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

No. 2360

Sir: I have the honor to report that the attitude of Ecuador regarding the Leticia dispute has become of the greatest interest through the publication of the Ecuadorian Memorandum of November 12th and the realization in Peru that whatever Ecuador gains in the Amazon will be at the expense of Peru and not of Colombia.

All Peruvian maps for the past twenty-five years have shown the Western [Eastern?] Ecuadorian frontier to be about twenty kilometers [Page 364] East of Riobamba and Latacunga and only forty kilometers East of Quito. The Peruvian public in general has been so accustomed to this boundary line that they have assumed that it is a definite and uncontested one, and the realization that Ecuador claims immense territory on the Paute, Pastaza, and Napo comes as a shock to almost all the people of Peru.

Both Colombia and Peru have hitherto treated Ecuadorian claims lightly and took the position that as Ecuador was a weak country its pretensions need not be considered seriously. Although Ecuador several times formally protested against the Salomón-Lozano Treaty, the present efforts of Colombia to effect a rapprochement are more soundly based than any advances Peru might make, inasmuch as Colombia in the 1916 Treaty11 agreed on its Ecuadorian frontiers, while Peru has consistently claimed everything and admitted nothing. Furthermore, Colombia has nothing to lose in recognizing Ecuadorian claims on the Amazon tributaries.

The Colombian diplomatic efforts to excuse the secrecy of the Salomón-Lozano Treaty insofar as Ecuador is concerned is a matter of some difficulty. At any rate, the present opportunity would seem to be the most favorable one Ecuador has had since 1830 to obtain the recognition by both its neighbors of its rights to part of the Amazon. Colombia is, of course, happy to admit Ecuadorian maximum contentions inasmuch as they are all to be taken from Peru. The position of Peru is extremely delicate and may lead to a compromise which will recognize an Ecuadorian frontier far to the East of that now recognized by Peru.

Peruvian public opinion is being prepared for concessions to Ecuador and the censorship is being relaxed on news from that country. An editorial in El Telegrafo of Guayaquil of November 9th has been republished in El Comercio of Lima, which agrees heartily with all the criticism of Colombia but takes offense at the statement that Peru has for a century been the common enemy of both Ecuador and Colombia. Reports reaching the Embassy to the effect that Ecuador is taking steps to call out military reserves are not allowed to be published in Lima.

The belated consideration by the Peruvian Foreign Office of the Ecuadorian boundary claims is being hurried through in the greatest secrecy. The Ecuadorian Minister in Lima is working quietly and from time to time issues public statements to the effect that the frontier trouble at Pocitos lacks importance and that certain [Page 365] military preparations in Ecuador are taken purely in order to assure its neutrality.

The Peruvian thesis regarding Leticia to the effect that it is outrageous for Peruvian citizens to be transferred to another country without their consent, will be completely demolished if present negotiations contemplate transferring to Ecuador the Peruvians who happen to live on the Pastaza and Napo. There are not very many of them—perhaps not as many as in Leticia—but the principle is the same. The entire question adequately illustrates the absence of foundation for the Peruvian contention.

It is clear that the sudden realization that Ecuador could seize the opportunity of hostilities between Peru and Colombia to assert its claim to half the Department of Loreto, has tempered the ardor of the directors of Peruvian foreign policy. This attitude of Ecuador may conceivably be the factor which will decide Peru to retreat from its position regarding Leticia. A convention recognizing Ecuadorian claims would afford an outlet from the dilemma vis-à-vis Ecuador, but would accentuate the difficulties of a peaceful exit from the Leticia predicament.

The frontier incidents between Peru and Ecuador have been minor irritants of small consequence in themselves, but present the possibilities of a serious situation. There is no official news in Lima concerning the Pocitos question. Peruvian gendarmes are stationed at Zarumilla, and Ecuadorian police somewhere across the border. Peruvian line troops have been sent to Talara and the usual garrison at Piura has been reinforced. Peru could place a maximum of 1000 men on the frontier in two days.

Reports from Guayaquil state that the chief reason for Peru’s being caught in its false position at Leticia is the fact that Ordoñez, the leader of the captors of Leticia, is a close relative of Vigil, the former private secretary and close political confidant of Sanchez Cerro. The Vigil family, as the Department is aware, was offered a purchase of its Leticia corridor farm by the Colombian Government but declined and asked for a larger price. The Colombians delayed and the Leticia incident resulted. It is amply demonstrated that the personal ambitions of the Arana and Vigil-Ordoñez families in Loreto were responsible for the Leticia uprising.

The Ecuadorian Memorandum of November 12th is a basic document of exceptional interest. It will serve to give notice that Ecuador as well as Colombia and Peru, is a party to the control of the northwest Amazon, and the high expressions of neutrality and aspiration for a just decision are tempered by the emphatic declaration that Ecuadorian rights must be respected. The outstanding point is the [Page 366] firm stand for an Ecuadorian share in the Amazon and this point will not be lost on Peru.

The Department’s telegram No. 75 of November 16, 7 p.m.,12 concerning this Memorandum, has been received.

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
William C. Burdett

First Secretary of Embassy
  1. Muñoz-Vernaza Suárez Treaty, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. cx, p. 826.
  2. See footnote 7, p. 361.