Minister Dawson to the Secretary of State.
Bogota, March 29, 1909.
Sir: Referring to the subject of my No. 244, of March 8, 1909,1 and of my telegrams of March 10, March 13, March 14, March 16, March 17, March 18, March 19, March 23, March 26, and March 27—the discussion of the ratification by Colombia of the treaties with the United States and with Panama, and the political disturbances incident thereto—I have the honor to report that on March 6 and 7 many clandestine meetings were held by those opposed to the Reyes government and to ratification, and plans matured for popular demonstrations to be made as soon as the expected majority report of the committee should be presented.
On March 7 I sought a personal interview with the President. His words were confident, but his manner indicated irresolution. He was plainly nervous.
On March 8 the majority report was presented and published, a copy of which is inclosed. It was written by Antonio José Restrepo. Of the 18 members of the committee 14 favored unconditional ratification, 3 Ratification with amendments, and 1, Francisco de P. Matéus, ex-minister for foreign affairs and many times plenipotentiary for his country during the last quarter of a century, opposed the treaty en bloc. He read a minority report, a copy of which is inclosed. This minority report was not then published, but the purport of its [Page 385] inflammatory assertions that the treaties were deceitfully drawn so as to give the ports of Cartagena and Buenaventura to the United States, and that the boundary arbitration provision in regard to the Jurado region meant that the United States and Panama intended to grab all the territory through which a canal up the Atrato could reach the Pacific, spread like wildfire, and his bitter denunciation of the attitude of the United States when Panama declared her independence found a ready echo among the excitable and easily prejudiced people of this capital.
That evening, March 8, the students of the different university schools, with the knowledge and encouragement of many of their professors, including Dr. Luís Felipe Calderón, nephew of the President and brother of Clímaco Calderón, who, as minister of foreign affairs in 1905 and 1906, began the negotiations looking toward these very treaties, made demonstrations throughout the city. On the morning of March 9 the streets were filled with excited crowds of people and bands of students and young men crying “Down with the treaties” “Death to the traitors of Panama,” “Death to the United States,” “Viva Matéus,” “Death to Restrepo,” etc. They made demonstrations of approval at the house of Matéus and Nicholás Esguerra and of disapproval at the house of Antonio José Restrepo.
At 2 o’clock in the afternoon, while I was writing in the legation office, about 40 students came to the legation door and, upon its being opened by the servant, they all crowded in. Hearing the noise I went into the reception room and sent them word that I would see them there. They came politely enough and three leaders, representatives respectively of the faculties of law, medicine, and arts, made speeches, the substance of which was that since liberty of the press did not exist in Colombia under Reyes’s administration they had no other means of letting me know that they as well as all other honest Colombians were opposed to the treaties because Colombia’s recognition of Panaman independence would dishonor and disgrace her, and because the assembly, which had them under consideration, was an unconstitutional body whose members had been appointed by the President and whose servile cooperation was assured by the granting of offices and favors. I briefly called their attention to the fact that it would be improper for me, as a foreign representative, to discuss with private individuals the merits of the treaties; that I could assure them that the Government and people of the United States were animated only by friendly sentiments toward the Colombian people and earnestly desired for them the blessings of prosperity and peace. Happily, the spirit of personal politeness and decorum, so characteristic of Colombians, prevented their saying anything insulting about the United States in my presence, and they retired without anything disagreeable happening. I took no measures to communicate the incident to the authorities, but shortly afterwards heavy detachments of police were placed in front of the legation and at the four corners of the block in which it is situated. About half past 6 in the evening a great crowd assembled at one of these corners, probably with the intention of making a new demonstration, but their leaders were arrested. Throughout the afternoon disorders continued in various parts of the city, and there were numerous arrests.[Page 386]
The excitement, disorders, and arrests continued on March 9, but so far as I could see then, or have since heard, no further attempts were made to demonstrate against this legation. The rioters, however, were with difficulty restrained from acts of violence against members of the assembly. In the afternoon there was an acrimonious debate in the assembly upon a motion to definitely postpone the consideration of the treaties. The minister for foreign affairs was kind enough to send me word that he thought it would be better for me not to be present since I might hear very disagreeable things about my country. Such things were, in fact, said, as I have been informed by members of the diplomatic corps who were present, who also assured me that nothing was said reflecting upon the official or personal conduct of Mr. Barrett or myself. For the most part the Government deputies sat silent except Antonio Jose Restrepo, who made the mistake of demanding that the galleries be cleared upon the first sign of disagreement with his remarks. This incident greatly excited public feeling against him.
