File No. 711.2.1/149.

The American Minister to the Secretary of State.

No. 141.]

Sir: I have the honor to enclose herewith clippings from the El Nuevo Tiempo of the 27th ultimo, consisting of the Spanish translation of the memorandum transmitted with my despatch No. 135 of February 5th, and of the minutes of my last conversation with Dr. Urrutia, together with an English translation thereof.

I also beg to enclose copings from local newspapers commenting upon the informal suggestions, submitted to the consideration of this Government.

The Department will note that while several newspapers deliberately misunderstand or mistake the bases offered by me, all endorse the action of the Government in refusing to accept any proposals which would affect the sovereignty of Colombia over any part of her territory.

I have [etc.]

James T. Du Bois.

Minutes of the conference between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the American Minister.

On February 15, 1913, there took place a conference at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs between Dr. Francisco José Urrutia, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Mr. Leopoldo Montejo, Secretary ad hoc, on the one hand, and Mr. James T. Du Bois, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States, and the Secretary of the Legation, Mr. Leland Harrison.

Mr. Du Bois expressed his desire that the conference should be considered informal, to which Dr. Urrutia replied that as Mr. Du Bois so desired it should be as he requested but that he wished to point out that this informal character [Page 295] would detract somewhat from the importance of Mr. Du Bois’ propositions and from this conference.

Thereupon the American Minister reviewed the course of the present conversations looking to an arrangement acceptable to Colombia for the settlement of the differences pending between the two countries.

Mr. Du Bois concluded by saying that he had received a memorandum which Mr. Carreho had sent him by the Secretary ad hoc, Mr. Montejo, in which the Minister in charge of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, informed him, much to his regret, that the Government of Colombia did not consider acceptable the propositions submitted by the American Minister in the name of his Government.

Mr. Du Bois asked Mr. Urrutia if he had read his last memorandum, to which the Minister for Foreign Affairs replied in the affirmative, whereupon the American Minister asked Mr. Urrutia his opinion, and the latter replied that he was in complete accord with his predecessor and that this was also the opinion of the President of the Republic. Moreover Mr. Urrutia remarked that the acceptance of such bases as those suggested by Mr. Du Bois would result in an intense agitation throughout the people of Colombia.

The American Minister asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs to state the wishes of the Colombian Government in the matter, to which Mr. Urrutia replied that the desire of Colombia was to submit the questions pending between Colombia and the United States to arbitration and that the last note on this subject addressed by Mr. Ospina, the Colombian Minister at Washington, to the Department of State on November 25, 1911, was conceived in this sense.1 To this note Mr. Urrutia again called the attention of Mr. Du Bois. Notwithstanding this, however, if the Government of the United States was disposed to give Colombia satisfactory reparation for what had taken place, Colombia had no objection to consider it and was prepared to enter into some direct arrangement which would satisfy the national aspirations evinced on more than one occasion. Mr. Du Bois replied that this was exactly the purpose of his Government in sending him back to Colombia and with this in view he had presented the memorandum which contained the proposal. Mr. Urrutia answered as he had before, that is to say that the Government of Colombia was not in a position to consider the proposal, because it did not think that it contained the just reparation which Colombia should receive for the immense damage suffered by reason of the separation of Panamá, neither did it consider that this proposal, if formulated into an agreement, would be approved by the Colombian Congress.

Mr. Du Bois pointed out that the Government of the United States could not submit to arbitration the question of the separation of Panamá, considered in its political aspect, although it was prepared to arbitrate the material side of the question, as the people of the United Sates would never agree to submit its political acts to arbitration, which had never been done so far by any country in the world. Mr. Urrutia replied that at the bottom of the differences between Colombia and the United States was the question of the violation of a public treaty: that of 1846; that it was precisely to questions regarding the application and interpretation of treaties to which the Hague Convention referred relative to the pacific settlement of international questions; that the actual President of the United States had proposed and taken the initiative in the sense that arbitration should be extended even to include questions concerning national honor and territory; that the present controversy between England and the United States, for which arbitration was demanded by many illustrious North American jurists, referred precisely to the interpretation of a clause of the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty. Mr. Du Bois carefully pointed out to his excellency the Minister that this example was precisely to the point, in that the arbitration proposed referred to a purely material claim, i. e. as to the amount of tolls to be paid by certain shipping passing through the Canal, and in no way comprised the arbitration of any political act whatsoever. Mr. Urrutia stated that he respected the opinion of Mr. Du Bois in this regard but that he could not agree with him; that the discussion of the application or violation of a public treaty, such as the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, fundamentally involved always a question of international policy, and he remarked in conclusion that if the American Minister found obstacles in the sentiments of the American people to submitting to arbitration the political questions relative to the separation of Panamá, he, as Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, could state that the public sentiment of the Colombian people would always refuse any arrangement whatsoever [Page 296] which, without being a just reparation to Colombia, might involve a diminution of sovereignty, a privilege or an unacceptable concession over any part of the national territory, such as were contained in Mr. Du Bois’ proposals relative to the islands of San Andrés and Providencia and the Atrato canal.

Mr. Dubois said that in his opinion the proposition in its amended form did not contain any diminution of sovereignty. Mr. Urrutia replied that he abstained at the present time from deep discussion of this point and that he contented himself with assuring Mr. Du Bois that the Government considered any such stipulation as prejudicial to the national welfare (“inconveniente para los intereses nacionales”).

Thereupon Mr. Du Bois asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether he thought that if the United States should offer $10,000,000 without asking any privilege on the islands or the option to build the Atrato canal but bearing in the other propositions, would the Colombian Government accept this offer. The Minister for Foreign Affairs answered, No; that the proposal in its entirety was refused by the Government, as not being of such a nature as could be accepted by Colombia.

Mr. Du Bois expressed his deep regret that the Government of Colombia refused to enter into negotiations on the proposed bases, and that it should insist upon an impossible arbitration. In his opinion the Government of Colombia was losing a propitious opportunity to settle the pending questions with the United States, an arrangement which he ventured to believe, as a good friend of Colombia to be most necessary before the opening of the Panamá Canal. The American Minister also regretted that the Government of Colombia did not see its way clear to completing an arrangement on the basis suggested before the 4th of March next, an arrangement which might be amended further to the advantage of Colombia after that date, but which if now refused by Colombia might never again be proposed by the United States in so favorable a form.

Mr. Du Bois endeavored to obtain an expression of opinion from his excellency the Minister as to the bases which might be acceptable to Colombia. Dr. Urrutia replied that his Government, as he had already stated, demanded the arbitration of the whole Panamá question, or a direct proposition from the United States to compensate Colombia for all of the moral and material damages sustained by her because of the separation of Panamá. The American Minister inquired if that were the last word of Colombia, to which the Minister for Foreign Affairs answered, Yes.

Mr. Urrutia assured Mr. Du Bois of his deep regret that he was unable to enter upon any negotiations on these bases, and that he regretted it all the more as Mr. Du Bois was held in the highest estimation by the Government of Colombia.

The American Minister asked Mr. Urrutia if he thought that there was any objection to the publication by the press of the propositions suggested by him in the name of his Government, to which the latter replied that he would consult with the President of the Republic, but in the event of the proposal being published it would be necessary to make public the minutes of this conference.

Mr. Du Bois inquired of Mr. Urrutia if he considered that the refusal to accept the proposal terminated the negotiations initiated by him. Mr. Urrutia answered, Yes.

Mr. Du Bois thereupon informed the Minister that he withdrew his proposal from further discussion, and notified the Government of Colombia to consider them as never having been made.

  1. See ante.