711.21/504: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Minister in Colombia (Philip)

Department is desirous to assist Colombian Government in its dilemma as suggested in your October 2, noon,34 and also to make clear its position.

With this object in view you may send the following note (with such modifications of phraseology as you consider essential, but without changing its sense) to the Minister for Foreign Affairs with the indication that you see no objection to its being made public. “The Government of the United States has recently been advised that apparent lack of information regarding the matters under discussion threatens to hinder the consummation of certain agreements which it seemed desirable to conclude with the precise object of removing all misunderstandings that have existed in recent years, and of preventing, so far as possible, future misunderstandings.

As a matter of fact, the fundamental and underlying motive of the two Governments in concluding the treaty of 1914, and of their previous efforts along similar lines, was to perfect an agreement which would be satisfactory to the United States and Colombia and insure the good will of Colombia.

The accomplishment of anything less than this noble aspiration would not have been satisfying to the people of the United States, and presumably this is also true of the people of Colombia.

It appeared, during the summer of 1919, that favorable action by the American and Colombian Congresses upon the treaty of 1914 could be brought about if certain modifications were made therein. With this thought and on the theory that such action would promote cultural and commercial relations between the two countries, it was determined to make an effort to have the treaty brought into force. Before this could be accomplished the Colombian decree of June 20, 1919,35 brought to the fore a question involving the future relations of both countries in respect of vested rights of American citizens in Colombia since the provisions of the decree seemed to threaten such American citizens with the loss of subsoil rights, acquired by them in accordance with the laws of Colombia. It is perhaps, fortunate that this question was raised, though apparently by inadvertence, for had the 1914 treaty been ratified on the theory that it was to remove any unfriendly feeling that might exist, and had such ratification been followed soon thereafter by Diplomatic consideration of the subsoil problem, bad faith on the part of Colombia might have [Page 753]been alleged by the enemies of the treaty. Moreover it is believed that with the solution of this question all present differences will be cleared away and the basis be laid for the development of one of Colombia’s greatest sources of wealth, in which it should be distinctly understood that the United States is seeking no exclusive or preferential treatment.

It would seem that a solution of the subsoil problem might easily be reached. It might be said, to state the case more plainly, that petroleum is to be found under both privately owned and national lands. A treaty setting forth how subsoil rights are owned would be one way of solving it. Such a document might state, among other things, that the ownership of private lands, acquired up to the time of the ratification of the agreement under contemplation, the titles to which did not expressly reserve subsoil rights, should be held to embrace the subsoil minerals, except metalliferous minerals, which from time immemorial have been reserved to the State. Thus a private owner of lands, under a legitimate title, could extract his oil at will and market it under the usual government regulations.

A very different situation exists with respect to national lands. The agreement, while recognizing the unquestionable right of the nation to legislate to suit its sovereign will with respect to such lands, might define, for the sake of expediency, or to induce foreign capital to help to develop Colombia, the conditions under which all persons might exploit the subsoil products lying under the national lands. These conditions might be couched in terms calculated to serve as an inducement to foreign capital, which is always timid.”

  1. Ante, p. 748.
  2. Post, p. 765.