Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State (White)

The Peruvian Ambassador14 called this afternoon and said that he was very disappointed that the Colombians had rejected the Peruvian suggestion to submit their differences to a Commission of Conciliation. He said that it was not unexpected but he nevertheless was very sorry that such was the outcome. He went over again some of the arguments about the treaty having to be changed, et cetera. I told him that if a treaty proves unsatisfactory to one of the parties it is always open to request the other to negotiate a modification but to seize some of the other party’s territory and then demand a discussion was the wrong way to go about the matter, and I personally thought that the Colombians were fully justified in rejecting the Peruvian request as long as the Peruvians remained in Leticia or at least their presence there was not disavowed by the Peruvian Government. Should the Peruvian Government disavow any connection in the [Page 283] matter and any support thereof and recognize the territory as Colombian, then it might be possible for Colombia to appoint representatives to a Commission of Conciliation and discuss any solution such as economic benefits in Leticia to the Loretanos, et cetera.

The Ambassador said that this was very difficult on account of the situation in Peru and that no Peruvian Government could possibly last if it did so. The treaty is unworkable—it is shown to be unworkable in practice—and he thought there would have to be changes. I told him that I was speaking entirely without any knowledge of the Colombian point of view but it seemed to me that it would hardly be possible for Colombia to give up Leticia, which is its one outlet to the Amazon, whereas Peru has many outlets there, and that Peru should also remember that while this bit of former Peruvian territory had been given to Colombia, Colombia had given to Peru a large territory in other places. The Ambassador said he understood that; that he was not advocating that Leticia be returned to Peru but that the treaty be changed in such a way as to make it workable. I asked him just what provisions of the treaty were objected to and he said he really did not know. I asked if what was required was not so much a change in the 1922 treaty as perhaps the negotiation of a supplementary commercial treaty dealing with the economic and commercial conditions in that region. He said that that might well be the case. He said, however, that if Peru made a statement disavowing the Leticia movement, as I suggested, Peru would have no assurance that Colombia would not then stand on her treaty rights and say that the treaty was satisfactory to her and that she would not make any changes.

I told the Ambassador that as a practical matter I thought the question was to try to get both countries into negotiation through the Commission of Conciliation and the thing that occurred to me was that he might reply to Señor Varela’s note, transmitting the Colombian reply, by saying somewhat what he said in his letter published in La Prensa of New York of today, namely that Peru does not deny the validity of the Treaty of 1922; that the juridical doctrine sustained by Colombia is unanimously accepted, and that Peru did not instigate nor did it have any previous knowledge of the Leticia movement. The Peruvian Government could say it recognized Leticia as Colombian and had no thought of changing this in any way but in order to remove any cause of conflict in the future it would like to negotiate regarding economic and commercial conditions there and it thought these latter questions were ones in which the Conciliation Commission could be of great help to both countries. I told him that I thought before sending the note he should of course show Mr. [Page 284] Varela, the Chairman, a copy of his proposed letter, so that Mr. Varela could show it to Lozano to know if this statement would not be sufficient for the Colombian Government to change its position and accept the services of the Conciliation Commission. The Ambassador said he thought that this was a good idea; that he did not want to just sit down and do nothing and let the situation get more tense, and that he would immediately take the matter up with his Government to see if anything could be done along these lines.

I advised Señor Varela and Mr. Rublee of the above. Mr. Rublee much preferred to have the Permanent Commission make a declaration as he had suggested but if it would not do so thought that my suggestion was a step forward and seemed inclined to agree with me that if Peru will make a satisfactory statement about Leticia being Colombian then the Conciliation Commission would certainly have to suggest the withdrawal of the Peruvians from there and its return to Colombia.

F[rancis] W[hite]
  1. Manuel de Freyre y Santander.