Oral History Interview with
Counselor of Embassy for economic affairs, Mexico City, 1945-49; professor of international relations, American Institute of Foreign Trade, Phoenix, Arizona, 1949-50; member of U.S. delegation, GATT Conference, Torquay, England, 1950-51; U.S. Ambassador to the Inter-American Economic and Social Council, 1951-55, and U.S. Commissioner Joint Brazil-U.S. Economic Development Commission, 1952-53.
Merwin L. Bohan
June 15, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie
See also Merwin L. Bohan Papers finding
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate
the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened February, 1977
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Merwin L. Bohan
June 15, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie
MCKINZIE: Mr. Bohan, very many people who study history and government are interested in how people came to choose in the first place Government service. I'd be very interested to know how you made that career choice?
BOHAN: Well, I grew up between Mexico City and Dallas, Texas. My father was in the oil business in Mexico, and he was transferred to Dallas back in 1913. That was shortly after the famous Decena Trajica in Mexico, when [Victoriano] Huerta murdered [Francisco] Madero after his revolution. He died a year later after we
reached Dallas, and my mother wanted me to go on to college, but we were really quite hard up, and, feeling that I was unable to do so, I went to work at that time. A little later we went back to Mexico. Then, in 1921, I married a Dallas girl, a girl I'd fallen in love with at the Dallas High School. We came back to Dallas and I went to work for the Chamber of Commerce in the publicity department. Naturally, because of my background I was made Foreign Trade Secretary as well. Some years later there was an opening for a commercial attachés in South America, and the manager of the Department of Commerce office down in Houston called me up and said, "Do you know anyone who would like a job as commercial attaché?"
I said, "Yes. I know two people. One is Bob Smith," (whose picture is right behind you) "and the other is myself."
So, he sent both our names in, but Bob decided shortly thereafter that he was not interested because the first airmail line came into Dallas and he went to work for it. He later became the executive head of the Braniff airlines. During World War II he was in charge of air transport all over North Africa, and to make a long story short, he was retired as a major general.
I, however, stuck to my guns and said that I wanted to go to work for the Department of Commerce. This was back in 1927. On looking over my record they decided that in view of the fact that I had not gone to college I wasn't prepared intellectually for such an assignment and turned down the request. But the manager down in Houston decided that the Department of Commerce was wrong and insisted on my going up to Washington with him, and he arranged interviews with various and sundry officials there. So they gave me the examinations.
I was fired up with much enthusiasm, because at that time Herbert Hoover was Secretary of Commerce, and certainly I don't think anyone will dispute the fact that he was the greatest we've ever had. We haven't had very many great ones, but in this case I think it was certainly true.
So in 1927 I went out as assistant commercial attaché for the Embassy in Havana. Subsequently I was sent as commercial attaché to Guatemala, San Salvador, and Honduras; still later to Peru and Ecuador; still later to Chile; later to Colombia; and then I was sent as head of a mission to Bolivia. After that and a short stay in Washington, I was made Counselor of Embassy for Economic Affairs in Buenos Aires, and have seen long service in Brazil. I had several special missions in Brazil and also in Mexico. So there are very few countries in Latin America that I haven't covered.
MCKINZIE: I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your work in economics in Buenos Aires in 1942? I noticed that you were there at a very sensitive time, and I think when one talks about postwar relationships with Latin America you can't just pick it up when the war ended. There's too much that's rooted in the early and middle war period. It was kind of a sensitive place to be in 1942, wasn't it?
BOHAN: It most certainly was. It so happened that we had one of the greatest ambassadors we've ever sent to Latin America, Norman Armour, who was serving at the post at that time. I served Mr. Armour in Chile when he was assigned there as Ambassador; and the first job he gave me was to analyze the policies we were following in the economic field towards Argentina. Those policies at the time, when we had finished the analysis,
we described as being a series of pinpricks; that all we did was irritate them, but on the other hand we were desperately in need of many of their exports, particularly meat, but also grains and a number of other products, including quite a number of rare minerals. The result was that on one day in Washington we would insult them and call them names, and the next day we would receive instructions at the Embassy to go over and get down on our knees, so to speak, and beg them for increased production of this, that, and the other thing. It was an impossible situation. After we had analyzed the problem we decided on a program, which, incidentally, I have quite a file on because I've had to write it up in recent years. The policy was a simple one. The policy was simply this, that we were willing to give Argentina anything that was not in short supply in the United States, and that we would not ask them for any
favors except where anything that we wanted was not in short supply in Argentina. But if they wished to be considered for supplies that were in short supply or that were under quota in the United States, that they could have the same treatment as the other countries of Latin America, providing they gave the same amount of cooperation to the Allied cause that the other countries were giving. At that time you remember Argentina was the only country, because Chile had already joined, that was not cooperating in the Allied war effort.
