716.5 MSP/5–2454

The Ambassador in El Salvador (McDermott) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Holland)


Dear Mr. Secretary: Since my discussion with you during Holy Week, the situation as affects us has very definitely changed in El Salvador. To refresh your recollection, a year ago last March El Salvador asked for a considerable quantity of arms from the United States through diplomatic and military channels. It sent a mission to the United States to obtain arms. According to accounts of members of the mission, they were treated well, wined and dined, but came back with nothing. The sad word spread through the Armed Forces and to other groups that the United States had not backed President Osorio whose supporters then became lukewarm, if not cool, towards us. Through the months they have gradually griped less and friendliness slowly increased to where one could say they were friendly. With the landing of the Alfhem cargo of arms at Puerto Barrios, these people became frightened and it was natural for some of them to feel that the United States, while stronger than Russia, could not be depended upon to deliver in a pinch.

True, for one reason or another, President Osorio has dragged his feet on the Military Assistance Agreement. He had promised to give me a favorable answer in June. Early in May he promised to give it to me on May 15. He did accept, with conditions, orally on May 20 and he gave me the text of his draft1 on Friday, the 21st. It is based on the similar U.S. treaty with the Dominican Republic.2 It is being forwarded in the first pouch which is the same pouch which carries this letter. He wishes to limit its scope to the Central American and Caribbean area but has not mentioned this fact in the draft which will be made public some day. He thinks it better that the limitation should be dealt with in secret military negotiations; nevertheless, he wishes to have the entire fact that there are any negotiations going on kept secret until such time as the agreements are implemented.

Please see Despatch No. 432 of May 20, 1954.3 Please note the President’s hope that now we will be able to assist him in establishing [Page 1017] credit whereby he might acquire arms in addition to those which might be furnished under the Agreement to the value of about $2,000,000. This I am also sure he would want kept secret as he believes secrecy prevents the taking of any measures to counteract the results of the negotiations. He believes the element of surprise, “as in all military matters,” desirable. Today President Osorio said he had learned the United States is air-lifting arms to Nicaragua and Honduras. He expressed the hope that El Salvador would not have to wait for arms until the conclusion of the pact which is pending.

I understand there has been a revival, since the Alfhem shipment, of criticism of the United States among Salvadorans. At the moment they are inclined to overlook the millions of dollars we have put into FOA assistance. According to their information the Russians made a gift to Guatemala. They don’t want a gift but do want credit and an opportunity to buy the big stuff—planes and anti-aircraft artillery to defend the Lempa Dam and bridges. If the Guatemalans have tanks, the Salvadorans will also need tanks or anti-tank guns. As I see it tonight, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua will stand together. We are helping two of them immediately but El Salvador is right on the border. If ever we made a gesture, now is the time to make it. If we create a good enough impression now, we may be able to get on with the things that concerned you last Holy Week.

[Here follow comments concerning the Embassy’s need for additional clerical assistance.]

With kindest regards,

Most sincerely yours,

Michael J. McDermott
  1. A copy and translation of the referenced draft military assistance agreement were transmitted to the Department of State under cover of despatch 434, from San Salvador, dated May 24, 1954, not printed (716.5 MSP/5–2454).
  2. For text of the Military Assistance Agreement between the United States and the Dominican Republic, signed at Washington, Mar. 6, 1953, and entered into force on June 10, 1953, see TIAS No. 2777, or 4 UST 184.
  3. The referenced despatch reports a conversation between President Osorio and Ambassador McDermott concerning a military assistance agreement, arms shipments received by Guatemala, and labor unrest in El Salvador (716.5 MSP/5–2054).