No. 171 NAI DFA 27/30

Letter from Seán Lester to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(S. 7/14/6)

Geneva, 23 February 1933


The first meeting of the Conciliation Committee of the Council was held this morning under my presidency. We had a preliminary discussion and then saw the Representative of Peru who apologised for not having been able to come to the Council. He protested against some declarations attacking the honour of his country made at the Council by the Representative of Colombia. On behalf of the Committee I made a statement to him outlining our attitude and our hopes of a settlement. I said that one preliminary point must be decided before we could with advantage discuss any programme or solution and that referred to the evacuation of Leticia by Peruvian troops. We were prepared to do everything we could to obtain a settlement but it must be after the receipt of a definite undertaking by the Peruvian Government. The Peruvian Representative professed to be unable to state if Peruvian regular troops were actually in Leticia or if the Peruvian army war material was being used there. He undertook to ascertain for us. With regard to evacuation he said that Peru had already agreed to this under the Brazilian proposal. It will be recalled that this agreement was subject to the disputed territory being retained under Brazilian administration until the subsequent negotiations for the revision of the Treaty had been completed. We agreed to put up a formula to him with regard to the preliminary question of evacuation and his attention was, at the same time, drawn to a resolution passed in the Peruvian Assembly declaring support for the armed campaign for Leticia as well as warlike declarations by the President of Peru. We indicated to him that that sort of thing would render impossible any conciliation. We shall have to await the assurances from Peru with regard to evacuation. I drew the Peruvian's attention to a declaration made by his predecessor Mr. Gonzalez-Prada, at a meeting of the Council on December 10th 1931. (Reference C.-65th sess.P.V.20(1)) in which he laid down certain principles such as:-

  1. No State has the right to effect the military occupation of the territory of another in order to ensure the execution of certain treaties;
  2. No State is entitled to oblige another - having invaded its territory - to enter upon direct negotiations on the bearing and legal value of treaties previously existing between the two States;
  3. The exercise of the right possessed by each State to ensure the protection of the lives and property of its nationals must be limited by respect for the sovereignty of the other State; no State being entitled, in order to provide such protection, to authorise its military forces to penetrate into the territory of the other for the purpose of carrying out police operations.

I said that these were principles with which the Committee and the Peruvian Government were in complete agreement, and we only hoped the Peruvian Government would now apply them in its own case.

Subsequently we saw the Columbian Representative. I began by asking him to be more restrained in his language at the Council when he had made some violent and perhaps unnecessary attacks upon Peru; that this sort of thing was likely to lead to increased bitterness. Mr. Santos undertook to be more careful in the future, but said that a similar kind of attack was made upon his people; for example, it was said that most of the expedition consisted of foreign mercenaries. Out of 1000 men there were only 30 foreigners. There was, besides, a tradition in South America for the employment of foreigners in their armies, and he proceeded to cite half a dozen cases in which Irish military leaders had been very prominent in various countries. In his own capital there was a 'Place' named after a famous Irish General and the same could be said actually of Lima, capital of Peru. It was amusing to see the way in which he dealt with my question.

The main point we put up to the Columbian Representative was whether or not his Government would accept a scheme, something as follows:-

  1. that the declarations of the Council with regard to the unquestioned sovereignty of Leticia would remain.
  2. that a commission of the League would be sent to the district to take over the territory from the Peruvians.
  3. That the Columbian would then occupy the territory and remain in occupation with its garrison. At the same time these troops would be under the control of the League Commission which would hold the territory, as it were, as a trustee.

First and last the sovereignty of Colombia would continue to be recognised and the object of this proposal was simply to enable the Peruvians to save their face by the direct intervention of the League. We were anxious not merely to lay down the law on the question but to secure a settlement which would enable permanent good relations to be developed between the two countries. After some discussion Mr. Santos said that he believed his Government would accept this but he voiced the personal opinion that it would not be acceptable to Peru. The matter will not be mentioned to the Peruvian until we know that the Columbian Government has accepted. For the time being the suggestion is to be kept as confidentially as possible.

In the course of the discussion with the Peruvian reference was made to the British proposal that the Brazilian troops should remain in occupation until the completion of the negotiations, a proposal which had been completely unacceptable to Colombia and had indeed been completely rejected by the United States. I think, myself, it was an extremely ill-advised suggestion and should not have been made by a permanent member of the Council when a Council Committee was dealing with the matter. The result had been to harden the attitude of the Peruvian Government who felt they had strong support in that quarter. I had been informed by Mr. Cremins of the arrival of a dispatch from London conveying this information a couple of weeks ago, but in view of the source of my information I did not feel it was possible to mention it at the Committee.

[signed] Seán Lester

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