810.20 Defense/6–2140: Telegram

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

165. For the Under Secretary. My telegram No. 151, June 11, 1940. Hour and a half conversation afternoon June 20, 1940 with [President] based on Ridgway’s memoranda of June 13 and June 1493 may be summarized as follows:

I expressed Ridgway’s and my own thanks for sincere, frank conversations of former with Colombian officers and emphasized need for speed especially in connection with Canaga’s arrival here Saturday. (Have arranged for Canaga to begin conversations Sunday with Colombian representatives, who will be Chiefs of Staff and Air Corps, and Reifsnider.94)

Santos depreciated possibility any surprise attack as contemplated in paragraph 1 (a) Ridgway’s June 13 memorandum and doubted possibility 1 (b) at least for some time to come. Instead he feels Germany, exhausted by her intensive efforts in Europe, will endeavor to conquer South America by commerce propaganda and enhancement of German prestige. (We have it from several sources Germans are now urging clients not to buy in the United States of America because they will return to this market within another 3 months.)

(Section 2) Santos, because of strength of Liberal Party throughout the masses; wide distribution of population with relatively small concentration thereof in Bogotá and other locations; similar dissemination [Page 68] of Germans (maximum of 400 men in any one place); careful watch being kept on them by Government; small influence of military; police force equal in number to army and for other reasons, is absolutely convinced the Government cannot be overthrown.

With proper control, particularly of Atlantic and Pacific seacoasts, he is satisfied no base for an attack on Canal would be established in Colombia.

Santos stated improvement Intelligence Service has already been made and will henceforth progress rapidly. …

(Section 3) … As a practical procedure he approved my proposal Minister of War and I should meet frequently to exchange and discuss intelligence information in addition to that which will be exchanged by Colonel Lang and War Ministry.

Coastal waters and interior of country (to prevent establishment of gasoline dumps, et cetera) will be patrolled to limit of Colombia’s ability but to do so adequately Colombia must purchase from the United States on best possible terms 50 to 100 airplanes, 10 to 12 fast cutters and improve landing fields in various parts of the country as for example Guajira Peninsula. To this end will require financing preferably from banks in United States on the same terms obtained by the United States Government. If for any reason this aid from us is unobtainable Colombia will nevertheless expend every effort in patrols and otherwise for Canal defense.

(Section 4) Colombia’s military equipment needs will be submitted to us as soon as prepared, apparently will coincide with Ridgway’s estimates and will be largely based upon the recommendations of Reifsnider and Whitson.95 While Colombia desires most liberal terms, she will not accept gift of equipment from United States of America.

President continued that protection of communications and guarding of sensitive points on rail, water and highways is physically impossible but all feasible precautions will be taken. Ammunition stores, et cetera, are already adequately guarded.

Respecting paragraph 3 Ridgway’s June 13 memorandum, the desired aid and facilities will be given unreservedly. Regarding paragraph 4, we will have Colombia’s complete moral support but Santos desired special pains be taken for American Republics not to intervene in any internal disturbances of neighboring countries. I stated we were just as concerned on this point as he but observed that were Germany able to set up and dominate in this hemisphere a puppet state susceptible of disturbing peace of America our attitude would be identical to Colombia’s in opposing it. But Santos agreed such an occurrence could not be tolerated.

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(Section 5) 5 (b) Ridgway’s June 14 memorandum. President said question really was what would be United States attitude if Germany, through a peace treaty, acquired English-owned petroleum properties in Venezuela which he thought were about equal to those owned by American corporations and some of them were close to the Colombian border. I was able to pass over this and point 5(c) without answer.

The sole reservation made by Santos, to what in all other particulars I regard as the most ample and sincere assurances of complete collaboration we could hope for, within Colombia’s financial and other limitations, was that patrol of Colombian territory and territorial waters must remain exclusively in Colombian hands and none would be acceptable by any other country.

In thanking the President for his wholehearted attitude I stated we were proud to have such a sincere friend.

(Section 6) The President is unable to see slightest analogy between German activities, including “fifth column”, in Europe and in this country. He retains large measure of confidence in those Germans who have lived here for a considerable period and he relies implicitly on effectiveness of Colombian intelligence service, the army as a whole, and Government’s ability easily to suppress all subversive activities.

… I am satisfied Germans in Colombia are well organized, they have become arrogant with military successes abroad, are anxious themselves to play a patriotic role and have been able to convert to open admiration for Nazi efficiency and acceptance of their ideologies a number of Colombians, including some army officers. In short, conditions already have deteriorated from those described first paragraph my telegram No. 151. Moreover, there is marked increase in defeatist attitude of Colombians that nothing should be done to affront Germany. From distinct sources, we hear Nazis, together with younger and more violent conservatives, plan a push to take over the Government within next 3 to 6 months.

(Section 7) A successful coup d’état, if competently organized, is possible and certainly President is overconfident in believing it impossible for relatively small group to seize power in principal centers of Colombia. Governmental procrastination and inefficiency, poverty of the middle and lower classes, including army, and the characteristics of the people described in my despatch No. 68096 render situation vulnerable should the Germans desire to seize power.

While I am convinced of entire sincerity of President’s good intentions as stated to me, I doubt the effectiveness of aid Colombia may [Page 70] endeavor to give us. Therefore, for maximum safety we must depend upon our own efforts and resources.

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

(Section 8) Were there to be coup d’état airplanes and other equipment received from us might fall into unfriendly hands. However, we will be better able to calibrate this danger before deliveries are made.

Under all the circumstances I reiterate recommendations numbers 1, 2, and 4 of my May 27, 1940, memorandum to Duggan and Feis.97

  1. Neither found in Department files.
  2. Capt. L. F. Reifsnider, U. S. N., Chief of the United States Naval Mission to Colombia.
  3. Maj. Wallace E. Whitson, Chief of the United States Military Mission to Colombia.
  4. Dated March 22, not printed.
  5. Ante, p. 58.