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

No. 1883

Sir: Referring to my recent reports concerning the work of Mr. Rublee, and with special reference in that connection to my despatch No. 1863 of November 6, I have the honor to report that Mr. Rublee has been continuing his conversations with Doctors Latorre and Chaux. Differences on the oil bill are now definitely boiled down to the matter of the zones and the matter of restricting production, and Chaux has asked Rublee for written opinions on those two matters; Rublee, in turn, has asked Mr. Metzger to prepare him pertinent memoranda, which Metzger is now engaged in getting together.

In that connection, Mr. Metzger told me yesterday that he does not regard these two differences as vital; that it is all a question of degree; that, as a matter of fact, the oil companies could work in Colombia under the zone system, but that, unquestionably, some other system of reserves would be preferable. The same is true of the matter of restricting production: he believes that a formula can be found satisfying both parties. We are all agreed (Mr. Metzger, Rublee and I) that the Government is entitled to have an article put in the bill protecting them against sudden and precipitous loss of revenue through the companies suddenly suspending operations. At the same time, the companies should not be compelled to operate at full speed when the market does not justify it. Mr. Rublee finds Dr. Latorre very reasonable and conciliatory on this, and I believe that we may well find a satisfactory formula during the next few days.

As to the matter of reserves, in reply to a pertinent question from Mr. Rublee, I have suggested that he endeavor to insist on Montalvo’s proposed reserve system (as inserted in his last year’s bill), as that is apparently acceptable to all the companies (with the idea that if worse come to worse, we may be constrained to accept the parallel zone system, however). Mr. Rublee intends doing this.

Mr. Rublee is satisfied with the draft articles on the title question as now agreed to by Latorre; they provide that, in the case of disputed titles, all claimants shall submit their titles to the Supreme Court, where the matter shall be disposed of in summary procedure. He said that Haskell has given him a long memorandum on the title question [Page 10] and had thereafter asked him his opinion thereof; he had replied that he did not agree with Haskell’s position, observing that, as he remembered it, when the United States took over Florida in 1819, all claimants to private property were compelled to exhibit their titles; that he could not advise the Colombian Government to accept the principle that a mere two-year possession put the possessor in a privileged position as far as the Government’s claim to the land in question was concerned. He felt that all claimants should have the same right to exhibit their proofs.

Respectfully yours,

Jefferson Caffery