Last week French Admiral Robert, War Coordinator of the French West Indies, was still in control of the island of Martinique. French colonial troops went on drilling in tropical heat. French warships lay in the big harbor of Fort-de-France. But island exports of rum, bananas, sugar, pineapples had all but stopped. A British fleet of unknown size patrolled the nearby waterscarefully avoiding the appearance of a blockade, making certain that French warships would not streak for home, watching for signs of a Nazi attempt to establish a submarine base on the island. Somewhere nearby, destroyers of the U.S. neutrality patrol also hovered watchfully. Thus quietly time passed on an American island now nominally ruled by the new totalitarian Government of France, which is in turn subservient to the totalitarian Government of Europe.
When France fell, demands were clamorous for quick U. S. action on Martinique. But last week, as the Martinique stalemate continued, there were solid U. S. reasons for wanting that stalemate to last as long as possible. On the eve of the Havana conference, Brazilians suddenly came out with a proposal that Brazil be given a mandate over British, French and Dutch Guiana. This looked like common sense to many Brazilians who had not considered that it would be an act of war against Britain, and it pleased some pro-fascist Brazilians who wanted just that. Next, Cuba let it be known that Cubans at the Conference would urge full independence for all colonies and territories in the Western Hemisphere, with weak colonies placed under some form of Pan-American protectorate.
In view of Latin-American complications, it seemed to be to U. S. advantage to avoid a final settlement, avoid establishing dangerous precedents that might create trouble in the future. Said Walter Lippmann: "No final settlement of any territorial question is remotely in sight. All that is required . . . is an interim working arrangement about the island itself. . . . It is plainly a question where the proper official attitude is to wait in order to see what actually happens in Martinique rather than to draw conclusions from what appears to be happening in Vichy. . . . What we must do . . . to protect our vital interests in this hemisphere, we must do . . . but [it] should be done as a practical measure in a transitional period. And we should invoke no general principles, formulate no new doctrines, and above all do nothing which can be interpreted or misinterpreted as a conclusive judgment that France is finally defeated and subjugated."
Best interim solution for the U. S.: internment of the French warships, especially the airplane carrier Beam, in U. S. ports until the war's end. Last week State Department officials let it be unofficially known that U. S.-Martinique negotiations with that end in view had been broken off by Martinique, that the U. S. was taking steps to immobilize French warships in Martinique harbors.