In the afternoon the President offered the ministry of war to Fernández, the ruthless Conservative general who, when in charge in 1901 and 1902, executed so many Liberals. He declined, and Perdomo, another Conservative general, of much the same type and record, was named. Perdomo’s appointment was received with a storm of indignation and was withdrawn. Reyes issued a decree intrusting the maintenance of order in the city directly to the minister of war, and the first popular impression was that he was going resolutely to suppress the disorders and pass the treaties. However, it has since transpired that a threatening telegram had just been received from the military chiefs in Santander (a copy is inclosed). Many members of the assembly and the cabinet were becoming frightened, and others thought they saw an opportunity to push Reyes out of the presidential chair and themselves get into control. Friends of Jorge Holguín almost openly advocated his elevation to the Presidency, and it is certain that he strongly advised the President to throw the treaties overboard.
The student demonstrations continued on March 11, and the lower classes also began to take part, and while arrests were numerous the prisoners were in all cases soon released and no really vigorous measures taken to restore order. On that day still another new cabinet was announced, Jorge Holguín being admitted to it and named Designado or successor to the Presidency. In the assembly the discussions of the treaties continued. The minister for foreign affairs, Dr. Urrutia, made a strong speech in their favor, a copy of which is inclosed, but the majority members of the assembly were evidently weakening. Just before the session closed a vote was forced on the first and second articles of the treaty with Panama, and they were approved by 43 to 3: Corral, Quijano Wallis, and Matéus.
On March 12 Gen. Vázquez Cobo was elected to the presidency of the assembly in place of Holguín, who assumed charge of the ministry of the treasury. Telegrams from officeholders all over the country continued to pour in asking that the treaties be ratified, but since it was well known that these telegrams were sent in response to Government solicitation they produced little effect. In the absence of freedom of the press or any other organ of public opinion, it was impossible to tell what the real opinion of the country was, and it was [Page 387] certain that the populace in the Provinces was even less informed than that in Bogota of the substance and real intent of the treaties. Rumors of disorders at various points were current, and by common consent the assembly dropped the consideration of the treaties and waited for Reyes to take decisive action.
On the morning of the 13th President Reyes made an attempt to reduce the students to a better frame of mind by inviting some of them to the palace, but instead of discussing the treaties the speakers for the students reproached the President for his financial policies, his establishment of monopolies, his suppression of the freedom of the press, and his refusal to give Columbia an elective congress. Living as he has done for the last four years, in an atmosphere of enforced adulation, not accustomed to hear criticisms or suggestions, the President took this in very bad part.
Shortly thereafter he hastily wrote his resignation and sent it to the assembly. The news astounded everyone, and it is impossible even yet to be sure what motives inspired him.
