Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State (White)

The Brazilian Ambassador16 called and discussed the Leticia matter. I asked him if his Government had considered taking any initiative in the matter. I pointed out to him that as the hostilities were taking place in territory bordering on Brazil, Brazil is the neutral country having the greatest interest in the peaceful solution of this question. The Ambassador said he agreed and would make a suggestion along those lines to his Government. He asked me how this Government looked at the matter. I told him that it appeared to us that there was a valid treaty between Peru and Colombia by which Leticia and the surrounding territory belonged to Colombia, that the treaty has been ratified overwhelmingly by the Peruvian Congress and had been put into effect by the turning over by each country to the other of the territory which each had agreed in the treaty to give to the other. The boundary had been demarcated and the matter seemed to be a closed incident. There appeared to be nothing to discuss regarding Leticia and dominion over it, and it was not seen how any tribunal or conciliation commission could open a matter which the parties themselves had definitely closed. I told the Ambassador that while I had not seen the note of the Peruvian Ambassador to the Permanent Commission asking that a commission of conciliation be set up, I understood that it requested this commission to study the consequences of the treaty of 1922. I said that no definite mention was made of Leticia. I said that I understood that Colombia took the view that Leticia was an internal matter and there was nothing to discuss regarding it but that once Colombia’s authority was recognized and reestablished in Leticia, Colombia would discuss any commercial questions growing out of the Treaty of 1922.

I said that I thought the countries of America might well say to both Peru and Colombia that two months had gone by since Peruvians [Page 286] had occupied the Colombian town of Leticia, that at first the Peruvian Government had stated its complete innocence of any connection with this movement which first was characterized as Communist and that the countries of America had confidently expected the matter would be promptly arranged. Now two months have gone by and it is seen that Peru is apparently sending troops and military supplies to bolster up the position of the Peruvian occupants of Leticia and as a consequence hostilities with Colombia are threatened and that therefore the countries of America feel that they should remind both parties of the declaration of the American States made on August 3, which was signed by both Peru and Colombia, saying that they would not recognize any territory acquired by conquest or by force of arms. Consequently, the American nations will not recognize any Peruvian occupation of Leticia and they call upon the Peruvian Government to declare that it will observe the Treaty of 1922 settling the matter, and that it does not desire Leticia. They would also ask Peru to order the Peruvians in Leticia to leave the town and to declare that if they do not do so Peru will not support them nor will it put any obstacle in the way of Colombia reoccupying this territory. The American nations invite both countries, once Colombian authority is reestablished in Leticia, to negotiate either directly or by or through a commission of conciliation as proposed by Peru regarding any commercial or economic differences which they may have in that region. The Ambassador said he thought this was reasonable and a sound position to take. I told him that I thought it better for the interests of the American nations that one country should not always be carrying the burden and taking the initiative and as the present dispute is between two South American countries and as Brazil is the country most affected thereby, that Brazil could very well take the initiative. The Ambassador liked the idea and said he had already said something to his Government, and that he would send a further cable.

F[rancis] W[hite]
  1. R. de Lima e Silva.