At the beginning this program appeared to have great possibilities, because all of the industrial community was up in arms. The Argentines for all their pride would hardly claim that we were bringing undue pressure on them, because we were free to admit they could have anything that was not in short supply, and they could have short supply
items if they did the same things that other countries did to get them. To make a long story short, Mr. [Henry A.] Wallace and the FEA took umbrage with the fact that the decision had been made by the State Department, and that he hadn't been consulted, and FEA hadn't been consulted in connection with the policy. That was the first time, incidentally, of what later became a fad in Washington, for every agency to have a hand in cooking the stew, so to speak, of foreign policy. Up until that time the Department of State had pretty nearly been independent when it came to deciding on what our policy was, particularly Mr. [Summer] Welles, who incidentally was the last official for the Department of State that you could honestly say could make policy for the United States and have it stick. Anyway, FEA didn't cooperate and for several months we had a great deal of trouble with them. We finally did
win their cooperation, but just about that time the "Colonels revolt" came along, and Mr. Welles, if you will recall, was forced out because of the difficulties he was having with Mr. [Cordell] Hull.
Mr. Hull was a gentleman whom I sincerely revere, but I can't say that I admire his policy towards Argentina. It was a regular old Tennessee feud, and every time he could sneak around the tree and see an Argentine in the sights of his musket he'd let go at him. It really became a personal vendetta, nothing more and nothing less. You know, Mr. [Sir Winston] Churchill complained quite a number of times to President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt. And this is merely a personal opinion, I can't say it's historical, yet it's based on a pretty close study of the memoirs of Mr. Hull, and also on a number of the writings of Mr. Welles. I really and truly feel that Mr. Roosevelt, more or less gave Argentina to Mr. Hull to play with,
to keep him out of his hair. Now, that's a rather sad judgment, but I think it has a certain amount of historical truth in it. To make a long story short, in 1944 we withdrew Mr. Armour. Shortly thereafter, I wrote the Department and told them I thought that insofar as my usefulness in Argentina was concerned, that it was at an end, and I asked them if there was any other place where my services could be used to better advantage.
MCKINZIE: What were you able to do by 1944 in your own work?
BOHAN: Between the time that Mr. [Dean] Acheson, who at that time was the Assistant Secretary for Economic Affairs, and Mr. Welles had approved the embassy policy, until about six or eight months after the Colonel's revolt we were hopeful that we were going to succeed, that we were going to bring Argentina into line. That was made completely impossible by the vendettas that developed on the
part of the Secretary of State. Hence, from about the beginning of, say, the middle of '44 on, it was just a hopeless situation. We were just mad at each other, and that was about all that could be said. So the Department transferred me to Washington.
Now, I have done a certain amount of writing on that period, and that is one of the files, if you think the Truman Library would be interested in it, that I will send for them to look over.
MCKINZIE: By all means.
BOHAN: You can go today to the National Archives and the files show no evidence of this policy ever having been discussed or having been decided upon; and yet for a period of about six or eight months it was the official policy of the United States Government. It was explained in the utmost detail to the Argentines and to anyone who cared
to listen. Yet, if you look at the official record, while you see reference to the fact that we were doing such and such, there is no clear-cut evidence that we had a policy at least for eight months.
MCKINZIE: You then came back to Washington in 1944 and 1945. Planning began in early 1945 for the Inter-American Conference on War and Peace at Chapultepec. Did you have anything to do with preparations for that? There was, of course, a lot of talk about how Argentina was going to be treated there.
