721.5 MSP/12–254

The Chargé in Colombia (Barber) to the Department of State

No. 364


  • Colombian Interest in Further U.S. Military Assistance


The Colombian Government has repeatedly expressed its desire for additional military assistance from the United States. Requests of this nature may be made to Secretary of Defense Wilson when he visits Colombia in January 1955. In considering such a request, the Embassy recommends that certain factors be carefully examined. These factors include the recent interest of Colombia in seeking arms and military training from non-United States sources, and consequent disregard for arms standardization; the ability of Colombia to utilize increased amounts of military equipment; the effects of increased military expenditures on Colombia’s economy; and political criticism, particularly by the Liberal Party, of United States military assistance to Colombia.

The visit to the United States of Foreign Minister Evaristo Sourdis, other recent reports of pending Colombian requests for large-scale additional grants of MDAP equipment and the probable motivation behind [Page 813] President Rojas Pinilla’s invitation to U.S. Secretary of Defense Wilson to visit Colombia all highlight the interest of the Colombian Government in an expansion of its military facilities through U.S. assistance. It is, therefore, timely to examine the extent to which U.S. military assistance is fulfilling certain facets of U.S. military and political policy objectives in Colombia.

Arms Standardization

[Here follows discussion of Colombia’s efforts to purchase arms and to secure military training in countries other than the United States.]

It is, therefore, evident that the Colombian Government is failing to fulfill completely the U.S. objectives of standardization of equipment and training. In addition to arms received from the U.S. or purchased in the U.S., Colombia is seeking military equipment and, to a lesser degree, military training and advice, from non-United States sources for a variety of reasons. These include such technical motives as prices, availability, and delivery terms and also, it is believed because certain non-United States sources provide more likely opportunities for remuneration in terms of kickbacks and “special commissions”.

Utilization of MDAP Equipment

Despite the known desire of the Colombian Government to expand its military facilities, reasonable doubt exists as to its ability to absorb more rapidly greater quantities or more complicated types of military equipment. The degree of utilization of equipment furnished to date under the MDAP, particularly Army equipment, is not entirely satisfactory. Despite the fact that equipment for an antiaircraft automatic weapons battalion has long been furnished, the Colombian Army has not been able to organize this battalion on a satisfactory basis. The general level of education of the Army, particularly given the relatively short period of service of the recruits, the failure of the Armed Forces to provide an attractive career for enlisted men, especially those who receive technical training, psychological reasons inherent in the Colombian mentality, and the fact that the trained officer category of the Army has been utilized in civilian administrative positions by the Government of the Armed Forces have all contributed to this situation. Except for acquisition of two destroyers and limited numbers of small amphibious craft, Colombia, at present, cannot readily absorb large additional increases in U.S. military grant aid assistance.

[Page 814]

Budgetary Burden Represented by Military Expenditures

During the last three years, expenditures on its armed forces by Colombia have increased dramatically. The following table gives in millions of pesos* military and total appropriations from 1952 through 1955:

Year Military Appropriations (Armed Forces National Police) Total Appropriations
1952 185.2 750.7
1953 255.4 943.5
1954 (thru Sept.) 307.4 1,129.7
1955 (initial budget) 243.0 939.2

To the 1954 military appropriations should be added 6,000,000 pesos for the Colombian Intelligence Service and a high percentage of the 17,400,000 appropriated for the Presidential Office. The 1955 figures are taken from the initial budget. Based on previous experience, supplementary budgets will increase these figures by anything up to 50 percent during the course of the year. The 1955 military appropriations cited do not include initial appropriations of 8,000,000 pesos for the Colombian Intelligence Service and 17,400,000 peson for the Presidential Office. In addition to the figures cited, other military costs are scattered throughout other budget categories, particularly under Public Works, Colonization, etc.

Effects of Military Expenditures on Economic and Social Planning

The ever increasing military expenditures enumerated above raise a question concerning the ability of the Colombian economy to support the ambitious military programs of the present Government and at the same time carry out the policies of education, improvement in the standard of living, industrialization, diversification of the economy and other programs which support U.S. political, economic and social policy objectives in Colombia. The Colombian Government is a military government. There is no effective civilian counterbalance within it to the aspirations and desires of the military. Recent Colombian newspaper comment has pointed out the discrepancies between the economic and social needs of Colombia and the military burden she is required to support. An editorial in the November 30 El Tiempo commenting on the need for domestic Colombian efforts to improve her own lot following the Rio Conference stated “If we dream a senseless and vain dream of being a militaristic country with great armaments which are equally great anachronisms in this atomic era; if we play [Page 815] with great plans … and ignore the humble, hard and tremendous necessity of the Colombian people … then we are headed straight for a catastrophe.”

Political Criticism of U.S. Military Assistance

The current U.S. policy of emphasizing the role of U.S. private investment in economic assistance to Latin America contrasts in the eyes of some segments of the Colombian population with our military assistance which of necessity is on a Government to Government basis. In Colombia the Liberal Party in particular has been the spokesman for that group which in its partisan press gives a distorted picture of U.S. policies towards Latin America. Dr. Eduardo Santos, ex-President of Colombia and owner of the influential Bogotá El Tiempo, emphasized this view in a speech he delivered during a conference on “Responsible Liberty” at Columbia University in October 1954. In his speech in New York, Dr. Santos said “In this era of the atomic bomb with these new and fabulously expensive arms, these systems based on thousands of millions, what are our poor countries going to do ruining themselves with armaments which would represent absolutely nothing in an international conflict? Then we are creating armaments insignificant in international life but crushing to the internal life of each country. Each country is being occupied by its own army.”

Frequent reflections of this same opinion have appeared in the Liberal press. The Rio Conference and the consequent enumeration of domestic economic goals and of economic assistance desired from the U.S. have increased the number of these references.

The Liberal criticism of U.S. military assistance policies should not be taken entirely at its face value. To the Liberals, criticizing U.S. military assistance also represents a method of attacking the Government of the Armed Forces and of emphasizing the burden of military expenditures in Colombia at the cost of needed economic and social improvements. Nevertheless, these views are those of what is probably the majority party in Colombia and express in the only way possible under present censorship conditions the civilian reaction against the spendthrift military policies of the Government of the Armed Forces.


In considering further increases of military assistance to Colombia, therefore, both military and political considerations should be taken into account.

Militarily, the Embassy questions whether Colombia can effectively expand its military machine at a more rapid pace than is envisioned under the existing MDA program for Colombia.
It might be well to remind Colombia of the desirability of observing a greater degree of arms and personnel training standardization in the interests of continental defense than she has recently shown.
Economically, the Colombian economy is approaching the point where the military establishment can only be supported at the cost of needed social and economic advances.
Politically, there exists a danger of further alienating the Liberal Party by supplying large additional amounts of military equipment, and thus “abetting” Colombian militarism.

In view of the proposed visit of Secretary of Defense Wilson to Colombia in January 1955 (Department’s Telegram No. 63 [62] of September 28, 19541 and Embassy’s Telegram No. 86 of October 4, 19542.) it is suggested that the problems involved in increased military assistance to Colombia enumerated above be reviewed by the Department, and should the Department perceive no objection, be brought to the attention of Secretary Wilson prior to his departure for Colombia.

Willard F. Barber
  1. One (1) peso equals U.S. $0.40. [Footnote in the source text.]
  2. Not printed (033.1121/9–2554).
  3. Not printed (033.1121/10–454)