Holguín took oath as Acting President and named a new cabinet, in which Nicolas Esguerra, now the most prominent Liberal in the country, was included. Carlos Cuervo Márquez became minister of war. Holguín at once sent a message to the assembly advising it to refrain from further consideration of the treaties. Urrutia resigned as minister for foreign affairs. Esguerra and another recently appointed Liberal refused to accept. Holguín and Cuervo Márquez ordered the police not to interfere with popular demonstrations, and anarchy broke loose. The long-smoldering hatred of Reyes had free rein; crowds paraded the streets crying “Abajo el tirano,” “Mueran los vendidos”; street-corner orators reviled Reyes as a grafter; the crowds stoned the offices of the Correo Nacional and Nuevo Tiempo, the Government subsidized newspapers, and even demonstrated against the apostolic delegate and the archbishop. A howling mob besieged the assembly hall all afternoon, and the members waited until dark and slipped out one by one. Restrepo was run off the streets and his house stoned. About 7 o’clock Dr. Urrutia called on me in a very excited condition to say that Holguín would in fact have the assembly take up the treaties again in a few days and that he himself had therefore continued to remain in office. About the same time Reyes telephoned me privately to come over to the palace at 8 o’clock for consultation. This fact is my principal reason for suspecting that his resignation had always a string to it. Half an hour afterwards came another message that my call would not be necessary. About 9 o’clock a mob wrecked Vázquez Cobo’s house.
Mrs. Vázquez was badly frightened, and her husband rushed to the palace and to their faces furiously denounced Reyes, Holguín, and Cuervo Márquez as cowards and traitors to their friends. He threatened to go himself to the barracks and put himself in command of the troops. Reyes asked him if he would accept the ministry of war, and upon his answering in the affirmative, he assumed the Presidency and dismissed Cuervo Márquez. In the meantime a large and excited public meeting of persons prominent socially and politically was being held at the jockey club where violent diatribes against Reyes were uttered. Olaya Herrera who had been very active during the week, and who is believed to have been in communication with revolutionary plotters in Panama, Tumaco, and elsewhere, proposed [Page 388] the formation of a supreme junta with Esguerra at its head, but these proceedings were suddenly interrupted about midnight by the arrival of troops who arrested nearly everyone present and carried them off to prison. Until a late hour the police scoured the streets dispersing and arresting the groups of students and workmen, and several people were killed and injured.
Next morning, March 14, Bogota woke to find Reyes in the Presidency, a state of siege declared, machine guns placed commanding the central plaza, the police and troops armed with Mausers, and Vazquez Cobo, Fernández, and Perdomo, the three most dreaded generals in the country, in command. Olaya Herrera and his lieutenant, Escobar, were sentenced by court-martial to five years in the Cartagena dungeons; Climaco Calderón was arrested. The malcontents were terrorized, and the city became as quiet as a graveyard.
Monday morning, March 15, I called on Vasquez Cobo. He told me the treaties would be pushed through at once if Panama would consent to define the Jurado region. In the afternoon he resigned as minister of war to reassume the presidency of the assembly, and I had bright hopes of early action. But when I went to see the minister for foreign affairs, to my great disappointment I found that Reyes himself was not disposed to take advantage of the opportunity and assume the responsibility. Speaking officially, the minister said he regretted to have to admit that an unexpectedly strong popular opposition to the treaties had developed, complicated with much dissatisfaction at the fiscal policies of the Government, its centralizing tendencies, its interference with the liberty of the press, and its failure to provide an elective congress. The opponents of the Government had succeeded in arousing the latent popular sentiment of indignation that had never ceased to exist against the Panaman leaders who took part in the declaration of independence and against the United States for its alleged complicity with their acts. Opposition members of the assembly had succeeded in further exacerbating public sentiment by insisting that certain articles of the treaties were susceptible of a construction that would be ruinous to Colombia. They were laying special emphasis on Article VI of the treaty with the United States and the boundary arbitration provision of the treaty with Panama.
The department will get an idea of the general nature of these misrepresentations and charges from the following paragraphs of the minority report, written and signed by F. de P. Matéus, ex-minister for foreign affairs, and who has served as Colombia’s plenipotentiary at many posts during the last 25 years:
By article 6 of the treaty Colombia concedes to the United States the use of all the ports of the Republic open to commerce as places of refuge for any vessels employed in the canal enterprise and for all vessels in distress passing or bound to pass through the canal and seeking shelter or anchorage in said ports, being exempt from all payments for anchorage or tonnage dues.
