246. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Colombia

    • President-elect Turbay
    • Rodrigo Botero Montoya
    • Fernando Gaviria
  • United States

    • Secretary Blumenthal
    • Ambassador Asencio
    • Assistant Secretary of State Vaky
    • Executive Assistant Fisher
    • Anthony Hervas (translator)

Secretary BLUMENTHAL initiated the conversation by extending to President-elect TURBAY the best wishes of President CARTER. He cited the close relations between our two governments and our common interest in human rights, economic development and trade promotion for the developing countries. President CARTER’s letter was handed to TURBAY.2 After reading it slowly and deliberately, the President-elect expressed his gratitude to President CARTER for his kind letter, noting that he found in it positive offers of cooperation. The scope for mutual work, he noted, is ample.

MR. TURBAY cited coffee as a case in point. He recalled Secretary BLUMENTHAL’S role in the coffee negotiations of 1962.3 Today, he said, there are several problems with coffee. He went on to say that coffee production has a prominent impact on the social structure of Colombia, Brazil and other producing nations. In Colombia there are few large coffee land holdings; thus coffee affects the politics of the country and poor coffee markets can stimulate movements of discontent.

TURBAY went on to say that the GOC “knows” that the US at this moment is in good shape to lend a hand on coffee and urged that the USG help the upcoming London Conference in arriving at “some well defined criteria.” Coffee, he said, is the problem of 15 Latin countries and not just of Colombia alone. He reminded the Secretary that coffee [Page 722] was their principal source of revenue and concluded his statement by saying that we need a new interpretation of “good neighbors.” Presently, he jokingly suggested, the Latins are the “vecinos” and the North Americans the “buenos.” There is a need for strengthened collaboration.

Secretary BLUMENTHAL responded that, as the President-elect noted, he is no novice on coffee. The sad aspect of the problem, he said, is that the very same words used by TURBAY today could have been spoken 16 years ago when the Secretary was then negotiating an agreement with GOMEZ JARAMILLO and CARLOS SANTAMARIA. The difference is that today the price of coffee is $1.20 whereas then it was 35 cents.

The Secretary pointed out that the situation is not yet bad, that at present prices a profit could still be made on coffee sales. But the situation might worsen in the next few months. The USG, he said, is sympathetic to help; the Secretary’s colleagues will welcome the opportunity to talk to GOC authorities in further preparation for the London Conference. But there exists a practical problem in the short run: with prices so high, it will be difficult to convince an inflation-conscious Congress to endorse a price support agreement, especially with the recent experience of $4 coffee so fresh in mind. The USG will need time to convince the Congress. A ratification of an agreement, which would be required before discussing the matter of quotas, was practically impossible in this current session of Congress. But the USG will work with GOC and other producers in London in studying and analyzing the situation. Indeed, the Secretary said, GOC can count on the USG to work with them in London to “achieve a satisfactory solution and a better understanding.”

President-elect TURBAY replied that one cannot today think in terms of the performance of prices 16 years ago. In 1962 dollars, one would be earning much more today. In the meantime, the terms of trade for Colombia have not improved greatly. To be sure, he said, $4 a pound is not a sustainable price for consumers. The producing countries want a price that will not damage other economies; they do not want to create an unreasonable situation in the USA.

Secretary BLUMENTHAL said that there were two problems at hand. The first is the application of an agreement. This requires Congressional approval. The Congress cannot be expected to ratify an agreement this year. The second is the price problem. The producing countries feel that a trigger price of 77 cents is too low. Today’s price is $1.20. The question is: should we wait for prices to decline further still or is today’s price the appropriate trigger level? This is a negotiation problem.

The Secretary repeated that, for the moment, it will be difficult to achieve a solution in a world which remembers $4 coffee. We know [Page 723] that prices will decline in the months to come. We will have to see lower prices before we can convince the Congress to act.

President-elect TURBAY agreed that the US consumer’s viewpoint “is just.” The question then is: how can help be provided in the meantime? The USG, he said, could increase its efforts to educate the Congress about the nature of the problem. He asked that the Secretary bear in mind that what is needed is preventive, not curative medicine. The Secretary responded that unfortunately it is difficult to apply a preventive remedy once the situation has gone bad.

