The Ambassador in Colombia (Beaulac) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Miller)

personal   secret

Dear Ned: I asked Newbegin1 to talk to you about the missionary situation here in Colombia.

I am spending at least half of my time on this situation, which threatens to interfere seriously in relations between the United States and Colombia and particularly between the Colombian people and our people.

Extreme statements are being made to Gerberich in Washington by such people as Gigliotti,2 who has now charged one of our clerks with [Page 836] giving information obtained in the Embassy to the Papal Nuncio.3 Gigliotti, according to Gerberich, claims to have “confidential sources” within our Government who keep him informed of the activities of such presumptive criminals as the Papel Nuncio in Bogotá. I think we ought to find out who those “confidential sources” are.

Unproved atrocity stories from Protestant sources are being published in the world press. People like Pattison have intervened flagrantly in Colombia’s domestic politics. All these things are producing a reaction among the Colombian people which is very unfavorable to us, which tends to cancel out the large sums of money we are spending on our Information Program, and concerning which neither the Government of Colombia nor the Government of the United States can probably do much of anything.

A report from Consul Janz in Cali dated October 23, 1950, says as follows:

“An American mining engineer in Pasto, who says he has lived fifteen years in Colombia and has always received the most friendly treatment in his travels through the back areas of the country, reports that he is now frequently greeted with the epithet “Protestante”, though he has nothing to do with the missionaries. Such a term is so unusual and he has encountered it in so many different localities, that he believes its use is not spontaneous but is the result of organized instruction by priests. He says that it makes him feel very uncomfortable, and he has been so annoyed by it that he has written to his senator (Vandenberg), with whom he claims to be personally acquainted.”

Now, supposing the priests are responsible for this treatment of Americans? Is there anything the Government of Colombia can do about it? Is there anything the Government of the United States can do about it? Or Senator Vandenberg?4 Can we intervene in that situation? I do not even believe that the Archbishop of Bogotá, the Primate of Colombia could do anything about it. The local priests would ignore him if they got worked up about the missionary situation. And there are many signs that they are so worked up.

I am more than anxious to take up specific, documented cases of persecution or injustice to American Protestants which the Department may bring to my attention. I think, however, that the Department should require that organizations operating in Colombia who make complaints to the Department against the Colombian Government should have made their complaints to the Embassy so that we can investigate the cases and question the persons, and should have given the Colombian Government an opportunity to right their wrongs [Page 837] before they complain to the Government of the United States. That is the normal and friendly thing to do, and the fair thing to do, and I don’t see why we should not be both friendly and fair to the Colombian Government in this as well as in other matters. You know Gonzalo Restrepo Jaramillo,5 the Foreign Minister. He is an honest, Christian gentleman and he will cooperate with us to the utmost if we are fair with him. If we are not, he naturally will resent it, and so will the President.

The Department, in its Instruction No. 38 of September 25, 1950,6 referred to a “swelling tide of popular resentment” in the United States against Colombia. On the basis of what has been given to me by the Department, that is a gross exaggeration. What I am aware of is nothing more than a routine smear campaign that any organization is capable of carrying out through letters to Congressmen, etc.

I hope there will be no supine yielding to pressure brought by such people as Gigliotti, who, in my opinion, are capable of doing great harm not only to the cause of the Protestants in Colombia but also to relations between Colombia and the United States. On the other hand, I hope that they can be convinced that smearing the Colombian Government and the Catholic Church in Colombia will only do the Protestants harm.

There is another aspect of the whole situation here which I suggest your people in Washington bear in mind. On April 9, 1948,7 Communists dressed in priests’ robes climbed into the belfries of Bogotá churches and began firing into the mob. At the same time the Communists broadcast over the radio that priests were attacking the people from church belfries. It was finally necessary to shoot the “priests” out of the belfries like one would shoot turkeys out of a tree. The priest episode on April 9 was obviously planned and coordinated. It would be surprising to me, and I am sure it would be to you, if the Communists were not now responsible for at least some [Page 838] of the incidents and stories concerning which the Protestants are protesting.

