In the flag-draped little oil town of El Centro one night last week, a band imported from Bogotá played The Horrible Night Has Ended,* Colombia's national anthem. Then, the Colombian Minister of Development and the president of International Petroleum Co., Ltd. (a Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey affiliate) signed the papers spread out in front of them. After that came handshakes, applause, toasts, speeches. With good feeling all around, International had handed its 2,000-square-mile De Mares oil concession back to Colombia.

In 1944, Colombia's supreme court ruled that International's 30-year contract would expire on Aug. 25, 1951. Instead of...

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