BOHAN: Bill [William] Sanders, who later became the Deputy Director of the Pan American Union, and I went down. He was on the political side and I was on the economic side, and we worked with [George S.] Messersmith. We talked to the Mexican Foreign Minister, Luis Padilla Nervo, whom you will
recall, played such a large part in the Chapultepec Conference. He was one of the truly great statesmen developed in this century by Mexico. We had long conferences with him, I suppose a dozen or more. We explored all of the possibilities both in the political and the economic field, all of which was reported back to Washington by me. Whether it had any real impact in Washington, I don't know, because when our delegation came down one of the surprising things to me was that Mr. Rockefeller, who was there, seemed to play no particular part in the economic side. The economic side was dominated by the E area of State, which at that time was still a comparatively new part of the Department, and they were thinking in terms of a "one world" affair. If you will examine the documents in the National Archives you will see that I played quite a role. I can promise you that I had absolutely no influence whatsoever, in the course of events in Mexico City. I attended
the staff meetings, I spoke my piece, but the E area by that time was thinking in terms of what we were going to do in the United Nations. We were going to have this one beautiful world. They had great doubts that regionalism had any importance whatsoever. That was the beginning of the end of the "Good Neighbor Policy" in Latin America.
MCKINZIE: I take it in these staff meetings that you attended before the conference convened that you became sympathetic to the Mexican idea of regional cooperation?
BOHAN: Very definitely.
MCKINZIE: There was a great deal of talk, if I understand correctly, among Latin Americans about regional cooperation in lots of ways other than what the State Department evidently had in mind. When [Edward R., Jr.] Stettinius came
down he was interested in scheduling some future conference on collective security for the hemisphere; but, as I read the records, he wasn't very anxious to have much collective economic activity or even very anxious to have too much talk about the economic program in the postwar period. Have I read that correctly?
BOHAN: Well, certainly my impression checks very closely with your own. I would only add, that of all the Secretaries of State that I have known, Mr. Stettinius came as near zero as I think you can come to that symbol, frankly. I thought that I was attending a meeting of -- without casting aspersions on the Rotarians -- a Rotary meeting or something; "up and at 'em boys," that kind of approach. Incidentally, I can point to a much more illustrious observer than I am, Mr. Acheson in his memoirs. If you want to know what I think of Mr. Stettinius read Mr. Acheson.
MCKINZIE: What then, so far as you were concerned, was the aftermath of the Chapultepec Conference?
BOHAN: The aftermath was that from the Chapultepec Conference until the time that Edward Miller was made Assistant Secretary of State, we just marked time in Latin America. And actually, when you mark time you go backwards, because other programs of cooperation were going forward. But let me emphasize that it wasn't a deliberate policy against Latin America, it was just the real beginning of a loss of interest in Latin America. Really and truly, you might use that as the historical point at which the policy of the "good neighbor" and all that went with it, came to an end.
MCKINZIE: During the last years of the war there was a good deal of activity in various parts of the Department of State, particularly the group working under Leo Pasvolsky, involving postwar planning. They were guided pretty much, it seems
to me, by what you just said, this one world idea -- the integration of economies to a considerably higher degree than had existed before. But the question, I guess, that is fuzzy in a lot of people's minds is what did Latin Americans expect? I once talked to Jose Figueres of Costa Rica, and I asked him if he believed at the end of the war that the United States owed postwar reconstruction assistance to Costa Rica?
He said, "Yes, Costa Rica had by virtue of selling entire coffee crops to the United States at OPA prices contributed the cost of at least three coffee crops" -- the difference between U.S. OPA prices and world market prices would be three coffee crops. Therefore, he thought they were entitled to some postwar considerations. Now, of course, Mr. Figueres wasn't the President of Costa Rica at that time, either. But I was wondering what your own impressions were, having dealt with Latin Americans and knowing very closely what
they thought in the economic field. What did they expect at the end of the war?
