721.23/6: Telegram

The Ambassador in Peru (Dearing) to the Secretary of State

131. Yesterday a group of Peruvian Apristas from Loreto seized the Colombian port of Leticia on the Amazon. There is doubt about the loyalty of the Prefect at Iquitos, who apparently desires to go to the assistance of the Apristas by sending a launch with soldiers to Leticia. The President last night called Colombian Minister to the Palace and has convinced the Minister he will cooperate with him in every possible way to prevent the incident from becoming serious. The President regards it as a political plot intended to embarrass the Government, distract attention and prepare the way for an Apri-Communist outbreak in Lima.

The Minister states the President is most conciliatory and cooperative and that if the Prefect is loyal nothing will probably come of the incident, but he has seriously warned the President that the sending of a launch from Iquitos by the Prefect might lead to war. He regards the situation as menacing and fully informed his Government concerning it at midnight and this morning.

The Minister fears an extremely adverse reaction in the Colombian Congress toward President Olaya, the former Colombian Minister in Liverpool, [sic] his father and himself because the river gunboats are somewhere away on the Putumayo and the guards at Leticia had been reduced to almost nothing, thus leaving the place unprotected and practically abandoned. He thinks that if the gunboats had been there, no incident would have occurred; Apristas captured an intendente, four employees and only one gendarme.

The Minister states Lauriano Gomez will very likely make this situation the basis for violent attack on the Government and expresses his inability to understand why the Colombian Government has paid so little attention to his repeated warnings that Leticia must be adequately held and air and radio service be established. [Page 271] Further report by mail unless Department desires details by telegraph.

Lozano has not yet heard from his Government but in cabling Bogotá has stressed Sanchez Cerro’s fairmindedness and desire to keep the affair within bounds and close the incident. There seems no doubt that Sanchez Cerro is sincere in wishing to avoid any reopening of the boundary question with Colombia in spite of the fact that Comercio and numerous people in Peru would like to stir up the matter.

Repeated to Bogotá.