Policy Statement Prepared in the Department of State



a. objectives

In its relations with Colombia the United States seeks to retain and perfect Colombian cooperation in our plans for western hemisphere defense;2 to persuade Colombia, within the framework of our basic policy of non-intervention, to strengthen her democratic institutions; and by furnishing economic and technical assistance,3 to help Colombia keep its traditional place as a stable, friendly democracy.

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b. background

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We are still disturbed about the widespread civil strife and religious persecution in Colombia, which seems to have become worse in 1951 instead of better. The country continues to be governed under a state of siege and Congress has not been permitted to meet since 1949. The restrictions on public gatherings, press and radio have been somewhat relaxed, but censorship of the press in particular continues to cause widespread dissatisfaction, both at home and abroad. The administration continues to be a one-party government, with no likelihood that the Liberals will agree to collaborate or even recognize the government as functioning legally.

Internal Political Situation.

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The Liberals have made it clear that they do not recognize the validity of President Gomez’ election.4 Economically the position of Colombia has improved since he took office. However, the situation is unsatisfactory and potentially dangerous, for the Liberal majority considers itself held in subjection by a Conservative dictatorship supported by the Church and maintained by force of arms.

Our policy in the present situation is to steer a careful neutral course, striving on the one hand to avoid giving substance to Liberal accusations that the US is aiding the present administration to set up a dictatorship of a minority party in Colombia, and on the other hand pursuing our traditional policy of cooperating with the constituted government of the country and abstaining from intervention in domestic political affairs.

Communism and Labor.

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Organized labor in Colombia is affiliated almost entirely with one or the other of two large federations, the Colombian Federation of Labor (CTC) or the Union of Colombian Workmen (UTC). The latter federation has appeared on the scene only in recent years and has gained ground rapidly because of the approval given it by the Church and the strong support received from the government. In 1949 the UTC was given official recognition in place of the CTC, which fell into disfavor because of the activity of Communist elements within its directive board. The CTC in 1950 split into two factions, one Liberal-controlled and the other Communist-controlled, the former being the stronger in point of numbers. The actual strength of the Communist branch is not known, but is not believed to be great. The UTC has been [Page 1299] gaining in numbers by defection of subordinate unions from the rival groups, and its numerical strength is probably equal to that of the two wings of the older Federation today, if it does not actually exceed it. This is a critical period in the development of the Colombian labor movement, and current events will doubtless have considerable effect on the state of affairs for some years to come.

Collaboration in Hemisphere Defense. Colombia is of great potential importance in any system of hemisphere defense because of its strategic proximity to the Panama Canal and its frontage on both the Caribbean and the Pacific, although at present we do not envisage asking for any bases in Colombian territory for the permanent defense of the Panama Canal. During 1948 and 1949, at the initiative of the Secretary of the Army,5 a preliminary ground survey was made with Colombian collaboration to determine the possibility of constructing a second interocean canal across the Darien Isthmus. It is a policy of the United States to insure that no potential enemy gains a foothold on Colombian territory as a base for operations.

The US has sought to further Colombian military collaboration by permitting the export to Colombia of reasonable amounts of military equipment considered necessary for its internal security,6 and to enable the Colombian Government to carry out its role in hemisphere defense. In addition, an effort will be made to provide Colombia on somewhat easier terms than hitherto with the arms that will be needed for this purpose and for assisting the UN efforts to combat aggression. Colombia was the first among the other American republics to furnish a frigate to serve with our naval forces in the Korean theater and a battalion of troops for the land operations there.

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Attitude Toward Democratic Institutions. We have been much disturbed by recent developments in Colombian political and religious life. Colombia has been under a state of siege since November 9, 1949. During that period the national Congress has not been permitted to meet, nor have any departmental and municipal bodies been allowed to assemble except where the Conservative governors have considered it safe for the party’s interests for them to do so. The Council of State and the Supreme Court, both of which until recently had Liberal majorities, have been brought under control by what the government calls constitutional means. The highest ranking military officers have in many cases been superseded by others of whose pro-Conservative sympathies there can be no doubt. The Liberals charge that throughout the civil service their members have been discharged wholesale and the [Page 1300] jobs given to Conservatives; they also charge that coercive measures have been employed everywhere to repress Liberals or bring them into line, and that the police have been handpicked for expressly this purpose. Present indications are that an all-Conservative Congress will be elected in June, since the Liberal Party has refused to go to the polls. Since this would remove the danger that Congress might impeach the President or repeal the extraordinary legislation issued by executive decree during the emergency, it is probable that the state of siege will then be lifted.

