120. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Carter/President Banzer Bilateral



    • President Banzer
    • Ambassador Crespo
    • Ambassador Ortiz Sanz
    • Ambassador Xavier Murillo de la Rocha Sub-secretary for Political and Maritime and International Waters Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    • Mr. Hernan Antelo Secretary of Press and Information
    • Lt. Guillermo Canedo Naval Aide to the President
  • US

    • President Carter
    • Secretary Vance
    • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • Deputy Assistant Secretary Stedman
    • Robert Pastor (NSC)
    • Williams Beal, Charge d’Affaires, La Paz
    • Interpreter

President Carter welcomed President Banzer to Washington, thanked him for coming and for Bolivia’s support for the Panama Canal Treaties.

In replying, President Banzer stressed the importance of the Panama Canal Treaties as an antecedent for the solution of other problems in Latin America in the same spirit of cooperation and friendship. In this connection, Banzer said, he wanted to discuss Bolivia’s problem, her geographic encirclement. He hoped that the approach exemplified by the Panama Canal Treaties might serve as a departure point for a resolution of Bolivia’s problem.

President Carter, too, hoped that progress would be made. He had spoken to Presidents Pinochet and Morales Bermudez and encouraged them to discuss the matter with the Bolivians.2 The President said that the burden of the initiative probably rested with the Bolivians. President Pinochet had told the President that even if there had been an agreement between Bolivia and Chile, Peru was not likely to approve. In turn, the Peruvian proposal for an international zone at Arica had not been acceptable to Chile. The US, President Carter said, had absolutely no desire to interfere in this matter or to force agreement among the [Page 393] countries. Nevertheless, in view of Bolivia’s strong and understandable interest in this matter, the US did want to help.

President Banzer observed that the problem goes back to 1904 the same year in which the original Panama Canal Treaty was signed. In that year the Bolivians were forced to sign a treaty imposed upon them by the victor in a war.3 Banzer felt that in recent times his government had taken the most progressive steps, particularly in presenting a clear proposal. Banzer said that the Bolivian plan rested on three principal elements. These were; peace, integration, and development. He thought these constituted a realistic basis for a satisfactory solution.

President Banzer said that at some time there would be war in the area between Peru and Chile. Bolivia has already declared that it will remain neutral. However, he noted, in the area between Peru and Chile there was a strip of about 200 kilometers wide in which no warfare maneuvers were possible. The 100 kilometer wide strip in which maneuver was possible would certainly put warfare in Bolivian territory. Bolivia was most anxious to avoid such a situation. It was a peace-loving country, its resources were limited and Banzer’s government was anxious to use those resources to raise the standard of living of the Indians and the campesinos. The Bolivians are very disturbed at the buildup of arms in Peru and in Chile, Banzer said. There is, furthermore a widespread belief that a treaty exists whereby Arica would be returned to Peru. Banzer insisted there is no such treaty and said he is very much concerned that as the centennial of the earlier war approaches the danger of a new conflict increases. Banzer said that in Peru a generation has been reared in the concept of revenge upon Chile. The Bolivians, Banzer stressed, wished to keep the two—Peru and Chile—apart, and thus maintain the peace which is a basic part of Bolivia’s proposal for a corridor to the sea.

The area which would be occupied by the Bolivian corridor, Banzer noted, is at the moment economically undeveloped and unintegrated. Bolivia proposes to make it a center of development for which Bolivian raw materials could be used, and which would be beneficial to all three countries. At the present the future looks very disturbing. The Bolivians have proposed a development plan within the context of their plans for a corridor. Chile, Banzer said, accepted but with certain conditions. The first condition was that the area should be demilitarized. The Bolivians responded to the Chileans that they did not plan to put any troops in the area. However, Bolivia could not agree on a formal demilitarization because this would impinge upon Bolivian sover [Page 394] eignty. The second condition on which the Chileans insisted was that they should keep possession of off-shore waters up to the 200-mile limit. This the Bolivians could agree to since all they really wanted was 10 kilometers of shore line.

A further condition was that Chile should have the total use of the water from the River Lauca. This was difficult because the Bolivians felt they needed at least part of those waters for the economic development of the area. This problem, however, could probably be settled. The principal difficulty, however, arose over Chilean insistence on an exchange of territories. On this there could be no agreement from the Bolivian side. The Bolivian people were against this. They had lost 400 kilometers of territory which had been taken forcibly and all they were now asking for was 10 kilometers of coastline.

