IN theory the matters in dispute between the foreign and the Mexican peoples seem simple enough and capable of being readily adjusted. In reality the settlement demanded by the advocates of the “cleaning-up” process would cut deep into the politico-social ordering of the Southern Republic with incalculable consequences to the parties immediately concerned and a disquieting prospect for the remainder. All that the United States demands officially, for itself and for the European peoples the furtherance of whose interests is entrusted to its care, is that the lives, properties and rights of foreigners in Mexico shall be adequately protected in the future and that the losses which they sustained during the revolutionary upheaval shall be made good. Than this nothing could be fairer, and Mexico, in the person of her President, recognises the obligation and is firmly minded to discharge it without avoidable delay. If that were all, the outlook would indeed be roseate. But as a statement of the issue it is sadly incomplete. There are cross currents beneath the surface which must be reckoned with and forms to be observed which are almost as important as the substance. And these complicate the situation considerably.
Two movements are at present afoot in the United States which are carefully kept sundered there but are merged together in the minds of Mexicans apprehensive of what the morrow may bring. The object of one is the re-establishment of official and friendly intercourse between the two Republics, Mexico redressing her neighbour’s grievances and the State Department in Washington recognising President Obregón’s government. The ultimate goal of the other is much more comprehensive : it includes a complete rearrangement of the two countries’ reciprocal relations along the lines traced by the United States Senate for Cuba. And in the proposed treaty of commerce and amity Mexican statesmen discern the tell-tale nexus between the two. They apprehend that the condition officially put forward which is essentially irrelevant to the question of recognition is but the prelude to the unofficial scheme of which it vaguely sounds the keynote. The function of the one is to furnish the frame-work, that of the other to complete the fabric. Form plays an appreciable rôle in the first, substance monopolises the second. International law should supply the motive power for recognition; public opinion, or what passes muster for that, will provide the stimulus for Cubanisation. The United States Government confines itself to the actual in time and to the Mexican in space, whereas the creators of public sentiment looking further ahead in both are formulating a modus vivendi for the future and for Latin-America generally. State sovereignty and its correlate duties towards the unhappy family of nations are the only postulates of the diplomatists.
A specifllc politico-economic object, commonly known as the Cuban standard, floats before the imagination of an influential group of American business men and politicians. They maintain that for the United States Government to protect the rights of its citizens is a duty. With the oil companies, however, the rearrangement of reciprocal intercourse is an appetite and a somewhat voracious one. And against appetites as against passions there are no arguments that carry. To fall in with the legitimate claims of the United States Government is President Obregon fixed resolve. To help, however indirectly, build up by a punitive treaty a bridge between those claims and Cubanisation is repugnant to him personally and beyond his powers constitutionally.
Such is the light in which the present controversy is viewed by Mexican statesmen.
It is taken for granted by many that the recognition of the Obregon régime is the one thing necessary and that every-thing else will be added to that, more or less automatically. As a matter of fact, the real work planned by American reformers, which consists in the splicing of the severed strands of international intercourse, will not commence until recognition has been vouchsafed, and it is doubtful whether it will entirely end before much in Mexico that seems firmly rooted to-day will have been plucked out of the political soil to make room for something wholly different. One may recognise this eventuality without characterising the motives of those who are striving to realise it. Their standards are said to be North American and their ideals have nought in common with those of the people whom they would fain “regenerate.” Carranza perceived the existence and gauged the strength of this inchoate process which was silently going forward in his time, but his clumsy exertions which, not contented with damming it, aimed at starting a counter-current throughout Latin-America only intensified its force.
In Mexico the ultimate aim of the scheming outsiders is believed to be the Americanisation of the Latin races. This, however, must not be taken to connote a form of that morbid land hunger which is now driving so many European States to the brink of ruin, nor to be deliberate on the part of the responsible statesmen. Territorial expansion is not one of the impelling forces of the people of the United States to-day, nor indeed will it be the mainspring of the policy of any country whose destinies are controlled by a statesman of vision. Even Tsarist Russia, when well advised, discarded it. The keynote of the late Count Witte’s Far Eastern line of action was gradual, economic interpenetration without violence or annexation. And the business men of the great American Republic today are alive to the advantages of preferential economic usufruct and also to the drawbacks attending the forcible annexation of a country abounding in natural resources and inhabited by a people passionately fond of liberty.
