810.20 Defense/6–1140: Telegram

The Ambassador in Colombia (Braden) to the Secretary of State

151. For the Under Secretary. While Colombia as a whole remains anti-Nazi, after 2 months’ absence I find German successes have in surprising measure altered opinions of many Colombians …to pro-Nazi attitude and have encouraged the German organization here [Page 61] more openly to prosecute its efforts especially in propaganda which is being directed against the United States. Continued German and Italian successes will augment respect for them and will create in other quarters where disagreement with their ideologies still exists a reluctance openly to oppose them.

Sunday morning long conversation with Minister for Foreign Affairs. Principal points were:

British and French Ministers had informed me Minister of Foreign Affairs had become at least indifferent to their cause. To this I do not agree but he did remark that, if as appeared likely Germany won, Colombia could not overlook for spiritual reasons the material consequences. In singular contrast with this he later emphasized Colombia’s determination for canal defense was not so much material as spiritual in her friendship for the United States.
He agreed as to seriousness of situation if German victory gave possession of allied navies but recognized as more reasonable that Germany would initiate economic rather than military warfare against the Americas.
He deprecated idea of any “fifth” column activities in Colombia beyond a certain proselyting to convert Colombians to Naziism.
When I urged Ridgway’s conversations be initiated as promptly as possible under auspices of either himself or Minister of War and myself, he said he had understood these were to be purely informal talks between comrades of two armies and presence of a Cabinet minister or the American Ambassador would give unwarranted authoritativeness, which might subject Government to serious attacks if it became known to such opposition periodicals as El Siglo which recently has adopted a more or less wavering pro-Nazi attitude.

My conversation this afternoon with President may be summarized as follows:

(a) He began that neither of us when we parted 2 months ago could have believed possible by now we would see end of British Empire and France beaten to her knees, facing defeat within 2 to 4 weeks.

(b) Replying to his inquiries I said my purely personal opinion was our immediate entry into war was unlikely since Allies did not require men but only equipment which we were sending to limit of our abilities. For the future, I said that war could come:

If Germany attempted to seize any of Allied colonies in this hemisphere.
If Hitler, counter to what reasonably might be expected, having defeated Allies, proceeded with military aggression against America.
Because totalitarian and democratic systems of government could not exist together in the same world. We would arm to the teeth and eventual outcome must be war. At first he was inclined to view American Republics could live peacefully isolated from the rest of the world but finally he admitted impossibility of so doing and accuracy of my analysis.

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(c) He expressed opinion United States was as unprepared as Allies and inquired what would happen in event of war. I stated United States, in eventuality of paragraph (b) 3 above, would have ample time to arm, to assist other republics to do so, would stop at no sacrifice and victory unquestionably would be ours. In case of (b) 1 and 2, 1 expressed hope Japan could not successfully attack us across vast expanses of Pacific and our navy definitely could protect Atlantic seaboard of the United States and Caribbean area but we could not go around corner of northeastern Brazil. He asked if this meant casting [aside?] Pan-Americanism. I said by no means, it was simply a frank statement of the situation as I saw it.

(d) It was arranged Ridgway should begin conversations alone with Colombian Chief of Staff Wednesday. The President … requested every facet of stabilization and canal defenses be frankly explored now. Ridgway is to report to me fully conversations with Chief of Staff, whereupon President, possibly with Minister of War, will himself review entire matter with me. In short, conversations, contrary to indication by Minister for Foreign Affairs, will be authoritative.

The following conversations would be preliminary for lead to more definitive ones and suggested as part of a report:

(1) There should be interchange of intelligence information. … The President stated he saw no objection to such a procedure but, before replying definitely, wished to consult his Cabinet.