Secretary BLUMENTHAL recalled his participation in the Bonn Summit.4 It was, he said, a good and successful meeting. On the subject of North/South relations, he noted that there was unanimous agreement that more must be done to help the LDC’s in the area of commodity agreements, that progress should be made on specific agreements such as that on coffee. The coffee agreement, he said, will have to be activated at some point. The USG can be counted on for the cooperative spirit expressed by President CARTER as recently as three weeks ago at Bonn.

President-elect TURBAY responded that it pleases him greatly to hear about the goodwill of the USG. GOC, he said, would prefer to have assistance before “the fire erupts”; they do not like to see the USG come in as “firefighters.”

The Secretary asked if he could raise a different subject and that was the issue of narcotics. He expressed the gratitude of President CARTER for the efforts that had been made to stop drug trafficking and noted that the President had followed MR. TURBAY’S statements of intent with great interest. The USG, he said, is encouraged by the progress that is being made.

The President-elect said that his government is willing to cooperate “to the maximum”. He added that he would reiterate in his inaugural speech his intention to intensify GOC policies to identify all criminal elements and put an end to trafficking in all areas, coffee as well as narcotics. He said that he understood the need for joint efforts with the United States for, as he understood it, the financing of cocaine and marijuana production is coming not from within Colombia, but from abroad, possibly from the US.

TURBAY went on to say that it was necessary to deal with the drug problem by applying an “inflexible” policy much as the Russians [Page 724] had been inflexible in the U-2 incident. Indeed, if GOC were to apply the same policy to planes flying over Guajira, an effective corrective action would be formed. Planes flying over this zone could be discouraged if the GOC could shoot them down using anti-aircraft artillery; this would definitely cut off the drug flow. The USG and GOC, he said, can make for great cooperation in this area. At present, US laws are very benign for drug traffickers—the authorities give them a short sentence and then let them go. Above all, we should be inflexible in the application of anti-drug sanctions. He said that speaking frankly, the US must change its legislation in the same manner as the GOC.

Secretary BLUMENTHAL welcomed the strength of MR. TURBAY’S statement, saying that the USG wishes to cooperate to strengthen deterrents to trafficking. He added that a decision to shoot down planes flying over Colombia territory was a matter of GOC sovereignty, but that they should make sure that they do not shoot down the wrong planes.

Ambassador ASENCIO intervened to say that such a decision would have to be applied very carefully.

President-elect TURBAY replied that he could not understand how a plane could get lost at 7:00 at night. He was curious how the USG dealt with planes that violated US airspace, specifically how they distinguish innocent trespassers from others. Obviously, if a pilot is not authorized, does not get in touch with the control tower, and is not in an emergency situation, then he is suspect.

The Secretary said that if TURBAY wanted to act this strongly, then he must make it clear to the international community that planes flying over Guajiro must identify themselves or they will be shot at. He repeated that this policy would have to be applied with great caution. Assistant Secretary VAKY suggested that if the President-elect wished to proceed along these lines, it might be useful to jointly study the technical aspects of such a program, its procedures, etc.

The President-elect stated that he was convinced that he needed to act energetically, that we need a “drastic, energetic” policy to deal with trafficking. He said that we have to prevent all means available to traffickers, including technical and financial supports. He said that he knew of certain farms where the planes fly over and drop money in payment for drugs. It is difficult for the farmers to fight against this influence. The traffickers must feel the terror which the situation presents us. A half-hearted solution, he said, would be bad.

TURBAY continued to say that his impression was that we have failed in our fight against narcotics traffickers. It is scandalous that some planes have landed to free prisoners and take campesinos to hospitals. Thus, instead of helicopters and loans, perhaps the USG could give the GOC anti-aircraft artillery. In this manner the Colombian [Page 725] people could not be accused of using helicopters to themselves traffic in drugs.

Secretary BLUMENTHAL stated that he was grateful for TURBAY’S determination and suggested that we consider VAKY’S idea for in-depth study of the President-elect’s proposal. He added that he knew of the joint effort being made by our customs authorities, that Commissioner CHASEN had reported the good and fruitful visits of the GOC’s Director of Customs to the US. This is an area where we can work together.

MR. TURBAY asked if we were satisfied with the manner in which the Director of Customs was working with us. He asked if we were happy with the new unit in the Attorney General’s office.

Ambassador Asencio replied that our authorities were working well together and added that we had a strong impression of DR. FRANCO, the customs director.

