Memorandum of Conversation, by Maurice M. Bernbaum of the Office of South American Affairs



  • Visit of the Colombian Minister of War to Discuss the Purchase of Military Equipment
  • Participants: Dr. Cipriano Restrepo-Jaramillo, Ambassador of Colombia
  • Dr. Misael Pastrana, Minister Counselor, Embassy of Colombia
  • Mr. Edward G. Miller, Jr., Assistant Secretary
  • Mr. Maurice M. Bernbaum, OSA

The Ambassador stated that he had just been advised of the probable visit to Washington some time next week of the Minister of War, Dr. José Maria Bernal, accompanied by representatives of the Colombian Army, Navy and Air Force and officers of the U.S. Armed Forces Missions. Purpose of the visit was to discuss with officers of the State and Defense Departments the urgent requirements of the Colombian Government for military equipment. Such equipment was required in order to prepare the Colombian armed forces for their responsibilities in hemispheric defense as well as the maintenance of public order. He expressed the concern of his Government over the mounting wave of disorder in Colombia, particularly in connection with growing guerrilla activities, and pointed out the likelihood that such disorder was not only playing into the hands of the Communists but was also most likely stimulated by them. He mentioned in this regard that Communism had always done best in an atmosphere of public disorder and guerrilla activities. The Ambassador then went on to say that it was hoped that the equipment required could be furnished his Government under the recent Military Agreement, but that Colombia would be prepared to purchase the equipment if that were not feasible.

In discussing the visit, the Ambassador stated that the opinion was widely held in Colombia that the United States Government had not treated Colombia as well as she deserved, particularly in view of her [Page 768] contribution to the United Nations campaign in Korea. He hastily added that neither he nor high Government officials held this opinion but that it was of importance to us to know that such an opinion was widely held in Colombia even if outside Government circles. He then went on to say that from his own experience he could certify that Colombia’s requirements had received not only careful but even deferential consideration, the only possible exceptions involving military equipment. As an example he mentioned that Peru had received three destroyers and a number of submarines while Colombia had not received any consideration at all. Colombia had been able to purchase only a frigate.

Mr. Miller expressed his thanks for the Ambassador’s appreciation of the good treatment being received by his Government from the United States, but pointed out that the Colombian Government had actually been getting equal consideration with Peru and other Latin American countries in the recent distribution of vessels to Latin American countries. He stated that invitations had been sent to all Latin American countries concurrently but that failure of the Colombian Government to respond in time had resulted in the earmarking of the available vessels to the other countries. Further sales and transfers were subsequently prohibited by a requirement that the transport or sale of any vessel ranging upward in size from destroyers would require Congressional approval in each case. As regards submarines, he stated that the Peruvian Government had been making direct contracts with the Electric Boat Company for various submarines. The United States Government was not involved in these contracts. As regards other equipment, Mr. Miller emphasized the fact that there just was not enough equipment available at this time to go around. He pointed out that even France was worried about inadequate delivery of U.S. equipment. In these circumstances the U.S. Government was just not in a position to furnish Colombia, other Latin American countries and allies outside the Western Hemisphere all of the equipment required by them. He did assure the Ambassador, however, that within limitations imposed by shortages the Colombian Government would get the most favorable consideration possible. Mr. Miller expressed his pleasure over the prospective visit of the Minister of War and stated that he would receive a most cordial welcome.

Note: The subject of Colombia’s requirements for military equipment had been raised previously with Ambassador Waynick by Acting President Roberto Urdaneta. He then mentioned the equipment necessary for 13 infantry battalions, aviation spare parts and planes. The Ambassador had then assured Acting President Urdaneta that all possible consideration was being given Colombia’s military requirements.