To-day Count Witte’s theory of economic interpenetration is become a maxim of international politics. It is translated into American by the term Cubanisation and into Mexican Spanish by the word protectorate or “ethical guardianship.” Those American statesmen, captains of industry and enterprising pioneers whose wealth or reputations depend upon the degree to which Mexican conditions are made to approach their ideal, are penetrated with the desire that no redress of grievances, no compensation for past wrongs, no guarantee of present rights should be accepted as adequate. They are also, however, aware that to Cubanise Mexico without more ado would be to fly in the face of public sentiment in the United States, whose people is always actuated by a dominant sense of fair play. Hence they have reduced their minimum demands to a treaty of amity and have raised those of the Government by insisting on this. That was the utmost which Mr. Hughes consented to accept as a prerequisite to recognition. But it is enough for the purpose of driving a wedge between the two States. An instrument of that kind comprehensively drafted would bind present and future Mexican Governments, fix their foreign policy for all time, keep them. within narrow limits and confer upon the State Department in Washington the right to supervise the execution of the compact by forewarnings and advice as well as by vetoes and protests and to enforce it when requisite by military and naval measures. They urge that pronouncements issued by native institutions, whether by Congress or the Supreme Court, however solemn and emphatic, lack the element of stability inasmuch as being one-sided they might be rescinded and reversed as easily as they were made.
This argument is identical with that employed by certain members of the German Government during the war against the restitution of Belgium to her former independent status It was alleged that recent history had shown that no promises of neutrality made by Belgium could be trusted and that the only guarantees which would adequately reassure the German people must be embodied in a treaty imposing limitations upon the sovereignty of the Belgian realm. The answer made by allied diplomacy was that guarantees which give absolute certitude are not attainable in politics and it was emphasised by the energy with which the allied armies prosecuted the war.
Now the politicians and business men who carried their treaty scheme and had it adopted by the State Department were well aware that, as it stood, President Obregón neither could nor would comply with the demand to agree to it. And conversant as they are with Mexican affairs they clearly understood the nature of the consequences to which his refusal would open the door. And those dire consequences, it is argued, are far from being unwelcome to them.
Thus in one of its aspects the present divergence between the two Governments appears to hinge upon a mere matter of form : whether recognition should be accorded before or after the settlement of outstanding scores. And for form, as such, English-speaking peoples, especially those who dwell on the western shores of the Atlantic, feel and exhibit scant respect. The Mexicans, on the contrary, are wont to set it almost on the same level as substance and occasionally higher still. The forms and symbols which affect national dignity, for example, are for them things just as real as national property and are valued and cherished as highly. But the average American official who holds mere forms in contempt has no understanding of the Mexican’s national dignity and cannot bring himself to believe that the Mexican has any. And this is a fruitful source of misunderstanding. But the roots of the matter lie much deeper.
In this case form is an integral part of the substance and the stakes played for include much more than a question of procedure or preference. The arguments that favour a writ-ten covenant are forcible. It appears quite reasonable that the Southern Republic should have a commercial treaty with its great northern neighbournot necessarily, however, a treaty conferring special privileges on its great sisterseeing that nowadays all States are linked together with all other States by compacts of this nature and none of them feels that its interests are damaged, its dignity wounded or even its freedom of action inconveniently hampered thereby. Why then, it is asked, should Mexico shrink from binding herself by a formal compact of that harmless nature? Is her national dignity specifically different from that of every other nation? Is her sensitiveness a morbid symptom or a hollow pretext? The answer is that it is neither. Mexico has no rooted repugnance to discuss the terms of a commercial treaty unless it be the prelude to economic interpenetration. What she de-clines is a process of bargaining for recognition. And her objections are derived from international usage, from a deep-rooted sentimentover-developed it may be, but very real, which the average foreigner is unable to discern or unwilling to allow forand from an intense solicitude to preserve unimpaired her attributes of sovereignty which in this case are demonstrably at stake.
These considerations, misgivings or precautions, trivial though they may appear to the large-hearted American, carry great weight with the Mexican who realises the forlorn condition of his country. Mexico today stands alone in the world, isolated and impoverished. She has no powerful friend on the globe and the kind of friendship which is within her reach she instinctively eschews. Her own people are not yet sufficiently united to present a compact front to outsiders so long as the dispute is diplomatic. Many of her distinguished citizens are become frondeurs who mistake a party for their country and add to the difficulties of their Government. Her one strong man is exerting himself untiringly to clear away the ruins left by the subversive waves of ten years’ successive revolutions. But as yet he lacks an adequate staff of competent helpers. The funds needed for urgent internal reforms are not sufficient. France and Britain, who would gladly succour him financially, morally, politically, are either themselves without the means or else they do not venture to take independent action in the matter lest they should offend the United States on whose good will they are dependent elsewhere. The Republics of Latin-America fail to see that Mexico’s cause is their own. Thus Mexico, exhausted economically and morally, stands alone face to face with the greatest Power on the globe. President Obregón has nought to rely upon, therefore, but moral force to stay or check that mighty influence which tends to impress a new course upon the current of Mexico’s national life. He presumably draws from the history of Mexico’s past relations with the United States warnings and forebodings which cast a deep shadow over his picture of their future friendly intercourse. Accordingly he deems it to be his duty to withstand such pressure brought to bear upon him as would jeopardise the sovereignty of the Republic. To accuse him of criminal stubbornness for this attitude is like classifying as ferocious a certain domestic animal on the ground that it defends itself desperately when attacked. It is not surprising that a Mexican in his position should regard the violent imposition of a treaty of friendship as a contradiction in terms. He feels the force of the Russian saying that “you cannot make yourself loved by coercion.”