Calvo defines “refuge:” “The protection against an imminent peril, whether of a man being pursued or a ship menaced by a tempest.” Refuge being a natural right, an act of humanity, in respect to ships in peril recognized by all nations, there is no reason to refer to it in the treaties. The real intention was to create a servitude of use in our ports in favor of the United States, calling it refuge in order to secure its easy approval. Nevertheless, the article makes a clear distinction between the use conceded to any ships employed in the canal enterprise, including warships and ships in distress which are really in need of refuge.
Calvo says in his Dictionary of International Law that “Use is the right of using, personally, something whose property belongs to another and to participate in its [Page 389] products. This right includes things movable as well as immovable.” The deductions from this doctrine is that as long as the use of our ports is conceded to the United States the latter nation may construct in them docks to shelter their ships and may establish coaling stations on their shores.
Whatever may be the reasons adduced to prove the innocence of this clause of the treaty, which I do not doubt was loyalty and honorably accepted by the Colombian minister, I entertain the profound conviction that the concession of the use of our ports to the United States signifies the loss of the independence of Colombia. It is not long since that the foreign press discussed the intention of the Government of the United States to establish a naval station at Cartagena and another at Buenaventura, in view of ulterior events, as strategical points for the defense of the canal.
Recently an American squadron arrived at Colon, and it is not impossible, once the treaties are ratified, that that squadron will occupy Cartagena and a like measure be shortly adopted in respect to the port of Buenaventura on the Pacific.
The minister said that in the speeches in the assambly reference has also been made to the fact that in the Spanish text of article 6 a comma was placed after the word “refugio” instead of after the word “comercio.”
The minister added that he and the rest of the Colombian executives understood perfectly well that the article did nothing more than clearly confirm an already existing practice and right under international law, except that it put Colombia under the obligation of not charging anchorage and tonnage dues. However, many members of the assembly and the public in general insisted upon some additional guarantee on the subject. During the past week he had been pressed to the wall in regard to this matter, and he would greatly appreciate anything I could do to help him out.
I answered that personally I had no doubt that his conception of the meaning of the article in question was correct, but could make no official statement without authority from the Department of State. I suggested that he telegraph Mr. Cortes, instructing him to secure an exchange of reassuring notes between the Secretary of State and himself. The minister said he would, of course, do that as a last resort if I refused to telegraph, but he urgently desired that such notes, if agreed upon, be signed here, so that they could be shown to the members of the assembly. In this connection he spoke of the unfortunate fact, well known to me from my personal observation during the last month, that the profoundest distrust and most carping spirit prevails.
After careful reflection, I decided to comply with his request and told him to write me a note, which reached me the following day. I inclose a copy and translation thereof.
Therefore I telegraphed you, under date of March 17, that the opponents of the treaty were laying stress on th.3 alleged ambiguity of article 6, and that the minister for foreign affairs requested that I be authorized to write a note saying that the use of her ports conceded by Colombia in said article was only that right of refuge which is recognized by international law, subject to the usages established by international law in regard to right of refuge, and not as involving any breach of Colombian sovereignty.
In regard to the provision of the Panama treaty for arbitration as to the “region of Jurado” the minority report had said:
The limits of this region not being determined, the arbiters can put them as far as Cupica Bay on the Pacific, which is the southern end of the Atrato Canal, and thus destroy this interoceanic route which, in the future, might be a source of profit to Colombia.
In making up the arbitral tribunal, the Republic is to name one arbiter and Panama another, and if these two can not agree on the third—and it is clear that such an [Page 390] agreement can never be reached—he will be named by the President of Cuba, or—what is the same thing—by the Government of the United States. Therefore the tribunal is useless, because Colombia will be defenseless and the region of Jurado ipso facto be given to Panama.
