally notified the Secretary of State on December 29, 1950, of its “approval in principle of U.S. assistance in the development of the military industry of Mexico”.

Subsequent to the informal discussions and recommendations referred to above, and on the specific suggestion of the Department, the Government of Mexico on February 26, in a formal note4 to the Department, requested its assistance in the procurement of the material required.

It thus appears that the United States has rather firmly committed itself to assist the Mexican Government in this project. As you are aware, Military Project No. 1 was begun during World War II and was slightly more than half completed when that war ended and the project was abandoned. With the development of the present emergency situation, the Mexicans have again interested themselves in the completion of this shell-loading factory. They hoped, at first, to obtain the necessary materials through normal commercial channels but, in view of information furnished to Dave Clark5 and others by the Department of Commerce, that avenue seems to be closed, and the Mexicans will have to turn to military channels under Section 408(e) of MDAA, as amended.6

I recognize that Mexico so far has provided little tangible support of the United Nations effort against aggression in Korea, although it did make a definite contribution of medical and food supplies which have been delivered. I am also aware of the position taken by Mexico at the IAM but feel that Foreign Minister Tello evinced a spirit of reasonableness and understanding which undoubtedly contributed to the eventual unanimity of the decisions reached at the meeting, especially with regard to the votes of Argentina and Guatemala. As far as troops for Korea are concerned, it must be admitted that Foreign Minister Tello felt that his instructions permitted him no latitude and caused him to give a definite negative answer to the [Page 1483] Secretary’s request for Mexico’s support of the UN in Korea. There has been no indication that President Aleman7 will, for the time being, alter this position, but Ambassador O’Dwyer is now seeking an appropriate time, under instructions from the Department, to approach the President for a Mexican contribution of troops. All observers agree that the Mexican position is dictated largely by political considerations, i.e., the 1952 presidential election. Once the official Government party has agreed on a candidate, it is possible that President Aleman might undertake more positive leadership to prepare his people to assume their responsibilities in Korea and/or elsewhere.

Notwithstanding the above considerations, I believe that on balance the United States has more to gain by adhering to a cooperative line in its relations with Mexico, including assistance for Military Project No. 1, than by doing otherwise. No one questions Mexico’s basic loyalty to the cause of democratic freedom nor its opposition to Communist tyranny. In helping Mexico, we are helping a friend and ally. We should, in making our help available, hammer away at every opportunity on the need for her help now rather than at some future date. Mexico, like Canada, has a peculiarly important position vis-à-vis the United States because of its 2400-mile common frontier with this country. Our basic economies are completely intertwined, with nearly 80 per cent of Mexico’s trade being with the United States. Our demands on Mexico for zinc, lead, copper, antimony, mercury, cadmium, and other metals, as well as cotton, henequen, and other vital imports, need be only mentioned here. From a military standpoint, we also have much at stake in obtaining the maximum of Mexican cooperation. The Joint Mexican-United States Defense Commission has just begun the preparation of a joint emergency defense plan.8 We have recently requested Mexican cooperation in an important defense communications project. We need now to request Mexico’s assistance in furnishing a high-speed aerial gunnery range for the Navy, and a number of other vital projects in which the Department of Defense is interested.

In summary, there is no escaping the preponderant role which the United States plays in Mexico’s whole scheme of living, but we must also admit that Mexico is important to the United States. Acknowledging that Mexico’s reaction so far to the UN effort against aggression has been disappointing, we should redouble our efforts to make the Mexican Government and people feel their responsibility in this fight for freedom. I am confident that the best way to gain Mexico’s full and wholehearted collaboration is by continuing our policy of [Page 1484] full cooperation with it and that we should help it obtain the materials for Military Project No. 1, the delivery of which, even at best, may be indefinitely delayed.

  1. Drafted by Mr. Rubottom.
  2. Presumably Ignacio M. Beteta, Chief, Mexican Department of Military Industry.
  3. A copy of the recommendation is attached to a letter from Acting Secretary of Defense Robert A. Lovett to Secretary Acheson, December 29, 1950, not printed (712.5/12–2950).
  4. Not printed.
  5. David M. Clark, Office of South American Affairs.
  6. Reference is to the Mutual Defense Assistance Act of 1949, Amendments (Public Law 621), approved July 26, 1950; for text, see 64 Stat. 373.

    In a note presented to Ambasasdor de la Colina, dated May 7, 1951, the Department of State indicated in part that the material requested by the Mexican Government in connection with the completion of a shell manufacturing plant was in critically short supply, and that even with priority assistance it would require two to three years to secure the items through the United States commercial market. The Department further indicated that should the Mexican Government wish to make a request for the materials under amended section 408 (e) of the MDAA, such a request would be submitted to the appropriate authorities (712.5/2–2651).

  7. Miguel Alemán Valdes, President of Mexico.
  8. The minutes of the 60th Plenary Meeting of the Joint Mexican-United States Defense Commission held in Mexico City, September 14–15, 1951, not printed, indicate that this plan was approved on September 15, and submitted to the governments of both countries for consideration (712.5/2151).