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


Sir: I have the honor to report that the national Congress of the Republic of Colombia was convened on the 20th instant with the usual ceremonies attendant upon the anniversary of Independence.

I have the honor to transmit herewith copy of the Message delivered by the President of the Republic to the assembled Houses on that occasion.5

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The message has been subjected to violent criticism by the opposition press. This criticism is obviously inspired by the usual desire to make political capital out of the public utterances of the President. These articles cite the attitude of the President towards the freedom of the press as being intolerant and unprogressive, and what is described as the tendency of the President to interfere in the official business which pertains to the various Ministries of the Government alone, is also condemned. The Conservative press on the other hand expresses complete satisfaction with the Message, which it describes as a statesmanlike and temperate exposition of the affairs of the Nation.

I beg to append herewith free translations of such parts of the message as appear to be of particular interest to the Department:

Diplomatic and Commercial Relations.

By virtue of legislative authorization, Colombia consummated her adherence to the League of Nations, our representatives recording, indeed, that the acceptance of Article 10 of the pact does not imply on the part of Colombia the recognition of Panama as an independent nation; for this would be one of the consequences of the Treaty of the 6th of April, 1914, which is still held up in the Senate of the United States. …6

Treaty of the 6th of April, 1914.

The Convention signed by the United States and Colombia in order to put a quick end to the differences proceeding from the separation of Panama, which occurred in 1903, is still pending, not having yet been approved by the Senate of the United States, whose Committee of Foreign Relations has not up to now presented to it the report necessary for the discussion of that international document.

The Government on its side being desirous of cooperating in favor [for the settlement?] of a controversy which has been going on for 17 years, and which not only delays reparations more than just, but which occasions continual obstructions in the way of the commercial and legal relations of Colombia with some countries, has attentively awaited the termination of this affair and has continued to be guided by good faith and good will, as was expressly acknowledged by Senator Fall, to whose lot it has fallen to discharge functions of the first importance in the Committee of Foreign Relations referred to.

It is true that the Treaty of 1914 entails absolute rights and obligations and [which are?] independent of any other rights and interests, public or private, concerning the United States or its citizens. But in order that the Republic may continue to work in a discreet manner, the Government has resolved to remove on its side as many difficulties as possible in the light of equity, justice, and decorum, in order that Colombian citizens may not experience prejudicial effects on account of the lack of an equitable and truly patriotic spirit in the acts and counsels of the Government.

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Loan of $2,000,000.

The Minister of Finance, as the representative of the Government at the Financial Conference at Washington, remained in the United States and took advantage of the opportunity to make a contract in New York with the company called “Baldwin Locomotive Works” of Philadelphia for a sum up to $2,000,000, for the purpose of buying railway materials from the same firm. The Government will secure this credit in proportion as it makes use of it, by orders on the Treasury of the Republic, payable in ten years with 7 per cent, annual interest, the firm of Baldwin obligating itself to accept them at par without specific guaranty and without the incumbrance of [encumbering?] any public revenue, and the Government having the privilege of taking them up before they are due with a rebate of two per cent, per annum on the amount taken up. The Government is not obliged to make use of the credit, and in case of so doing, it will be with previous agreement as to the price of the materials which are to be bought.

This matter, studied with the greatest attention by the Minister of Finance and afterwards examined with exceptional care by the national press and by the bodies called upon to ratify it, will facilitate the construction of the Pacific Railway, both in the extensions to Cartago and Aganche, and in the one which will connect Ibague with the foot of the Quindio; and will likewise facilitate the construction of the Northern Railway (Ferrocarril del Norte) between Nemocon and Chiquinquira, projects which, being the most important and practicable, play a principal part in the public improvements undertaken by the present Administration.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Petroleum and Mines.

The importance of oil wells, determined by the richness of our territory, and the increasing consumption of this article in the world, was the cause of the Government issuing decree 1255 bis of 1919,7 before the meeting of the last Congress, it being based on legal considerations and on a comparison of Colombian with foreign laws, and likewise with the legislation which has traditionally governed these matters in Spanish law. But the new conditions affecting the matter to-day, due to the manifold uses of petroleum, to the increasing price of the article, to the abundance of this wealth in our territory, to the exigencies of interests already vested, and the facilities required for the exploitation of the oil fields in order to energize the national commerce and the relations of Colombia with powerful nations, brought it about that this decree gave rise to studies and discussions by the press and petitions addressed to the Government and to the Supreme Court demanding a decision which would impugn the legality of this administrative act.

This last was what the Court did by means of its decision of November 21, last,8 which prepared the way for you, studying the matter in the deliberate and enlightened manner which was necessary, to pass Law 1209 of the same year, in regard to beds or deposits of [Page 827] hydrocarbons. The system, more or less traditional, which indicated the nationalization of oil lands, has been replaced in this law by the system which unites as a general rule the property in the soil and in the subsoil in favor of the owner of the former. The law seems to have been well received, and it is hoped that in practice it will have results favorable to industry and to private interests, as well as to the national treasury. It naturally will entail much work in the expedition of applications for the exploitation of hydrocarbons in accordance with the dispositions of law in force.

Decree No. 920 of the present year, organizing the Office of Mines in the Ministry of Public Works, having been issued, a contract was made with the German professor, Scheibe, by which his services and those of four other geologists were secured to constitute the personnel of the office and to study the region of Urabá, all in accordance with the law mentioned. …10

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I have [etc.]

Hoffman Philip
  1. Not found in Department files.
  2. Omission indicated in Minister’s despatch.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1919, vol. i, p. 765.
  4. Ibid., p. 779.
  5. Ibid., p. 784.
  6. Omission indicated in Minister’s despatch.