Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State (White)

Colombian-Peruvian Boundary Treaty

The Ecuadoran Chargé d’Affaires called on Monday, September 26, and stated that he wished to discuss with me the question of the Colombian-Peruvian Boundary Treaty which we had discussed nearly two years ago. The Ecuadoran Government, he stated, was very much upset by the Associated Press report which is being published throughout Latin America to the effect that the United States [Page 339] is urging Peru to ratify the Colombian-Peruvian Boundary Treaty. Ecuador was very much upset by this secret treaty, the terms of which Colombia had refused to communicate to her. Ecuador considered that it was contrary to her interests and was contrary to the spirit of their 1916 Boundary Treaty.76 Señor Barberis handed me a copy of a confidential memorandum which was sent out by the Ecuadoran Foreign Office to its Legations abroad,77 explaining the Ecuadoran point of view and the reasons prompting it to break off diplomatic relations with Colombia.

I told Señor Barberis that I had not seen the press report he referred to but that it was not authorized by this Department; nothing had been given out by it. I inquired if he knew from where the report emanated—he said he did not but presumed either from Washington, Lima or Bogota.

After reading through the memorandum I told him that I could not see that it altered in any way the situation since we had discussed the matter over a year ago. I told him that my recollection of the matter was that Ecuador and Colombia had executed a Boundary Treaty in 1916, by which certain territory in the region of Putumayo River was recognized by Ecuador as Colombian and that Colombia in 1922 had signed a Treaty with Peru giving this territory to the latter. In other words, Colombia in 1922 had given to Peru territory which Ecuador in the Treaty of 1916 had recognized as Colombian. I told him I could see no ground for charging Colombia with violating the treaty provisions in this transaction unless there was something in connection with the 1916 Treaty of which I was not informed. I told him that on the face of it, it would appear to be similar to our ownership of Alaska. Alaska had been sold to the United States by Russia78 and if the United States should now wish to sell or cede Alaska to Canada it would appear to be a matter between the United States and Canada, and a matter to which Russia could not object. The same would appear to apply to the territory which Colombia had now ceded to Peru. Señor Barberis referred back to the Treaties of 185679 and 186280 and the Protocol of 1910 between Ecuador and Peru81 and to certain minutes of negotiations preceding the conclusion of the Treaty [Page 340] of 1916. I told him that it was my understanding that the previous treaties had been superseded by the Treaty of 1916 and that I was not informed, of course, regarding the minutes of negotiations of the 1916 Treaty. However, the memorandum he had handed me itself appeared to admit that Colombia had not violated any treaty provisions and was legally entitled to conclude the Peruvian Treaty of 1922, ceding this territory to Peru; the memorandum mentioned only a moral obligation on Colombia.

The Chargé admitted that that was the case; that Colombia had not violated any treaty provision but that by giving up this territory to Peru Colombia had very seriously prejudiced Ecuador’s position vis-a-vis Peru in the settlement of the Peruvian-Ecuadoran boundary dispute.

I told Señor Barberis that I could see the position of Ecuador in the matter and appreciate fully their point of view, but it appeared to me, nevertheless, that here were two different questions and that there was nothing in the Colombian-Peruvian Treaty to prevent Ecuador from immediately attempting to come to an agreement or understanding with Peru over their boundary difficulties. In other words, they were two entirely separate matters the same as the Peruvian-Colombian boundary dispute was entirely different from the Peruvian-Chilean dispute over Tacna-Arica. The Chargé stated that Peru and Ecuador had agreed, as I knew, in 1924 to submit to the arbitration of the United States the points in their boundary litigation on which they were unable to agree.82 I said that I fully understood that and that I presumed in the three years since that agreement had been made Ecuador had been endeavoring to determine upon what points they might come to an agreement with Peru, and that they might well find that they could come to complete agreement and have no matters to submit to a third party. Señor Barberis replied that he did not know the present status of the matter, but it was his understanding that this matter was under discussion. However, he stated, what his Government now wanted was simply for the United States not to make any recommendations to Peru regarding the ratification of this treaty but merely to let it take its course. Ecuador was not asking intervention on the part of the United States in the matter but merely to abstain from taking any action.

I replied that this matter was the outgrowth of the Procès-Verbal signed in Washington on March 4, 1925, between Colombia, Peru and Brazil, as the result of good offices of the United States which had been given at the direct request of the three parties concerned. The United States of course could not admit any outside party to [Page 341] the discussion unless so requested by all concerned. In other words, it was the policy of the United States to intervene in such matters only when requested to do so by all parties to the dispute. Peru, Colombia and Brazil had asked the United States to lend its good offices and it had done so. Apparently they were the only ones directly concerned in this matter. Ecuador of course felt that its interests were involved on account of its bearing on the other dispute. The United States could take no part in that unless requested by the parties at issue. I explained that this was the policy inevitably followed by this Government and that it had done the same when Bolivia desired to come into the Tacna-Arica negotiations in 1922 and the United States had had to inform them that it could not consent of this unless Chile and Peru should request it. It was the same now in the case between Colombia and Peru.

Señor Barberis stated that his Government was not asking to come into the negotiations or asking the intervention of the United States but merely that it abstain from taking any action. I told him that I understood that, but that in many cases to abstain from taking action would have as positive an effect in a given situation as taking direct action and that therefore the United States would be influenced in its attitude only by the request of the parties at issue. Señor Barberis stated that he understood our position but it was a matter of great importance to his country and he would like me to consider it. He stated that he would send me copies of all the treaties between Ecuador and Colombia and also the minutes of the negotiations of the 1916 Treaty. I told him that I should be very glad to consider any matter which he might care to lay before me.

F[rancis] W[hite]
  1. British and Foreign State Papers, vol. cx, p. 826.
  2. Not printed.
  3. By the convention signed at Washington, Mar. 30, 1867, Diplomatic Correspondence, 1867, pt. i, p. 388.
  4. Treaty of friendship, commerce and navigation, between Ecuador and New Granada, signed at Bogota, July 9, 1856, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. xlvii, p. 1270.
  5. See treaty of peace between the United States of Colombia and Ecuador, signed at Pinsaqui, Dec. 30, 1863, and additional treaty, signed at Pinsaqui, Jan. 1, 1864, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. lxiii, pp. 260, 261.
  6. See draft of protocol handed to the Ministers of Ecuador and Peru on July 14, 1910, by the representatives of the mediating powers: Argentina, Brazil, and the United States, Foreign Relations, 1910, p. 485.
  7. See Foreign Relations, 1924, vol. i, pp. 304305.