BOHAN: Well, I've often wondered, because the Latin Americans are a lot more realistic than we give them credit for, and they are a lot more realistic than they let us see when they talked to us, especially at international conferences. I must say that I have only a minimal degree of sympathy for that approach. Incidentally, almost every country in Latin America has used it at one time or another. Look, the truth is this; we saved them from a world that I don't think they would have liked. The Second World War was, in a sense, just as much their world war as it was ours. We all made sacrifices. During the war, certainly, we supplied them at a considerable sacrifice to ourselves -- remember that we kept their economies going during the war. It is true that we also
had ceiling prices, but we had ceiling prices on exports as well as on imports, you see. Now, it is true that after the war our prices of industrial products began going up terrifically. At that time the Export-Import Bank was quite active in Latin America, and if it hadn't been for the huge degree of cooperation under the Marshall plan, what we actually made available to them would have been really quite noteworthy. It is only small in comparison with the Marshall plan. Yet let me ask you, where would Latin America be today, in all this period since World War II, if we hadn't reconstructed Europe, and reconstructed the buying power of Europe, and reconstructed Europe as a market for Latin American products? So, all of that leaves me, frankly very cold. I have never been one of these people who merrily criticizes my own Government. I think that my Government was exceedingly unwise in not realizing what we had gained during the war through the "Good Neighbor Policy,"
and incidentally, we paid dearly for it, Many times we paid very dearly for that policy. We just threw it away, It meant something to us, and all we had to do in order to maintain it was to use a little sympathy to not make the Figueres', and all the rest of them think they were second-class citizens the minute the war was won. The minute the war was won we lost interest in Latin America. It was the loss of interest; we should have continued to consult them. Remember during the war even Mr. Roosevelt, busy as he was, was always consulting Latin America. The diplomats in Washington felt very big, because the Department of State was always consulting them. All of a sudden they were of no importance; so, basically that is the problem.
MCKINZIE: How does the U.S. policy toward Argentina at Chapultepec and then later at the San Francisco Conference, fit in? Was the United States position
that one could deal with Latin America as a bloc, and therefore, Argentina should be included? Was the U.S. view about Argentina in the United Nations a part of this giving up on Latin America, or not?
BOHAN: No. I wouldn't say so. I don't know whether it was Mr. Rockefeller who was able to influence our policies so decidedly at that time. I would guess that it was, frankly, but I can't answer it because I don't know. I would say that I think our blowing hot and cold certainly didn't do our prestige any particular good in Latin America, or elsewhere for that matter. One minute we were sending people down to Argentina to give Peron an abrazo, and the next minute we were sending somebody else to give him a kick.
MCKINZIE: How did you happen to be assigned to Mexico City in 1945?
BOHAN: I had been asking for Mexico City since the time I entered the service in 1927. In 1932 when Mr. Roosevelt turned over the Department of Commerce to his hatchet men, they cut the foreign commerce service from (these figures may not be entirely correct) about 150 to about 40 or 50 overnight, gave the officers thirty days to give up their houses and everything else, and come back to the United States or pay their own expenses. They didn't discover until later that most of them were Democrats and got better jobs when they got back here. But the fact remains, that even then when they transferred me I expected to be fired. They transferred me from Peru to Chile, and I said, "I don't want Chile, I want Mexico." Fortunately I still had a friend in the Bureau who told me to keep my mouth shut.
The reason I was sent to Mexico was because Monnett Davis, who was the Director of the Foreign
Service, had brought me up from Argentina, to activate, if I may use a bureaucratic word, two new divisions of the Department, the Division of Foreign Reporting Services and the Division of Foreign Service Planning. The Division of Foreign Service Planning made an analysis of all the work load of the Foreign Service and came to the conclusion that we needed a lot less people than we had at that time, and that increasing the size of the Foreign Service, as was then proposed and was later carried out, would be against the best interests of the United States. In the meantime, Mr. Davis had gone as Ambassador to somewhere in Europe; and the Foreign Service clique in Washington -- I say clique, because in spite of the fact that I was in the Service for so many years, I came from Commerce, which is a taint on your ancestry to an extent -- they were thinking completely in terms of what the Government could do for the Foreign Service. The 1946
legislation increased salaries and increased tenure, and all the rest of it and, incidentally, brought a lot of good things to me personally. But the Foreign Service Division hadn't been thinking of that, it had been thinking in terms of what the Service had to do for the U.S. Government. And we came up with some very bad recommendations: to cut the number of people abroad, and quite a number of other recommendations that the people in charge of the Foreign Service didn't like even a little bit. They knew I wanted to go to Mexico, so the first thing you know I was no longer the Chief of the Division of Foreign Service Planning. I was counselor at the Embassy for Economic Affairs in Mexico City, much to my joy I might say. I hold no feeling against the Department for that, except this; and this is a harsh criticism. It's a funny thing, I have a deep affection for the Department of State and I have a deep loyalty to it, but on the other hand during the last twenty
years, I think it is not only the most inefficient organization I've known, but I also think that the Foreign Service has thought first and foremost of what the United States Government can do for it, not what it can do for the U.S. Government. Now, I know that every Foreign Service Officer would rise up in holy horror, but that is an opinion that you do not have to delete from any version of our conversation, private or public. I really believe it.
