Memorandum by the Ambassador to Colombia (Braden), Temporarily in the United States82

Panama Canal Defense and Colombia

As you have been informed, in addition to measures already taken all of the German pilots and ground personnel in Scadta83 are to be replaced on June 15 by Americans or native-born Colombians.84 This substitution and other phases of the aviation situation are progressing sufficiently well to indicate that all danger to the Canal or elsewhere, such as the refineries in Aruba and Curasao, will be entirely eliminated in so far as Scadta is concerned within the near future.

However, in the light of European developments, certain other defense matters now merit consideration:

(1) As individuals, when we employ a watchman to guard our homes, we give him adequate weapons. Hence, if we expect Colombia competently to assist in Canal defense we should help that country, without embarrassment to itself, to finance the purchase in the United States of military planes and accessory equipment, including machine guns and ammunition.

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Colombia, for nearly a year and a half, has employed our militaryaviation mission, the members of which report that the nationals of that country readily can be trained to become competent pilots, but their aviation equipment is antiquated and entirely inadequate.

Rather than for us to assume the entire air defense of the Canal, it would be cheaper to give the Colombians the equipment. They would then relieve us of maintenance and personnel expense and what is far more vital, they would be grateful to receive this collaboration and such a demonstration of confidence.

I recommend as a minimum that Colombia be given facilities for the purchase of military aircraft and equipment.

(2) If by reason of disturbed world conditions, particularly in the market for Colombian coffee, that country were increasingly to suffer severe economic depression, the resulting chaos would give the totalitarian States and perhaps Japan an opening on which they would not fail to capitalize to our detriment.

Therefore, means must be found to assist Colombia financially and economically and especial attention should be given to developing means to take Colombian coffee at a reasonable price.

(3) In view of Nazi activities in Colombia I recommend that it be intimated to the Associated Telephone and Telegraph Company, owners of the Bogotá Telephone Company, and other similar organizations in Colombia at such points as Barranquilla and Calí, that the head of their organization in Colombia, Señor Alessandro Bondini, be removed from that country. He boasts of being one of the first Fascists in Italy and in Bogotá lives with Señor Nassi, the leader of the Italian Fascists in Colombia. Moreover, I have long suspected that the Embassy and Chancellery telephone lines have been intercepted and there are others, such as the new American Vice President and General Manager of Scadta, who have complained to me that they believed their communications also had been tampered with.

(4) … As I have previously reported, we know that the Germans make active use of the radio in Colombia, Specifically, we have the case of the message picked up after one of the accidents when the Colombian pilot was killed and also when about 10 weeks ago Asendorf, former head of the Scadta communications division, was caught redhanded communicating with Berlin from that Company’s Barranquilla station.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

(5) I am conveying with me to Bogotá an invitation from the Secretary of War for the Chief of Staff and Chief of Air Corps of the Colombian Army with their staff officers to visit the United States on about October 1, 1940.

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Do the United States Army and Navy believe conversations looking to the drafting of joint defense plans should be pursued with the Colombian authorities?

If so, should these conversations be expedited?

Is there anything beyond what has already been done which the Embassy can appropriately do to assist in these particulars?

(6) In connection with the above, it may become desirable to arrange so that our military planes and ships may visit Colombian airfields and harbors without greater formalities than to give prior advice by radio. This facility should be reciprocal and as I reported to the Department last May or June, some conversations were had with the Minister of War and Chief of Staff in Bogotá by General Stone and myself during the General’s visit there in May 1939. No further advance has been obtained because until now permission could not be granted for Colombian airplanes thus freely to visit the Canal Zone.

Spruille Braden
  1. Memorandum addressed to the Chief of the Division of the American Republics (Duggan) and the Adviser on International Economic Affairs (Feis).
  2. Sociedad Colombo-Alemana de Transportes Aéreos.
  3. For correspondence concerned with elimination of German influence from Colombian airlines, see pp. 723 ff.