The Minister in Ecuador (Dawson) to the Secretary of State

No. 712

Sir: I have the honor to report that on October 10 it was rumored at Quito that a serious incident had occurred on the Ecuadoran-Peruvian border; that Peruvian troops or police had temporarily occupied the Ecuadoran town of Chacras; and that the Ecuadoran Government had ordered troops from Guayaquil to Machala. It was known that Congress was to consider the matter in a secret session that afternoon. Throughout the day considerable excitement prevailed at Quito and, according to newspaper reports, at Guayaquil as well. I called in the afternoon at the Foreign Office where the Undersecretary informed me that the incident appeared to be of no importance. After the secret session of Congress, the Minister for Foreign Affairs furnished the press a statement, the publication of which on October 11 immediately allayed any anxiety which had been felt.

According to information furnished me by the Minister, the origin and course of the incident were as follows:

Changes in the bed of the Zarumilla River have led to the formation of an island which is claimed by both Ecuador and Peru. The fertile soil of this island is used by nationals of both countries, particularly for growing tobacco, and this results in occasional disputes and incidents with customs guards and officials of the Ecuadoran tobacco monopoly. On the afternoon of October 9, an incident arose involving farmers of both nationalities, between whom eight shots were exchanged without casualties on either side. The shooting brought to the scene, however, some fifty Peruvian guards and a somewhat smaller number of Ecuadoran guards and rural police. These forces took up positions facing each other and further hostilities might well have ensued. Fortunately, those in command on both sides kept their heads and, having ascertained the facts, prevented any clash.

[Page 351]

It appears that an employee of the Ecuadoran telegraph service, who had been bathing in the river and seen the arrival at the border of Peruvian guards, had in the meantime sent to the Quito Government an exaggerated and distorted report. On the receipt of this alarming telegram, the Government directed the Governor of El Oro Province to make a personal investigation. The Minister for Foreign Affairs conferred with the Peruvian Minister in Quito who promptly cabled his Government. The reports subsequently received from the Governor of El Oro and through the Peruvian Minister coincided in reducing the incident to its true proportions and denying it any importance.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs informs me that from the outset he was confident that Peru would not provoke an incident with Ecuador precisely at the time when the Leticia question is pending with Colombia.1 He states further that President Sanchez Cerro sent for the Ecuadoran Minister in Lima and assured him that, even had the incident been more serious, Peru would have sought to settle it satisfactorily. Dr. Cárdenas informs me also that, while the Imbabura Battalion (about three hundred men) has been sent from Guayaquil to Machala, this transfer had been ordered before October 9 for internal political reasons. He states that he endeavored to have the departure of the troops postponed in order to avoid the impression of any connection with the recent border incident but that for technical reasons it could not be delayed after October 12. This has, Dr. Cárdenas states, been explained to the Peruvian Minister in Quito.

In conclusion, the Minister informs me that such border incidents are a frequent occurrence and that during the past twenty years half a dozen or more of a similar nature have arisen.

Respectfully yours,

William Dawson
  1. See pp. 270 ff.