MCKINZIE: You felt even by 1945 that it had been reached this path toward indecision?
BOHAN: Yes. It had started on that path.
MCKINZIE: Of course, it had grown like Topsy during the war with all kinds of people coming into the Department.
BOHAN: Correct. You can put me down as one of these
persons that have a lot of very extreme ideas, If you do, I can't help it.
Look, we discovered management planning back about that time. We didn't have management planning in the Department of State prior to the middle of World War II. It was run by the Foreign Service. The Foreign Service was small; it was a clique; it had some terribly brilliant officers, and frankly it had a lot of people that weren't first-rate in spite of all the trouble they went to in terms of examination and selection. I shouldn't say weren't first class; they were gentlemen, they were nice people. But I have never been super-inspired by the degree of expertise of the average Foreign Service officer, in spite of the fact that I have a tremendous admiration for a great many of the Chiefs of Mission, and other colleagues that I've served under and with; but it's a small percentage. I worked up a percentage based on some
129 people that I knew, and afterwards, if you'd like, I'll show it to you.
MCKINZIE: Yes. I'd like to see it,
We were talking about what happened and it's important, I think, to talk about the Department of State in those postwar years. Would it be fair to say that there was a point at which things reached a low point, a nadir, and then began to level off? There were a number of reorganizations in the State Department beginning in 1946, and it was done just about every year in one way or another for the next several years. There was one in 1947, and another one in '49 or '50. Is that just changing hats or did any of those make any difference, as far as you could tell?
BOHAN: I retired in '55 under a cloud; nobody even said goodbye to me. I was against our policy in Latin America and had said so. Incidentally, I was not guilty as many people thought I was in
inspiring news stories to that effect. On the other hand, I must admit that when I was asked I didn't keep my opinions to myself; but I didn't just go out and say, "Listen, buddy, I want you to say this." If I was asked, I said what I thought. And for several years I didn't have much of a relationship with the Department, but then the relationship became more intimate again, and I was made a member of a service -- remember when we had only atomic bombs and had a secret government that could take over if Washington were destroyed: We had caves and things around to hide in, and whatnot. Well, I was a member of the State Department part of that government. Then in '60 I was sent down as the head of a mission to northeast Brazil for the Department of State and AID [Agency for International Development], representing both of them, And periodically after that I was called back on short term assignments
as late as '68. I remember that Mr. (Lyndon Baines] Johnson was President. So, it must have been '67. I headed up a small group in the Department of State that prepared the National Policy Paper on Brazil.
In the Department of State at Washington, as well as in the Foreign Service, there are literally hundreds of able, competent people, but the organization itself, for both the Foreign Service and the Department of State, is so messed up that they can't operate efficiently. Now, whether that is management planning, whether it's the cancerous growth of bureaucracy or what, I don't know; but there are no such things as clear-cut lines of responsibility and clear-cut lines of authority. And no one can make up his mind without getting other people to initial his mind, with a result that I don't care what you are doing the level of the output is brought
down by the need for getting many people to approve it. Now, it's as simple as that, and as tragic as that, but everybody, everybody, everybody in Washington seems to have a certain implied authority to discuss and decide on foreign policy. A thousand people can't make policy. And one final note, in connection with this last job I had: it was necessary to have committee meetings, and I found that the people that came to those committee meetings were not discussing the subject according to what they thought. They were merely maintaining the position of their agency, which in turn had been arrived at by a multiplicity of people and divisions and so on. It's too much. It's worse than a consensus. I think you can reach a consensus without compromising principle, but I don't believe you can reach an action policy without compromising a policy.
