The Ambassador in Venezuela (Armour) to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mann)

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Dear Tom: As you know, we have all here been concerned over the past months at the delay in making available to the Venezuelan Government military material; some of it, as in the case of spare parts for American planes, has been contracted and already paid for, and even more serious, the long delay in approving and implementing the lists of materials agreed upon during the Panama talks last March. I covered this matter quite fully in two or three letters which I wrote to Ed Miller (dated July 26, 27, and two of July 31).1 I recently received from Mr. Bernbaum2 a letter3 in reply to the above letters giving us some useful information and background on such progress as had been made to date. I think you will agree, however, the situation still remains unsatisfactory, and I do hope that everything possible will be done, both by our Department and the Defense Department, to hasten matters.

The other day I found that Captain James H. Davis, head of our Naval Mission, and Colonel William Greenfield, head of the Air Mission, were flying up to the United States on matters connected with their respective missions, and I decided on the spur of the moment that this was too good an opportunity to miss. I, therefore, wrote a letter to Mr. Lovett, Deputy Secretary of Defense, a copy of which I enclose herewith, asking him to give Captain Davis and Colonel Greenfield an opportunity to present either to him or to other high officers in the Department of Defense an up-to-date report on the situation, in the hope that this might have some effect in bringing home to them the urgency, and even seriousness, of the situation.

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It is true that, as the postscript in my letter to Lovett shows, some of the spare parts for the planes have now been handed over to the Venezuelan authorities in Washington for shipment here, but this is only a small fraction of the material involved, and does not, of course, touch the more important material dealt with in the Panama agreement.

In taking this action, I hope that you and Ed Miller and others in the Department will not feel that I have bypassed you or thrown any monkey wrench into the machinery, which is, of course, the last thing I would wish to do, or had any intention of doing. After all, what we are after, and I feel sure I may include you in this, is to convince the Venezuelan Government, particularly the higher Military authorities here, including Colonel Perez Jiménez and Colonel Félix Moreno, that we mean business, and that we are determined to carry out our promise to make available the material necessary to protect the flow of strategic materials, particularly from the oil fields.

When I told the Foreign Minister the other evening that I had entrusted this mission to Captain Davis and Colonel Greenfield, he seemed greatly relieved and added significantly: “I suppose there is no need to tell you what an unfortunate effect this delay in making this material available has had and is having on other phases of the work here.” He undoubtedly had in mind the Bilateral Aviation Agreement, the Orinoco Mining problem, the freight rate question, and other matters requiring final approval of the Military Junta.

In other words, if the question of materials can be satisfactorily disposed of, or put on the road to settlement, this will create an “ambiente” in higher military circles that will facilitate our negotiations in these other apparently extraneous matters.

How much the Junta, and particularly Colonel Perez Jiménez, have this on their mind was brought home to me when Gómez Ruiz told me that the Junta had wished to have incorporated in the Venezuelan Government’s reply to the UN Resolution “Uniting for Peace”4 a statement to the effect that unfortunately the military material required to enable Venezuela to carry out the obligations they were undertaking in connection with this resolution had not to date been forthcoming, owing to failure of the United States Government to supply it. He very properly insisted that any such statement could not and should not be incorporated in a reply to an international organization, but was a matter to be taken up with our Government on a bilateral basis, which he then proceeded to do.

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As to the Venezuelan Government’s decision to go elsewhere for some of their material, I am enclosing a further memorandum prepared by the Naval Attaché, under date of August 24,5 last, giving the latest on the purchase of three destroyers in England and negotiations now under way for construction of certain smaller craft in Italy. As I said in my letter to Mr. Lovett, it does look as though our standardization program for South America, or at any rate in so far as it applied to Venezuela, is rapidly evaporating into thin air.

Sincerely yours,


The Ambassador in Venezuela (Armour) to the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Lovett)

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Dear Bob: I am taking advantage of the departure for Washington of Captain James H. Davis, head of our Naval Mission, and Colonel William D. Greenfield, head of the Air Mission, to give them this letter to you, in the hope that you may be able to spare them a few minutes of your busy time in order to explain a matter which has been giving all of us here considerable concern.

