721.23/2139: Telegram

The Minister in Switzerland (Wilson) to the Secretary of State

230. Department’s 134, March 13, 3 p.m.

On March 12th the Secretariat circulated confidential document C Colombia Peru 12 (already mailed) being a translation of a lengthy communication dated January 23 from the President of the Leticia Commission asking advice on three questions: [Page 326]
The date of the expiration of the Commission’s mandate.
To what authority the Commission should hand over the territory at such expiration.
Whether the Government of Colombia may be permitted before the expiration of the mandate to send down a force of troops for the protection of the territory.
I have discussed this letter with officials of the Secretariat. As to question 1, they are of opinion that the mandate should expire on June 19th the anniversary of the date when the Commission was constituted at Tefe. As to question 2 they agree with the Commission’s recommendation that the territory should be handed over to such authorities as the Government of Colombia may appoint. As to question 3 the League officials recognize that this is a more involved question than the others and while they have not hesitated to express their views on the first two questions to the representatives of Colombia and Peru, they have refrained from comment on the third. However, it is their private opinion that inasmuch as the Commission is exercising its authority “in the name of the Colombian Government” it would be unreasonable to refuse the Colombian Government the right to send such forces to the territory as it may deem necessary at the time of transfer and further, that the Commission must permit the sending of such troops a reasonable time in advance of the transfer of the territory. The letter of the Commission points out that the sending of such forces may be provocative and disturb the tranquility which the Commission has so far maintained. Also they point out that even one thousand men would be helpless before an attack of regular Peruvian forces inasmuch as communication with Colombia could be so readily cut. The Colombian representatives argue, and the Commission admits, however, that a thousand men would be adequate to prevent a sudden seizure by locally recruited forces.
The letter of January 23d lays these questions before the Secretary General for confidential communication to states represented on the Advisory Committee. The Secretary General has sent a copy to Colombia and Peru inviting comment. On receipt of their replies the Secretary General contemplates requesting the Committee of Three to study this matter at once. The question of whether or not to summon the Advisory Committee is being left open meanwhile. The officials of the Secretariat are inclined to believe that a useful purpose would be served by summoning eventually a meeting of the Advisory Committee for the purpose of urging moderation upon the two Governments. On this question and on those raised by the Commission they would be very grateful for our confidential advice. It has been my experience that the small committees have usually come to us for confidential advice and any views which we might express would be given due weight and would, I believe, be appreciated.
The Secretariat has no very definite information as to the course of negotiations at Rio’. Negotiations were resumed on February 22d but no news has come of progress made. As you are doubtless aware there is some endeavor at Rio to make a trade of the Leticia Trapezium for a strip along the Putumayo, perhaps endeavoring at the same time to give some satisfaction to Ecuador’s claim in this territory.
There is apparently a current of opinion in the British Foreign Office to the view that it might be advisable to prolong the life of the Leticia Commission but I am informed by the Secretariat that while at the moment Peru might be disposed to accept such prolongation, the Colombians are definitely opposed to it. It appears to me that the only grounds on which prolongation could be urged would be to provide a period within which some definite proposed solution might be examined and that a mere prolongation always providing that Colombia accepting it would be no more than a palliative.
Colombia, I am informed at the Secretariat, has recently purchased from the Portuguese Navy two destroyers mounting 4.7 guns for the purpose of sending them to the Leticia area. I am informed also that the Colombian officials talk freely of the prospects of trouble when the Commission moves out. Apparently in the whole area from Iquitos to Manaos trouble is confidently expected.
I trust that you will find the foregoing an adequate answer to the two questions in your telegram 134. I can only add that the Secretariat officials take a serious view of this situation and would be most grateful for any expression of opinion from us. While I would have preferred you having further documentation before asking you for an opinion, nevertheless if you feel you can do so on receipt of this telegram it would probably be helpful to have your views before the meeting of the Committee of Three.