810.20 Defense/9–1340: Telegram

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

267. My telegram No. 260, September 9, 1940. As the Department will have observed from my previous telegrams on the subject, throughout all discussions leading up to staff talks I have endeavored to have these work no embarrassment on ourselves or on the Santos Administration and its foreign policy of friendship for the United States and protection of the Panama Canal, which is being subjected to severe Congressional and press criticism by Conservative opposition. I have left no stone unturned to avoid this delicate political situation being reflected in staff conversations. To these ends I several times urged on Ministers of War and Foreign Relations that one of them and I be present at the talk so that we could quickly nip any difficulties or iron out political kinks.

Perhaps due to the fact that these two Ministers have had to be present almost daily at Congressional debates on foreign and defense policies … my recommendation was not followed.

On arrival here of Captain Riefkohl and Lieutenant Colonel Randolph I explained to them in detail afore-described situation, Colombian peculiarities and sensitiveness … in order that they should at all times steer conversations in keeping with these considerations.

Also I rephrased and altered the order of procedure for conversations they had outlined in order better to meet afore-described conditions. Based on State, War and Navy Departments’ directions, they drafted and had translated into Spanish a proposed agreement between staffs. I informed them that this document contained much which I was sure would be unacceptable to Colombians. Nevertheless so that they should have opportunity frankly and fully to express views of United States Army General Staff and Chief of Naval Operations, War Plans Section, I consented to their discussion of aforesaid draft agreement with Colombian officers but strongly recommended copies thereof should not be given to the Colombians.

[Page 78]

However, Riefkohl and Randolph at the meeting on the afternoon of September 10 considered attitude of Colombian officers so entirely cooperative that they gave them Spanish copy on which Colombians made only minor changes in phraseology. They succeeded in getting through approximately two-thirds of the document that afternoon. Colombian officers agreed on all points covered Subject only to their Government’s approval. So completely successful did our officers consider the meeting that my fears appeared to have been unfounded.

The second meeting was scheduled for afternoon of September 11 but only Chief of Staff and Director of Navy came. They were evidently embarrassed and frustrated and stated that because of political aspects of draft agreement conversations had been suspended pending discussion between Minister of War and myself. Whereupon the two Colombians departed.

Since the Minister of War did not call in this instance, as Colombian officers had indicated he would, I informed him that I had requested an interview with the President of the Republic whom I saw in a 2–hour interview yesterday evening. …

He had in his hand an English draft of proposed agreement in which he objected to the points which I had anticipated he would.

Typical of his objections were:

Reference to the “recognized” Government of Colombia, since all governments of Colombia had been recognized.
Mention of “fifth column” because as he had repeatedly declared publicly and to me personally, no subversive activities existed or could exist in Colombia.
The expression that, in event no requests were forthcoming from Colombia nor were consultations possible, the United States would employ its armed forces and “in all cases, it is understood the decision will rest with the United States Government when the emergency arises”.
Repeated recitals throughout the draft of action to be taken by Colombia in its defense he considered elementary and therefore belittling to make commitments thereon, since, as he said “If you have a house, of course you defend it”.
That in event the United States sent its forces to assist another American Republic, Colombia would mobilize public opinion in support of such action and counteract propaganda against the United States. He said he would gladly commit his Government and the Republic to support of our action, but he could not and would not undertake any restriction whatsoever of Colombia’s fundamental tenet of freedom of press and speech.
Where reference was not to insuring that the existing Government remained in office and continued to exercise authority, he objected, since of course it would do so, but the recital of this inherent obligation was demeaning.

I stated I had urged our officers to emphasize throughout conversations that we were anxious that insofar as possible every request made [Page 79] of Colombia be one which the United States would gladly accept on an entirely reciprocal basis. He replied he appreciated our fine principles in this connection but after all, the difference in size and power of the two countries per se rendered this impracticable.

Santos reemphasized that Colombia was now taking and would continue to take, to the limit of its abilities, every precaution for her own defense, to prevent subversive activities and to patrol her territory especially coast lines so that no attack on the Panama Canal could ever be made from this country. But in order to render their efforts effective he required a dollar loan for improvement of military establishments.

He is satisfied, despite every argument I could advance to the contrary, that even if Germany defeats England she will be exhausted, will have to digest her European conquests and even if she Góes on to further aggression it will be against Russia. Therefore “you and I, Mr. Ambassador, will be long in our graves before she attempts any aggression against the Western Hemisphere.”

I reiterated to him in detail the purposes of the conversations and of the proposed agreement, which I said was simply to be the recommendations of the two general staffs to their respective governments.

Santos said he would call a special Cabinet meeting early today to review the entire matter and then have it taken up with me. Since this procedure would still further delay and greatly complicate the matter, I countered that it might be best for the Minister of War and me to iron out the political aspects and objectionable phraseology of the document, retaining all of the salient military points including those which had been agreed upon during June conversations. I added that while we were doing this Randolph could proceed to Quito and Riefkohl to Panama where they were urgently needed, and they could return here for conclusion and signature of staff agreement. The President agreed to this. Nevertheless, the Cabinet has been in special session all morning and I am very reliably informed they were discussing defense, armaments and foreign policy. The Minister of War telephoned me at 4:15 p.m. to make appointment for Monday morning and said the Minister of Foreign Affairs would see me tomorrow. The latter called 15 minutes later to make this appointment.

I have told both Colombians and our officers I consider staff talks and consummation of agreement thereon extremely important. From our viewpoint, they serve to clarify exactly what is to be expected from both sides, impress on Colombians the dangers of aggression, aid and pave the way for further hemisphere defense, and solidarity, and give us a lever with which at least to exact such cooperation as the Colombians may become capable of rendering.

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Net of the situation is that … we should on Riefkohl’s and Randolph’s return obtain an agreement embodying every essential desired by our military and it will have been accomplished in a manner agreeable to the Colombians thus insuring their sincere desire to comply with all commitments taken. Moreover, we will know exactly the extent to which we may depend on them.

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

The foregoing has been read to Riefkohl and Randolph who request that it be transmitted to Navy and War Departments.

Please also transmit the following to Assistant Chief of Staff, War Plans Division:

“Am proceeding to Quito Saturday, arriving there Sunday. Unless staff conversations as such are resumed can see no further need my presence here. In the event that I am to return to Bogotá request necessary change of orders as well as to send by air mail additional expense money—staff.”