Civil violence during the past year has been more widespread than at any time since the Conservatives came into power in 1946. For some months the whole Llanos region was in rebellion, and this has not yet been completely overcome in some areas. There has been banditry throughout the central Andes, from Cauca on the south to Bolivar on the north. Piracy on the Magdalena River has forced vessels to tie up at river ports overnight where they can be protected. A large national police force has been organized under the supervision of a British mission. Severe repressive measures seem thus far only to have aggravated the situation and fanned the flames of partisan and religious hatred.

The persecution of Protestants,7 which is closely linked to the political violence, since most Protestants are Liberals, continues to be a blot on Colombia’s record, and the Conservative Party, the Government, and the Church cannot escape a share of the responsibility for it. Missionaries from the United States have been among the victims of these outbreaks of religious intolerance, some have been beaten and jailed and their property destroyed, and one has lost his life. There is reason to believe that the Government desires to give adequate protection and prevent the recurrence of these incidents, but that it is unable to enforce its decrees in the more remote rural areas. It also appears to have adopted the definite policy of refusing visas to missionaries planning to enter Colombia.8

At the same time, the Department has urged American Protestant missionaries to be most circumspect in their actions, to refrain from any political activity, and to report promptly to the Embassy and to the Colombian authorities any incidents in which they may have been aggrieved.” (Miller Files, Lot 53 D 26).

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In general, our policy is to persuade the Colombian Government to relax its present restrictions upon democratic institutions and urge it to avoid drifting into a dictatorship of the right. We endeavor to orient our public affairs program so as to obtain more adherents for democratic ideals. In any of our actions seeking changes in internal Colombian affairs we are guided and limited by our strict observance of the principle of non-intervention.

Economic Relations. In encouraging economic development in Colombia it is our policy to place emphasis on the improvement of agricultural production and of transportation. Approximately $300,-000 has been authorized for projects for fiscal 1951 under the Point Four Program. Technical assistance is now rendered in a number of fields of activity, including agricultural research, rubber experimentation, combating plant diseases and insect pests, irrigation and power projects, health and sanitation, railway and highway development, the coal industry, civil administration reform, and banking reform. In the financing of development projects, investment of private US capital is encouraged.

In line with our general policy of assuring throughout the world more favorable conditions for economic development and, more broadly, of furthering liberal principles of trade and economic relations in general, we have sought since 1940 to enter into negotiations with Colombia for a comprehensive modern treaty of friendship, commerce and navigation.9 The 1846 Treaty,10 while not the weakest of treaties of that period, is nevertheless outmoded, and US business interests have held the view that its replacement by an up-to-date treaty would be desirable.

These efforts culminated in the signature on April 26th of a comprehensive FCN treaty,11 which we are inclined to consider in most respects as the most satisfactory treaty of the kind to be concluded since World War II. The treaty is based squarely upon our standard draft, and its establishment provisions are deemed to be particularly satisfactory. Colombia agreed to strong provisions on most matters of interest to US investors and, in a matter of particular importance, accepted an expropriation provision which should amply protect US interests against that feature of the Colombian Constitution which [Page 1302] gives the Congress authority to take property without compensation in certain circumstances. Colombia also accepted our standard proposals on exchange controls, commercial arbitration and navigation; and, although it was not possible to develop provisions on territorial preferences and on the tax treatment of shipping enterprises which meet the optimum standards of US policy in those fields, reasonably satisfactory formulae were worked out.

With respect to requests for assistance from government agencies in financing economic development projects, it is our policy to favor consideration according to the criteria of economic justification and availability of private capital. We have recognized, however, that emergency requirements such as those that arose from the events of April 1948 deserve unusually sympathetic consideration. At the same time it is US policy to urge Colombia to finance concomitant local currency costs for reconstruction through non-inflationary means, in order among other things to avoid further pressure on the exchange rate by an increase of the circulating medium. In collaboration with the IMF Colombia very recently eliminated its certificate system12 and all of its import control with the exception of a prohibited list. It also eliminated all exchange taxes except the National Stamp Tax and depreciated its exchange rate to 2.50 pesos per dollar for all transactions except coffee exports, to which a mixed rate of 2.0875 pesos per dollar applies.

Protectionist sentiment has increased in Colombia in recent years, inspired by expansion in domestic industries. Post-war price rises that impaired the revenue value of the peso, plus the protectionist motivation, furnished the impetus to the Colombian objective of general upward adjustment in customs duties. However, the Reciprocal Trade Agreement of 193613 bound rates on many products against increase, and Colombia as a signatory of the ITO Charter14 was committed to seek tariff reductions. After GATT15 tariff negotiations broke down, the Trade Agreement was jointly terminated on December 1, 1949,16 giving Colombia freedom of action, and in July 1950, the new Colombian [Page 1303] tariff went into effect. It is hoped Colombia may still adhere to GATT principles and join that organization.