The recognition of one Government by another is hardly more than an implicit admission that the administration recognised does really represent the country, is authorised to act in its name and can be approached and dealt with as its trustee and mouthpiece. The theory, accepted and acted upon by other nations, is confirmed by international precedent. Treaties are negotiated only with recognised Governments and this principle is so rigorously upheld that even when one of the countries has been vanquished in battle by the other recognition invariably precedes treaty-making. The two are never simultaneous and to endeavour to make them so is an unwarranted innovation. In all such cases the terms of the covenant are discussed on their intrinsic merits exclusively, and to en-force them as a condition of recognition is therefore an anomaly. Whether Obregón’s Government is entitled to be regarded as the legal repository of valid authority in the Mexican Republic depends upon its relations to the Mexican nation, not upon its liabilities, and still less upon its readiness to accept a compact regulating its future behaviour. In the history of diplomacy which supplies precedents of international law there is no example of recognition being confounded with the settlement, nor even the express acknowledgment, of claims made by the recognising State. Still less does it presuppose that a treaty of friendship has been concluded or agreed upon by the two. To assume the contrary is to ignore the rules that govern international relations and to forget the bearings of recent events.
President Obregón’s objections to a preliminary treaty are many and convincing. One of them is that it is a slightly disguised form of purchase money paid for recognition. Insistence upon it by the United States would be evidence that the Government which the Mexican people regard as the repository of the sovereign rights of the Republic cannot be trusted even for a brief span of time. And true or false, nothing could well be more humiliating. Those manifestly are also the views taken by a number of sovereign Statesamong them Italy, Japan, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, the Argentinewhich have already given recognition to the Obregón Administration in accordance with international usage. They implicitly hold that Mexico’s differences with foreign countries can best be adjusted by diplomatic methods after recognition. And it is hardly too much to assert that Britain and France would likewise have recognised President Obregón if considerations of political expediency had not impelled them to refrain from weakening Washington’s influence in Mexico by countering or checking her policy there, even when that policy is a flat negation of their economic interests.
Lastly, the advocates of unconditional recognition point out that former Mexican Administrations much less promising than that of General Obregón received recognition de facto and de jure without any preliminary compact. That was the experience of the Carranza Government. “Why,” it is asked, “should the actual President with whom the exercise of justice is the result not of an effort but of an inborn instinct be treated worse than his predecessor of whom Americans affirmed that injustice had become almost a second nature? Surely the ruler to whose moral sense of fairness all his experience, thoughts and motions are set and referred as to a fixed standard should be allowed to share at the very least the same degree of trust as the `artful dodger’ between whose words and deeds there often yawned an impassable abyss. It is a waste of energy to knock at an open door and a damaging blunder to use force to compel a friendly Government to do what it is effecting voluntarily. Nor is it worldly wise to strive to divest of his prestige in the eyes of the nation the one man who is able and willing to satisfy the equitable demands of Mexico’s creditors and to realise the hopes of her well-wishers.”
No imaginative observer touched with even a. vague sense of the tragic elements in Obregón’s position, as he crosses the national stage, can help hoping that he at least will be allowed to play his part without being baulked by sticklers for monopolies and greedy fortune-hunters. The retrospective mind, evoking the figure of the petted and spoiled Carranza, recoils from the thought that foreign Governments should whet the edge of the irony of circumstance by putting a premium on bad faith and punishing plain dealing.
But it is further urged that, independently of the personal deserts of Mexico’s First Citizen, the interests and claims of the three foreign Governments postulate unconditional recognition. For if those demands are to be satisfied fully and in amicable fashion, common sense prescribes that the ways and means be left to the one man whose office, experience, sense of justice, tact and popularity qualify him to establish such internal conditions as alone can render the settlement possible. If the unprecedented stand be taken and the dangerous principle enforced that not only the results aimed at but also the means of attaining them ought to be outlined by a foreign power, then the prospect changes and the issue turns upon Mexico’s sovereign rights. And before any such international compact can be imposed upon President Obregón, internal troubles may be generated which must be quelled by force, and ultimately by force from outside. This would con-front both parties with a factor of unknown character and magnitude which might stand for anything from local revolts to widespread resistance against any and every national institution that had countenanced such external interference. And the latter state of Mexico might be worse than the former. Would her neighbours and creditors appreciably benefit by this upheaval? They would be creating the situation which they profess to apprehend. For if that is not the consummation wished for it certainly is the one that will be precipitated.
