721.23/452a: Telegram

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

49. I have been giving very considerable thought to the Leticia controversy and am concerned at the dangerous way in which matters seem to be drifting. I wish you would discuss with President Olaya my estimate of the situation and see if he feels, as I do, that what I suggest below offers the means to a satisfactory solution without resort to force.

Peru has requested the Permanent Commission in Washington to ask Colombia to appoint its representative on a commission of conciliation. Colombia has refused to do so on the grounds that not only is the General Convention of Inter-American Conciliation of 1929 not in effect between Colombia and Peru but also because the Leticia matter is considered by Colombia to be purely an internal one. The Department understands that Peru has again asked the Permanent Commission to request Colombia to appoint members on a commission under the Gondra Treaty. The Department does not know what attitude Colombia will take in this respect. If Colombia accepts, what follows below is then no longer pertinent, and it is of course not to be considered as a suggestion that Colombia should reject the last Peruvian proposal. This proposal has not been seen by the Department. If this proposal is accepted by Colombia the danger [Page 296] of the situation would be removed. However, if you learn that Colombia will reject the Peruvian suggestion, then discuss the matter with President Olaya.

The essential difference in the positions between Peru and Colombia is that the former desires a conciliation commission to deal with the matter possibly because the Government is afraid on account of internal political opposition to comply with the Colombian demand that the Peruvians withdraw from Leticia and is seeking the shelter of such a request from some neutral outside body which would make compliance easier. Colombia, on the other hand, considers the matter a purely internal question and refuses to discuss it with an international commission. As long as both parties persist in this attitude the situation will become more and more tense with hostilities almost inevitable. The problem is to find a way out satisfactory to both countries and which both can accept without loss of dignity or appearing to back down from a position already taken. It would seem that this could be done if Colombia would call Peru before an investigation commission on account of Peru’s alleged violation of the Treaty of Caracas of 1911 and the boundary treaty between Colombia and Peru of 1922. The advantages of this would appear to be as follows:

By bringing the two countries together to discuss the matter before an investigation commission hostilities would probably be averted.
With particular reference to President Olaya’s problem he could say that Colombia had violated none of its international obligations or engagements and hence could not be hailed before an investigation commission by Peru and he had refused the Peruvian attempt to do so but that Colombia could call Peru before such a commission on account of Peru’s failure in this respect and that he was therefore taking the offensive in calling Peru before such a commission.
It would be of advantage to Peru in that it would bring about a discussion of the matter before an investigation commission which is what Peru has been asking. Peru would doubtless accept the Colombian proposal in the hope of bringing in the Leticia matter also. It would then of course be Colombia’s object to have this commission take the following action:
Declare that Peru had violated the Treaties of 1911 and 1922 and thereby find Peru to be at fault.
When Peru brings up the Leticia matter have the commission throw this question out of court because boundary and territorial questions between the two countries have been settled by the 1922 Treaty.
Have the commission, if possible, declare that Peru should evacuate Leticia and not put any obstacles in the way of Colombia reestablishing her authority there, after which the commission [Page 297] would be able to take jurisdiction regarding any commercial or economic questions which may have arisen as the result of the Treaty of 1922. If Peru is, as seems possible, seeking the authority of a neutral commission to permit her evacuation of Leticia without internal political repercussions, Peru might well cooperate in having the commission take the action outlined above.

Of course no one can tell what action the commission will take but if Colombia has a strong case and ably presents it she should not fear discussing the matter in this way. If Peru accepts the commission on this basis after Colombia has declined to go to the commission at Peru’s behest, that, in itself, is a tactical advantage for Colombia. The alternative appears to be the drifting of the two countries into armed hostility and this possible way out is hence much to be recommended.

I am not unmindful of the position which Colombia has taken that the Leticia question is an internal one and not an international one but Colombia preserves its position by having rejected the Peruvian offer to set up a commission to investigate the matter and in calling for another commission to investigate Peru’s alleged breach of two treaties. The violation of treaties creates an international question and Colombia can well afford to discuss this phase of the matter before a commission such as proposed. Please discuss this matter frankly and fully with President Olaya and cable his views. Do not leave any written memorandum with him however. The Department understands that Mr. Rublee is making certain suggestions regarding the reply to the latest Peruvian communication to the Permanent Commission.