The Ambassador in Uruguay (Roddan) to the Department of State 1

No. 459


  • Uruguayan Foreign Minister2 Protests Delivery of Aide-Mémoire on Plight of American Packers.

The Ambassador and Mr. Trueblood went to see the Foreign Minister on Saturday morning, December 13th, at his request. The Foreign Minister was alone. We were not advised in advance of the subject of the meeting. We were not long in doubt because the Foreign Minister immediately launched into a vigorous oral protest against the Aide-Mémoire3 which had been delivered to the Foreign Office on December 9 and which had set forth the present financial plight of the American Frigorificos and the fact that they have been compelled to suspend operations because of the numerous restrictions imposed by the Uruguayan government.

We assumed that the Foreign Minister had discussed the subject the night before with at least some members of the National Consejo or with other government officials and that this probably accounted for the intensity of his feeling.

The Foreign Minister got to the point at once by stating that while efforts would be made to relieve the situation, it would be better to consider that the “mémoire” had never been delivered because of the attendant embarrassment if it should become public. The Ambassador replied that our government would be advised of his viewpoint, adding his personal belief that any question which might cause concern between friendly governments should be the subject of full and frank discussion.

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The Foreign Minister then responded at length and with emphasis. He denied the right of diplomatic intervention in behalf of private interests and again requested that the Ambassador consider the Aide-Mémoire as not having been presented. He proceeded to point out what he considered would be the “unfortunate effects” upon the pending ratification of the MSA agreement if it should become known that the American government had made representations on behalf of private packers. While his manner was not rude, his tone and the stern manner of delivery certainly seemed excessive even allowing a margin of tolerance for the fine sensibilities of Uruguayan officials. It was a “dressing down” for the Ambassador. The fact that the Aide-Mémoire had been cleared by Washington was not mentioned in the conversation, so it is not known whether the reproof was also directed to our government.

The Ambassador again thanked the Foreign Minister for his frank exposition of the views of the Uruguayan government. He ventured to remark that the American Congress has always taken the view that the application of tariffs under U.S. law was solely a matter for internal determination. But when it seemed that the good relations of our government with Uruguay might become involved over the question of wool imports, the Department of State had not only welcomed but solicited an expression of views on the part of the Uruguayan government. The Foreign Minister replied that the cases were not analogous, that the issue at stake on wool tariffs was wholly one between governments. The Ambassador courteously disagreed stating that wool was sold by private owners to private buyers and that the issue was the proper application of a law passed by the United States Congress. There was no further discussion of that point. This undoubtedly will give further pain to the Uruguayan officials who frown upon a discussion of meat and wool in the same conversation. But it may be added in extenuation that the wool question has at least as much pertinence to the current problem as the possible refusal of Uruguay to enter into a mutual assistance pact with the United States.

The Embassy feels that the incident was unpleasant but that the course pursued by our government was eminently right and that it should not have been avoided merely because it might have unpleasant consequences. At least it has partially cleared the atmosphere over a problem that has been most disturbing for the past three years and may continue to be so for some time to come. The preceding Ambassador4 worked faithfully to bring about a satisfactory solution and so has the present Ambassador. The conversations were informal and no effort has ever been made to bring pressure upon the Uruguayan [Page 1550] government. In fact, the spurned aide-mémoire merely outlined the present circumstances in which the United States packers find themselves. These oral representations were received politely and assurances given which have never been fulfilled.

In the New York Times account of the debate over the Uruguayan resolution about the right to exploit national resources (before the UN General Assembly’s Economic and Financial Committee) it was reported that the Mexican member asked if the resolution would bar diplomatic representations but “the point was not cleared up”. Perhaps it has been cleared up here. The American packers, rightly or wrongly, feel that their interests are being expropriated indirectly by the Uruguayan government and it does seem that the question should be a matter of legitimate inquiry by our government. But the Uruguayan government apparently resents this as somehow infringing upon its sovereignty.

Basically, there has been no change in the Uruguayan attitude. The Embassy has been aware all along that the Foreign Office received even the most informal representations on this question with reluctance and that, as far as can be ascertained, nothing has ever been done looking to an alleviation of the situation. The Embassy takes the view that for the present at least nothing further should be done here.

Meanwhile, the plight of the American packers is really serious. They cannot resume operations unless the parent companies reverse their present attitude and send down capital from the United States or they receive payments from the Uruguayan government. It is doubtful that the cause of the packers has been set back by the incident outlined here and it may be that after the Uruguayan officials have time to reflect, the packers may get some relief. The situation cannot drag on indefinitely despite the attitude of the Uruguayan government that it is not a matter for representations between governments.

Edward L. Roddan
  1. Drafted by Ambassador Roddan.
  2. Fructuoso Pittaluga.
  3. The referenced aide-mémoire, dated Dec. 9, stated that the meat packers (frigoríficos) were confronted with a situation that made it impossible for them to continue to engage in slaughtering operations. This situation was the result of delay on the part of government officials in fixing and approving production costs, failure of the government to liquidate its indebtedness to the companies, the companies’ inability to market stocks of meat in storage, and the government’s preferential price system which prevented the companies from buying cattle on a freely competitive basis. A copy of the aide-mémoire was transmitted to the Department of State under cover of despatch 451, from Montevideo, dated Dec. 11, 1952 (811.05133/12–1152).
  4. Christian M. Ravndal, June 1949–October 1951.