The insistence of the United States Government on a preliminary treaty means that recognition on the American Continent is become something wholly different from what it has been hitherto and still is in the remainder of the world today.
In international law it is no more than an implicit acknowledgment by one State that another State has a government which duly represents it and exercises legal and valid authority within its frontiers. That and nothing more. Now this condition which is necessary and adequate has a purely domestic character. So true is this that even the all-powerful dissolvent of war itself does not affect it. Take a striking ex-ample. The Emperor Franz Josef died before the armistice, yet his successor was tacitly recognised as the ruler of Austria-Hungary even by his enemies who discussed peace proposals with his envoy, Prince Sixtus, and peace conditions with the delegates whom he sent to St. Germain. They did not insist upon a treaty as a prerequisite to recognition, but only as a condition of peace. After all, a State usually has a much longer life than any of its governments and it continues to subsist after a régime is overthrown. But once it establishes a government which is not the occasion of civil war, its neighbours if they desire to hold intercourse with it must acknowledge it without laying down conditions of their own making.
Take a case in point. Great Britain and Russia are still at loggerheads on the matter of the latter’s debts, the damages which her revolution caused to British capitalists and the compensation owing to British subjects. For in Bolshevist Russia the rights of private property and free trading have been continually and systematically trampled under foot. Not-withstanding this, however, and despite other more incriminating counts in the indictment, Great Britain has recognised the Bolshevist régime as the de facto Government of Russia. And it would have done this over two years ago if Mr. Lloyd George had had his way. The Court of Appeals in England has recently ruled’ that in virtue of that recognition all acts of the Soviet Government performed before, as well as after, the signing of the trade agreement are outside the jurisdiction of British Courts as being the acts of a Sovereign Government.’ Here, then, recognition was given because the Bolshevist Administration, however obnoxious it might be to the British people, was accepted as the outward expression of the sovereignty of the State and as the sole agency by which the sovereign powers of the State are exercised. That is the significance of the act. Whether in the case of the Bolshevist Government recognition can also be justified as expedient or moral, is a question which does not concern us here. The essence of the matter lies in the circumstance that Russia’s debts to Great Britain, her liability for damages incidentally done to the lives and possessions of British subjects during the Revolution and for the further injuries caused by deliberately hostile misdeeds had no place in the balance. As these considerations stood and could stand in no relation to the legal claim of the Bolshevist Government to exercise the sovereign rights of the State, they went for nothing.
Now in the case of Mexico, it is urged, the arguments against Mr. Hughes’ demand have incomparably more force than those which carried the day in favour of the recognition of the Russian Duumvirate. In fact, there is not a single motive drawn from Mexico’s debts or commitmentsnone of these have been, or will be, repudiatedwhich can reasonably be pleaded as an argument against acknowledging the present Government, seeing that it is admittedly the agency by which the sovereign rights of the Republic are duly exercised. In fact, if it be not first recognised, it cannot be deemed competent to conclude any treaty or compact or to satisfy any claims whatever.
It may be objected that the United States has created a new precedent and laid down as an indispensable condition that the Government to be recognised must first prove that it has both the disposition and the power to discharge its international obligations, and unless and until it has successfully undergone these two tests it is not entitled to be recognised. With the assumptions underlying these terms Mexico can join issue and show that this innovation has not been accepted by the community of nations, forms no part of international law, is therefore binding on no Power and is tantamount to a disregard for the law of nations.
What it amounts to is the one-sided promulgation of a principle new to international custom and tradition, which shall be applicable on the American Continent to Latin-American States and shall fit in with that new and comprehensive interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine which has been advocated by Mr. Fall in his public utterances. This tendency is a survival of the ambitious experiment tried at the time of the historic Panama Congress and thwarted in the clash between the Adams administration and the Jackson opposition. The object of that polity was to organise the Western Continent “as a unit in independence of, and possible hostility to, the Eastern Continent.” Some of the soundest American thinkers on both sides of the Rio Grande pulverised the notion of this dual organisation of the world. “In their quarrels with European States,” writes the eminent American sociologist already quoted, “it suits the South American States very well that the United States should act the cat’s-paw for them, but it cannot be that their statesmen will be so short-sighted as to accept a protection which would turn into domination without a moment’s warning. . . . The advocates of the Monroe Doctrine have been forced to meet the argument that their doctrine was not in international law by new spinnings of political metaphysics. They have to try to cover the fact that the Monroe Doctrine is an attempt by the United States *to define the rights of other nations. The modern conception, however, is that the States of the world are all united in a family of nations whose rights and duties towards each other are embodied in a code of international law.” That is a fair statement of the case.
Those words uttered by a sagacious and patriotic American are re-echoed today by those Mexican statesmen who are endeavouring to rough-hew the destinies of their nation. They believe that they are breasting a current whichif they fail to stem itwill soon carry away the substance of Mexico’s sovereignty. They are convinced that the first steps at the parting of the ways are decisive. And they are rightly resolved, come what will, to stand their ground and make the true issues clear to the whole world.