How widespread is this unjust and absurd notion can be judged from the inclosed copy of a letter from the American consular agent in Bucaramanga (Santander) to Consul General White.
The minister said on March 15 that Dr. Cortés had erred in not accepting the Panama representative’s suggestion that the arbitration extend to the “Corregimiento de Jurado,” as defined in Senor Sosa’s pamphlet, viz, to Punta de Marzo, and insisting on inserting “región de Jurado.” Though the intention had been to confine the arbitration to a smaller territory, probably only as far south as the village or river of Jurado, the indefiniteness of the phrasing had given the treaty opponents an opportunity to alarm the public. He said Dr. Cortés was already in negotiations with Señor Arosemena, with good prospects of coming to an exchange of notes geographically defining the meaning of the term “región de Jurado,” but that he would be grateful if I would inform you of the vital importance of the matter so far as this end was concerned. Accordingly, in my telegrams of March 17 (received by you the 18th) and of March 23, I did so. On March 27 the minister showed me a note received from the Colombian agent in Panama, saying that the Isthmian Government had determined to authorize Señor Arosemena to exchange notes with Dr. Cortés. No confirmation of this has yet come from Washington to Bogota.
From about the 12th it had seemed to me that the popular sentiment against the treaties was being swallowed up in the feeling against the Government and considerations of internal politics and personal ambition. Therefore I was especially anxious to remove the objections as to Article VI and the Jurado clause so as to soften the blow in case Reyes should make up his mind to act vigorously.
On March 16 I saw the minister for foreign affairs and showed him your telegram of March 15, in which you say that it would be deplorable if the outbreak should disturb the ratification of the treaties, and it was brought at once to President Reyes’s personal attention. The same morning there was a te deum in the cathedral to offer thanks for the reestablishment or order. Telegrams were sent all over the country describing the disorders and arousing the church people to indignation on account of the alleged attacks on the archbishop. Three thousand recruits hurriedly gathered at Cundinamarca and Boyaca arrived this day. The diplomatic corps was invited to a presidential reception in connection with a great official demonstration organized to show the Government’s strength, but before going met to discuss what attitude should be taken. Some of the members showed great reluctance at being used by President Reyes, protested that it was dangerous and unwise to be put in the attitude of appearing to lend official sanction to his actions, and some of them even went so far as to suggest that the corps as a body advise him either to adopt a more liberal popular policy or to resign, but wiser counsels prevailed, and we all went to the reception. The President told us that he had consented to remain in power, that the assembly would not accept his resignation, and asked us to telegraph our Governments that order had been reestablished. Thereupon I [Page 391] sent you my telegram, dated March 16, at 5 p.m., and also telegraphed to substantially the same effect to all our consuls in Colombia.
On March 17 the assembly formally declined to accept President Reyes’s resignation, and in the afternoon I saw him and showed him your telegram of March 17 (6 p.m.). He again reassured me that the treaties would be pushed through just as soon as the country had quieted down a little more, thanked us for our kind efforts in regard to Article VI and the Jurado clause, and told me he would be grateful if we would intervene with the Panama Government toward preventing the exportation of arms intended for revolutionary purposes in Colombia and Venezuela from Panama.
The same day Antonio José Restrepo resigned from the assembly and the President issued a message congratulating the country on the reestablishment of peace. A copy is inclosed.
On March 19 the city seemed to have returned to its normal condition; Clímaco Calderón and most of the other prominent prisoners, except Olaya Herrera, had been released; the state of siege was raised and the guards withdrawn from around this legation.
On March 20 the President issued a message promising fiscal reforms and the immediate calling of elections for Congress. No move was made, however, by the assembly to take up the treaties and great anxiety continued to be felt in regard to the general political situation.
On March 22 a new cabinet was named, Holguín being changed to the ministry of war, and retained as designado, and the Liberals who had refused to accept being replaced.
