113. Memorandum From the Assistant Legal Adviser for Inter-American Affairs (Frank) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Oliver), the Legal Adviser (Meeker), and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Vaky)1


  • British Honduras Mediation

On June 29, 1968 the Department, in accordance with a decision made by Ambassadors Oliver and Webster and Mr. Meeker, informed our posts that we would terminate the British Honduras mediation and our active participation in the dispute, and would so inform the parties to the dispute in writing.2

Ambassador Mein has suggested that we not abandon our role as mediator and that we continue our participation through diplomatic channels rather than through Ambassador Webster.3 Further suggestions have been made that we end the mediation without sending a note, and/or inform the Guatemalans of our willingness to remain involved and of our sympathy for their position.

The issue is whether we should overturn the previous decision, i.e. (1) whether we should terminate the mediation; (2) if so, how we should terminate the mediation; and (3) whether we should inform the Guatemalans of our sympathy and willingness to remain involved.

I strongly believe that we should end the mediation, that we should do so in writing, and that we should make no commitments vis-à-vis further participation in the dispute, for the following reasons: [Page 267]

Ambassador Mein suggests that the parties can reach agreement. I believe it is now quite evident that a solution will not be found in the foreseeable future—because of Arenales’ reaction to the mediator’s proposal, Mendez Montenegro’s disinterest in the dispute, the politics and emotions in British Honduras manifested after the treaty was published, and the British unwillingness to resolve the dispute with a large cash settlement.
A solution will only come with time, when the reality of an independent British Honduras is recognized in Guatemala and when the British Hondurans, as masters of their own affairs, realize the need to make concessions. These events will occur more quickly if the parties are looking to themselves rather than to the United States for an answer.
The United States can no longer fill a useful role as a neutral third party. We are not needed to facilitate contact and communication between the parties. We do not have fresh ideas. The parties seem unprepared to have a solution “imposed” on them by the USG, as has been shown by the unanimous objection to the US treaty.
Becoming involved in Arenales’ machinations leaves us dangerously exposed. Arenales has told us he wishes to reduce British influence in British Honduras. He has told the British he wishes to reduce US influence in Central America. He has told both of us that he believes the best solution would be the bribery of either Price or Goldson.
By following the recommended course of action, we can always re-enter the discussions and consideration of the dispute if we find it would later be in our interest. This flexibility is preferable to a commitment to participation, when significant events will soon occur, e.g., BH constitutional conference and independence.
The British Honduras issue is not of major concern to either the Guatemalan public or to the President of Guatemala at the present. It is possible this dispute could die a natural death. However, if we remain involved and mislead the Guatemalans by showing support or sympathy, we could induce Guatemalan politicians to make the claim a political issue—it could sprout like, and reach the proportions of, the Venezuela– Guyana dispute. Rather than nipping this at the bud, we would be assisting in creating an unfortunate situation calling for later reaction.
Only Arenales (for personal reasons) and a handful in Guatemala are concerned with the dispute. Mendez Montenegro has shown little interest in assuming the risks of a settlement or in using the issue for political purposes. I believe the Government of Guatemala would not object if we terminate the mediation and dampen rather than encourage Arenales.
Ending the mediation in an oral or equivocal fashion, especially when extrapolated in Guatemala City, will result in the Guatemalans misreading our position, in Arenales believing the Treaty was a Webster [Page 268] rather than a US proposal, and in our diplomatic missions becoming more involved—subjectively involved.

In conclusion, I recommend that we send notes to the British and Guatemalans as outlined in paragraph three of the attached cable. If you believe it advisable, we could always console the Guatemalans although we should do so without any implication that we would support any further efforts of theirs to gain control of British Honduras, to prevent British Honduras from becoming independent, or to inflame the British Honduras issue in Guatemala.4

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 32–1 GUAT–UK. Confidential. Copies were sent to Webster and Killoran.
  2. In telegram 193917 to Guatemala, London, and Belize; attached but not printed.
  3. In telegram 5715 from Guatemala, July 25. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 32–1 GUAT–UK)
  4. An attached handwritten note of August 3 indicates that Meeker agreed that the United States should “deliver notes & cut this off clean.” The issue of U.S. mediation in the British Honduras was resolved on September 12, when the Department informed the U.S. Embassies in Guatemala City and London of its conviction that “in balance it is now in best interests US formally end its role as mediator.” (Telegram 236943 to Guatemala City and London, September 12; ibid., POL 19 BR HOND) Identical diplomatic notes to this effect were delivered to the Guatemalan and British Embassies in Washington on September 20. (Telegram 242405 to London and Guatemala City, September 20; ibid.)