It has to do with the question of military material and equipment and the growing annoyance, fast approaching resentment, on the part of the Venezuelan military authorities over our failure to date to help them in meeting their requirements. Worse than that, we have thus far been unable to get any word from Washington on the supplies contracted and paid for months ago. This has to do with spare parts for the 12 F–47 planes we sold them some years ago which are now all grounded. There is also involved spare parts for some of our B–25s amounting to $259,000. Full payment, totalling about $400,000 was made by the Venezuelan Air Attaché, through the State Department I believe, over four months ago, and to date not only has nothing arrived, but, as I say, we are still without word from Washington where it is or when it may be expected.

In the meantime, quite naturally, since we appear to be unable to help them, the Venezuelans are going elsewhere to get their material and our standardization program, at least so far as Venezuela is concerned, appears rapidly to be fading into thin air. A year ago, the Venezuelans bought seven Vampire jet planes. Recently they were able to get the British to reverse their decision not to give them any more, and we have now been informed a contract is soon to be signed with the local De Havilland representative for at least five more Vampires, and this on a cash basis.

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As regards the Navy, things are just as bad or worse. Unable to interest our Government in helping them with ships and equipment, they have contracted for three destroyers to be built in England, the keels of two having been laid with appropriate ceremonies a month ago. They are also negotiating with Italy for certain types of smaller craft and equipment. As our Naval Attaché has reported, once the British ships are delivered, the Venezuelans may find it necessary for practical reasons to replace our Naval Mission by a British Mission. Furthermore, if they are forced to replace American planes by British,6 a British Air Mission later might well seem indicated.

Finally, there is the question of the implementation of the agreement worked out at Panama. I have seen your correspondence with the State Department on this, and note that both Departments are in general agreement on the lists of equipment required by Venezuela, but that the next step planned appears to be another conference down here. Frankly, what the Venezuelans want is action not words, and I strongly recommend that, if it is decided to send a group down for further talks, those chosen be given a list of restricted materials we are prepared to supply now. After all, as the Foreign Minister said to me recently: “You proposed the Panama Conference, not ourselves”; which is entirely correct. Also it is not as if they were asking to be given this equipment; they are prepared to pay for everything they get: In fact, they insisted on including this stipulation in the Panama agreement.

Frankly, I am puzzled by our whole attitude toward Venezuela. We get worked up into a lather over the Iranian oil situation—quite naturally, I admit—but when you consider that Venezuela is the second largest oil producer in the world;—their production is now over 1,700,000 barrels of crude a day,—and the greatest oil exporter in the world; when you consider that their refining capacity taken in conjunction with Curacao and Aruba, which refine only Venezuelan oil, is now close to 1,000,000 barrels a day—about double of Abadan—it seems incredible to me why our people seem disposed to treat Venezuela in what is, in effect, a pretty cavalier manner.

With this tremendous flow of oil in which we are so vitally interested, and which must be protected against possible sabotage or attack in case of war, with the great iron deposits now soon to start moving to their destinations in the United States, surely it would seem that Venezuela merits a place on the priority list ahead of virtually any Latin American country, and, I would think, should not even follow Spain in order of importance. I am, therefore, most anxious that Captain Davis and Colonel Greenfield, while in Washington, should have an opportunity to discuss this matter of materials at a high [Page 1652] level, and hope very much that you will be able to arrange this. Of course, if you could see them yourself, even for a few minutes, I know they would appreciate it, and it would furthermore enable them to bring you my greetings.

Sincerely yours,

Norman Armour

P.S. Since the above was written, Colonel Greenfield, head of our Air Mission, tells me he has just been informed by Colonel Felix Moreno, Chief of Staff, that out of the total of $419,000 in spare parts paid for, $259,000 worth in spare parts for the B–25s has now been turned over to the Venezuelan Military Attaché in Washington for shipment here (This was under Venezuelan Contract 8/4). They are still, however, without word of the replacements for the F–47s, totalling $157,000.

  1. None printed.
  2. Maurice M. Bernbaum, Officer in Charge, North and West Coast Affairs, Office of South American Affairs.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Reference is to Resolution No. 377 (V) of the General Assembly of the United Nations, November 3, 1950. For text, see United Nations, Official Records of the General Assembly, Fifth Session, Resolutions Adopted by the General Assembly during the period 19 September to 15 December 1950, Supplement No. 20 (A/1775), pp. 10–12.
  5. Not printed.
  6. For documentation on the attitude of the United States toward the sale of jet aircraft to Venezuela, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. ii, pp. 1019 ff.