221. Memorandum of a Conversation, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, March 27, 1956, 2 p.m.1
- The President
- President Ruiz Cortines of Mexico
- Lt. Colonel Vernon A. Walters
The President opened the conversation by saying that he had been anxious to be able to get together informally and talk with President Cortines. This was one of the main reasons that had led him to suggest this conference.
There were on the North American continent three nations who had to live together; President Cortines interrupted to say “who were determined to live together.” President Eisenhower said that one of these nations, the United States, had by a combination of circumstances reached a position of great power and wealth and that it was anxious to do what it could to be of assistance to Mexico, and could not in a patronizing way but as a good friend. We wanted only prosperity, happiness and a better standard of living for our friends in Mexico. We had achieved our present well being largely through the assistance of foreign capital invested in the United States. The President said that it was a fact that as late as 1910 the United States owed money to practically every nation in Europe—England, France, Germany, etc. Foreign capital had helped develop our railroads and the insurance business and that even in the development of the West there had been extensive holdings by British investment in the cattle ranches of our country. What we had been able to achieve had been done in the framework of the free enterprise system.
We knew that throughout the world there were in different countries varying degrees of governmental control, but basically our people believed that if a man invested his money he should be allowed, after paying due taxes, to retain what he had been able to earn. We had developed our economy in this free enterprise framework before the spread of the ideas of socialization that were developed elsewhere. We did not seek to convince others to do as we had, but our only desire was for a prosperous, happy Mexico with an ever rising standard of living.
The President said that if he were in President Cortines’ place, he would not wish to see foreign capital come in and take charge of [Page 711]some major service in his country, but on the other hand he did not feel that obstacles should be placed in the way if certain Mexican business men felt that they needed additional capital to further their own development. As far as the government was concerned, they could undoubtedly secure loans (from the Export-Import Bank and the World Bank and similar organizations) for those projects which they felt the government itself would have to promote. President Cortines broke in to cite the railroads as an example, to say that this was an absolute necessity for Mexico.
President Eisenhower then went on to say that if he were a Mexican he would be happy to have Mexican business in a position where, if it needed help, they could get it by direct dealings with American business men. He assured the President of Mexico that the United States’ major interest was not in gaining additional allies against Communism, though that played some part in our feelings, but basically what we wanted was to see Mexico strong and prosperous with a better life for her people.
President Eisenhower then said that he welcomed this opportunity to speak directly with the President of Mexico, the Chief of State of an immediate and close neighbor, and to talk over with him some of the problems and difficulties between these two friendly nations. He felt that if Dr. Cortines and himself could agree on principles, the details could be worked out by others. President Cortines said that he felt exactly the same way, and also felt that it was essential that both of them agree on principles, that if they did so and good will was shown by both sides it would not be difficult to overcome whatever difficulties might remain.
The President said that he could assure President Cortines that the United States wished only for a strong, free and democratic Mexico. President Cortines thanked President Eisenhower for this expression and said that the Mexicans sincerely believed this. He said that ever since his first meeting with President Eisenhower, he felt that they had established a direct personal and friendly contact. He said that sometimes when people met they either did not get along together or else they established an instant friendly contact. He was happy that the latter situation had occurred between him and his great friend President Eisenhower.
The President then said that the whole American people were concerned with the threat of subversion by Communist infiltration of governments. This was something on which the American people felt very strongly, as they had had examples of it in the past and knew that Soviet Embassies were not set up to do the normal and legitimate business of an Embassy, but were centers of espionage, sabotage and other subversive activities, and this was something that [Page 712]had to be watched. President Cortines replied that he knew this and agreed with the President.
The President said that he wanted President Cortines to know that he appreciated the difficult problems which he had to face. He knew that the United States was a close neighbor of Mexico, a large neighbor and sometimes an awkward one. He knew that there was great desire in Mexico and impatience for progress, and sometimes this made President Cortines’ task more difficult as there were those who might say, “Why can we not achieve the same standard of living as the ‘gringos’ right away?” He said this because he wanted President Cortines to know that he appreciated his difficulties. He added that he had never had with another chief of government such a frank and informal conversation. President Cortines expressed his gratitude to President Eisenhower for this.
President Cortines thanked the President for his understanding of his (Dr. Cortines’) problems and said that Mexico had passed through a difficult period. As late as 1938, they had still had military rebellions. Since then, however, the democratic institutions of Mexico and the authority of the state had become firmly established. First they had had two military men as Presidents during this period, then a lawyer, President Aleman,2 and finally a simple citizen himself as President. He did not say this to cast any aspersions on the military, but merely to indicate to President Eisenhower events that had occurred in Mexico’s recent past. The Mexican people were driven by a burning desire for progress and an improvement in their lot.
He said that his mention of the difficulties engendered by progress earlier in the day had been an attempt to describe some of these very difficulties. Mexico’s population was increasing at the rate of some 3% per year which meant an annual increase in the population of 900,000 per year. President Eisenhower then said that if only Mexico could increase her productive capacity by 6 or 7 percent per year, this would compensate for the population increase and would also provide an increase in the living standards of the Mexican population. President Cortines agreed that this was so. He said that an increase in the productive capacity of the nation had to be properly spread so that all parts of the population would benefit therefrom. He felt that if they could achieve an annual increase in production around 5%, this would be most helpful.