Since I am satisfied there is widespread organized effort by Germans and Italians here tantamount to “fifth column” activities elsewhere I emphasized dangers thereof, stressing that long residence, naturalization, intermarriage or even racial considerations did not free any German from suspicion. He discounted all fifth column activity in Colombia except for propaganda to convert Colombians to Naziism. In this connection please read my telegram No. 152, paragraph 2.85 I emphasized we never in slightest degree would abandon principles and ideals of Pan-Americanism or good neighbor policy but always would deal with Colombia as equal sovereign nation. Nevertheless I said our military authorities could visualize an attack for instance on Northeastern Brazil. In which event it might be suicidal were Colombia or the United States forced to delay action, for example by our airplanes until permission were obtained from Venezuela to use its air ports and gasoline supplies. Hence agreement on such measures was desirable before exigency occurred. He agreed this could be discussed by our military officers.

(e) He stated at recent Caribbean conference86 in Santo Domingo a resolution apportioning Allied colonies to nearest American Republic had been presented but he instructed Colombian delegates to withdraw from conference if matter were discussed. It was dropped, but he suggested colonies might be left to Canada. I observed that [Page 63] was one, another was apportionment, but after all discussion of this was somewhat premature. Nevertheless, I think Ridgway may properly bring up in his conversations the aspect of a temporary occupation of colonies by our forces as a safety measure.

(f) He was notably surprised when, in reply to his question, I said there was probably more desire in Canada than in the United States for the former to join the union and while willing to render Canada every assistance we preferred her as a neighboring independent country.

(g) I informed him, because of shipments to Allies we could not presently supply Colombia with aviation or military equipment other than training planes but President Roosevelt had told me some time after January we would do so. Also, I said that satisfactory price and terms undoubtedly would be arranged.

(h) The President stressed the urgency of this aid and matters of military assistance Colombia would give us as follows:

“We will guarantee policing of our country, particularly coast line, against any attack on canal; establish garrisons at strategic points on limited oceans; have fast, armed revenue cutters on continuous patrol between garrisons and have 50 to 100 airplanes, including seaplanes, continuously on watch all enabling us immediately to report any German aggression in our territory asking me to offer temporary resistance thereto, of a few hundred men.”

(i) He emphasized necessity for our support, in maintaining Colombian economic equilibrium since otherwise Government would lose control thus greatly easing way for totalitarians. I replied my Government appreciated imperative situation and I personally expected we would be able to help materially but, as in case of recent 10–million dollars loan,87 he must be patient while means to this end were developed.

(j) He felt we had come into new era wherein all former criteria must be entirely discarded. Therefore he considered it highly desirable there be held as soon as feasible Pan American Conference which, eliminating all platitudes, would endeavor solely to establish continental policy and orientation to meet new world conditions. He did not care where conference were held but if successful in following up on Lima and Panama it would be invaluable whereas if any republic failed to cooperate the sooner we knew it the better. He referred to creation of atmosphere of American solidarity which will block Germany. I rejoined while in no way deprecating strength of moral values I believe force alone would stop totalitarian aggression. Please instruct me what reply I shall make to President’s plea for conference.

The Department will observe, while endeavoring to impress upon him gravity of the situation, particularly with reference to fifth, column and need for intimate collaboration throughout, I also tried to convey thought that at least in Caribbean area we are and will remain paramount vis-à-vis Germany. This approach is important from viewpoint of Colombian psychology. … In concluding our conversation I stated, while such important matters as oil legislation, adjustment of power and telephone companies, debt, et cetera, were dwarfed by world crisis, nevertheless, they should not be forgotten, [Page 64] since their adjustment might materially assist to maintain Colombian economy. Likewise he agreed we should meet frequently and henceforth I am to request interviews whenever I wish directly from him without going through Foreign Office.

  1. Not printed. Major Ridgway reported that he concurred with Ambassador Braden, Colonel Lang (the head of the military mission to Colombia), and Captain Munn (the Naval Attaché) in the need for setting up an American intelligence organization in Colombia to secure information on activities of “non-American nationals and their sympathizers.” (810.20/6–1240)
  2. Second meeting of the Inter-American Union of the Caribbean, Ciudad Trujillo, May 31–June 6, 1940.
  3. See pp. 695 ff.