Miller files, lot 53 D 26, “Uruguay”

The Ambassador in Uruguay (Roddan) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Miller)


Dear Ed: I made myself a pledge never to burden you with long letters but the political stream is moving so swiftly that I think you should have adequate background information. This is being written at intervals between engagements and I imagine that before I finish “new developments” may make many of the observations out of date.

My initial plunge into diplomatic negotiations was certainly baptism by immersion. The MSA got into trouble from the outset due in some measure to the temperament of Dr. Domínguez, partly to the inexperience of our military negotiators, and in good measure to the explosive political situation which has been engendered here.

Domínguez started the trouble, a week after the talks opened, by summoning only myself and Trueblood to a meeting at which he said the entire Military Plan would have to be rewritten because it was written in the “imperative”, and contained commitments which were utterly unthinkable under the Uruguayan Constitution. In response to my plea he declined to submit changes in phraseology but handed me the job of making a complete revision. Obviously that was impossible.

To keep the talks moving, I drafted a single provision which provided adequate constitutional safeguards—in fact it was very largely drafted beforehand because I had anticipated some such objection to [Page 1543] the overall agreement. The US military negotiators at first agreed but the next morning were unanimous in declining to make any overtures to Domínguez. They bitterly resented the fact that he had omitted them from discussion of the Military Plan, they insisted upon the letter of their instructions, and in general their attitude was that Domínguez must take it or leave it.

In fact, their attitude was so rigid that at first I concluded that the phrase “military negotiator” must be a contradiction in terms. After many long weary hours of discussion however, they have come around very nicely and on the whole have done as good a job as could be expected.

[Here follow personal remarks.] Because he [Domínguez Cámpora] undertook the wool problem, he had us meeting nights on MSA when we should have been meeting days with fresh minds and plenty of time. Worst of all, he insists upon meeting in his own library without adequate office help. The result is that when he has a proposition to submit, we get one copy in Spanish and no English text. This resulted in a ludicrous situation last Saturday when he handed us a text on which we could agree only to be informed later when we returned to the office that the draft given us had been wholly erroneous.

Yet he has real and tremendous problems and there are indications now that the issue of MSA has completely shattered the collaboration between Colorados and Herreristas on the Council and it may even completely paralyze the entire system of Collegiate government. It has already forced out Foreign Minister Castellanos1 and it will certainly rock Congress, if the pact is ever submitted, in explosive debate.

Basically, the trouble would have occurred at some time because the majority party leaders were so unrealistic in bringing the minority party into the executive branch of the government. They invited the lion into the parlor and now they’re paying the penalty. In the first few weeks, because pride was at stake, the Council moved with such firmness and decision that everybody was agreeably surprised. But the first real problems they hit—MSA and the financial crisis—put an end very quickly to the atmosphere of superficial cooperation and developed deep-seated antagonisms which may spell extreme danger in the not too distant future.

However, I am still convinced that despite the mercurial qualities of his temperament, Doctor Domínguez deserves help because he has a hard problem at hand and because he and his group are our genuine friends. If we lose out here, we may lose the last bastion of friendship for the United States on this end of the continent. The Constitutional provision which gives Parliament authority over sending troops abroad [Page 1544] is definite and it must be met. The argument about submitting all international agreements to Parliament is less convincing because that provision has been in the Constitution for 75 years and Uruguay has had no difficulty in carrying on its foreign relations in realistic fashion. In fact, Dr. Domínguez explained confidentially how he once tried to get a secret commitment from Brazil, as an offset against Argentina, without getting more than a restatement of traditional Brazilian policy. Domínguez knows that the security of Uruguay lies in the Organization of American States which actually means the military power of the US. But there are two immediate factors which concern our country:

Isolation is being fanned by the minority party and it may be spreading. Apparently, it was bitter feeling over MSA which forced the Foreign Minister’s resignation.
This new government leaks like a sieve. There is a trend towards “French journalism” in which the opposition lets out all secrets to its favorite press. “El Debate” was first to print that Dr. Domínguez was handling both wool and MSA and it was first to print the rumor of the Foreign Minister’s resignation. If it goes to the point where minority members reveal even the details of secret negotiations, perhaps even hinting at military plans, then obviously our policy must come under review. So far this has not happened but I am apprehensive.

In a general way, the contagion of unrest throughout Latin America may be spreading here, helped along, of course, by the current financial crisis. A huge build-up has been going on for some time for Batlle Berres2 arrival tomorrow and there are the usual rumors that he may take measures against the National Council. So far this is merely idle talk without basis in fact.

I believe Uruguay may ask for some kind of a money loan from the US to substitute for wool revenues but they have made no approaches thus far. If the financial crisis is solved, things may settle down and the Council may be able to worry through. They realize here that any attempt to link up wool and MSA would be fatal.

Your letter3 to Dr. Domínguez was wholly adequate and helpful. Sorry you are not coming here but the reasons are sound.

With best wishes.


  1. Daniel Castellanos.
  2. Luis Batlle Berres, former President of Uruguay and one of the leaders of the Colorado Party.
  3. Not identified.