Forgive me for getting a little heated on
the subject, but it's the most terrible frustration that you can imagine. Every day is frustration,
MCKINZIE: So, when you recommended that the Foreign Service not be increased in size, you got the train to Mexico City.
BOHAN: Yes, yes.
MCKINZIE: Could you talk about your work there? That was a pretty exciting time in a way, because in that period there was the problem of re-conversion in the U.S. Mexico had a lot of money that they hadn't used from U.S. purchases during the war, which had to be spent, presumably at a reasonable rate. And then, of course, while that was all occurring, Europe was getting in trouble, and the United States mounted a very large program for Europe, which you've already alluded to briefly, that caused some problems with Latin America. I wonder if you could talk about your work there?
BOHAN: I was sent to Mexico in, I guess, early '45. The first year and a few more months it was unalloyed pleasure. Messersmith was Ambassador. Messersmith was an old career officer of tremendous prestige. When he wrote a dispatch there was no such thing as one page or one hundred pages; it just went on, and on, and on. You couldn't go to Mr. Messersmith and discuss a subject with him, because he'd tell you rather than telling him. But a very wise younger officer in Washington had tipped me off, and he said, "Look, Merwin, you have got to get your staff so on its toes that you are telling Mr. Messersmith in memos of everything that is coming up, and get your ideas over to him, and you will find that if your ideas are sound he'll go along and back you up." So, when I went down I found a staff of about eighty people in the economic unit; it was just after the war, and I had some wonderful people on the staff. We held several
"war" meetings and we decided that we were going to follow that policy. Never once did I have any lack of understanding what Messersmith wanted, what we were prepared to do, and what we should do. Mr. Messersmith never went to the Foreign Office, never went anyplace, that the minute he got back to his office (because we were several blocks away from him in another building), that he didn't call up on our private telephone and tell me what he had said and what had been agreed upon. In other words, he kept me fully informed. Now, he left after about a year, and, as I say, up to that point we had lots of fun. I remember particularly the wheat quota, and this will explain to you why Acheson takes the attitude he does toward Messersmith. I was in Mr. Messersmith's office one day when Acheson called him up and said the Department had decided that the wheat quota for Mexico was going to be cut and the Department of Agriculture
agreed and so on. And Messersmith said, "No. We wont cut it. We can't cut it."
And Acheson said something to him and George said, "Now, listen, Dean, you know a lot of things about a lot of things, but you don't know a damn thing about wheat." Now that is a perfect example of the way Messersmith talked to Washington, see. Well, I don't think Mr. Acheson liked it, and I think that's the long and short of it.
MCKINZIE: Which may be why Mr. Acheson took this view towards both Messersmith and [Spruille] Braden that he took in that book of his.
BOHAN: Very likely. Oh, I'll tell you a story later about Braden, because it really shows the "iron fist" that was ruling in Colombia when he was our Ambassador down there. Then Walter Thurston took over as Ambassador.
Walter Thurston died back in March. He'd
never been married. His mother lived with him. And he was a man that I never quite understood even though we were in grammar school together in Mexico; I didn't know him at that time as he was a grade or two ahead of me. We never clicked, just why, I don't know; on the other hand, we never had any open disagreements. But I'll say one thing for Mr. Thurston, he largely prepared the itinerary for President Truman's visit to Mexico, and he was the one who suggested that Mr. Truman lay the wreath on the statue of the Chapultepec boys who had been killed in the Mexican War. That was the highest point in Mexican-American relations in all our history. Naturally an emotional point like that couldn't be maintained, but at that particular instant in time Mexico and the United States were closer together than they had ever been before or since.
Mr. Truman came down and he took Mexico by storm with his simple manner. The Mexicans had
never seen a President surrounded by bodyguards before, and they all began calling him "Jarrito" -- Harry, but jarrito also means a jar, you know, in Spanish - "Jarrito" and the "jimenez" -- the G-men. Honestly there was more write-ups about the jimenez and Jarrito than you could shake a stick at. But he did an immensely valuable job, and I can't understand why in his Memoirs there is not a sentence about his visit to Mexico. It was really and truly one of the most successful visits a President has ever made to a foreign country. It was made just shortly after [Miguel] Aleman had become President, and really our relationship with Mexico improved steadily throughout that administration, and hasn't suffered too severely since. We've had our little ups and downs, but by and large things have gone along very well since then and I ascribe a good part of it to Mr. Truman's visit. It started things in the right direction.
