The Minister in Colombia (Philip) to the Secretary of State
[Received December 10, 8.25 p.m.]
186. Referring to my cipher telegram No. 176 of November 22, 11 a.m. An Executive decree dated the 26th ultimo formally annulled the decree of June 20 last which had been ruled as [Page 782]unconstitutional by the Colombian Supreme Court in its decision dated the 21st ultimo. The Minister for Foreign Affairs informed me yesterday that the Senate, the day before, took its final note [vote] upon the petroleum law which had been sent to it by the House of Representatives. He assures me that the amendments and changes have rendered it satisfactory to the Government and he feels confidant [confident] that it will also prove to be so to foreign interests. The most drastic change is the striking out of the paragraph providing for the forfeiture of subsoil deposits in private lands if not developed with[in] twenty years. Doctor Guzman states that the law as it now stands is based upon the Supreme Court decision and that privately acquired rights will be absolutely guaranteed by it. I understand that after a lapse of 20 years it is proposed to subject undeveloped subsoil deposits in private lands to a moderate tax which would appear to be within the rights of the Nation to do and not to infringe upon private ownership. In other respects I am informed that the project providing [provides] for the acquiring of public lands by contracts rather similar to that entered into by the Tropical Oil Company some time ago.
The Foreign Minister believes that favorable action upon the law as it now stands will be taken by the House of Representatives very shortly.
During the conversation I alluded to the question-of the proposed agreement. Doctor Guzman said that although from the standpoint of the Government a protocol of the nature suggested was quite possible owing to the action lately taken by the Supreme Court, yet he is of the opinion that the sentiment of the Congress and country would render its approval impossible and the attempt on the part of the Government hazardous. He said that the President and himself are strongly of the opinion that an exchange of notes would be the only feasible plan and he called attention to the fact that the ruling by the Supreme Court was to Colombia more of a binding law than could be any treaty. The Minister stated that in his opinion an auspicious occasion for bringing up the question of a general agreement on the petroleum subsoil question among American nations would be the Financial Congress which is to convene at Washington in January. He intimated that Colombia would probably not be averse to initiating such a proposal at that time.