On March 23 Dr. Urrutia and I completed our arrangements in regard to the exchange of notes about Article VI. I had received your telegraphic instruction of March 20 authorizing me to write the Colombian minister in the sense suggested, viz, that our understanding is that the first part of Article VI does nothing more than recognize the long-standing doctrine of international law concerning the friendly shelter of vessels in stress or need, plus a waiver of port dues, and accordingly sent him the note, of which I inclose a copy. The preparation of this note and the insertion of the initialed comma in the Spanish text was a little delayed because of the necessity of Dr. Urrutia’s attendance at the assembly and because he at first thought there ought to be a comma in the English text. It was not until the afternoon of the 25th that we formally met and inserted the comma, although the memorandum or protocol (of which the original is inclosed with translation) setting forth our action was, at his request, dated the 23d.
On the 25th Dr. Urrutia told me that the President was about ready to push the treaties through the assembly, and that it would be done without warning or further debate. On the morning of the 26th the assembly members on whom the President could rely were called to the palace in groups of six or eight, and they signed a document agreeing to complete ratification on the Monday following, namely, March 29. The news of such action spread rapidly to the public, and the opponents at once began quietly, but determinedly, to organize. Their efforts were the more formidable because the trades-unions were very bitter over the killing by the police of some workmen during the riots, and the students cooperated in a body. That [Page 392] night and the next morning many members of the assembly received warning that they would surely be assassinated if they obeyed Reyes. From the confessionals the archbishop, who is in favor of the treaties and the Reyes Government, received proofs which satisfied him that Bogota would be in revolt within 24 hours. He weakened and wrote a letter to the President most earnestly advising him, in the interest of peace, to withdraw the treaties and call Congress immediately. Whether or not this letter decided the President I have no means of ascertaining certainly, but the fact is that on the morning of the 27th President Reyes announced that he had again changed his mind and that he would recommend that the assembly cease considering the treaties, and that he would call Congress for July 20. I spent the day with my friends in the assembly and the Government endeavoring to prevent such action, but my efforts were fruitless. Inclosed you will find copies of the resolution in regard to the treaties adopted by the assembly.
Throughout the past month I have been in personal or indirect communication with the leaders of all parties. None of the leaders are, in their hearts, opposed to the treaties, but few of them are willing to take any responsibility toward actively helping to their adoption. Among the average politicians there exists, I am sorry to say, a considerable sentiment in favor of delay and of making as many objections as possible, believing that such tactics will result in obtaining material advantages for Colombia and for themselves.
I inclose a number of discussions by various prominent men which have appeared in the newspapers. They are mostly favorable to the treaties, but it must be remembered that in this country, so long accustomed to suppression of the liberty of the press, adverse opinions are more likely to be ventilated in conversation than in the columns of the newspapers. The three Colombians whose opinions would, perhaps, carry most weight with the reflecting public are Clímaco Calderón, Rafael Uribe Uribe, and Francisco de P. Borda. All three have so far refused to write anything for the press. The two former are, in fact, favorable and the last is adverse.
I can offer no prediction as to Congress’s final action. If the treaties become the principal issue in the elections, the chances are against their ratification. If internal politics, decentralization, liberty of the press, and fiscal and administrative reforms preoccupy the unthinking and prejudiced public, the treaties may have a chance.
Congress meets July 20, but the treaties will not be taken up until well on in August. In the meantime it is better that this legation be left in charge of the secretary. The pressure upon me to become, as it were, a center of intrigue—to take part in the inner workings of Colombian party politics—has been strong and will become stronger as the parties line up for the elections. I am confident I would continue to be prudent, but I fear misapprehensions and misrepresentations as to my attitude.
Many of the inclosures herewith are not accompanied by translations. Their bulk is so great that there has not been time, with the force at our disposal, to make them. I think, however, they will repay a careful reading in the department when the question of our further attitude in regard to the treaties with Colombia is taken up.
I have, etc.,
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