That, in brief, is President Obregón’s attitudeas it appears to an onlookertowards the imposition of friendship by a treaty and a threat.
A curious political document drawn up by the representatives of the “unpolitical oil corporations” interested in Mexico deals with this matter in a series of fallacies which might impress the mere lawyer but could not impose upon the student of international politics. The gist of this prolix argument which is thick-set with irrelevant quotations is briefly this : In determining whether the United States Government should recognise a new Government “erected by a foreign country there are two tests which have been always applied in determining this question : Whether it is in possession of the machinery of the State and is in a position to fulfil its international obligations. Whether it is disposed and willing to fulfil such obligations.” One of the principal quotations given is this : “It has been the custom of the United States, when such changes of government have heretofore occurred in Mexico, to recognise and enter into official relations with the de facto Government as soon as it should appear to our Government to have the approval of the Mexican people and should manifest a disposition to adhere to the obligations of treaties and international friendship.
“It cannot be too strongly emphasised that both of these tests must be applied with satisfactory results in order to meet the requirements of the United States State Department. Mere capacity to act properly unaccompanied by the disposition to do so is not enough; and the mere disposition, without the capacity, is, of course, unavailable.”
This argument answers itself. For either the Obregón administration possesses the will and the power to, meet those requirements or it lacks them. In the former case, recognition should be accorded without more ado, and in the latter it is preposterous to suppose that the act of signing a treaty would make up for deficiency of will and power to fulfil international duties. In order to gauge aright the significance of the demands put forward by Mr. Hughes, one need only imagine that they proceeded from Japan, were addressed to the United States and intimated Japan’s refusal to recognise the present Republican Administration until and unless Japanese subjects are treated in accordance with the law of nations.
With the praiseworthy intention of helping Mexico out of her difficulties Mr. Hughes, who seems to operate with abstract principles in vacuo, has provided a lever for all those Mexicans and Americans who are working openly or covertly for the overthrow of the present Mexican Government. In his zeal for the defence of the rights of property he is sapping the power of the only defenders of property in the Republic. In the name of righteousness he is unwittingly aiding and abetting the conspirators who are plotting to re-plunge the country in confusion and urging President Obregón to break his plighted word. On behalf of a great democracy he is forcing Mexico by means of a financial and political boycott to acquiesce in a treaty which it considers detrimental to its sovereignty. In these ways he has established a strong claim to be judged not by what he is doing but by what he would do.
The obnoxious treaty, it is argued, possesses the advantage that it can be enforced by military and naval pressure. True. But then so can any arbitrary exaction, and to plead this as an argument is to pass from the sphere of right to that of might. In any case it is an innovation for Mexico, and a perilous as well as a humiliating one. Nor is it only international law and Mexican forebodings which reject the condition as capricious; the acid test of common sense produces the self-same effect. To discover the real disposition of any Government and discern motive behind the mask of words one must be a veritable seer. Yet the politicians who advocate conditional recognition claim to be able to accomplish it. As for the second conditionthe proof that any Government disposes of adequate power to discharge all its international obligationsit cannot be adduced until the experiment has been made. And Mexico is keen to make it, whereas those who profess to desire it are resolutely hindering her.
If we glance at the action of the world Powers to-day we find that they discard all such conditions as worse than use-less. They unhesitatingly recognised the Austrian Government, well knowing that it lacked the means of fulfilling its international obligations, and they recognised the German Government despite the firm and outspoken conviction of its members that it could not meet its international liabilities and that even if it possessed the power it lacked the disposition. “Yes,” one may object, “but in that case the Powers were and are prepared to enforce fulfilment by arms if necessary.” “So too,” Mexicans may retort, “is the Government of the United States, the only difference between the two being the resolve of the latter to employ force, if necessary, before recognition, and humiliation prior to force.” And force will prove disastrous. International experts are agreed that it is meet that every attempt to isolate and impoverish a country for the purpose of constraining its Government to part with certain attributes of sovereignty should be unmasked and characterised as what it isan unjustifiable breach of the laws and customs of nations, and that the despatch of a foreign police force to that country on the pretext that it has no recognised Government is neither more nor less than an overt act of war which deserves to be treated as such. It is the duty of the aggrieved State to accept such an overt act of war for what it really is.
