821.6363/488: Telegram

The Chargé in Colombia (Matthews) to the Secretary of State4

118. My 117, October 1, 8 p.m. El Tiempo alone publishes text of committee’s report, covering almost three full pages. It is significant that this journal is very close to Minister of Industry. Report attempts to show that:

Concession which was declared forfeited in 1909 because of failure to begin work within stipulated time would not have revived in 1915 had not original copies of two ministerial resolutions been missing from dossier studied by the Minister of Public Works and Cabinet in 1915. First of these resolutions issued March 1911 merely postponed decision on revocation of resolution of forfeiture because De Mares had not yet produced sufficient evidence to show existence of force majeure to warrant revocation. Second resolution issued June 1911 declined to recognize De Mares’ capacity (personía) to represent concessionaires on technical grounds and stated that therefore resolution of forfeiture was still in effect. (The report admits that an un-authenticated copy of the former resolution was in that dossier and that the second had been published in the Diario Oficial of July 1, 1911. Presumably the 1915 Cabinet must have been aware of its existence. The Tropical has long known of these so-called missing resolutions but considered them entirely unimportant and irrelevant.)
In view of aforesaid missing documents and the fact that De Mares did not really prove the existence of force majeure preventing initiation of work, which was the stated cause of revival of concession, said revival in 1915 was entirely illegal.
Since said revival was illegal and concession was therefore no longer existent, its transfer to the Tropical in 1919 was without legal value. “The Government limited itself to considering the convenience or inconvenience for the country of permitting Sr. de Mares to transfer his contract to the Tropical” and did not undertake to establish whether or not the contract legally existed.
Even had the Government decided that it did legally exist in 1919, the modifications introduced at that time (incidentally, all of them at the request of and in favor of the Government) made congressional approval necessary for its validity under Law 75 of 1913.
Since in 1921 the Government expressly stated that period of the concession was to run from 1921 and since formal notification of beginning work was filed in 1916, either the Government violated the Constitution (Legislative Act No. 3, article 4, last paragraph), Law 75 of 1913, and clause 12 of the transfer, by proroguing the concession for five additional years or it celebrated a new contract in 1919 “even more arbitrarily violating the Constitution and the Law”.
Therefore the committee strongly recommends passage of bill, [Page 600] quoted my 116, and asserts powers of Congress under Law 68 of 1870 to cancel contract which it has not approved. There is no word of criticism of Tropical’s fulfillment of its contractual obligations in the whole report.

My foregoing summary is necessarily brief but I believe it contains the essence of the lengthy report.

El Tiempo, in leading editorial which I have reason to believe was written or at least inspired by Minister of Industry, accepts the committee’s report at its face value, emphasizing one particular phrase thereof with reference to missing documents: “There does not exist a concession to exploit petroleum, but the basis for a criminal suit.” Referring to statement of Tropical representative, reported my 117, editorial urges and warns Tropical to choose the smoother path by negotiating a new contract with the Government rather than judicial procedure, which is complicated and where its position would be very weak in view of committee’s report.

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  1. Printed from confirmation copy received from the Embassy at Bogotá, with letter of Oct. 7, 1940.