Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Latin American Affairs (Wilson)
At my request the Minister of Colombia came in. I said to him that we had knowledge that the Consul General of Colombia in New York was enlisting a force of American aviators and mechanics to go to Colombia under contract to serve in peace and war; that in the event of war they were to serve in the armed forces of Colombia and to take part in hostilities.
I explained to the Minister the provisions of Sections 21, 22 and 25 of Title 18 of the United States Code, under the title “Offenses against Neutrality”, particularly Section 22, and said to him that it was clear that the steps being taken in this regard by the Colombian Consul General were in violation of the spirit, if not the strict letter of the law. I said that we, of course, did not believe that the Colombian Government or its officials had desired to do anything contrary to our laws or which would cause the Government of the United States embarrassment; but the situation with regard to the law was as I had explained it. I then spoke of the consistent policy which this Government had followed ever since the outbreak of the Leticia affair, with which Dr. Lozano was thoroughly familiar, of maintaining a position of absolute impartiality and neutrality as between the two countries. I said that Secretary Hull had asked me to discuss this situation with the Minister, and in view of the provisions of the law mentioned, to ask the Minister to issue instructions to the Consul General in New York not to make any further contracts or arrangements with American citizens under which the latter agree to serve in the armed forces of Colombia and to call in the existing contracts and delete from them the clause to this effect.
Dr. Lozano said that this was the first he had known of the existence of such a law in the United States. He said that, of course, the last thing in the world his Government would wish to do would be to violate any provisions of United States law or to cause any difficulties for our Government. He said that his Legation had nothing [Page 378] to do with making contracts or arrangements with Americans to go to Colombia, and that anything done to this effect had been by the Consulate General. He spoke at some length of the background of the Leticia affair, stating that Colombia was not making preparations to make war on Peru, but only to defend herself, that not only legally but morally Colombia was in the right, since the Leticia territory had been granted to her by a treaty duly ratified by both countries, the validity of which Perú did not contest, and that Perú had violated her obligations under the Briand–Kellogg Pact1 in seizing the Leticia territory.
Dr. Lozano said that he would at once advise the Consul General in New York to “suspend all activities” of the nature complained of, and that he would cable to President Olaya a full report of the situation, requesting that instructions be sent to the Consul General along the lines desired by us. As I had mentioned that it was reported that a large number of these aviators were to embark on the SS Colombia on April 12 from New York, Dr. Lozano said that he would advise me immediately of the action taken by President Olaya.
I took occasion to tell Dr. Lozano of the great concern with which Secretary Hull regards this conflict between Colombia and Perú and of the Secretary’s fervent hope that both countries will exhaust every possible measure of conciliation, discussion and negotiation in an effort to work out an equitable and lasting solution by peaceful means and to avoid warfare, which would be tragic in its consequences for the American continent. Dr. Lozano said that he appreciated the Secretary’s sentiments, and that he wished very much to have me lay before the Secretary his views of the legal and moral position of Colombia as the aggrieved country endeavoring to protect her rights against an aggressor.