812.52/473: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Chargé in Mexico ( Summerlin )6

2154. As supplementing protest against Agrarian measure passed by Sonora Legislature made pursuant Department’s July 16, 5 P.M.,7 advise Foreign Office substantially as follows:

Consideration of measure by Government of United States leads to conclusion that measure is so ambiguous and unclear in many provisions as to leave landowners in dark as to their rights, duties and obligations thereunder. Examples of such lack of clearness are the rights of landowner in making division of his lands by private arrangement, provision as to payment by State of Sonora for lands expropriated, and provision for preserving rights of creditors.

Measure does not provide for effective compensation, in that, taken in connection with provisions of Article 117 of Mexican Constitution8 regarding bond issues by States, it apparently requires landowners to accept nonnegotiable bonds of State of Sonora payable in Mexico and in Mexican money, which bonds would seemingly have no market value and holders of which would be remediless in case of default except through the diplomatic channel and would, moreover, be exposed to the danger of being compelled to accept payment in greatly depreciated fiat money.

Provision in measure for fixing value of improvements violates provision of Article 27 of Mexican Constitution, that value of improvements taken for purpose in question shall be fixed by judicial determination, but instead makes such value determinable by experts only, one of whom is appointed by owner, other two being appointed respectively by State of Sonora, the expropriator, and the grantee, the beneficiary of such expropriation. It would appear that demands of even-handed justice are hardly met by such a constitution of the Board to pass upon the value of improvements.

Moreover, since measure in question provides for taking of property by purely arbitrary administrative action, without due process [Page 624] of law or judicial determination, provision as to fixing value of improvements, and much more the provision as to the taking of lands, violates following provisions of Article 14 of Constitution “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, property, possessions, or rights without due process of law instituted before a duly created court, in which the essential elements of procedure are observed.”

As stated in previous representations, such safeguards as are provided for property owners by said provisions of Article 14 correspond to provisions under which property is taken for public use in the United States where owner has right to demand that an impartial tribunal shall pass upon question of compensation and that he be given an opportunity for a hearing. It is believed that such safeguards prevail generally throughout the world as in accordance with the general idea of justice and equity.

Apparent conflict between said provisions Article 14 and provisions Article 27 for administrative expropriation of private property does not alter fact that wise safeguards of former Article are just and equitable and generally observed in modern times.

In view of considerations mentioned, and on behalf of American citizens owning lands in Sonora, the Government of the United States, while reserving all rights in the matter, is constrained to renew its protest against the coming into force of the measure in question, on the grounds of its ambiguity, that it is confiscatory in character, and that it makes no provision for due process of law and judicial determination.

American citizens, adversely affected by this law, will no doubt have recourse to the courts in Mexico for relief, but the Mexican Government is hereby advised that, in the event that absolute and even-handed justice is denied them after they have exhausted all proper local remedies, the Government of the United States will be forced to take up this question with the Mexican Government for international adjustment and reparation.

Lansing
  1. Repeated on the same date to tlie Consul at Nogales with instructions to advise the authorities of Sonora of the substance.
  2. Ante, p. 615.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1917, p. 975.