If there were war in the area, Banzer went on, all ports would be terribly damaged and this would be critical for Bolivia. The country simply could not survive without reliable ports and a normal flow of imports. Banzer again stressed that Bolivia had complete and detailed plans for the full development of the corridor. There had been an attempt at a solution in 1929, Banzer added, in the form of a protocol with which Bolivia and Chile had agreed.4 However, Peru had sent a reply not responsive to Chile, which was not prepared to accept an enclave with shared sovereignty. Peru had been asked to withdraw its reply but nothing had happened. Since December of last year there had been a stalemate and in effect nothing was happening.

Banzer noted that he could, of course, tell his people no progress had been made but this was something very dangerous to do since the Bolivian people still had high expectations. Furthermore, if nothing happened Bolivia would be obliged to break relations with Chile again. It was a fact that relations with Chile had been renewed chiefly for the purpose of enabling further talks to take place; some progress must be made.5 President Banzer said he had made tremendous efforts simply to get the other two Presidents to agree to meet that afternoon (September 8). He felt he was obligated to make every effort to achieve a meeting of the three Presidents while they were in Washington.6

[Page 395]

President Carter wondered whether an exchange of territory were required. He noted that probably Arica would continue to be used for Bolivian imports. Did the Bolivians consider that it was necessary to construct a new port and facilities?

President Banzer replied that in the long run a new port remained in the plan. However, for the present Arica would continue to be used as Bolivia’s port, even though facilities there were extremely poor. For example, US wheat was imported to Bolivia through Arica although there were no warehouses. The wheat was simply unloaded out in the open and the birds ate a great deal of it. Storage rates at Arica were high and there were fines for delays in moving the goods. The railroad itself that went to Bolivia was Chilean. It carried just about 100% Bolivian goods and there was no incentive for the Chileans to move the goods promptly. At the present time Bolivia owed Chile over 300 million dollars in warehousing and fines as well as 32 million dollars to Peru, a very large sum for a country with a small income.

If Bolivia obtains a corridor and continues to use Arica, Bolivia would plan to purchase the railroad and to build a good road alongside as well as warehouses for its imported goods. Bolivia did not contemplate building a new port which would compete with Arica.

President Carter said he understood and that there was a possibility the US might encourage loans from international financing institutions for improvements at Arica, or perhaps to build another port. There was, of course, nothing definite at the moment but there certainly was a possibility of financing. Referring to the tripartite meeting which President Banzer would be attending later in the day, he asked whether the US could send an observer or perhaps get a report as to what went on at the meeting, since it would be helpful to us to keep abreast of developments.

President Banzer said he wanted to be sure it was understood that the problem was essentially a Bolivian one. The US should understand this. Nevertheless, he wished President Carter and the US would follow developments sympathetically and not to be disinterested. The situation could become one of warfare which it seemed to President Banzer the US would wish to avoid in Latin America. Banzer noted that Peru’s new military equipment was from the USSR and there were many Soviet technicians in Peru. For the present the Peruvian soldiers were not capable of operating the sophisticated Russian equipment but they would eventually learn. He was not sure what implications warfare might have under these conditions.

President Carter assured President Banzer that the US was and would remain interested in this situation and would very much appreciate receiving reports on any progress made.

The President said there were a few items which the US wished to bring up. He congratulated President Banzer on progress which [Page 396] Bolivia has made and will be making towards constitutionalization of the government.7 He also congratulated him on the reduction of international drug traffic which is taking place.

A related matter, President Carter noted, was the very serious problem presented to the US by the 39 American prisoners detained in Bolivia on drug charges. The US recognizes that a number of them had been detained as a result of efforts to reduce the drug traffic. However, the President went on, some had been in prison for a long time, some were ill, and some had been jailed for minor offenses only. The parents of prisoners were strongly organized. They had good access to the press and the media and there would be Congressional hearings at which US officials would testify.8 Coordinator for Human Rights Patt Derian, the President said, had told him of Bolivian efforts to expedite trials and to keep the judicial processes moving. President Carter asked, however, that President Banzer and his government do all possible to release those prisoners who were ill, others who had apparently committed only minor offenses and others who may have served time in jail longer than the sentences which might be imposed. This would demonstrate the concern of President Banzer and the Bolivian Government’s with human rights. Moreover, President Carter said, he believed these requests for special consideration would be compatible with the Bolivian system of justice. If such steps were not taken and further progress made, President Carter went on, there could be a great outcry, which the President could not control, from the public, the press and the Congress. His remarks were not critical, the President said, and should not be understood in that sense. However, he just wanted to prevent the problem from getting worse.