However just, then, the basic demands voiced by the Washington State Department may be, the ground on which General Obregón declines to consider them is that they are to be embodied in a covenant and imposed as a condition of recognition. And his contention is unanswerable. For they have no more to do with recognition than a clause of the postal convention. It is pretty certain that Mexico’s next Ambassador to Washington will wear a decent suit of clothes there and will not clash with the criminal law of the country. But if it pleased President Harding to refuse to receive any Mexican Ambassador unless his Government first promised in writing that he would don the conventional garb of civilised men and conducted himself properly, these terms would be summarily rejected and all the world would applaud. If the world is less awake to the extraordinary nature of the demand for a treaty, before recognition, it is because the issue is obscured by being mixed up with extraneous matter. The public is told, for instance, that the Mexican Constitution contains a clause confiscating the property of Americans who have in-vested their capital, devoted their brains and employed their time in exploiting the oil fields and that the confiscatory effect of that clause must be neutralised by treaty before the Re-public can be admitted into communion with three Powersone may call them the Triple Entente for the Protection of American Rights. And the public accepts the allegation with-out further enquiry while, those publicists who seek to place the matter in a different light find it passing difficult to ventilate their views in the United States press.
Now that way of stating and confusing the question is hardly fair. Article 27 is not confiscatory, because it does not stand alone. If it stood alone, retroactive force might perhaps be read into it by jurisconsults, and retroactive force would undoubtedly render it what is termed confiscatory. But nothing less than that. For the clause only nationalises the products of the subsoil and nobody has ever denied to the Mexican Republic the right to do this. What foreigners clamour against is the nationalisation of property which they had legally acquired before the Constitution was passed. And their resentment would be natural were their apprehensions well founded. But they are not. All such property is expressly exempted by Article XIV which declares that nationalisation shall not work backwards but only forwards. Its operation will be confined to the future and eliminated from the past. There is, therefore, no need whatever, Mexicans hold, for a treaty binding their Government to that interpretation of Clause XXVII which Secretary Hughes considers just. The Constitution itself leaves no doubt about the right interpretation.
The opinion of the President of the Mexican Senate is worth reproducing here as a contribution to the discussion.
This legislator 6 contends that Article 27 has been disingeniously construed by Mexican engineers. What the enactment really meant to do, he tells the public, was to establish the direct dominion of the State over the treasures of the subsoil but not its absolute dominion. It was the crafty engineers who distorted the tenor of the law. And the confiscatory decrees against which the foreign companies raised their voices and invoked the aid of their respective Governments presuppose the absolute dominion of the State, which was never aimed at by the legislators. This is the interpretation of an eminent Senator and as such it is worth recording. He seeks to reinforce it by laying stress on the circumstance that the decrees thus falsified did not bring in one cent to the nation during the three years that have passed since their promulgation. Experience has merely demonstrated their uselessness and the impossibility of applying them. Indeed, the only noteworthy effect they produced has been to whet the cupidity of a few persons who covet their neighbour’s goods. And he illustrates this by interesting examples.
There was a Cuban citizen, he goes on to narrate, who spent the best years of his life selling cigars on one of the main thoroughfares of the Mexican capital. This humble individual has rapidly became the proprietor of more than 250 oil properties in virtue of those misinterpreted decrees. And curiously enough the lands are all situated in the very best localities, just as though he had devoted the twenty years of his life spent in vending cigars to the study of the geography of oil wells! Another stroke of similar good fortune favoured a certain engineer who had merely to sign his name and buy a revenue stamp worth thirty pesos in order to become the fortunate owner of a well in Zacamixtle which brings him in 50,000 barrels of oil daily. This favourite of fortune, it is believed, was unaware of the whereabouts of Zacamixtle when he first acquired his holding there.
The Senator pointedly declares that to render the nationalisation act retroactive would be to violate justice and to fly in the face of the law itself. If the petroleum were the property of the nation, he urges, how could private individuals and foreign companies go on selling and exporting it as they have been doing on the strength of their leases and fees-simple ? The contradiction is manifest.
In truth it was President Carranza’s decree which originated the trouble. That President’s treatment of foreign investors was at times most reprehensible and his endeavour to justify it by an appeal to Article 27 was a fallacy in law and a blunder in politics. And in this it is said he sinned against his own countrymen as grievously as against the outlanders, the appeal to the Constitution as his warranty being, so to say, the sin against the Holy Ghost. But for him too the day of doom arrived. His own people removed him from the dictatorial chair and his successors have repeatedly repudiated his doctrine and solemnly promised to repeal the illegal acts and remedy the sinister consequences which have given rise to the present trouble. The injustice perpetrated by one President is being redressed by another and suitable amends made for damages inflicted. In all this the Constitution itself is not in question.
“That is not enough,” exclaim the advocates of the new doctrine. “If one President can repeal the acts of another, General Obregón’s successor can repudiate the satisfactory interpretation which he may now read into the Constitution and four years hence we may be exactly where we were in 1919, whereas if we possess a binding treaty signed and sealed, we are on the safe side once and for all.”
