710.11/12–2745: Telegram

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


1523. Today Foreign Minister72 handed copy of Colombian answer to Uruguayan note to representatives of all American Govts after stating answer had been delivered today to Uruguayan Foreign Minister. Text follows:

“On Nov 21 Your Excellency communicates with this Ministry and the other American Foreign Offices concerning the desirability of discussing the possibility of an international action for the purpose of protecting the essential rights of man and of the citizen, and Your Excellency explained in an elevated sense consistent with the spirit of the nation which you represent, the doctrine that such effective protection is not incompatible with the policy of non-intervention to which are so closely attached the states of this hemisphere. Your Excellency concluded your note with the thought that our Foreign Offices ought to present in the face of well-known events, a multilateral [Page 218] collective declaration using in it some of the measures which are suggested in the note under reference, such as an advisory commission, a consultation or the inclusion of the subject in the agenda of the projected Rio de Janeiro Conference.

The Govt has carefully studied Your Excellency’s note and although on the occasion of previous consultations it had expressed in part its thought on collective international action with respect to the internal policy of the States, I wish to express once more its opinion, principally motivated by the fear of disagreeing in a question of such importance with some of the ideas expressed in Your Excellency’s note and with the certainty that a broad discussion of this subject now taking place with respect to your note can save the American continent subsequent controversies on such a delicate matter.

With respect to international protection of the essential rights of man and of the citizen, Colombia, like Uruguay, has only a universal and especially continental interest. She has adopted and strictly carried out for many years a series of constitutional principles which guarantee them fully and her people live under the protection of these rules as is well-known to anyone who has desired or had the opportunity to prove it. Her greatest desires are therefore that throughout the world there may be a similar protection and that there may not exist any discrimination of races, creeds, parties, or philosophical ideas in extending the broadest protection to the individual such as we Colombians believe we have guaranteed for all the inhabitants of our territory. Nevertheless, Colombia has the greatest respect for the peoples who have adopted other regimes based on different political systems and her tradition has been the preservation with all the nations of the world, but especially with those of the hemisphere of friendly relations without examining the type of organization of their society or the forms of their govts and without comparing them with those which prevail in our country.

In Mexico and at San Francisco discussions of great importance took place on the manner of making effective the protection of the essential rights of man. At the first of these conferences we Americans came up first against the initial obstacle of not yet having a declaration approved by all the states with respect to the extent and limits of those rights and therefore against the impossibility of creating an organism with any international jurisdiction to oversee compliance with it without weakening the principle of non-intervention or without providing a pretext for breaking such a principle and with it the harmony of the hemisphere. It is true that the American States have declared their adherence to the democratic ideal but it is also true that that ideal is practiced in very different ways in the continent and that while a precise definition of the rights of man which are to be protected in each country, approved by all the interested govts, does not exist, it is nevertheless a source of friction to try to protect them internationally by multilateral action, which in accordance with our procedures would require only the majority opinion of the American States. It would not suffice to recall very respectfully to Your Excellency the difficulties which presented themselves even in connection with the formal recognition of such clear principles as that of non-racial discrimination to think how others would arise as soon [Page 219] as they might conflict with the juridical and political characteristics of each of our states.

As far as threats to the security and the peace of the world and especially of the continent are concerned, Colombia goes as far or even farther than any other member of the United Nations or of the Pan American Union. My Govt believes, for example, that the foreign policy of a state which notoriously only can be fulfilled by means of force, is a threat to peace, and the fact that it may be approved by her people makes it even more dangerous than if it were promulgated by an unpopular political regime.

Colombia believes that it is not an act of intervention in the internal affairs of a state to watch the development of a foreign policy which may constitute a menace to peace or security, and that any foreign policy, although it may not be the official one of the state, as long as it implies a menace to peace or as long as it could only fully be achieved by means of war, must be watched; and even more so if such a foreign policy pretends to and succeeds in arousing a certain public agreement permitting the promoters to obtain control of the state. But at the same time Colombia believes that world organization has not yet reached such a degree of maturity as to permit the establishing of essential norms of organization for each state, to which all those which form the society of nations would submit themselves; and that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to guarantee the essential rights of man throughout the world under such diverse political regimes, because democracy is not only an ideal, but also, and in great part, a series of procedures to make effective the rights of man.

