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Ambassador William Fletcher Warren Oral History Interviews, Vol II

Oral History Interview with
Ambassador William Fletcher Warren

Ambassador to Nicaragua, 1945-47; Ambassador to Paraguay, 1947-50; Director, Office of South American Affairs, Department of State, 1950; Ambassador to Venezuela,

Commerce, Texas
Volume II
September 24, 1973 | October 15,1973 | October 22,1973
by Byron A. Parham

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed | Additional Warren Oral History Transcripts]

This is a transcription of an interview for the Oral History Program at East Texas State University, Commerce, Texas. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

Scholars and researchers may utilize short excerpts from this transcription without obtaining permission if proper credit is given to the interviewee, the interviewer, and the University. For extensive use of this material, permission must be obtained from the University.

This material may not be reproduced by any party except East Texas State University . However, to further the goal of thorough research, copies of unrestricted interviews may be obtained at cost by contacting the Oral History Office, East Texas State University , Commerce , Texas 75428 .

Opened February, 1974
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed
| Additional Warren Oral History Transcripts]


Oral History Interview with
Ambassador William Fletcher Warren

Commerce, Texas
September 24, 1973
by Byron A. Parham


PARHAM: This interview made on September 24, 1973, is with Ambassador Fletcher Warren. It will become a part of the East Texas State University Oral History Project. The interviewer is Dr. Byron A. Parham.

Ambassador Warren, if we could, today I would like to pick up your Foreign Service career. The next item I see on your biography is listed as being appointed to the post of consul at Barranquilla, Colombia, between 1929 and 1931. Could you give us some of your recollections from that assignment?

WARREN: In some ways, this was one of the most important assignments I had because it was my first assignment as an officer in charge of a post. It was my first independent post. Mrs. Warren and I went down full of enthusiasm and impressed with the fact that I was going to represent Uncle Sam in this north Colombian, Caribbean port of Barranquilla. It proved to be a


WARREN: very interesting post. I went there with some hesitation because all of my friends had gotten assignments in better posts. Barranquilla was tropical and supposed to have been an
uninteresting Caribbean port. It was anything but that.

I liked it because we soon came to like the people of Barranquilla. The work in the office was interesting and more than I could do. The office was run-down, and I was to have the chance to try to build it up. I was to see just what it meant to carry all the responsibility for a Foreign Service post, a consulate. It was hot. It was on the north coast. It was difficult. For instance, there was no place in town where I could get lunch except at a dirty, little flyspecked restaurant run by Peter Bean. That was his shortened name. He was a Greek who had been in the United States, later caught by World War I on a visit to Greece, and had never been able to get back to the U.S. Barranquilla was as close as he could get. He had a little restaurant. He did the best he could for me and Herbert W. Carlson, the vice consul, at lunch each day. To show you the state of things, at that time waffles were unknown to the Barranquilleros, and Pete used to cook up a batch of waffles and put them in his window and leave them there until he sold them. But he did


the best he could and we came to like him. We were sorry that we couldn't get him a visa to come to the United States. He would have made a good citizen.

The work of the office was the normal work: passports, visas, protection cases, commercial work, and marine work with the American vessels and crews. When I got there, I was the only American on the staff. The rest of the staff consisted of two Colombians and a Jamaican whom we called Sully--his name was Sullivan--who was the janitor, messenger, and handyman of all kinds. He was black as the ace of spades and as loyal as they come. I soon got an English girl for stenographer, and after that we were on the move.

[As consul at Barranquilla], I had the distinct advantage of serving under one of the outstanding career officers in the Foreign Service. His name was Jefferson Caffrey, a native of Louisiana. He spent more time as an ambassador than any man in the history of the United States. He is retired, as I remember now. I may be in error in saying he retired from Rome. After he married--he married when he was an old man--he and his wife chose Rome in which to live. Only recently they returned to Lafayette, Louisiana, Caffrey's hometown. She died and he is now living in the Ramada Inn in Lafayette.


It was an inspiration to work for him and to have the advantage of having really and truly an expert to check on me from time to time. He was in Bogota, of course, and I was in Barranquilla.

The first airline in South America was Scadta which later came to be known as Avianca. It was German-operated with German pilots and German planes, and they furnished expert airmail service between Bogota and Barranquilla. So I was in close touch with our legation in Bogata. I got to know Caffrey, and I have kept in touch with him leisurely, all through the years until the present time.

There I also came to know one of those Americans who go out to Latin American countries and spend their lives there developing a business and making sufficient [money] to retire on in the United States when they are old. His name was Hubert W. Baker. He and his wife--I think she was an American woman from North Carolina--had an American home. It was known as the American home in Barranquilla. They stayed there until his death. Then Mrs. Baker stayed on about ten years or so. She retired and moved to Palo Alto, California, and then to Tombstone, Arizona. He was a constant help to me and showed me how an American conducts himself so as


to live happily and interestingly with a foreign people. He had been in the ministry, I believe, before he left and went into business. That was H. W. Baker. His store was known as "Alambre de Or o," meaning "Golden Wire. " He imported golden wire from the States or Europe and made rings and earrings and things like that while he developed a store in addition. That's the principal way we Americans have advanced .in Latin America. These men and women have carried the ball for the rest of the United States in what they did there. In this we were following, somewhat, after the Germans. The only thing was that if Baker had been a German, he would have married a local girl and would have become a local citizen and his children would have been half-German and half-Colombian. They would have gone to Germany for an education, and they would have come back and fitted into the picture. That's the way the Germans worked. Ours, I think, was a little more sophisticated, but probably not quite as effective.

It was in Barranquilla also that I met Samuel W. Hollopeter, from Leo, Indiana. A man that was almost a cross section of the United States, he was so American. He spent his whole life in this port. He went down there for the Continental National Bank of Chicago. If not, it can be identified as the Dawes Bank.


Early, that was in 1929 before I got there, the bank had made a big loan to the city of Barranquilla, Colombia, for the improvements in streets, waterways, water service, and all the things that needed to be done. They sent Sam Hollopeter from Indiana--Purdue University--to ride herd on the money. He did such a good job that there was never one breath of scandal in the expenditure of that money. It was paid back, and then the bank made another loan.

Hollopeter never learned to speak Spanish. I remember going to the Rotary Club one day when in fun, they presented him with a paper brochure entitled "How to Learn Spanish in Seventeen Years." It didn't bother Sam a bit. You know that Latin America has the reputation for a lot of "under the counter" activity. Some of the Latins I knew thought that Sam was getting a rake-off. They thought they couldn't catch him at it because he was smarter than they were. They were never more wrong. He never got one penny except the salary that the company paid him. But, to the last, they considered that Sam was just smarter than they. They couldn't see how a man could handle so much money and never have any of it stick to his fingers. He is another American that I was then, and I am to this day, very proud to call a friend. He is now retired and


living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

I have said that this was my first independent post. I had wondered, naturally, if I could do the job. Well, something happened here to give me confidence in the way I was conducting myself and the way I was conducting my office. We had quite a large Chinese colony in Barranquilla. They had no consul. They came to me and asked me to be the Chinese consul for them. I was as helpful to them as I could be, as I knew how to be, without having [the] approval of Washington or anything. I helped them any way I could; and when I got ready to leave, they gave me a great big Chinese dinner which I appreciated very much indeed. That was the first thing that