Message of President Suárez to the Colombian National Congress, October 5, 1921, Concerning Modifications of the Treaty of April 6, 1914 9


Honorable Senators and Representatives: The legislative bill approving the modifications of the Treaty of April 6, 1914, agreed to by the Government of the Republic and that of the United States of America, requires on your part a degree of attention in keeping with its importance, and on this account I take the liberty of addressing to you the present message, which I beg you to receive as the sincere expression of the opinions and wishes of the Government in the premises.

The international matter related with the material separation of the Isthmus of Panama, effected on November 3, 1903, under circumstances and through causes which we all know, for eighteen years has remained without solution for the Republic. This brings it about that Colombia in relation to the community of nations finds itself in an extremely anomalous situation, for having lost a region valuable because of its being the center of the land and seas of the planet, its rights in connection with this loss remain undefined, its interests continue unliquidated, its principal international relations are lacking in regular form, and the needs of its commerce in relation with the Canal and the Panama Railway do not receive the necessary satisfaction.

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Since the disapproval of the arrangement originally projected for the opening of the Panama Canal, various schemes have followed each other for making regular the rights and interests of Colombia by means of as many proposed international conventions, all of which were sterile, even the Treaty of April 6, 1914, approved that year by the Government, and in course of time by the Senate of the United States of America during the year of 1921, subsequent to the modifications with which you are acquainted and which were accepted by the Colombian Government in view of the necessity of taking advantage of a supreme and favorable juncture for the conclusion of this long-standing matter.

The chief purpose of the legislative bill to which I have been referring is, therefore, to put an end to the situation which I have just superficially described, and has also as a principal end the determination of the northeastern boundaries of the Republic, the improvement of relations and friendship and commerce with the United States, and the granting of immunities of importance in connection with interoceanic transportation and of money indemnities which, if carefully and prudently employed, may be of service to the Nation in bettering its economic situation, by applying them to the satisfaction of future and permanent needs, though not to unproductive and transitory financial uses. The approval of the modifications would in this way produce highly beneficial results, while their rejection would effect the removal of the possibility of any definite arrangement whatsoever in this respect, and their postponement would cause considerable losses and perhaps other and greater evils.

The affair presents one aspect worthy of all your attention, and that is the legal responsibility of the Government and the personal responsibility of the undersigned for having accepted the modifications of the Treaty of 1914. But, in the first place, the official and personal conduct of the Government is sufficiently explained by the certainty which it felt of the necessity of taking advantage of a moment, perhaps the last or one of the last, most useful and propitious, in order that the Treaty might be approved by the Senate at Washington. In the second place, now, as in the year 1896, when there was being considered in the Congress of the Republic a Treaty concluded between Colombia and Venezuela, I can ask that you distinguish in the Panama Treaty the part related to the public good from the personal element, related with responsibilities of a moral and legal sort.

I repeat and shall continue to repeat that in the negotiation of this very important business, there falls to the Representative of the Republic in Washington, Doctor Carlos Adolfo Urueta, the merit for having conquered the difficulties which were for a long time opposed to the approval of the Treaty in the United States, [Page 643] manifesting his talents of intelligence, education, prudence, activity, and patriotism; and that in regard to the acceptance of the modifications proposed by the Washington Government at a decisive moment, the undersigned assumed the responsibility, accepting whatever atonement might be accorded him by justice, law, or national opinion.

In 1896, as one of the signers of the Treaty with Venezuela to which I referred above, I said to the Senate, more or less this: “Separate the two aspects of the matter under discussion; deal with that of public expediency with all calmness and looking exclusively to the good of the Nation; deal with that of personal responsibility with severity and even cruelty; but do not confound the two sides of the affair, for you may harm the first and spoil it forever by confusing it with the second.” Now also I may very courteously tell you: Deign to approve the modified convention, for if you do not do so, you may close every door to the negotiations which Colombia has been prosecuting for 18 years; and then consider the responsibility which may pertain to the Government or to that Mandatory who accepted the modifications to the convention.

It seems to me that the matter has another special side, also very worthy of your consideration, which is, the influence which the pending legislative bill might have upon the fiscal situation of the Republic. Until the end of 1920, that situation was satisfactory, as I had the honor to inform you in the Message of the 20th of last July,9a and it was so because the customhouse receipts of that year were very considerable because of the economic prosperity temporarily brought about by the high prices and the large amount of products exported in 1920. But it was all one, the diminution in price in these products and the value of the trade, and the consequent lack of money with which to pay for the enormous quantity of merchandise, and the suspension of additional orders, and the grievous lessening of the income received from the customs resulting. This crisis has been the most acute ever suffered by the national exchequer, never had the income of the national Treasury decreased proportionately by so large an amount; no Government before had supported so great a reverse, for it is sufficient to state that during the portion of the present year already elapsed, the reduced income is producing month by month scarcely more than a million pesos, it having shrunk to such an extent as to represent in the neighborhood of one-third of that of the best months of last year.

Hence the arrears in pay for official services; hence the increasing rise on the debit side of the Treasury; hence the general clamor [Page 644] which, contemplating only the fact without seeking the cause of the fact, imputes to the Government this overwhelming crisis, independent of its efforts, proceeding from inevitable causes, and which up to the present depends for its remedy exclusively upon the administrative branch of the Government, which in absolute solitude and isolation busies itself in seeking a remedy. The natural thing in cases like this would seem to be cooperation of the branches of the Government in confronting difficulties and dangers by means of adequate provisions. But since it is possible that this way of thinking is not in reality the most patriotic, but on the contrary common cooperation is not called for in the greater difficulties of an inevitable sort and not of a censurable nature, but that the denial of the resources asked for by the public administration is called for, for this reason, I entreat you not to consider the approval of the Treaty in question as the source of any credit or any aid to the Government, seeing that the latter has promised in the most solemn manner not to touch one cent of the proceeds of the Convention of the year 14, in the belief that it legally devolves upon you to receive them.

In the light of this provise, which was made to you in the Message of July 20 referred to, the Government would forget its word and give offence to the Republic, if it should break the promises it has made; so that you may be certain, I repeat to you, that in case you approve the bill relative to the Treaty of 1914, by so doing you will not go contrary in any way to your decision, plans, and purposes respecting the resources which, in your wisdom and patriotism, you believe should be withheld from or granted to the Government in power, however difficult may be the situation in which it is placed. That same Government, far from attributing to unreasonableness or injustice the line of conduct you are following in this respect, attributes it, naturally, to your zeal for the public good and to your purpose to fulfill well the trust imposed in you by your fellow-citizens and the Departments of Colombia.

Marco Fidel Suarez

Laureano Gómez Restrepo

Minister of Foreign Relations
  1. As published in El Tiempo, Oct. 6, 1921; copy forwarded to the Department by the Minister in Colombia under covering despatch of Oct. 6, 1921.
  2. See despatch of July 24, 1920, from the Minister in Colombia, Foreign Relations, 1920, vol. i, p. 824.