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

No. 2014

Sir: I have the honor to report that the current strike of the petroleum workers in Colombia is of such importance that the stability of the government is at issue.…

The factor which has most aggravated the seriousness of the oil strike and which has served to give it special political significance, is the social unrest resulting chiefly from the rising cost of living. There have been many evidences of this unrest, such as the work stoppage in Cali in September and working class demonstrations in Bogotá and other cities. The most recent manifestation of this condition is the statements made to an officer of the Embassy on October 30 by Juan C. Lara, Secretary General of the Liberal faction of the CTC (Confederation of Colombian Workers). The memorandum of conversation is enclosed.71

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The importance of the petroleum syndicate strike from the point of view of the United States is not inconsiderable from several points of view. We do not permit, if we can avoid it, American companies or individuals or American citizens employed by these companies to engage directly or indirectly in the domestic politics of foreign countries. We now have the reverse of the coin where an important American company is apt to become the victim of a domestic political situation and its fate decided on a basis of the domestic political exigencies of the moment. Another manner of regarding the situation has been suggested to me by … [a commentator who] describes the strike as a conflict in Colombia between the United States and the U.S.S.R. There is undoubtedly some substance to this allegation. The Communist Party line in Colombia is directed primarily and directly against the United States and all its works. Curiously [Page 680] enough, the Party line, which itself represents a foreign ideology, is able effectively and paradoxically to arouse the xenophobic instincts of the Colombians against the foreign companies, chiefly Tropical Oil. The situation thus created by strikes and propaganda is such that it could have at least some bearing on hemispheric defense. In this vital system of defense, petroleum plays a basic role; not only may the Communists impede the current activities of the Tropical Oil Company and the other foreign companies interested in Colombia, it may also prevent a successful re-negotiation of the Tropical Oil concession which expires in 1951. Moreover, these Communist tactics may have a more important negative effect. The present development of the petroleum industry in Colombia is very modest. The daily production averages only 65,000 barrels a day. Dr. James Tong of Socony72 is convinced that if the foreign companies could have a workable petroleum law in Colombia and reasonable security from political and labor sabotage, the production could be lifted to 250,000 barrels a day. Mr. McCollum of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, goes even further. He declares that he could guarantee that production would reach 500,000 barrels a day. By aborting further petroleum development of Colombia, the Communists could prevent the building up of a very valuable military asset. By creating an atmosphere of great insecurity for foreign investments in general, the Communist Party can greatly impair the growth of a valuable and promising economic relationship between the United States and Colombia. Finally, Colombia with its admirable political tradition of democratic government and prestige in hemispheric councils may easily deteriorate as an asset and element of stability in Inter-American affairs.

Respectfully yours,

John C. Wiley
  1. Not printed.
  2. Socony Vacuum Oil Company.