Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

Participants: The Secretary of State
Dr. Roberto Urdaneta, Chief of Colombian Delegation to the United Nations
Mr. Alfonso Araujo, Member of Colombian Economic Mission
Mr. José Gutierrez Gomez, Member of Colombian Economic Mission
Dr. Emilio Toro, Colombian Member of the International Coffee Committee
Mr. José Camacho, Counselor of Colombian Embassy, Washington
Mr. Knapp, OFD
Mr. Smith, OFD
Mr. Havlik, ED
Mr. Espy, NWC1

The two members of the Colombian Economic Mission, Señores Araujo and Gutierrez, accompanied by Doctors Urdaneta and Toro and Señor Camacho, called upon me by appointment at noon today.

Dr. Urdaneta opened the conversation in conveying to me a message [Page 441] of salutation and good wishes from President Ospina Perez of Colombia. He then expressed the appreciation of his country for the work of the American Delegation to the Bogotá Conference. Turning to the subject of the visit here of the Colombian Economic Mission, he said that its purpose was to obtain financial assistance urgently needed by Colombia as a result of the economic losses suffered by that country from the disturbances that had occurred last April.2

Mr. Araujo then spoke in some detail of the Mission’s objectives and the negotiations that had thus far transpired with other agencies of this Government and with the International Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Mr. Araujo emphasized that the requests for financial assistance were not directed to obtain large loans to enhance per se the financial position of Colombia, but were for aid in repairing the damages to the economy of Colombia and to put that economy back on the level that existed prior to April. He explained that it would take a long time for Colombia to recover otherwise, while if we could now lend it our help the reconstruction work could be accomplished right away, and once back on its feet Colombia would then be in a position to amortize the expenses over a period of the next few years. For its part the Colombian Government, he said, was taking steps through increased taxation and other revenue measures to help finance the internal costs of some of the destruction caused by the riots. He mentioned that an additional expense which the Government had to meet arose from the cost of maintaining a much larger military police force. The military force alone had been increased from its normal complement of 12,000 men to 30,000 and this represented an increase in expenditures of roughly $15,000,000 per annum. In reply to my inquiry he stated that the Government was still investigating the value of property destroyed but that it would probably only be possible to make the roughest estimate because the records of the amounts and values of commodities and of capital assets had been destroyed.

I inquired as to the availability of the equipment and machinery required from the United States. Mr. Gutierrez, replying to this question, said that he was of the impression that there was a good indication the Department of Commerce would permit an extra allocation of steel and construction materials over and above the regularly allocated amounts. He also thought it would be possible to obtain agricultural machinery provided a loan, which he believed would have to be about $12,000,000, could be obtained from either the International Bank or the Export-Import Bank.

I next inquired as to the political situation in Colombia, and Dr. [Page 442] Urdaneta replied that all parties were working together and that there appeared to be every prospect for reasonable stability.

I said that I was very gratified to learn this and that I had been keeping in touch with the situation in Colombia before the arrival of the Mission and since then. I indicated that Mr. Harriman, while Secretary of the Department of Commerce, was, of course, well informed of the developments in Colombia by reason of his presence at the Bogotá Conference. Since Mr. Harriman’s departure from that office I had taken steps to acquaint the new Secretary of Commerce in the matter. I further mentioned that both Mr. Martin and Mr. McCloy3 were familiar with the economic problems of Colombia through their first-hand experience in that country.

I stated that all of us had a very deep and sympathetic interest in the purposes of the Colombian Mission and that the Export-Import Bank and the International Bank would unquestionably also view their purposes with sympathy. These two institutions would naturally have to consider whatever assistance they could render to Colombia in accordance with their statutes, and any loans which they could grant would have to meet their requirements for a sound financial basis. I said that it had been my experience that much depended on the manner in which the applications for the loans were presented and the effectiveness of the detailed material in supporting the applications, and I therefore suggested that particular attention be given to these two points. I said that I had inquired as to what the Department had been doing in assisting the Mission and that I was satisfied that it was making every effort to be helpful. I then reiterated my suggestion that the loan applications be in good order and thoroughly documented. I repeated once more that we were deeply interested in the Mission’s purposes here and that it had our warmest support in anything we could properly do to assist it.