Colombia’s lend lease responsibility has reached a satisfactory conclusion through a dollar lend lease settlement arrangement signed April 13, 1950.17 Payments thereunder have satisfactorily been met and only one payment remains to fully liquidate all lend lease accounts.18 Surplus property indebtedness is gradually being paid off, and there are no arrearages.

On August 15, 1951 the de Mares Concession of the Tropical Oil Company will revert to the Government. In anticipation of this, a National Petroleum Enterprise has been formed by the Government, and it has entered into two agreements with the Tropical Oil Company covering technical assistance and administration of the future exploitation of the concession, as well as the financing, enlargement and administration of the Barrancabermej a refinery. The trend in legislation which had resulted in restricting foreign company operations was reversed in 1950 by a series of decree-laws which were designed to create a favorable atmosphere for foreign investment in petroleum development, and as a result activity by foreign companies in petroleum exploration and exploitation has been reactivated. Labor conditions in the oil industry have been relatively stable due in large measure to increased salaries and other financial benefits obtained by labor under negotiated contracts. Labor’s previous insistence for a greater scope in company management and for compulsory arbitration on all issues has subsided.

Our policy continues to be, on the one hand, to avoid intervening in internal Colombian labor affairs, and on the other hand to see to it that US oil interests receive fair treatment as long as their concessions are in force and that adequate payment is provided in the event of expropriation. We desire that Colombia’s petroleum potential be increased and that it be adequately secured and controlled in friendly hands so that it may be available in increased quantity when needed for Western hemisphere defense.

Negotiations are now being conducted for a Bilateral Civil Aviation Agreement,19 which is intended to replace the Olaya-Kellogg Air Pact of 1929,20 concluded in the days when international air operations were [Page 1304] limited to flying boat service which is now obsolete and should be superseded by a new pact based on the “Bermuda” principles.

While we do not wish to obstruct the creation and development of merchant fleets by any foreign country and recognize the right of nations to subsidize their merchant shipping, we do object to the strengthening of their merchant fleets through discriminatory practices against US shipping. In the past year the Colombian Government adopted certain practices of this nature in order to protect and develop the Flota Mercante Grancolombiana, owned jointly by Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. These practices, such as the use of exchange controls to arbitrarily divert commercial cargo to Colombian flag vessels and the exertion of influence on exporters to ship coffee on Grancolombiana vessels, were protested by this Government, and a satisfactory solution was reached. In addition, a serious situation resulted because of the acceptance by the Flota Grancolombiana of southbound freight in pesos, contrary to Shipping Conference rules. This was settled by an agreement between the Conference and the Flota,21 with the very active assistance of the Department and the Embassy. One major problem still remains: Colombian Law No. 10 of 1946, exempting the Flota from the payment of income, excess profits and patrimony taxes, which all other shipping lines operating to Colombian ports are required to pay. Various attempts to adjust this problem have been made. Two additional avenues remain for reaching a solution on this subject: a special treaty on double taxation which is under study by the US Government, or an executive agreement providing for the reciprocal exemption from income taxes of transportation companies. With respect to the previous objection of the Colombian Government to the US requirement that goods shipped to Colombia and financed by Exports-Import Bank loans be carried exclusively in US ships, this was amicably removed through a waiver by this Government of the above requirement and permitting the shipment of 50% of such goods on Colombian flag vessels.

c. relations with other states

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d. policy evaluation

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In the economic field our activities have yielded mixed results: we have recently signed a new commercial treaty with Colombia; we have been successful in protecting certain American commercial interests, such as the shipping lines, but we have not succeeded in inducing the Colombian Government to modify its system of economic controls so [Page 1305] as to create an atmosphere favorable to the free inflow of American private capital. Neither have we been successful in persuading Colombia of the folly of a high tariff system and the need for reducing tariff barriers. Loans by the Eximbank and International Bank have enabled Colombia to shore up its economy at points of crucial weakness: road and rail transport, electric power, and agricultural production. However, the Banks cannot be expected to extend loans in such volume as to carry the major portion of Colombia’s capital requirements for economic development. The Colombian Government and private capital must make the largest contribution, with the Bank providing supplemental assistance. This calls for a continuance of our patient efforts to improve the conditions under which private investment operates in Colombia.