There is another thing our men might bear in mind, and that is that on April 9 several Catholic churches were burned here, the Archbishop’s palace was burned, the Apostolic Nuncio’s Palace was burned, and the Nuncio himself was chased, through the streets in his underclothes. All the fires were carefully set. The Liberal Party has taken considerable credit for April 9. No one has been punished for the foregoing and other “political” crimes, in deference to the wishes of the Liberal Party. The Church knows this, and all of it accounts, to a large extent, for the very bad feeling between the Church and the Liberal Party at the present time, in which the Protestants, as devoted Liberals, have played their part.

The Catholic Church in Colombia today is militantly opposed to the proselytizing efforts of Protestants. I am not judging whether that attitude is right or wrong. But there is no doubt that it exists. People like Pattison and others who have spread atrocity stories and carried on a campaign of hatred and calumny against the Catholic Church and the Conservative Party and the Government down here have their share of responsibility for this situation. I hope that the Department can convince people in the States that it is in their interest to work in a quiet and friendly way with the Colombian Government, and that, unless they are willing to do this, the prospect is that the Colombian Government will consider the missionaries such a liability to it from both a domestic and international viewpoint that it will cease giving visas to missionaries8 and Protestant activities here will dry up. I myself would hate to see that because I think properly conducted Protestant activities are good for Colombia and even for the Catholic Church down here.

As I pointed out in my despatch No. 495 of October 24, 1950, Liberal President Alfonso Lopez9 asked our Government to deny or limit passports to Protestant missionaries.10 We can expect a Conservative Government to go farther than that if necessary.

[Page 839]

I don’t like to bother you with this but the whole thing has reached a point where I must bring it to your attention.

[Here follow certain personal references and mention of previous correspondence.]

Sincerely yours,

Willard L. Beaulac
  1. Robert Newbegin, Counselor of Embassy at Bogotá, then in Washington for consultation at the Department.
  2. Frank Bruno Gigliotti, Vice Chairman of the Commission on Christian Liberties.
  3. Documents in file 821.413 for 1950 indicate that investigation of this charge failed to substantiate it.
  4. Arthur H. Vandenberg, Senator from Michigan and ranking Minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
  5. Mr. Restrepo had taken office with other members of President Gomez’ cabinet on August 8, 1950.
  6. The instruction had concluded: “The Department desires that the Embassy take prompt and insistent action in all cases of reports of violence affecting American citizens and missionary organizations and that it will report in each case the specific action it has taken and the measures taken by the Colombian Government as a result.” This conclusion comprehended a number of more specific instructions, one of which read: “Inquiry should also be made regarding the plans of the Colombian Government to make restitution or reimbursement for the losses sustained by any American citizens or organization.” (821.413/8–3050)

    In a letter of October 5 to Ambassador Beaulac, Mr. Newbegin had said he had discussed the missionary situation with ARA officials including Mr. Miller and that they had stated there was no need to comply with the second quoted sentence. (821.413/10–550)

  7. For documentation regarding the Colombian disorders of April 1948, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. ix, pp. 2369, passim.
  8. In telegram 324 from Bogota, November 3, 1950, Ambassador Beaulac reported in part: “I inquired Foreign Minister concerning report I had that Colombian Government has ordered that no visas be given to new missionaries wishing to enter Colombia. Foreign Minister replied that as matter fact Government now going to be ‘very strict’ in issuing new visas.… I agree with Foreign Minister that whether we like it or not Colombia is within its rights in denying visas to new missionaries and consider that its present attitude is direct and inevitable result of irresponsible and exaggerated publicity and charges by certain Protestants against Colombian Government in US.” (821.413/11–350)
  9. President 1934–1938 and 1942–1946.
  10. In enclosure 1 to despatch No. 495 the Ambassador had said in part that in 1943 Ambassador Arthur Bliss Lane had supported President Lopez’ suggestion that the Department limit passports to missionaries and that the Department had then adopted a policy of consulting the Embassy before issuing such passports. (821.413/10–2450) For documentation bearing on these assertions, see Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. vi, pp. 8090.