Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Bainbridge C. Davis of the Office of South American Affairs

top secret

Subject: Venezuelan Request for Arms and Equipment

Participants: Department of Defense
Army Officers:
Col. D. S. Somerville, G–3, Latin American Branch
Col. L. S. Bork, G–4, Foreign Military
Col. J. C. Radnor, G–3
Lt. Col. A. P. Jones, G–3
Lt. Col. W. J. Bryde, G–3
Air Force
Captain L. G. Christerson
Office of Secretary of Defense
Mr. Jerome Wisniewski
American Embassy, Caracas
Mr. Edward J. Sparks, Counselor of Embassy
Department of State
S/ISA—Mr. Paul Smith
AR—Mr. Duncan Mackay
OSA—Mr. Bainbridge C. Davis

The meeting was called by Colonel Somerville in his office at the request of Mr. Davis of the State Department in order to discuss the status of the Venezuelan requests for arms and the relationship of these requests to the recent U.S.–Venezuelan military conversations in Panama2 and to the proposed call of the Venezuelan Foreign Minister3 [Page 1624] on Deputy Secretary for Defense Lovett.4 Mr. Davis said that the Venezuelan Foreign Minister while in Washington recently had commented to him that there had been a good deal of delay in replying to Venezuela’s requests for military equipment. Mr. Davis assumed that this referred primarily to the ten lists submitted with the Venezuelan Embassy’s note of December 27, 19505 as a result of the visit to the U.S. last fall of Lt. Col. Moreno6 (Chief of Staff) and it was suggested that Mr. Lovett should be in a position to tell the Foreign Minister the exact status of the Venezuelan requests and if possible to give him whatever positive reply we could at this time. Mr. Sparks referred to the importance of giving prompt study to the lists of requirements included in the agreement signed at Panama by Lt. Gen. Morris7 and Lt. Col. Moreno since there appeared to be at least an implied commitment on the part of the U. S. Government. Mr. Sparks suggested that delay on our part might be misinterpreted by the Venezuelans as bad faith in view of the initiative which we took in arranging the Panama conversations.

Colonel Somerville stated that the requirements mentioned in the Panama agreement were not intended to consititute a request by Venezuela until submitted in the usual manner, that they undoubtedly include some if not all of the items requested previously by Venezuela but not yet delivered. The agreement itself is to be presented to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for approval as a basis for further bilateral surveys and talks.

A general discussion followed in which it was stated that much of the delay in replying to the Venezuelan requests for military equipment was due to the manner in which the Venezuelan Government and particularly the Venezuelan Air Attaché, Lt. Col. Calderón,8 had presented these requests, involving considerable delay and duplication as well as Colonel Calderón’s lack of authority to accept on behalf of his government the Defense Department’s offer of materials. Furthermore the fluctuating conditions of price and availability as well as the complete unavailability of the more important type of military equipment requested made it extremely difficult to give prompt and satisfactory replies to the Venezuelan government. Perhaps largely because of these difficulties it appeared that there was a substantial amount of confusion and difference of opinion within the Department of Defense as to which requests were currently outstanding and what their precise status might be.

[Page 1625]

Colonel Somerville described the current supply situation including the extreme shortage of supplies for Korea, the difficulty in meeting even a small part of our commitments for NATO and other countries and the fact that Latin America occupies the lowest priority position. He also referred to the present low military productive capacity of the U.S. and the substantial time-lag for reconversion. He emphasized the Top Secret nature of these remarks but the importance of understanding the background for our inability to comply with Venezuela’s requests.

Mr. Sparks expressed appreciation for this important background information and made it clear that he had not come to plead for arms for Venezuela at the expense of military operations or high priority needs elsewhere. However, he understood that our Armed Forces looked upon Venezuelan oil as being of high military importance and he asked whether it was feasible to differentiate among the lower priority countries and in that way to give Venezuela an opportunity to secure equipment which would otherwise be unavailable. He said he believed that some of this was implicitly recognized in arranging the recent Panama talks. Colonel Somerville agreed that Venezuela does occupy a special position and said that G–3 would be willing to point this out to JCS. Colonel Bork agreed that upon receipt of such an indication of priority from the JCS, G–4 and the others concerned with meeting Venezuelan requirements would be guided accordingly and would be able to make more equipment available. Colonel Somerville added that it would, of course, be necessary for G–3 to indicate to JCS the “price” (i.e., in danger to our other military needs and objectives) of granting Venezuela high priority.

It was finally agreed that Colonel Bork would prepare a list of the items on which a definite reply could now be made to the Venezuelan government on the Army portion of the ten lists submitted December 27, 1950. It was agreed that an advance copy of this list would be given to Mr. Sparks on May 3 and that another advance copy would be given to Deputy Secretary Lovett to hand to the Foreign Minister if it appeared to the Departments of State and Defense that the items involved were sufficiently significant to the Venezuelan Government to make such a gesture desirable. The original of the reply would subsequently be delivered to Colonel Calderon through the usual military channels. (The purpose of giving this advance copy to the Foreign Minister would be in order to show our good faith to him and at the same time to give him something which he could take back to Caracas with him as one concrete accomplishment during his visit to the U.S. It was explained to those present that there were certain important problems affecting our relations with Venezuela on which the action desired by Venezuela could not be taken at this time and that there [Page 1626] were political reasons why it would be desirable to give the Foreign Minister any good news which we could present to him now.)*

  1. Reference is to the joint United States-Venezuela military planning talks held at Quarry Heights, Canal Zone, March 19–23, 1951. For text of the agreement signed at the conclusion of the talks, see p. 1627.
  2. Luis Emilio Gómez Ruiz.
  3. Robert A. Lovett.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Félix Román Moreno.
  6. Lt. Gen. William Henry Harrison Morris, Jr., Commander in Chief, Caribbean.
  7. Luis A. Calderón.
  8. Mr. Phillip Barringer of Mr. Lovett’s office decided later that it would not be desirable for Mr. Lovett to hand copies of these lists to the Foreign Minister and subsequently it also became necessary for Mr. Lovett to cancel his appointment with the Foreign Minister. However, with Mr. Barringer’s concurrence, Assistant Secretary of State Miller did hand the lists prepared by Army as well as a list prepared by Air Force (all of which total approximately $504,000 in value) to the Venezuelan Foreign Minister on May 7. As none of these lists were available to the Department until late Friday afternoon of May 4 and only one copy was received, it was necessary to hand this set to the Foreign Minister and an additional copy will be obtained for Mr. Sparks. Due presumably to confusion the original of each list was handed to Colonel Calderon by a representative of Defense Department some hours before the “advance copy” was handed to the Foreign Minister. [Footnote in the source text.]