244. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Carter/President Lopez Bilateral



    • President Alfonso Lopez Michelsen
    • Ambassador Virgilio Barco
    • Mr. Felipe Lopez, President’s son and private secretary
  • U.S.

    • The President
    • The Vice President
    • The Secretary of State
    • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • Assistant Secretary Todman
    • Chargé Robert W. Drexler
    • Mr. Robert Pastor, NSC

President Carter expressed his wife’s and his own appreciation for the hospitality extended to Mrs. Carter during her recent visit to Colombia, which the President said she had enjoyed immensely.2 President Lopez said that Mrs. Carter’s visit had been a pleasure and that she had left a very popular impression. President Carter recalled that he had been in Colombia in 1973 and that the municipal elections which he had observed at that time were a demonstration of democracy and a test for the major political parties. President Lopez commented that the Government had won those elections and that in the world in general it was becoming increasingly rare for incumbent Governments to come out ahead in electoral contests. In this connection, Lopez observed that the odds seemed to be against Giscard’s winning again in France. President Carter said he could not disagree with that assessment but that he hoped things would change in Giscard’s favor.

President Carter expressed his appreciation for President Lopez’ presence in Washington for the treaty-signing ceremonies. He observed that Colombia would preserve its special rights with respect to Canal passage in the new treaty. Lopez acknowledged this and remarked that previous Colombian administrations had sought to preserve these rights through arrangements with the USG, whereas his administration had moved instead to have these rights recognized by Panama itself through a kind of gentlemen’s agreement. He thought this approach had been helpful both to Panama and the United States. President [Page 715] Carter stressed that the United States was determined to pursue the Canal treaty negotiations to a successful conclusion, and he observed that Panama has done well under the new treaty. President Lopez said that Colombia would do everything in its power to make this last stage of the treaty process successful. President Carter commented that the presence of Lopez and the other Latin American leaders in Washington for the treaty signing would have a great impact on the U.S. Senate. President Lopez informed President Carter that he had phoned the King of Spain and asked him to “celebrate” the treaty signing and that Ambassador Barco also contacted President Marcos of the Philippines for the same purpose, thus adding two more Spanish-speaking countries to those who were in favor of the new treaty.

Turning to the subject of narcotics control, President Carter expressed appreciation for the cooperation that the Colombian President had extended to Dr. Peter Bourne, the President’s special adviser on drug abuse. The President expressed the hope that the Bourne visit3 was compatible also with GOC desires. President Lopez emphasized that he was very concerned about the narcotics problem, which he said was growing worse every day. President Carter stressed that his administration had an intense interest in this problem, and that he was personally eager to cooperate in any way he could. He noted that in Colombia there was trafficking in marijuana and cocaine and that there was a possibility that heroin was also being produced. President Lopez said he had been shown photos of poppy fields, which apparently had been established by traffickers from Mexico. In answer to a question from President Carter, Lopez acknowledged that he had authority to destroy poppy fields but he pointed out that his police, while continuing their search, had not been able to locate the fields as yet.

President Lopez stated that narcotics trafficking was corrupting everything in his country: the police, the judiciary, the press and even local assemblies. He feared that the traffickers were also putting money into politics for the purpose of electing their own candidates for public office.

President Carter noted that much of the money in the trafficking comes from the U.S. He asked what the U.S. and Colombia could do to improve their efforts against this menace. President Lopez expressed appreciation for the assistance he had received from the USG and observed that the two governments have now started working together. President Carter cited the considerable success that we have had [Page 716] through cooperative programs in Mexico, Burma and Thailand.4 Citing Mexico as a particularly good example, the President commented that law enforcement authorities there have shown a strong commitment to control efforts and that this was essential for success.

He invited President Lopez to contact him directly with regard to our bilateral efforts anytime Lopez felt this necessary.

President Lopez said that the three helicopters the USG provided5 had now arrived in Colombia but that this was not enough, particularly in view of the long coasts and other remote areas of Colombia that had to be patrolled.

In answer to a question by President Carter whether Colombia had cooperative programs with its neighbors similar to what the U.S. has with Mexico, Lopez said “yes.” He also observed that Colombia’s border areas, unlike those between Mexico and the U.S., were wild and unpopulated and therefore very difficult to police. President Carter reiterated that the USG was eager to help and that President Lopez should let him know directly whenever he needed a special team or other assistance. President Lopez expressed his gratitude that within forty-eight hours after discovery of the poppy fields, the U.S. had experts in the fields.

Turning to the subject of human rights, President Carter expressed appreciation for Colombia’s help and advice with respect to internationalizing our efforts. President Lopez commented that the USG’s human rights policy was starting to bear fruit and he cited the fact that many military regimes in Latin America are now fixing dates for elections. President Carter noted that he would be meeting with leaders of some of these countries this week, and he commented that the knowledge that other countries are observing them has in fact produced pressure for improvements in their handling of human rights.

President Carter noted that Colombia was a party to the Tlatelolco Treaty, and asked whether President Lopez could also try to influence those countries which had not yet put Tlatelolco into effect. Lopez noted that the Soviets had been in touch with him for a similar purpose.