We should make every effort to guarantee that Colombian support of US objectives is more effective by establishing an identity of democratic purposes, using more fully all of our present methods, such as: technical assistance, including the training of technicians and students in the US; Eximbank and International Bank loans for sound projects, while encouraging conditions that will be attractive to private developmental capital; and direct military collaboration. These methods would serve to strengthen Colombia as a component country of the hemisphere for common security and prosperous economic and cultural interchange, as well as to obtain more unqualified short-term political cooperation from Colombia.

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  1. The portions omitted from this policy statement duplicate material in the policy statement for Colombia for the previous year, which is printed in Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. ii, p. 817.
  2. For documentation concerning United States policy with respect to hemisphere defense and related matters, see pp. 985 ff.
  3. For documentation concerning the technical assistance policy of the United States toward the other American Republics as a group, see pp. 1038 ff.
  4. Laureano Gómez, unopposed Conservative Party candidate, was elected President of Colombia in November 1949, and he assumed office in early 1950.
  5. Kenneth C. Royall.
  6. Documents pertaining to Colombia’s efforts to purchase arms from the United States during 1951 are in Department of State decimal files 721.56 and 721.5621 for that year.
  7. For previous documentation on this subject, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. ii, pp. 816 ff.
  8. In a letter to United States Senator Irving M. Ives (R–N.Y.), dated August 16, 1951, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Edward G. Miller, Jr. stated in part the following:

    “The Department of State has been fully conscious of the plight of Protestant missionaries and has from time to time instructed the Embassy in Bogota to give all justifiable aid to those American citizens who have been injured in their persons or properties. The Embassy has taken up numerous cases of this nature with the Colombian Government and in some of them the Embassy has been able to obtain punishment of the guilty parties or to have other corrective measures applied. In other cases, the Embassy has not been successful in promptly obtaining what we consider to be adequate redress.

  9. For documentation concerning the general policy of the United States with respect to the modernization of treaties of friendship, commerce, and navigation, see vol. i, pp. 1233 ff.
  10. Reference is to the Treaty of Peace, Amity, Navigation, and Commerce, signed at Bogotà, December 12, 1846, and entered into force, June 10, 1848; for text, see Department of State Treaty Series (TS) No. 54, or 9 Stat. 881.
  11. The draft treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation, signed at Washington, had not gone into effect. Soon after it was signed, the Colombian Government raised questions concerning the interpretation of the most-favored-nation clause in Article III with respect to religious matters, and discussion of this matter extended beyond 1951. The draft treaty was not ratified by Colombia, however, and it was withdrawn from the United States Senate on June 30, 1953. Pertinent documents are in Department of State decimal file 611.214.
  12. The certificate system represented one of the two principal types of exchange in Colombia. It was based on so-called Certificates of Exchange, which were issued by the Bank of the Republic, and used to pay for gold produced in the country, all of which had to be sold to the Bank. The certificates could be exchanged for dollars received in payment for certain selected imports, and they could also be sold freely on the Stock Exchange to importers for use in payment of specified imports.
  13. For text of the Reciprocal Trade Agreement signed at Washington, September 13, 1935, effective May 20, 1936, see Department of State Executive Agreement Series (EAS) No. 89, or 49 Stat. (pt. 2) 3875.
  14. For information on matters relating to the International Trade Organization (ITO), see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. i, pp. 779 ff.
  15. For text of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), concluded at Geneva, October 30, 1947, and entered into force for the United States, January 1, 1948, see TIAS No. 1700, or 61 Stat. (pts. 5–6).
  16. For the exchange of notes signed at Washington, October 12, 1949, effective the same date, which terminated the existing reciprocal trade agreement, see TIAS No. 2207, or 2 UST 569.
  17. For information on the Lend-Lease Settlement Arrangement, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. ii, footnote 3, p. 816.
  18. In a note to the Colombian Embassy dated July 19, 1951, the Department of State acknowledged receipt of a check from the Colombian Government in the amount of $42,398.41, which completed Colombia’s obligations to the United States under the terms of the Settlement Arrangement (721.56/6–2851).
  19. An air transport agreement with Colombia was not signed until 1956. A memorandum of March 3, 1952, by John L. Hill of the Aviation Policy Staff contains a detailed review of the negotiations from 1945 to its date (611.2194/3–352).
  20. For the exchange of notes signed at Washington, February 23, 1929, effective the same date, which constituted the air pact, see Charles I. Bevans (ed.), Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America, 1176–1949 (Washington, 1968–1972), vol. 6, p. 906.
  21. Reference is to an agreement signed October 17, 1949, which forms part of an enclosure to despatch 457, from Bogotà, April 21, 1950 (911.5321/4–2150).