280. Instruction From the Secretary of State to All Diplomatic Missions in the American Republics1



  • Report on Cuidad Trujillo Conference on Conservation of Natural Resources of the Continental Shelf and Marine Waters

The purpose of this instruction is to give the Embassy background information on what took place at the recent Inter-American Specialized Conference on Conservation of Natural Resources of the [Page 553] Continental Shelf and Marine Waters held in Ciudad Trujillo, March 15-28, 1956,2 and an analysis of the results achieved.

From the outset of the Conference it was evident that an entirely different atmosphere prevailed from that which had existed at the Mexico City Meeting of the Inter-American Council of Jurists. The change was manifest in the composition of some of the key delegations, particularly those of Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Uruguay and Guatemala which were headed by experienced diplomatic officers not personally committed to extremist doctrines on the subject matter of the Conference. Informal conversations also soon revealed that most of the Latin American delegations, especially those which had taken a lead in adoption of the “Principles of Mexico” Resolution, had come to Ciudad Trujillo with instructions to follow a cooperative course of action and make every effort, within the limits of their respective national policies, to reach an accommodation of differences. The efforts made by the Embassies prior to the Conference may therefore be considered as having produced the atmosphere desired.

The principal effort of the U.S. Delegation during the opening days of the Conference was to speak to other leading delegations for the purpose of gaining general acceptance at the Conference of a policy such as that outlined in the aide-mémoire presented by the Embassies to the Foreign Offices pursuant to circular instruction 6347,3 namely that agreement should be stated in regard to subjects on which agreement was found to be possible, and that issues on which agreement could not be reached should be defined with a view to further efforts toward their resolution. The U.S. Delegation found a receptive attitude to this approach which within a few days was generally accepted by all delegations.

A desire to avoid open clashes and polemics was also reflected in a decision to dispense entirely with general debate. Only two delegations had signified their intention of addressing the Conference as a whole, namely Mexico and the United States. When these two delegations agreed to omit the general debate, several other delegations expressed their pleasure since it relieved them of the necessity of taking fixed public positions on issues on which they would have had to differ with the United States.

The Conference was organized into three Committees: I—Continental Shelf, II—Marine Waters, and III—Other Subjects. It was [Page 554] intended that the first two Committees would consider scientific, economic and legal aspects of their respective subjects. However, it also was decided informally to have the heads of delegations meet in closed session in the Dominican Foreign Office in an effort to decide how the basic juridical problems facing the Conference could be worked out. Committees I and II therefore concentrated on scientific and economic aspects of their subjects while the heads of delegations proceeded to tackle the basic political and legal questions. The heads of delegations met daily, sometime two or three times, for about a week. At these meetings, all the main issues facing the Conference, and deriving from the Mexico City Resolution, were debated fully and at times with considerable insistence, but in the last analysis the general policy to which reference was made above prevailed and unanimous decisions were reached in regard to all subjects incorporated in the final resolution.

The resolution entitled “Resolution of Ciudad Trujillo” (copy attached4) represents the end product of the negotiations which took place among the heads of delegations. At the outset this group had before it separate proposals submitted by the delegations of Cuba, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, as well as the draft resolution circulated by the United States in advance of the Conference. The United States proposal was accepted as the working document and served as the basis for the discussions. Part I of the “Resolution of Ciudad Trujillo” embodies the maximum agreement which could be reached among all the delegations represented at the Conference on the points covered by the United States draft. Four of the seven paragraphs contained in this section represent positive areas of agreement. The other three refer to areas where it was impossible to achieve a conciliation of views and where the most which could be done at this stage was to agree that disagreement exists. Part II of the Resolution was included at the insistence of Mexico. Indicating that his instructions required him to seek a provision which would specify that the statement of points of disagreement did not in any sense imply a judgment by the Conference on the respective positions of the participating governments on these points, the Mexican Representative made very clear that some such provision was a sine qua non to Mexican approval of the Resolution. The language finally approved represents a compromise between those delegations which would have preferred a provision which would have virtually negated the positive value of the Resolution and those, including the United States, which regarded a provision of the type desired by Mexico to be wholly unnecessary considering that Mexico could [Page 555] achieve its purpose through the usual practice of a unilateral declaration.

Agreement on the “Resolution of Ciudad Trujillo” was accompanied by a gentleman’s understanding among the heads of delegations that once the Resolution left the closed sessions and moved through Committee III and Plenary for final approval, no efforts would be made to modify the Resolution in any way, the delegations confining themselves to making explanations of vote if they so desired. This agreement was closely observed. The Resolution received unanimous support. Several delegations took advantage of the opportunity to explain their affirmative vote as well as to include declarations with respect to the Resolution in the Final Act. Copies of these declarations are also attached.

