721.23/14: Telegram

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

134. Leticia. My 131, September 2, 5 p.m., 133 of September 2, noon,1 and Department’s urgent 50, September 3, 4 p.m. Conferred with Colombian Minister this afternoon and President at 9:30 today.

The news regarding Leticia is apparently widely known here despite strict censorship and United Press despatches state it has been made public in Bogotá by the Foreign Minister.

It now appears that a real revolutionary movement has taken place at Iquitos possibly with connivance of former prefect, Ugarte, and that the Government is considerably in the dark. Until it knows more of the situation, it would seem difficult for it to make a public statement disassociating the attack upon Leticia, as that might complicate its own internal situation. It is difficult to estimate the precise size in Peru of the uprising in Loreto, but that [the?] possibilities are ominous. The President states positively his Government was taken completely by surprise by the action of certain Peruvian individuals, that the Government is busily engaged in dealing with the matter and will do its duty but refuses to be more specific.

There is no such thing as using discretion with Sanchez Cerro. At the very first mention of our friendly hope the President became stubborn, defiant and uncommunicative and but little information was to be got out of him. He insisted the matter was purely domestic, although he had stated the moment before that the Government knew but little about it and was investigating. He assured me it had no international character whatever, although he had just admitted that Peruvian individuals had seized a “practically unprotected” Colombian port seeming to think this rather an excuse for what had occurred. He inquired testily whether our Government was “mixing into this matter”, to which I replied that our sincere friendship for Peru and Colombia warranted an expression of the hope that no serious international consequences would flow from the incident and that of course we wish to prevent any possibility of a conflict. I cited Peru’s interest in the Chaco dispute2 as a parallel but he refused to see it. I told him his word “mixing-in” did not seem friendly to me and carried disagreeable implications and told him he had not comprehended what I was saying to him. Whereupon he denied intending any unfriendliness but his manner belied his words.

[Page 273]

The President is frequently thus on the defensive. He assured me Peru was a serious Government, that it knew its duty and would perform it, was giving careful attention to the situation, that the incident was purely a police matter, that I could say that Peru was doing everything the situation required. Eventually the President stated that the trouble was due to communists and then got away from the immediate subject and launched into a long explanation of his Government’s repressive policy towards communism.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Embassy learns from an apparently trustworthy source that the Peruvian gunboat America with Peruvian soldiers has left Iquitos for the “frontier”, that those attacking Leticia were chiefly civilians and that an important Government official is due this evening from Iquitos and supposed to be bringing important data. This source reports the Peruvian and Colombian Governments to have agreed to call the movement communistic and to “join armed forces” to capture the authors. The Director of Government, Guzman Marquina, did not go to Iquitos.

My Colombian colleague saw the Foreign Minister yesterday afternoon and was informed the Peruvian Government repudiated the incident at Leticia. The Foreign Office disclosed that what had taken place was really an uprising at Iquitos and that the attack on Leticia was part of a larger movement. The rebels have deposed the former prefect, Ugarte, and taken him prisoner but it is believed that Ugarte was friendly to them and that this is merely a maneuver. The Foreign Minister said the Government was doing everything it could to put down the revolution and disclosed that the chief of the rebels has telegraphed the Government declaring the movement not to be a revolution but a “patriotic” uprising for the purpose of recovering Peruvian territory. The Foreign Minister stated the Government was sending a commissioner to handle the situation. Whereupon the Colombian Minister said he must be a good man of outstanding reputation. It was suggested first that the Minister of War should go but finally Hoyos Osores was chosen and he will also take over the prefecture.

The Foreign Minister requested the Colombian Minister to ask his Government to aid in every possible way towards minimizing the affair and bringing it to an end but asked him to understand the Peruvian difficulties, meaning, I understand, that since the Government was largely in the dark as to what had taken place in Iquitos and there seemed to be a revolutionary outbreak there and this outbreak is declared by its leader to be “patriotic”, it should be excused from making a public disclaimer as that might complicate the Government’s [Page 274] situation within Peru. The Colombian Minister communicated the foregoing to his Government last night but says that on the subject of whether or not a gunboat had been despatched the Foreign Minister had remarked that the orders were that none should be sent. The Minister pointed out however that the Central Government apparently could not secure the execution of its orders by whoever is now in authority at Iquitos. He declared that if the Peruvian [Colombian?] gunboats from Putumayo return and find a Peruvian gunboat in Colombian waters there will certainly be a clash.

Colombian Minister has received various cables of instructions from his Foreign Minister and apparently from President Olaya-Herrera. He says the Colombian Government is gratified by the attitude of the Peruvian Government and that it is rushing measures for the recapture and control of Leticia. The Colombian Consul Manaos cables that the attack on the Leticia was carried out by 300 civilians under the leadership of the chief of the garrison at Chimbote.

As I was talking to the Colombian Minister the Department’s 50, September 3, 4 p.m., arrived and I gave him the substance of it. He thought it doubtful whether Sanchez Cerro could or would make the disavowal the Department suggests but said that if Sanchez Cerro would make such a disavowal to me it would be most encouraging. We are justified I believe in considering the President’s repeated statement to me that certain individuals operating on their own responsibility had, in making attack on Leticia, taken the Government completely by surprise as a disavowal of responsibility although it lacks the positive and public character it should have. His statement is nevertheless valuable as it seems warranted from such of the background as we have to believe that the Central Government did not instigate the attack, does not condone it and is apparently endeavoring to dominate the situation.

The Colombian Minister saw the Foreign Minister again today and was informed that Major Abad had left with Hoyos Osores for Iquitos to take command of the Government forces there but this can only be done if the rebels agree. Osores and Abad travel via Puerto Melendez and should reach Iquitos 10 hours after leaving Lima. The Minister stated that the revolutionary junta had telegraphed Lima that the movement was “patriotic national”. The Foreign Minister said that he was waiting for further news and did not know what would happen.

The Colombian Minister commented to me that the situation was extremely uncertain and very peculiar, that apparently Peruvians of [Page 275] one kind or another will be in control at Leticia until Colombian forces arrive. He believes Iquitos uprising may be part of an aprista, or the first phase of a military uprising which will later have echoes elsewhere in Peru or that it may be purely local affair. He has heard that conspiring is going on in the Army and says that if the question of patriotism is put up to the President in the form that he must support the military movement at Iquitos or get out of office there will be serious consequences in Peru.

The Colombian Minister has had but one message from the Colombian Consul at Iquitos, received yesterday, but dated the 1st, saying that the public gathering at Iquitos had terminated calmly, that the attack on Leticia had taken place at midnight on the 31st, and that the orator addressing the gathering had stated that the Leticia attack had been planned at Iquitos.

The Foreign Minister told the Colombian Minister the President had especially charged him to say he was sorry to have had to stop the Colombian Minister’s cable. The Minister explained that he had sent none and surmises that possibly the open United Press message from Bogotá, substance of which was given in my 131 of September 2, 5 p.m., was stopped because of the censorship on news about Leticia in Peru and because the Peruvian Government was not yet ready to have reports printed as to its position. The Foreign Minister has informed the Brazilian Minister that the attack on Leticia was due to apristas and that the Government would settle with them.

The Colombian Minister has been informed there are 700 Peruvian troops in or near Iquitos but he thinks this figure greatly exaggerated.

Repeated to Bogotá.

  1. No. 133 not printed.
  2. See pp. 8 ff.