President-elect TURBAY said that GOC would appreciate USG assistance in studying the technical means to increase surveillance of traffickers. It is necessary, he said, to declare war on drugs, especially because of their effect on the security of the State. GOC is very concerned about their effect on Colombian international prestige and on Colombian youth. He repeated his concern for the “repugnant” manner in which narcotics affects the security of Colombia.

Ambassador ASENCIO interjected to say that he had been having talks with the Defense Ministry and told the President-elect that if he so desired, Asencio would pursue these talks regarding possible special programs.

President-elect TURBAY agreed that the Ambassador should continue the discussions, noting that the US is better equipped to police the area and the individuals involved in trafficking. He recalled that when he was Ambassador to the US, he had spoken to Drug Enforcement Officials and there was a great increase in enforcement budgets. Nevertheless, they were not able to reduce the inflow of drugs by more than 5%. He restated his point that the GOC cannot solve the trafficking alone; we must work together.

President-elect TURBAY authorized ASENCIO to speak with the Colombian Ministry of War and all other government agencies. The Ambassador suggested that the new task force within the Attorney General’s office might need greater help. TURBAY replied that if ASENCIO needed help, the Ambassador should come to him because he is interested in eradicating the drug problem.

The President-elect shifted the discussion to a second problem: capital flight from Colombia. He wondered aloud about the possibility of a bilateral agreement to stimulate repatriation of Colombian capital. [Page 726] Specifically, he wondered whether USG could place a tax on capital that comes into the US from Colombia.

Ambassador ASENCIO interjected that an investigation was underway on the deposits being made in Florida by narcotics traffickers. He added that he was working with the Ministry of Hacienda to put these reports to use, possibly in Colombian and American court cases.

President-elect TURBAY said that ASENCIO’S idea was a good one but that it was too limited. Not all of the capital flight is going to Florida but to New York and Los Angeles as well; he wants to stop all flight of capital, not just that which is narcotics related.

Secretary BLUMENTHAL responded that the USG is always interested in negotiating a tax treaty. But this is a large and difficult subject. The US, he said, normally does not impose restrictions on foreign deposits. If they are illegal, that was one thing. If not, we did not subject deposits to controls. The Secretary pointed out the difficulty of identifying which deposits were narcotics related and which were not. Deposits could, after all, be laundered through another country. In short, a tax treaty was usually negotiable, but the Secretary had reservations about TURBAY’S idea.

The President-elect acknowledged that it is difficult to identify which deposits were drug related and which were not. He noted that capital flight stemmed from a lack of confidence and concerns about personal security; there were some who needed dollar deposits for a kidnapped son. This, he said, was of the greatest concern and was the reason why his Administration had to improve the situation in Colombia. But if he heard the Secretary properly, his answer appeared to suggest the need for a multilateral treaty to stem capital flight, a treaty with four or five countries, say the US, Switzerland and Costa Rica. Costa Rica, he added as an aside, was attracting the lion’s share of capital flight flows in Latin America.

Secretary BLUMENTHAL said that if the President-elect wanted his Minister of Finance to discuss this matter further with Ambassador ASENCIO, then fine. Or he should feel free to talk directly to the US Treasury. However, the Secretary was not optimistic about the prospect for a multilateral agreement. The USG believes in open capital markets. He suggested that the GOC would find the Swiss government even more ardent defenders of free capital movements. But if MR. TURBAY had specific ideas on the subject, we would be glad to work with him.

Secretary BLUMENTHAL said that he would convey to President CARTER President-elect TURBAY’S kind response to his letter. The USG, he said, would be happy to work closely with the GOC on narcotics and on coffee and other trade problems.

[Page 727]

President-elect TURBAY closed the session by expressing his gratitude for the high level of the US delegation.

Richard W. Fisher
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country Files, Box 9, Colombia, 9/77-12/79. Confidential. Submitted by Fisher. The meeting took place in Turbay’s residence.
  2. Dated August 2. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron, Box 7, Colombia, 1977–1979)
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. IX, Foreign Economic Policy, Document 360.
  4. For the discussion of north-south relations at the Bonn Economic Summit Meeting on July 17, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. III, Foreign Economic Policy, Document 148. Carter’s remarks at the conclusion of the Bonn Summit are in Public Papers: Carter, 1978, Book II, p. 1309–1310.