President Banzer assured President Carter he would give the matter of the prisoners his personal attention. He noted, however, that the recent Bolivian narcotics law had been a cooperative venture with the US. In addition, Bolivia was receiving funds for enforcement and for [Page 397] crop substitution from the US. Banzer also observed that sometimes the US made requests which were against Bolivian law making it extremely difficult for him. He noted that cocaine valued at approximately 300 million dollars or more was shipped from Bolivia to the US every year. This was a serious problem for American youths and Bolivia wants to stop this traffic. It is, he said, good business for Bolivia, but Bolivia doesn’t not want this business. President Banzer went on to say there are many faults in the Bolivian prison system and in the judicial system but improvements are being made. He again promised to give this matter his personal attention.

Turning to “constitutionalization” of the Bolivian government, President Banzer said Bolivia is now going through a phase in which the Government is institutionalizing the country’s political life. Before moving to a new phase in government in 1980—“perhaps sooner if possible”—things must be put in order so as to avoid the problems which the country had faced prior to his regime.

President Carter expressed his hope that President Banzer’s discussion with the other two Presidents would be productive. He expressed pleasure at their meeting and suggested that President Banzer correspond directly with him on this or other subjects, if this should prove necessary. He would send to President Banzer a list of those US prisoners about which we are most concerned. He mentioned Susan Scanlan who is in a hospital, and two others who are ill and who were either caught with only small amounts of drugs or who had been in jails for over a year and a half. Again he expressed hopes that President Banzer might find some way to release these prisoners.9

In conclusion, the President again wished President Banzer well at his meeting this afternoon and urged that he continue his efforts with Chile and Peru. President Carter reiterated his desire to stay informed and repeated that he would speak to the Presidents of Chile and Peru regarding the importance of agreement for a Bolivian outlet to the sea.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country Files, Box 2, Bolivia: 5-12/77. Confidential. The meeting took place in the White House Cabinet Room.
  2. For the bilateral meeting between Carter and Pinochet, see Document 205. For the bilateral meeting between Carter and Morales Bermudez, see Document 304.
  3. The Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Commerce between Bolivia and Chile, signed on October 20, 1904. (Parry, Consolidated Treaty Series, vol. 196 [1904], p. 403–410)
  4. Presumably a reference to the Treaty Between Chile and Peru for the Settlement of the Dispute Regarding Tacna and Arica, signed June 3, 1929. The treaty confirmed Bolivia’s landlocked status but also included a protocol that allowed for free transport of goods through the disputed maritime territory and its ports. (94 League of Nations Treaty Series, 1929, 401)
  5. Bolivia and Chile severed relations in April 1962, and restored them in February 1975.
  6. In telegram 7311 from La Paz, September 13, the Embassy reported on Banzer’s reaction to his meeting with Pinochet and Morales Bermudez. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770332-0616)
  7. In telegram 5692 from La Paz, July 21, the Embassy reported on Banzer’s July 16 announcement of his plan to return the country to constitutional government by 1980. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770259-1141)
  8. The House International Relations Committee held hearings in July 1977 regarding consular services to U.S. citizens in Bolivia, among other countries. For the transcript, see “Protection of Americans Abroad,” Hearings Before the Subcommittee on International Operations of the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, Ninety-Fifth Congress, First Session, July 12 and 14, 1977. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1977) The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing in October 1977 specifically on U.S. citizen prisoners in Bolivian jails. See “U.S. Citizens in Foreign Jails on Drug Related Charges,” Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Foreign Assistance of the Committee on Foreign Relations, October 14, 1977, United States Senate, Ninety-Fifth Congress, First Session on United States Citizens Detained in Foreign Jails on Drug Related Charges. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1977)
  9. In telegram 217970 to La Paz, September 12, the Department noted that the list of prisoners named by Carter was provided to the Embassy via telephone conversation on September 12. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770330-0322) Carter wrote to Banzer on October 31, noting that the Department had provided a list of prisoners “who appeared to me to merit some special consideration” to Crespo. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country Files, Box 2, Bolivia: 5-12/77) In telegram 8908 from La Paz, November 4, Boeker wrote that he would not deliver the letter “pending further instructions, as per my telcon with Arellano.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770415-1135)