President later then asked why the Colombians had not ratified the NPT since it entailed many of the same obligations as Tlatelolco. President Lopez replied, speaking frankly, that the NPT amounted to a freeze in favor of the superpowers and that it meant non-proliferation only for the newcomers. President Carter commented that the USG [Page 717] under his administration is now trying to show greater restraint by negotiating lower limits on nuclear weapons with the Soviet Union. He also referred to current efforts being made to safeguard the fuel cycle and commented that non-nuclear weapon states will find adherence to the NPT helpful in connection with obtaining access to nuclear fuel for peaceful applications.

President Carter asked about the status of the case of Richard Starr, the kidnapped Peace Corps volunteer. President Lopez said a letter had recently been received from him6 and Mr. Drexler explained that it was a message to his mother, asking her to negotiate his release and which also said that he was alive and well and in the hands of the FARC. President Lopez observed that the FARC had recently released a doctor they had been holding captive, and that apparently no ransom had been paid. He thought that Starr’s chances for being released were good. Dr. Brzezinski asked whether the kidnappers had made any political demands, and President Lopez said they had not.7

Asking whether President Lopez had any points he would like to raise, President Carter commented that our bilateral relations and friendship were sound and that we had no important differences. President Lopez said that Colombia was concerned about the trend toward protectionism and expressed worry over the possibility that Colombian exports to the U.S. of textiles, flowers, shoes, and leather handbags might be restricted. President Carter said his administration’s policy was not to erect trade barriers and that in spite of our trade deficit this year we were trying to work out extensions of the textile and sugar agreements, for example. He asked Mr. Pastor to look into the export areas President Lopez had cited and to inform the President whether there was anything he could personally do about them. He asked about the current Colombian trade balance, and President Lopez said it was very favorable this year, because of coffee, but said this was feeding inflation in Colombia.

[Page 718]

President Lopez raised the issue of the Quita Sueño Treaty8 and said that the U.S. Congress has ignored it for five years. He said the Treaty could be a new bridge of friendship between our two countries but was instead becoming a thorn in our relationship. He recalled that he had spoken to Senator Sparkman about the Treaty during his 1975 State Visit to Washington, and that Sparkman sounded favorably inclined. President Carter said he would himself speak with the Senator to see how matters stood.9 He cited the problem of Nicaragua and observed that the Senate does not want to get caught between the two parties in a territorial dispute. President Lopez said that Nicaragua was not a party to the Quita Sueño Treaty and that there was no reason for the U.S. to become an advocate of Nicaragua, as far as the territorial dispute with Colombia was concerned. He pointed out that in any case Colombia had taken possession of the islands and was already taking care of their lighthouses. What remained was a legal question of title to the islands. This was important to Colombia because of its bearing on the question of the GOC’s territorial waters.

Secretary Vance said that the State Department had pressed the Senate on this issue, but that they were unresponsive. President Carter said his administration would continue pressing the Senate for ratification, although the immediate task was, of course, to get Senate ratification of the new Panama Canal Treaty. When that was out of the way, he promised to look into the Quita Sueño Treaty problem personally.

In concluding, President Lopez again offered to do anything possible with regard to the Panama Canal Treaties, explaining that he was a personal friend of Torrijos. President Carter expressed his appreciation and said that Colombia had already been most helpful.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country Files, Box 9, Colombia, 9/77-12/79. Confidential. The meeting was held at the White House. No drafting information appears on the memorandum; presumably drafted by Pastor.
  2. See Document 240.
  3. See Documents 242 and 243.
  4. On cooperative programs in Mexico, Burma and Thailand, see related documents in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXV, Global Issues; United Nations Issues, which is scheduled for publication.
  5. See Document 242, footnote 3.
  6. The text of Starr’s letter is in telegram 8123 from Bogota, August 30. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770313-1182)
  7. In a September 23 memorandum to Carter, Christopher reported that a note the Embassy had received from the FARC “demands that the Colombian Government release a Marxist prisoner who has been in custody for some time.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 19, Evening Reports [State], 9/77) In telegram 8497 from Bogota, September 12, the Embassy reported that Drexler discussed the Starr case with Lopez Michelsen following the bilateral meeting. Drexler “explained that while USG could not negotiate with kidnappers, Starr’s mother was prepared to deal with them in order to secure her son’s safe release” and suggested that “she might therefore consider enlisting the aid of a local intermediary.” Based on their conversation, Drexler concluded that “Lopez is not likely to go beyond this type of tacit acquiescence in the role of an intermediary.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770329-1245)
  8. The Treaty Concerning the Status of Quita Sueno, Roncador, and Serrana, in which the United States agreed to renounce all claims to sovereignty over the three uninhabited outcroppings in the Caribbean, was signed at Bogota on September 8, 1972. Nixon transmitted it to the Senate on January 9, 1973.
  9. No record of a conversation with Sparkman regarding the Quita Sueno treaty was found.