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

personal   secret

Dear Willard: I was glad to have your personal and secret letter of October 27, 1950. It must have crossed in the mails with my letter to you dated October 23,1 this year, treating of the same subject as your communication. I am not surprised that you are spending so much of your time on the missionary situation in Colombia. You may be sure that we appreciate your thoughtful attention, and that here in the Department we are trying to treat the matter equally seriously. I shall try to explain more fully than I did in my letter of the 23rd of October the situation as we see it, what we are doing here, and what we would like to accomplish.

In the first place, we are trying to exert a restraining, calming influence on the Protestant representatives that come to the Department or who write in. I believe that without exception we have said pointedly that in each and every case where they may have any complaint the matter should be taken up with the local authorities, and if necessary, with your Embassy. We believe that our advice already has tempered actions which might have been taken. You can be certain that we shall continue to try to follow this course because our greatest desire is to see tranquillity prevail in Colombia.

I am impressed with your feeling that the situation as it exists today in Colombia calls for restraint, political consideration, and possibly reduced activity on the part of the Protestants. We are trying to keep in mind that need as we counsel complainants coming to the Department. On the other hand, we cannot overlook the fact that the Protestant missionaries are operating in Colombia under the laws of that country and, at least in some cases, the missions are there by invitation of the Government itself. I do not quite see how the Colombian Government can shirk the responsibility for any mistreatment or any [Page 840] unlawful restraint of the activities of those missionaries. The report2 of the Colombian Government’s own investigator admits there have been irregularities. The Government of Colombia claims to be and is accepted as a sovereign member of the family of nations. That in itself imposes upon the Government the need to do something in cases where the Protestants have been illegally treated. You speak of the anti-Protestant attitude existing among the clergy. It seems unlikely that the clergy came to that attitude spontaneously. I am inclined to agree with you that the Communists may have had something to do with the existence of the attitude, and particularly with the intensification of the friction. On the other hand, as you stated in your letter, the feeling has existed for many years.

“The Catholic church in Colombia today is militantly opposed to the proselyting efforts of the Protestants,” as you have said. However, it seems to me, that attitude should not mean that the Catholic church shouldn’t express its opposition in accordance with the laws of Colombia. While there has doubtless been some exaggeration on the part of the Protestants (as well as the Catholics), there remains no doubt here that the Protestants do have just grounds for complaint.

This brings us to your very proper position that you can only take up specific documented cases of persecution or injustice to American Protestants or damage to their property. I am sure that, as you say, you will take up promptly and effectively every case which you believe is justified. I realize that you are dealing with as ticklish a problem as one normally finds in an entire diplomatic career. Yet it is one that we must handle. We must face it because one of the basic principles on which our Government is founded is that of religious freedom. There is one hope for the present world in which we live, and that is the continued unimpaired existence of these United States to fight for the way of life in which we believe in 1950. Its position will continue unimpaired only so long as the various religious groups in the United States remain in peaceful association. The moment the Protestant churches in the United States realize that their missionaries have been squeezed out in Colombia, there will be a tremendous political reaction here that will bring up the religious issues in these United States. Such an occurrence would delight the Commies, and could so impair the position of the United States Government as to weaken its influence in international affairs. Furthermore, I believe you underrate from Bogotá the actual and potential feeling here. The U.S. public reaction to Argentina’s continued attacks on the freedom of the press clearly demonstrates the potentiality of a public campaign [Page 841] against Colombia, as does the tremendous furor caused by the attempt to close a small Protestant mission in Italy. Jack McFall3 has said this latter event caused his office more trouble with Congress than any other single subject since he assumed his present position.

Over and above the merits of any individual case, the thing which we most desire to see is a miming of the situation in Colombia so that both Catholics and Protestants can continue to live together in peace. You are far too much experienced for me to try to indicate how to accomplish it. You have mentioned that Arthur Bliss Lane called together the Protestants in Colombia during his tenure of office. Maybe that would now be worthwhile but, whether it is or isn’t, our big desire is that you use every effort on every occasion to calm ruffled feelings and try to attain tranquillity. You may be sure that all of us here are going to work to that same end day by day.

Sincerely yours,

Edward G. Miller, Jr.
  1. Not printed.
  2. A memorandum on the missionary situation prepared in the Colombian Ministry of Justice is enclosed with despatch No. 448 from Bogotá, October 11, 1950, not printed. (821.413/10–1650)
  3. Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations.