479. Memorandum of Conversation1 2

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  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger
  • Mexican Foreign Secretary Emilio Rabasa
  • William J. Jorden, NSC Staff

After opening pleasantries, the Foreign Secretary told Dr. Kissinger he had come on serious business, namely the problem of salinity of the Colorado River waters delivered to Mexico. By way of background, he called attention to some of the discussions held at the recent U.S.-Mexican Interparliamentary meetings in New Orleans. He quoted the statement of Senator Olivera, head of the Mexican delegation, noting that the Colorado River problem was the most serious issue in our relations. He also quoted what he claimed was one of the principal conference conclusions—namely that Mexico should get water as good as that supplied to U.S. users on the other side of the border. He alleged that the U.S. Congressmen at the meeting had agreed to this statement of principle. He also said it was agreed at the conference that a bypass channel was needed that would carry highly saline water from the Wellton-Mohawk irrigation system to the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) rather than pumping it into the Colorado River as at present.

He pointed out that Congressman Wright (Dem. of Texas) has introduced legislation authorizing construction of such a diversion channel (H.R. 15109).

Rabasa also called attention to a quotation by Hubert Humphrey in Los Angeles recently to the effect that we had an obligation to give Mexican farmers water just as good as our own farmers get and that we should compensate Mexico for past damages. Rabasa said the Humphrey story had been widely played in the Mexican press.

Rabasa then recounted his own and President Echeverria’s recent experiences on a visit to the Mexicali Valley. He spoke of the land being covered with patches of salt, of crops withering, of people starving. He said these farmers, in talking with the Mexican President, did not just point out their problems. They demanded, he said—and repeated—demanded that Echeverria get a solution.

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All of this, Rabasa said, left the Mexican Government with no alternative. He said that “President Echeverria has no choice.” Mexico had to have the full quantity of water promised in the 1944 Treaty and Wellton-Mohawk water could not be part of the total. He also said that other drainage water was not acceptable. He said that unless we did something about the situation, Mexico would simply stop accepting Wellton-Mohawk water. That would reduce the total supply of water and it would produce a most serious situation in his country. He said he could not believe the U.S. wanted to see Mexicans starving and suffering, but that is what would happen—and he implied it would be our fault.

Dr. Kissinger pointed out that we had moved very close to agreement on this problem over the past months. Now, he said, Rabasa was completely discarding all that had been done and was raising new demands and new proposals. He pointed out it would be impossible to find an answer to this matter in the few days remaining before the Mexican President’s visit. He called attention to the fact that he was leaving in just a few more minutes for Japan and would be gone for five days.

Rabasa said he was sorry, but he had to speak frankly and let us know what they were up against and why they were making these new demands.

Dr. Kissinger asked what we could do about the problem at this late date. He asked if we could have some kind of interim agreement that would give us time to attack the technical problems in a sensible way. He said it would be impossible to get everyone concerned aboard on a crash program in so short a time—if a crash program was feasible at all. He underlined the monetary and political problems attached to this kind of effort.

Rabasa said that if something were not done in “5 or 6 months” Mexico would simply stop using “bad water.” He also noted that President Echeverria would be travelling to key cities in the U.S. He would certainly be asked what he had accomplished on the Colorado River question and he would have to say that he had failed to get a solution from us. (The clear implication was that this would turn the Mexican-American community against the Administration.)

Dr. Kissinger said that the Mexicans would be making a serious mistake if they advanced this in the form of an ultimatum. He said it could destroy the coming visit.

Rabasa shifted ground and pulled out a Department of Interior publication called Water Quality Criteria. He said the publication made it clear that water of more than 1200 ppm salinity was unusable for many crops. This is your own publication, he said. But the water we are getting does not meet this standard.

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Rabasa ended with a statement that “we deserve the same water as your people get.” He said that we were“big”and Mexico was“small” and we had to be generous.

Dr. Kissinger said we would look into the matter urgently and that he would get in touch with Rabasa next Tuesday (June 13).

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 788, Country Files, Latin America, Mexico, Vol. III, 1972. Secret. The meeting took place in Kissinger’s office. In a July 7 memorandum to Meyer, Stevenson indicated that President Nixon and President Echeverría had agreed to a 6-month interim arrangement regarding salinity on the Colorado River. (Ibid., POL 33–1 MEX–US)
  2. In a meeting with Kissinger on the Colorado River salinity issue, Foreign Secretary Rabasa indicated that Mexico would reject any drainage water and “that if something were not done in ‘5 or 6 months’ Mexico would simply stop using ‘bad water.’” Rabasa implied that during his upcoming visit, President Echeverría might use the issue to “turn the Mexican-American community against the Administration.” Kissinger responded “that the Mexicans would be making a serious mistake if they advanced this kind of an ultimatum.”