Mr. Culver to Mr. Seward
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your despatch No. 110, of date 2d instant, together with the power therein contained from the President, and also the duplicate copies of several of our conventions with certain South American states.
I am gratified to be advised of the views of my government touching the proposed convention, and honored by the confidence reposed in me by the President.
I have lost no time in seeking an interview with Señor Seijas, the minister of foreign affairs, and opening to him the substance of your despatch, and reading to him in detail the four modifications suggested by you.
To the first three he raises no objection.
To the fourth, that relating to interest, he objected, and wished to take the view of the President, intimating at the same time that I was aware of the President’s objections to such a provision. I left the matter with him to submit to the Executive; also gave him copies of the several conventions, as directed by you in your despatch.
As to the objections concerning the interest I will explain.
After sending off my despatch No. 124, and after submitting amendments to Mr. Seijas’s draught, which amendments were in substance the provisions in our convention with Ecuador, except the interest clause, I had several conferences with General Guzman, then at the head of foreign affairs; we agreed substantially on all the details of the convention except as to the question of interest; as to that he seemed unusually tenacious, urging three grounds in support of his objections:
1. That his government was too hopelessly poor and embarrassed to pay interest, and for that reason we could afford to be generous with them.
2. That the Ecuador convention contained no provision as to interest, for the reason, probably, that she was too poor to pay, and we were too generous to exact it of her.
3. And chiefly that if the convention with the United States stipulated for paying interest, they should be compelled to stipulate for the same in all their conventions with other governments, and that the claims of the subjects of those other governments were so exorbitant that with interest superadded they [Page 429] could never do more than pay the interest, and must forever rest under the burden of the principal; that in their conventions with France and Spain they had not stipulated to pay interest; also that they desired and purposed that this convention with us should serve as a model convention, that they might show others how generously the United States had dealt with them in settling all their claims.
After a very full discussion of the matter in all its bearings, I informed General Guzman that both my government and myself would be happy in aiding Venezuela in any and every possible and honorable way to secure the object desired, to wit, a convention that they could use as a precedent, provided it could be done consistently with the interests of our citizens.
General Guzman or Mr. Seijas then suggested that under the broad provisions, as in the Ecuador convention, for awarding such damages or amounts as would make the party good, the commission would be authorized to pass on the question of interest; and finally they went so far as to intimate that they would be willing to give an explanatory or supplemental note to the effect that such was the understanding and consent of the government, and to put the same in such a shape and form that a subsequent government or administration, as well as the commission, should give it its full force and effect, only not to have it appear as an express provision in the convention.
To that I replied, that in effect it came very near what I desired in the convention; but as their proposition was somewhat complex, I preferred much a plain, simple provision for payment of interest to be embodied in the convention, but to that General Guzman, for the reasons above stated, seemed determinedly opposed.
Thus the matter rested up to the time of receiving your last despatch. I should sooner have advised you of these interviews, but that I was for some two and a half months in daily expectation of hearing from you upon the matter.
General Guzman is now the President, and Mr. Seijas fills his place in the department of foreign affairs. On informing the latter yesterday that interest was allowed by the commission in the case of the Ecuador claims, he at once replied, “that goes in confirmation of the views expressed by General Guzman and myself, that they had power so to award, without an express provision in the convention.” He added that in this case, as in that, the convention would be seen, examined, and referred to by outsiders; while the finding or awards of the commission would be private and only for the parties interested, intimating thereby that this convention could with safety and propriety be left as that was.
He agreed, however, as he was now in possession of your views, to submit the matter to President Guzman and advise me of the result.
But as the ship which brought your last, and which will take this, will probably sail before I shall hear from General Guzman, who is at present sick at his home, I have thought it proper to advise you at the earliest moment of the present state of the case, to the end that if it should become necessary to await further advices from you, I may have them by the return vessel.
I am of opinion they will do almost anything short of making an express provision in the convention for interest. At that I think, but am not positive, they will hesitate. I shall thoroughly sound them, and without any indications of yielding, endeavor, if possible, to bring them to the point.
But I am of the further opinion that we would be morally certain of our interest if left as the Ecuador convention was, and I should, rather than that the convention fail, recommend closing it on those terms. Nevertheless, I am satisfied they will go beyond that, and in some way provide that the question of interest be left with the commission, or agree outside of the convention that six per cent, be allowed.
As their congress cannot be expected to act on the convention before March, we shall perhaps not lose much time in awaiting your reply to this despatch.[Page 430]
Unless, therefore, they shall accept substantially your suggestion, I shall deem it my duty to await your further instruction.
With sentiments of highest respect, I have the honor to be your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.