Now that mode of ratiocination is but a piece of specious casuistry. For if Obregón’s successor can put a false construction on the clauses of the Constitution he can likewise put a false construction on the terms of the treaty. And what remedy will the United States Government have then? Exactly the same remedy which it possesses today without any treaty. That and nothing more. For even to-day, if the President instead of declaring, as he has done, that Article 27 will be regulated by law in a broad spirit of equity and will be applied without confiscatory effect or retroactive force,’ had refused to do anything whatever in the matter, what line of action would then be open to the United States Government? Precisely the same that it would have under the treaty, and none other. In each case it would feel constrained to move in order to assert its rights, and shyness to come forward under such circumstances is not among its marked traits. And in both cases these rights derive from international law. Now if there is no tangible advantage to be gained by imposing a treaty as a prerequisite to recognition, what intangible advantage forms the motive for this singular demand? Mexicans answer the question by an appeal to their history and to the many evil-boding symptoms reported to them lately from the United States. Grounded distrust ha; large eyes and a quick imagination, especially when portentous facts provide the spectrum.
All that is so clear that it would be superfluous to dwell upon it were it not that the attention of the public is deflected from the main issue by a cloud of wholly irrelevant considerations which are rooted in American group, party or personal interests and ambitions. There is but one fair way of presenting the matter to the world and it is this : Is it congruous with international law to constrain a sovereign State to conclude a treaty against its will? Is not such an act an abuse of power? Would a treaty be conducive to the praise-worthy aim which Mr. Hughes assuredly has in viewi.e., the protection of American rights? Nowise. For when he refuses to accept the guarantees now offered by the Mexican Government, it is admittedly because that Government may be unable to make good its less solemn promises. Yet it is exactly the same set of guarantors who will underwrite the treaty. There are none other. And if they are too powerless or too fickle to be trusted in the one case, the same disqualifications attach to them in the other case.
What the American State Department, doubtless with the best intentions, asks is that General Obregón shall consent to a transaction which would brand himself and his administration as disingenuous or weak-willed, self-seeking men who have inherited together with the liabilities of their predecessors their defects and vices. As the State Department was unable to trust Carranza’s pledged word it argues that it can have just as little faith in Obregón’s emphatic assurances and it implicitly calls upon him constructively to admit that it is right by signing a document which would be superfluous on any other supposition and is humiliating and illegal on this. To contend that a treaty brought about under such conditions is not a humiliation of the entire Mexican people is to ignore the meaning of national dignity. Mexicans go further and assert that it is an attempt to goad the President into trampling on the laws of his country which he has sworn to observe and enforce. That this would be the direct effect of compliance with the demand of the State Department is evident. It is a noteworthy phenomenon, we are further told, that an instigation of this demoralising character should have found a place in the programme of a Republic to which is ascribed the future râle of ethical guardian of the backward Latin-American peoples. If you want to shape a people’s conduct for the general good, you must appeal to it through creditable motives and key it up to commendable, not to blameworthy, acts. A President who should openly qualify for his certificate as a good moral ruler by lawless deeds and downright perjury would be a poor reformer for the ill-starred Mexican Republic.
The fundamental law which the President has sworn to observe contains an article expressly withholding from him the right to conclude any such treaty as that proposed. If therefore he sets his hand to the Covenant on which the State Department insists, he is violating both the Constitution and his oath to observe it. There are doubtless ambitious men devoid of scruples who would pay even that price for power the names of some of them have recently become public propertybut President Obregón is not a member of the group. The inevitable effect of compliance with the State Department’s demand would be to lower him to their level and his fellow-citizens naturally join him in resenting the attempt.
Further, assent to the proposal would be an implicit avowal that the Constitution establishes and legalises systematic confiscation of American property and that President Obregón considers it a praiseworthy act to violate such an iniquitous charter. Can he be expected to make that avowal? Would any self-respecting man make it? One knows what to think of a leader who first publicly proclaims his resolve to respect the Constitution, then swears fidelity to it and a few months later agrees to trample it under foot in order to induce a foreign Power to recognise him as its guardian. Is it conceivable that the assertion of American rights calls for such a tremendous change in the political fabric of the Southern Republic as the dissolution of democratic government there and the setting up of a dictatorship, to qualify for which per-jury is a peremptory prerequisite?
Many of Obregón’s countrymen are prone to suspect that behind the imposition of a treaty as a preliminary to recognition lies some unavowed and sinister purpose. And this purpose they believe themselves able to perceive or divine, and entitled to counter. For, as we saw, the condition in question is a recent innovation for which no satisfactory grounds have been assigned. It is known to have been un-thought of before the closing months of the Wilson Administration. And it is admitted that nothing has since occurred to render it desirable or feasible,that in fact the main events which have taken place in Mexico since then were calculated to produce the opposite effect. And the knowledge of these considerations was expected to exert a decisive and re-straining influence over the attitude of the Republican Ad-ministration. How telling a disadvantage it is thus to have international usage, ethics, logic and common sense and the example of all disinterested nations arrayed on the side of a little State in its passive resistance to the Government of a great and fair-minded people may be gathered from recent history. It would be superfluous to recall the examples.