Not existing, as in fact it does not exist, a uniform political regime in the world, and not even in our own America, in spite of its adherence to the democratic ideal, would we not run great risks in passing judgment upon the internal acts of a state, its policy, and the protection which it gives to the essential rights of each man and each citizen? Is it possible to affirm that the democracies, such as the Govt of Your Excellency or my Govt conceive them, are serious majorities in the organized group of nations? If they are today, will they always be? Colombia has been able to agree, after a serious process of struggles and difficulties, on what are the rights of man and of the citizen within its territory, and I doubt very strongly that her inhabitants would be willing to introduce changes in that criterion, even though the majority of the nations of the continent and the world might find it at fault. And Colombia understands that what could be said of her, could occur and would occur undoubtedly to any other American or world state, no matter what its internal political regime may be, or the degree of protection which it gives to those rights.

But undoubtedly there arises around this theme, the essential problem of non-intervention. It has cost the American peoples a great deal to consecrate this principle, and this principle has not only been adopted in international declarations, but also in practice after occurrences which today in our relations are not considered adverse factors, but which no one on our continent has forgotten. The great historical rectification of the last years is obviously and above all a rectification; which implies that there were acts contrary to that policy of non-intervention which for a long time made impossible the American [Page 220] solidarity it stands before the world today. The evident disproportion in strength among the different American countries makes it even more necessary to have a policy that will be only beneficial to the smaller and defenseless nations, since it is impossible to conceive of the effectiveness of the intervention of a small state or a group of small states in the internal or external affairs of a great power.

Having given the ideas of Your Excellency the consideration which they deserve, I would also venture to point out the danger through a system of declarations, even though they may be multilateral, regarding the protection which a country is to give the essential rights of men and of the citizen, we might make impossible the future harmony of the continent, which has cost such great effort, patience and discretion to entire generations of diplomats and statesmen of this Hemisphere.

These declarations, which would imply the disqualification of any one of our Republics, would not be made without a series of vexatious investigations, nor without a struggle wherever they might arise. And if it is true that peace is indivisible, as has been said, and that there exists a strong parallelism between democracy and peace, it is well to remember that America is also indivisible and that by [for?] merely attempting violation of continental peace and security there could [not?] be brought against one of our nations a sanction imposed by the others without risk of rupturing permanently the unity of our peoples and the harmony of our states. But, moreover, what harmony could there be, granted the existence of a control system for the protection of the rights of man and of the citizen when the international American policy would be subjected to the intrigues and agitations of all factions and groups which they may consider, justly or unjustly, victims of a deprivation of these rights? And how could any action be taken, with certainty, without fear, except through the medium of investigative commissions which would put an end completely to the concept of sovereignty, so dear to our peoples, sovereignty which they only bestow and renounce in the face of the necessity of conserving international peace and world security?

For these reasons Your Excellency will understand that Colombia does not completely share your respected and estimable concepts, with respect to their application or with regard to the procedure for putting them into operation, although subscribing to them in the abstract, as a thesis that seems to have been proved by the harsh experiences of recent years. Colombia, certainly, will discuss this theme whenever it is brought to the consideration of any American or United Nations Assembly, with the greatest deference for those who propose it. But she refrains from taking the initiative in proposing it, and in the light of experiences at Chapultepec and San Francisco and the results of deliberations which took place on this point before the commissions of these two Conferences, Colombia deems it unnecessary to promote a special meeting for dealing with the matter again.

I should not close without offering Your Excellency my most sincere congratulations for the effort which Your Excellency’s Govt has put forth in defense of the principles to which all men of good will in this hemisphere and all just nations of the earth render tribute and which many of them have consecrated in their institutions.”

  1. Fernando Londono y Londono.