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

No. 2270

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Embassy’s depatch No. 2242 of October 17th concerning the frontier troubles between Peru and Ecuador and the effect of this tension on the delicate situation arising from the Leticia incident.

The border has remained quiet and both sides have removed the troops sent to reinforce the frontier police. Ecuador has ordered the Imbabura battalion from Machala back to Guayaquil, and Peru had ordered the detachments of police and infantry, which were hurried to Zarumilla, back to Piura and Sullana.

This border incident between Ecuador and Peru has brought forth much speculation as to the course Ecuador will take if the Leticia incident results in war. The Lima newspapers carry a press despatch to the effect that Ecuador had placed an order abroad for armament about October 9th, and on October 22nd El Comercio of Lima stated that Ecuador had decided to borrow one million sucres from the Reserve Bank to purchase ten military airplanes and to construct an up-to-date military airport at Latacunga.

It will be noted that Ecuador took the recent boundary skirmish seriously, as it did not delay in sending to the border the Imbabura battalion which had taken part in the fighting at Quito.

There is a strict censorship on news from abroad which might affect public opinion regarding the difficulties with Colombia. The following items of news came from Ecuador but were suppressed by the Lima censor:

A statement that Peruvians are using native Indians to make a trocha or varadero between the Napo and the Putumayo, in order to block navigation up or down the latter river;

A despatch from Pará stating that 500 troops of the Peruvian regular Army had been sent to Leticia; and

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A despatch from Roca Fuerte on the Aguarico, which is a tributary of the Napo and in territory claimed by both Peru and Ecuador, to the effect that a Peruvian military hydroplane had arrived on an inspection trip at the Peruvian outpost of Cabo Pantoja, and brought news that a launch had sailed from Iquitos up the Napo carrying reinforcements and ammunition for the Peruvian garrisons on the upper Napo and the Curaray.

A bill was introduced in the Peruvian Congress on October 14th appropriating 250,000 soles to build new port works at Tumbes on the Ecuadorian frontier. Tumbes has been forgotten by the Lima Government for many years and has been allowed to fall into a state of decay. However, the sudden interest in the frontier with Ecuador has fixed the attention on Tumbes and the measure as introduced provides that a pier be constructed at once to replace one built in 1908 which later formed sandbanks have left on dry land. No ships have been able to land at Puerto Pizarro, the port of Tumbes, since the sandbanks were formed.

El Comercio of Lima is devoting considerable attention to the attitude of Ecuador in the event of hostilities with Colombia. This newspaper on October 23rd carried an article contributed by one B. H. Elizalde urging the advisability of a most careful consideration by Ecuador of all the points at issue and the utmost necessity, from an Ecuadorian point of view, of preserving the strictest neutrality. The article stated that Ecuador should follow the example of Switzerland and be not carried away by the mad call of war. It should, instead, preserve serenity and in the event of hostilities act as a refuge for the noncombatants of both countries who will seek a safe asylum in Ecuador.

El Comercio on October 23rd reproduced an article from El Universo of Guayaquil, dated September 30th, which favored the Peruvian thesis and quoted the opinions of Doctor Antonio Ulloa of Lima and Doctor Luis Felipe Borja which was published in El Comercio of Quito. Doctor Borja takes the ground that the Muñoz-Vernaza Suárez Treaty between Ecuador and Colombia3 stipulates and describes a common frontier between Ecuador and Colombia, and this common frontier disappeared when Colombia ceded to Peru, through the Salomón-Lozano Treaty,4 the vast territory which formed the frontier according to the Muñoz-Vernaza Suárez Treaty. Following this line of argument, Peru is not obliged to respect the Salomón-Lozano [Page 357] Treaty nor is Ecuador obliged to respect the Muñoz-Vernaza-Suárez Treaty, and “we find ourselves in the situation which existed prior to the signing of these two pacts, and one which would prevail if neither of the two treaties had been formulated”.

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
William C. Burdett

First Secretary of Embassy
  1. Signed at Bogotd, July 15, 1916, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. cx, p. 826.
  2. Signed March 24, 1922, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. lxxiv, p. 9; see also Foreign Relations, 1927, vol. i, pp. 331 ff.