The results of the Conference are in general indicative of the efficacy of the strong approach made by the United States to the Latin American governments prior to the meeting. While it would have been preferable from our standpoint to have a resolution which more explicitly set aside the “Principles of Mexico” Resolution, it was evident that any direct attack on the Mexico action would have seriously jeopardized the chances of obtaining the constructive resolution produced at Ciudad Trujillo.

The discussions of technical aspects of the continental shelf and marine waters which took place in Committees I and II were, in the opinion of the U.S. Delegation, important and useful. The very fact that scientific and economic aspects of these problems were being discussed by qualified people from several countries had a beneficial effect on the deliberations during the Conference and should have a salutary influence on future consideration of the problems. Moreover, the direct contact among the scientific and technical personnel of the various delegations was useful in laying the groundwork for future contact and continued effort to broaden the scientific understanding of the problems involved. A specific beneficial result was to undermine seriously from the scientific standpoint the “biome” theory which had been developed in Chile, Ecuador and Peru to form a pseudo-scientific basis for extensive claims of the coastal states over adjacent waters of the high seas.

The following conclusions can be drawn concerning the Ciudad Trujillo Conference:

The Conference served to restore consideration of the important question of conservation of the resources of the continental shelf and marine waters to the customary and desirable procedures of full and frank discussion and accommodation of differing views as is traditional in the inter-American system, thus correcting the serious deviation from this pattern which took place in Mexico City.
The Conference served to check further the strong bid of the extremist countries (Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, El Salvador, and Costa Rica) for support among the other countries for their broad claims to territorial waters. It is believed that the movement for the 200-mile thesis of Chile, Ecuador and Peru has lost its momentum.
By introducing, at the insistence of some Latin American countries, the concept of “exploitability” as a means of determining the land area beneath the sea which belongs to the coastal state, the Conference decided upon an outer limit for controls over the continental shelf so indefinite and subject to future adjustment as to render the shelf less suitable as a basis for claiming that the territorial sea is coextensive with the epicontinental sea, as Mexico, Argentina and others have done.
The broader consideration of scientific and economic as well as legal factors involved achieved a wider recognition of the fact that the issues concerning the regime of the high seas are extremely complex and not susceptible of facile solutions.
At the same time the Conference confirmed the existence of widespread support for according to adjacent coastal states more extensive rights over the fishery resources in the high seas than the United States is willing to agree to.
There was increasing recognition of the fact that the United States had important security reasons for its position on the three-mile limit of territorial waters, but the impossibility of reaching any common stand on this question was so clear that little time was devoted even to discussing it.

The effect of the “Resolution of Ciudad Trujillo” on the “Principles of Mexico” Resolution is a matter on which each government will have its own interpretation. From the statements made by some delegations, particularly Mexico, El Salvador and the CEP countries, it is evident that they wish to regard the Mexico City Resolution as being unaffected by the Ciudad Trujillo action with respect to the areas of disagreement set forth in the “Resolution of Ciudad Trujillo”. The United States, on the other hand, as indicated in our Delegation’s statement in the Final Act, regards the “Resolution of Ciudad Trujillo” as the more authoritative expression of the OAS on the subject matter, given the fact that it is based on a broader consideration of the factors involved and came subsequent to the Mexico City Resolution.

The next round in the consideration of this general subject will take place in the ILC which meets in Geneva late in April and May. Next fall the General Assembly of the United Nations will also take up the matter. In preparation for the General Assembly, the Department will in due course send appropriate instructions to the Embassy. Meanwhile, the Embassy is requested to keep the Department informed of significant developments with respect to reaction to the Ciudad Trujillo Conference and preparations for the meeting of the [Page 557] General Assembly with respect to the regime of the high seas and the regime of the territorial sea.

As the opportunity arises, the Ambassador in his discretion may inform high government officials with whom he dealt in preparation for the Ciudad Trujillo Conference of the satisfaction of the United States with the responsible and cooperative manner in which the Conference carried out its assignment. While the Conference achieved limited agreement on the important issues before it, the handling of the controversial areas of disagreement proceeded in the best spirit and traditions of the inter-American system.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 397.022–IA/4–2056. Confidential.
  2. Assistant Secretary Holland was appointed Chairman of the U.S. Delegation to the Specialized Conference; and Ambassador John C. Dreier was appointed Vice Chairman. William C. Herrington and William Sanders of the Department of State and Ralph L. Miller of the Department of the Interior served as Delegates. A full list of the U.S. Delegation is in Department of State Bulletin, March 19, 1956, p. 487.
  3. See Document 276.
  4. Not printed as an attachment; for text, see Department of State Bulletin, May 28, 1956, p. 897.