I then went on to say that I had been giving considerable thought to the April occurrences and had come to some conclusions in which the Colombian representatives might be interested. I said that the April incident could only be viewed as an evil affair, unnecessarily destructive, and that no good had been accomplished even from the point of view of its perpetrators. I said that I believed the general effect on those present from other countries was one of reflection of how to prevent repetitions of such a disastrous happening. It was apparent to all that mob psychology once set in motion does no good and getting out of control, moreover, goes far beyond the immediate aims of the [Page 443] demonstrators. It was a lesson to us all,—especially to the representatives of the Latin American countries,—in several direct respects: first, it emphasized the need for caution on the part of any political party to incite violence; second, it brought out the necessity to take adequate measures for maintenance of security; and third, it clearly showed the need for basic changes to prevent explosions in the future which were caused in the main by the tremendous gap between the top and bottom stratas of society in our various countries that gave rise to social unrest. I said that undoubtedly the development of industries and the improvement of the general economy of the country would be very helpful and that they should be undertaken. I then added that I believed there was another important thing which should be done which was the better education of the youth of the country. I said that I believed what would be more helpful than possibly anything else would be for the governments themselves to provide better educational facilities and, in particular, to select for training from the under-privileged and poorer classes of the communities the promising young men and women who could be the future leaders of the country. I called attention in this respect to the policy of the Catholic Church which picked out the best young people for special education and training. If this were done each country could be assured that its future leaders would be educated in democratic ways and prepared to meet the problems of their nations with a much broader and more comprehensive approach. I felt that then there would be a possibility of obtaining greater stability and greater representation of the needs and aspirations of the masses of the people. Parenthetically I mentioned that even in the course of my lifetime this country had witnessed such a development and that I knew personally many leaders here who had risen from lowly walks of life to great influence which was fully merited by their abilities and initiative. Much of this was traceable to the education afforded by free public schools. I concluded on this subject by saying that the possibilities of future disturbances abroad were not ended. Explosions might be recurrent and might be augmented by adverse developments. Even a small depression could set off a series of chain reactions and this was all the more reason why we should now prepare to meet such eventualities.

I also called the attention of the Colombian representatives to some thoughts that had occurred to me in connection with the attitude amongst the Latin American countries, as indicated at the Bogotá meeting, in respect to the European Recovery Program. I said that without going into detail I was sure the program would greatly improve trade, not only with respect to Europe itself, but in relation to [Page 444] the trade of Latin America. I said that I wished to bring out a particular point here. Since August 1939 the trade relationship between the Latin American countries and the United States had been in a sense abnormally close. Because of the European hostilities Latin American trade had been greatly restricted with Europe, and as a result, over the period of nine years, the Latin American countries had come to lack an appreciation of the importance of trade with Europe and, above all, because of the absence during that period of direct communication with European countries to be unappreciative of the real status of affairs in Europe and the role of that continent in world affairs. For these reasons the Latin American countries fail to recognize what a tremendous factor the recovery of Europe would be and how that recovery will be felt throughout the whole world, including Latin America. Previously the whole Latin American trade patterns with Europe had been forgotten and now they would be re-established.

I concluded my remarks to the representatives by reiterating the statement that I felt that the essential lesson of Bogotá was the necessity of taking preventative measures in time, and that with respect to the Mission itself I wished to say once again that we desired to be helpful to it in every way possible.

  1. Joseph B. Knapp, Director, Office of Financial and Development Policy: H. Gerald Smith, adviser, Office of Financial and Development Policy; Hubert F. Havlik, Acting Chief, Division of Investment and Economic Development; James Espy, Assistant Chief, Division of North and West Coast Affairs.
  2. See memorandum by Mr. Samuel Herman, November 19, p. 470.
  3. William McC. Martin, Jr., Chairman, Export-Import Bank of Washington; John J. McCloy, President, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.