President Cortines said that he did not want to take up the President’s time but that there were a few matters that he would like to take up with him if he might. The President said that this was the very reason that had brought him to extend the invitation, [Page 713]this opportunity to talk frankly with the President of Mexico and the Prime Minister of Canada.
First of all, he wanted to tell the President how grateful he and the whole Mexican people were to the President for his personal intervention that had made possible an agreement on the question of the “wetbacks.” For years they had tried unsuccessfully to obtain a solution of this problem, and finally, thanks to the personal action of President Eisenhower, this had been achieved. This was a matter that affected the Mexican people in their deepest feelings and they had therefore been extremely happy when the agreement had been reached. Previously the migrants had been illegal entrants and had been exposed to harsh treatment and sometimes injury and now this situation had been cleared up. However, there was one aspect of the matter that was still of some concern, and he would be most appreciative if the President would look into the matter. It appeared that at the border entry stations they were no longer demanding that the laborers entering the United States show their work contract. If this were not done, the value of the agreement would be lost. The President promised to look into this matter. President Cortines said that he would leave a number of small cards with notes on them for the President as a sort of aide-mémoire.
Next, there was the question of the Mexican difficulties in the matter of cotton production and sales. In reply to a question by the President, he indicated that cotton was produced in the northern part of Mexico. He said that most of Mexico’s cotton production was sold abroad and only a very small part of it was used within Mexico. He said that as a result of the United States decision to sell surplus cotton, Mexican production would be reduced by some 25%. They were planning to reduce the area under cotton. The President then asked what else could be produced in these areas and how the Mexicans planned to replace cotton production. President Cortines replied that in some measure they were seeking to produce tropical products in these areas but actually there was little else that could be advantageously produced in these areas. He would be grateful if the President would look into this matter also, and would likewise leave a card with the President on this subject. He added that they were discussing this matter with the Department of State and also through the Embassy in Mexico City.
President Cortines said that there was still one matter that he would like to mention to the President. He apologized for taking up his time. This was the matter of fisheries. There had been difficulties with regard to these fishing rights. President Eisenhower inquired as to whether this was on the East coast or on the Pacific coast. President Cortines replied that this was principally in the Gulf of Mexico area but also applied in lesser measure to the Pacific Coast [Page 714]as well. President Eisenhower then asked if the trouble was with patrol boats or with regard to trespassing in coastal waters, and President Cortines indicated that there was some of both. President Eisenhower then said that just as it had been possible to create a regulatory body to handle problems relating to the “wetback” agreement, it might also be possible to set up something similar to handle this matter. President Cortines indicated agreement on this, and also indicated that he would leave a note on this subject.
The President of Mexico then indicated that he did not wish to take up any more of the President’s time, and the President said that there was one more matter which he wished to mention briefly to President Cortines. This was the matter of air routes. The only line authorized to fly between our largest city and the capital of Mexico was a French airline. The President said that he would like to see United States and Mexican carriers flying not only on that route, but also on other routes between major United States cities and Mexico. If the Mexicans needed help to set up their part, the United States would see what could be done to assist them. The President said that he had no favored company of any sort, but he felt that there should be both United States and Mexican carriers on these routes. He felt that everything should be done to provide the public with this service, as that would help increase tourism in Mexico, and that would result in numerous benefits to the country and would stimulate the building of hotels, development of communications within Mexico, and so forth.
President Cortines replied that he had been working on this matter, and he felt that it should be settled as it had been pending for a long time. He wondered if it would be possible to send down some experts on this matter, not because the United States Embassy in Mexico was not fully up-to-date on the matter, but he felt that there were certain technical aspects which should be ironed out. The President asked President Cortines if he meant experts on air routes, and the Mexican President said that this was what he had meant. He concluded by saying that, as the President had indicated at the outset of the conversation, if they could only agree on principles, others could work out the details of these matters. It was essential that this matter be satisfactorily solved. The President said that he was happy to hear this, and repeated that the United States would be willing to study the matter and see what could be done to assist the Mexicans if they needed such help to get their carriers prepared to operate these services alongside the United States carriers. He felt that it was important that such service be provided for the reasons he had mentioned before, between major United States cities and Mexico.[Page 715]
President Eisenhower then said that he understood that the Mexican President was going out later in the afternoon with Assistant Secretary Holland and Dr. Milton Eisenhower for a ride around the countryside. He hoped that the President of Mexico would enjoy the ride and he was happy that Dr. Cortines would have an opportunity to talk to Dr. Eisenhower.
President Cortines then repeated his thanks for the President’s invitation and the opportunity it had given him for this meeting with his great and good friend President Eisenhower. He then took his leave of the President.
Addendum to Memorandum of Conversation prepared by Lt. Col. Vernon A. Walters, of the President’s conversation with President Ruiz Cortines of Mexico, March 27, 1956, at 2:00 P.M., in the President’s suite at the Greenbrier.
In addition to the subjects discussed, which are covered in this very excellent memorandum from Colonel Walters, President Cortines brought up to me the matter of the working conditions of Mexicans who come in legally and on a temporary basis to work in the Southwestern United States. He said that in many states they worked extremely long hours and under other conditions that were not satisfactory. I told him I would see what we could find out about this.