Extracts from the Message of President Suárez to the National Congress, July 20, 19191
Convention of 1914 with the United States—The convention signed April 6, 1914 for resolving differences between Colombia and the United States arising out of the secession of Panama is still pending and is being studied by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations at Washington. The convention was recommended to that body by the President of the United States in such a solemn manner that this affair and the great affair of universal peace were the sole subjects of a special message by President Wilson. The explicit declarations of the message in favor of our rights and of the expediency of approving the treaty, made by the statesman who is to-day the world’s foremost advocate of international justice, create for our rights an incomparable title, and an imperishable claim upon the gratitude of the Colombian people. …
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Petroleum—As the petroleum wealth of Colombia is beyond question and as it is so great that it occupies perhaps the third place among similar resources of American nations, it is necessary to legislate about this matter in terms that will fix clearly the right of the Nation and of the Departments, as well as those of the landed proprietors, to explore and to exploit the deposits. At the same time it is desirable to promote discreetly the influx of foreign capital, indispensable to our industrial progress, unless we prefer to remain in a sterile immobility which would perhaps be dangerous to our rights. To bar the road to foreign cooperation which would be favorable to our industries, to turn the key upon the resources which are guarded by our soil, is not to place them in safety, but, on the contrary, to excite in others the desire to take advantage of them and [Page 725] to redouble that desire along with the ill will which selfishness usually occasions and merits.
Hence arises the desirability of studying the laws and regulations about this industry which were put in force by the nations which know it best on account of having the greatest petroleum resources. The first question which presents itself is that of the fundamental proprietorship of the deposits. In all times there has been a tendency to make in mining matters a distinction between the ownership of the surface and that of the interior of the earth, that is, between the proprietorship of the soil and that of the subsoil. The distinction has been derived from the eminent domain of the State, which in that respect has the fullest power to make use of the land, all the more so when the distinction is drawn between cultivation and extraction, that is, between the wealth which is easily utilized and the wealth which is accessible only with difficulty. The theory according to which proprietorship of the land is extended to cover all of the pyramid whose base is the exterior surface and whose height is the radius of the terrestrial sphere is contravened in practice by the theory according to which the ownership of the surface does not interfere with the exploitation of the subsoil, which, in conformity with the nature of the mining industry, generally does not interfere with the wishes or rights of the owner of the soil.
After this distinction is drawn, the question arises as to whether the two rights referred to coexist, one with the other, for the exclusive benefit of private parties, or whether the State should participate in the proprietorship of the subsoil from motives of public policy and as a right derived from eminent domain. The latter conclusion appears the more reasonable, not for the purpose of interfering with the exploitation of the subsoil or enhancing its value in an inequitable manner, but for that of facilitating and regulating its exploitation.
Such is the purpose of the decree about petroleum concessions, issued the 20th of June last.3 It regulates the matter, starting with the idea already explained, and tends to define the various rights above referred to. But if, on any grounds, that decree should give rise to discussions within Your Honorable Body, the Government, whose duty is the sincere rectification of all Executive acts which merit it, would with pleasure see established by Congress or by the Judicial Power, a definite ruling in the matter, thus promoting, without fail, the public good and protecting the rights of capital invested in petroleum.