In the first month of 1917 the American Government, hearing that Carranza was devising measures of a confiscatory nature to the detriment of foreigners in Mexico, sent him a note to the effect that it would not “acquiesce in any direct confiscation of foreign-owned properties in Mexico or indirect confiscation.” Soon afterwards the Constitution was adopted the Constitution which is now the bogey of the foreign oil men and their political allies. The State Department in Washington forthwith asked for assurances from the Mexican Government that in enforcing this constitutional provision American rights would suffer no abridgment. That is all that was asked for. And if it was necessary it certainly was adequate. It is manifest then that no rooted objection to the application of any part of the Mexican Constitution was at that time entertained by the State Department. Article 27 as modified by Article 14 was neither condemned nor held to be incompatible with any foreigner’s rights or interests. On the contrary it was rightly assumed to be reconcilable with these. All that was needed was an assurance that in applying it American rights would not be infringed. And this assurance was given before a month had gone by to the present Under-Secretary Fletcher. This response and a later one couched in similar terms were deemed to be perfectly “reassuring,” when Carranza was in power. The Constitution was not called in question. It is fair to conclude that the assurance then asked for, accompanied and followed by tangible evidence of its sincerity, would meet all the requirements of the case now that the presidential chair is occupied by a Mexican whose rectitude and will-power are beyond the reach of evil. We need not forget the imbecilities of the Carranza administration nor palliate the presidential decrees which called forth protests from the Powers of the “Triple Entente.” What really matters, however, is the striking change for the better which has taken place in Mexico since then and is being deepened and extended by the present Government. And this change warrants a more generousor rather, a more justattitude towards Mexico than was displayed by the United States during the Carranza régime when graft and sinister interest were rampant. And in any and every case a demand to-day for terms which were not considered necessary then would under all the circumstances have a blighting effect on the moral sense and self-esteem of the nation that enforced as well as the nation that accorded it.
Those are some of the musings of those Mexicans who think and read and remember and wonder how it comes to pass that the great American people, in whose name that unacceptable demand has been presented, have never had the issues clearly placed before them. They complain that in none of the widely circulating journals of the Union has their side of the question been comprehensively set before the public, nay, that it has been positively and systematically kept out by occult influences. Surely it cannot be true of the Great Western democracy as it is of the Russian Bolshevist State, that politics is for the governing few and propaganda for the masses, or that it is disastrous to be right when the Administration happens to be wrong? And yet that is the view ascribed to certain North American politicians by Mexicans who object to be browbeaten into friendship with a foreign government in accordance with a plan devised by corporations and schemers whom they regard as enemies of their country.
There is much more to be said on the subject but this is not the place to say it. The bearings of the treaty proposal upon the internal situation in Mexico cannot be ignored by the public, however much they may have been missed by responsible American politicians. One aspect of the matter hinges on the sinister effects which the forcible imposition of the treaty condition would produce on the public peace which Obregon has just restored. And these effects will be realised irrespective of the form in which the will of the United States Govern-merit is enforced, whether it be by the perpetuation of the economic blockade, the seizure of Mexican Custom houses, the despatch of warships or by undisguised military intervention. Tentative intervention has been going on all the time. But the spirit in which any decisive manoeuvre to abridge the sovereignty and wound the dignity of the Mexican Republic would be resented by those who speak and act in its name is still but imperfectly realised to the north of the Rio Grande. And it is hardly too much to affirm that the reaction against such coercion would assume forms which would destroy the last vestige of pacification and throw open the sluice gates to anarchy, confusion and destructiveness. Is that the consummation which the inspirers of the financial boycott have at heart?
There are but two sets of political conditions in which germs of chronic unrest can thrive and fructify in Mexico today, and of these one is not yet fully operative while the other is unhappily realised. The former is the line of coercive foreign action now being pursued in the United States, and the latter is the perpetuation of that portion of the Constitution which bestows sovereignty upon the various States of the Mexican Union. For the moment we are concerned only with the former and with it merely in so far as it obviously aims at the ousting of General Obregón from the presidency of the Mexican Republic and the substitution of a subservient instrument there for a genial worker,of an Americanised pawn for a Mexican Chief.
The belief is wide-spread and deep-rooted in Mexico that the latter consummation is being deliberately, directly and lawlessly striven for. This is a grave charge to level at any section of the citizens of a powerful nation and the people of the United States naturally looks forward to its speedy disproval while the people of Mexico as naturally anticipates the production of substantiating evidence. The historian in the meanwhile can content himself with chronicling the beliefs and tempers of each, waiting for what the morrow will bring forth and expressing his regret for the sake of art and politics that the most consummate actors are not to be found on the theatrical stage.