519. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, June 15, 19551


  • Conversation with Admiral Saldías regarding Peruvian Claim to 200-Mile Maritime Zone


  • Rear Admiral Roque A. Saldías, Minister of Navy and President of the
  • Council of Ministers of Peru
  • Ambassador Fernando Berckemeyer of Peru
  • Ambassador Ellis O. Briggs2
  • Assistant Secretary Holland
  • OSA—Mr. McGinnis

After handing Ambassador Berckemeyer the Department’s note of June 15 conveying a favorable reply to Peru’s request for a loan for the construction of two submarines,3 Mr. Holland said he wanted to discuss a matter which he regarded as very important. He said that while this matter had been discussed both here and in Lima to a great extent, he wished at the risk of boring the Minister, to talk about it further because of the great weight attached to the problem by the highest officials of this Government.

Mr. Holland then referred to the present difficulties between the U.S. on the one hand and Peru, Chile and Ecuador on the other, regarding the latter’s claim to sovereignty over a 200-mile maritime zone. He said that Ambassador Briggs, who was present, had been brought back to Washington to engage in consultations on this [Page 1044] question. Mr. Holland related that he had tried to put himself in the position of a Peruvian in examining this question. He said that from that point of view he believed that the chief consideration was the conservation of the fisheries off the coast of Peru. He said that this was a readily understandable aim with which we had no quarrel. He went on to say that the claim of sovereignty over this extensive zone, although apparently not necessary for purposes of conservation, had been made publicly and in concert with Chile and Ecuador so that it was a difficult matter for Peru to disavow such a claim. He said that he sympathized thoroughly with the problem presented to the Peruvians in working out some means whereby claims to sovereignty over the high seas could be modified or abandoned while preserving the objective of conservation, without causing internal political difficulties in Peru.

Mr. Holland then said that the U.S. problem was likewise difficult. He said that there was complete agreement within the U.S. Government that the principle of the freedom of the seas which was a fundamental concept of U.S. policy could not be harmonized with the claims advanced by the three powers. He said that our problem was an extremely broad one since it involved vital security considerations and our relationships with the entire world. Any modification of the traditional three-mile concept would impose tremendous burdens upon our security arrangements.

Mr. Holland then referred to the U.S. proposals, which we believe to be fair and reasonable, that the legal issue be submitted to the International Court of Justice for decision and that the U.S. then work out a conservation agreement with the three nations designed to safeguard the legitimate interests of all parties in the conservation and exploitation of the fisheries in question. He said that we could not, of course, accept any reference to a 200-mile zone as a basis for negotiations. Any limitation upon the extent of the area to be dealt with in the agreement would be determined by the scientific and technical factors, he indicated. He asserted that he wished to make this clear since it appeared that the three nations expected negotiations to take place within the framework of the Santiago Declaration.4 Mr. Holland added that the juridical position of the parties would not form a part of the negotiations, permitting each of the participants to preserve its position on territorial waters. In closing, Mr. Holland stated that the U.S. was now considering its reply to [Page 1045] the June 3 notes of the three countries on this matter and hoped to make it available shortly.5

Admiral Saldías replied that he was in full agreement with Mr. Holland on the importance of resolving this issue speedily. He indicated … that neither the Peruvian Navy nor indeed the combined naval strength of the three nations were sufficiently strong to enforce jurisdiction over so vast an area. He confirmed Mr. Holland’s understanding that the Peruvian Government’s sole concern was the conservation of the fisheries off its coasts and referred to the classic Peruvian argument that the preservation of marine life off its coasts was vital to the existence of the guano industry because of its function in providing food for the birds. He mentioned that in his view Peru had a much larger stake in the conservation of the fisheries off its coast than either Chile or Ecuador not only because of the guano industry, but also because the Peruvian fishing industry was much more highly developed than that of the other two nations. He said that when he returned to Peru next week he would immediately bring before President Odria the views which Mr. Holland had expressed. He suggested that at the San Francisco Commemorative Meeting Mr. Holland speak on this matter to the Peruvian Foreign Minister, as well as to the Foreign Ministers of Ecuador and Chile who would be there. He emphasized that this entire question fell primarily within the province of the Foreign Ministry. Admiral Saldías made it clear that he was in full agreement with Mr. Holland’s views although he mentioned that the problem for Peru had been aggravated in the past by the habit of some American fishing vessels to fish near the Peruvian shore which naturally excited much public interest and comment. He referred to one instance in which a U.S. vessel had come in so close that it ran aground at Talara. The Minister concluded his comments by expressing the view that the 200-mile claims by the three powers were motivated in great part by the exercise by the U.S. of jurisdiction on the seas beyond customary limits during the prohibition era and by U.S. claims to the resources of the continental shelf off its shores.

The visit terminated after some brief discussion regarding the proposed construction of the two Peruvian submarines in which it was brought out that Admiral Saldías anticipated that they would be completed by the Electric Boat Company in thirty months and that they would be substantially the same as the two submarines previously purchased by Peru from that Company.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 723.022/6–1555. Confidential. Drafted by McGinnis.
  2. Ambassador Briggs was in Washington for consultations, June 15–24. He was appointed Ambassador to Peru on March 24 and presented his credentials to the Peruvian Government on May 27.
  3. The note is not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, 723.5621/6–1555)
  4. The Santiago Declaration, issued in 1952 by Chile, Ecuador, and Peru, stated that each of those countries possessed “sole sovereignty and jurisdiction” over the sea adjacent to its borders extending not less than 200 miles from the coast, and over the sea floor and subsoil underneath.
  5. These notes from Peru, Ecuador, and Chile are not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, 720.022/6–655)