But to get back to Mexico very briefly. After Mr. Truman's visit I became more and more frustrated. I was being called upon to ask Mexico for almost everything we wanted in the economic field. I had no responsibility for petroleum. That was handled by the Ambassador, as it naturally would be, but in every other field it was up to me to get what we wanted. Invariably, I couldn't get anything out of Washington because the Secretary of Agriculture, the president of the Export-Import Bank, the Assistant Secretary for Latin American Affairs, etc., etc., etc., was always the person that would give Mexico something. Now, I'm not saying that that isn't perfectly natural in a democracy. I'm not saying that you could totally get rid of that, because you are dealing with human nature. But let me give you a very concrete example: Ramón Beteta was Minister of the Treasury. Ramón was a graduate of the University
of Texas. He talked Texas English as well as any Texan. I don't think he liked us, even though he was married at that time to an American; later he divorced her. I'm not going to discuss his morality, etc., because I don't think that's quite proper. But a decree came out changing the regulations pertaining to the introduction of automobiles by people driving into Mexico. And, as I read it over, it suddenly struck me that, while tourists would have no trouble, it would be impossible for any businessman coming down to come in his car; and I was sure it was just an error. So the next week -- I'd see Beteta once a week. The degree of items that we had at all times under consideration required me to go down there at least once a week to see him. I went down, and I said, "Mr. Minister, I'm sure it's just a mistake in drafting, but the way this new decree is drafted businessmen just can't bring their cars into Mexico."
He said, "I'll look into it."
The next time I saw him I said, "Have you looked into that?"
He said, "Yes. You're right it was just a mistake."
"Well," I said, "that's a big relief, because we have a lot of them on our necks, and I'm sure you'll fix it up real quick for me."
He says, "No, I'm not going to fix it up."
And I said, "Mr. Minister, but why?"
He said, "Look, I asked you for a dozen things, and you didn't get replies on any of these things for me out of Washington. I'm not going to do it for you."
I said, ,'But Mr. Minister, you were only up there a month ago and you got a hundred million dollars out of the U.S. Government."
He said, "Sure, we got it. You didn't help us. You didn't get it for us." He said, "There
were a dozen things in there" -- there were a dozen things, little things. (And I'll tell you what one of them was in a moment.) He said, "You got no action whatsoever."
One of the things that he was sore about was this: At that time when a shipper in Mexico shipped silver to the United States, whether it was in minerals or whether it was bars, or however, he had to get a consular invoice. It cost him $2.50, and he had to present that invoice at the border. If he didn't have it he'd have to put up a bond, which I think was $10 or so, that he would supply it later. Mexico had been moving heaven and earth to try and prevent silver being exported from Mexico without paying the export duties. It was a big drain on the country. The Minister called me and he said, "Listen, all I want you people to do is require the consular invoice and not permit it to go through without the consular invoice, because
I'm sure that the consulate is not going to give a consular invoice to a bunch of crooks. It will be legitimate business and we can control shipments if they can't go into the United States unless they have a consulate invoice." Well, I thought that was as simple as ABC. Do you think I could get them to do it? -- my correspondence back and forth, all the regulations as to consular regulations, drafts and the other thing.
I said, "My heavens, we're asking them to cooperate on stolen cars that are shipped into Mexico. We've got two people down there that do nothing else but look into these cars shipped out of the United States. But week, after week, after week, after week passed -- I never was able to fix that up.
Now, that is the degree to which, you see, it was impossible to represent the United States in Mexico in the type of job that I had.
MCKINZIE: You had nothing to give.
BOHAN: I couldn't operate. I had nothing to give. Now please don't misunderstand me, I never have believed in, "If you do this for me I'll do that for you," but I've always believed in "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours." I don't mind if they are going to give a hundred millions dollars for the President of the United States to give the hundred million dollars or the president of the Export-Import Bank; but when