108. Despatch From the Consulate General at Leopoldville to the Department of State 1

No. 160

REF

  • Leopoldville D–141, November 14;2 Department’s Telegram No. 71, November 5;3 Brussels Telegram No. 646 to Department, repeated as No. 20 [10] to Leopoldville, November 2 [1];4 Leopoldville Telegram No. 79, November 2, 1957;5 and previous
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SUBJECT

  • Belgian Complaint against Activities of the Consulate General

In accordance with the Department’s telegram No. 71, I waited for some time—four weeks, in fact—before talking with the local Administration about the recent complaint of the Belgian Government that officers of the Consulate General had been developing too many contacts with Africans, especially with African leaders of independence movements. Not having been called in to discuss the matter, I made an appointment to see the Vice Governor General this morning, as the Governor General has been in Brussels for consultations.

In the course of our conversation I followed the position taken earlier by Deputy Under Secretary Murphy and Ambassador Folger, together with a few details as reported below.

With regard to the charges made by the Belgian Government last August, I stated that I had made a very thorough investigation of the record since my arrival here in October 1956. Both the Public Affairs Officer, Consul Gilbert E. Bursley, and Vice Consul Roger M. Bearce, who probably had had most of the contacts with Africans, had departed on leave before the complaint was made. However, they had reported to me regularly about their activities and had given no indication whatever that they had developed any special contacts with leaders of independence movements. Other members of the staff had almost no contacts with Africans. I said that I myself had had almost no contacts with Africans, partly because I wanted first to develop a greater fluency in French, but largely because I had leaned over backwards to avoid giving any impression of seeking out African leaders. I said that I was aware of no improper activities of any kind in this regard, but that if the Administration had information about such activities I would appreciate having the details, so that our staff could avoid making any similar mistakes in the future. I added that I had asked our staff to be very circumspect in their relations with Africans and to keep me fully informed about any such relations.

The Vice Governor General vouchsafed no specific charges of any kind. He said that Mr. Bursley had been giving Africans the impression that he was sympathetic with their ambitions and that he would always give them a warm welcome (M. Cornelis used the French phrase “bon accueil” because he could not think of an adequate English phrase). Many Belgians here were aware that Mr. Bursley was giving this impression to the Africans and were becoming extremely concerned about it. I commented that as Mr. Bursley was a man of unusual energy, he may well have given the impression of doing much more than was actually the case. The Vice [Page 323] Governor General replied that, whatever Mr. Bursley may or may not have done, it was the impression he gave that counted. Before Mr. Bursley left, M. Cornelis continued, people were referring to him as “The Quiet American”—the American spy in Graham Greene’s novel about Saigon. For the past three or four months, he concluded, all this discussion had died down, so it was obvious that it was Mr. Bursley who had been stirring up all the trouble.

The Vice Governor General then went on to say that the situation was difficult because the Russians have “one eye” here—the Czechoslovakian Consul. Some time ago, he said, the Czechoslovakian Consul went too far in his contacts with Africans and “we had to clamp down”. The Consul then protested, saying he was merely doing “exactly the same thing as the Americans”.

I pointed out that Mr. Bursley had resigned from Government service for personal reasons before the Belgian Government had lodged its complaint against him, and for the present time he was not being replaced. His deputy, Consul Henry H. Stephen, was running the office for the moment and, being a much more quiet operator, would not cause any difficulty. The Vice Governor General said that it would be a very good idea to let things quiet down for a while and to make no changes in that office.

After explaining that the United States had no political or economic designs on any part of Africa and did not intend to encourage independence movements against its allies, I said that nevertheless our embassies and legations, like Belgian embassies and legations, had to keep informed about what was going on in the country around them. I said that, as I developed fluency in French, I hoped to talk with more and more Belgians and occasionally with Africans, just to find out what they are thinking about. I added that I thought it would be useful, for example, after the consultations on December 8 under the Statut des Villes, to talk with some of the new bourgmestres, both European and African, and perhaps with some of the members of the new Conseils. M. Cornelis nodded agreement, but commented only that Mr. Holmes had discussed this problem with him earlier.

I concluded by saying that I wanted to work very closely with the Governor General and himself, and that I hoped that if any further difficulties arose in the future he would call me in to discuss them. The Vice Governor General nodded agreement, saying that “all the trouble is over now” and that he was sure that there would be no further difficulties.

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Comment

The Vice Governor General was, as usual, very warm and friendly throughout this conversation. He gave me the impression that he considers the episode is now closed. The fact that he, like the Belgian Ambassador in Washington and the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Brussels, failed to present any bill of particulars against former PAO Bursley would indicate that the Administration cannot substantiate its charges against him. M. Cornelis’ lack of any substantive comment about future relations between the post and Africans would suggest that the Administration is taking a “wait and see” attitude.

In my presentation of our position, I endeavored to combine a frank statement of my efforts to avoid any improper activities and a firm statement that it is a perfectly proper activity for the post to talk with Africans as part of its routine work. The establishment of the new system of bourgmestres and Councils, under the Statut des Villes, will make contacts with leading Africans easier and more natural than in the past. Shortly after January 1, I shall call on the new Premier Bourgmestre, who by all accounts will be the present Commissaire Provincial, M. Tordeur, and, after asking about current developments under the new system, inform him that I intend to call on each of the eleven new bourgmestres in turn and to interview them on occasion concerning the working of the Statut des Villes.

James Frederick Green
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 122.536H2/11–2957. Confidential. Also sent to Brussels and repeated to Elisabethville, Luanda, and Yaoundé.
  2. Despatch 141 commented on the action of the Government Press Service in Brussels in reprinting an extract from a French newspaper critical of the activities of the USIS and Consulate General in Leopoldville. (Ibid., 122.536H2/11–1457)
  3. Telegram 71 suggested that Green might await a Belgian approach before seeking a meeting with Governor General Pétillon to repeat the points made earlier by Murphy and Folger. (Ibid., 122.536H3/11–257)
  4. Supra .
  5. Telegram 79 summarized a conversation between Julius C. Holmes and Vice Governor General Cornelis on November 1 regarding the Belgian complaint about U.S. consular activities in the Congo. Holmes maintained there was no substance to the allegations and wondered why the local authorities had not discussed their concerns with Consul General Green. He emphasized that it was not U.S. policy to interfere in the colonial affairs of its allies and recommended that the Department instruct Green to respond in detail directly to the Governor General on this matter. (Department of State, Central Files, 122.536H3/11–357)