No. 537.
General Sickles to Mr. Fish.

No. 789.]

Sir: The colonial minister left Madrid last night to embark from, Cadiz, day after to-morrow, for Cuba. The day before his departure he sent me a note, saying he would be glad to see me at the department. Availing myself of his polite invitation, I called on him at 4 in the afternoon of the 28th. His excellency said he had received from President Casteiar a list of the pending embargo cases, and that this matter should have his careful attention immediately on his arrival at Havana. In reply to an inquiry from the minister, I stated concisely the history of the negotiations on this subject. I remarked that up to this time neither the plain provisions of the treaty of 1795, nor the repeated orders of his predecessors, nor even the decree of July 12, 1873, had been respected or obeyed by the authorities in Cuba. And I added that my last hope of a satisfactory adjustment of this very important question rested on the action he might now take on the spot.

Mr. Soler inquired whether I was informed of the very positive instructions he had sent to the captain-general some three weeks ago by order of the council of ministers. I answered that both President Casteiar and Mr. Carvajal had kindly communicated to me the purport of them. Unfortunately, however, such orders had been given before without result, and I was not sanguine of any change for the better uutil his excellency’s arrival should impress upon the various officials concerned a graver sense of responsibility to the home government. Mr. Soler said he was confident the instructions he had lately sent had not been disregarded. I intimated an apprehension, founded on a statement in the decree of the 15th instant, revoking the royal order of 1825, that the “laws of the Indies” might enable the captain-general to [Page 847] exercise the same discretion he had heretofore used in suspending orders emanating from superior authority. The minister said there was no foundation for such a construction of the powers of that officer. It was true the “laws of the Indies” gave ample facilities to the captain-general in certain extraordinary cases, but the royal order of 1825 was altogether exceptional and unexampled in the omnipotent rule it constituted. Nothing like this was permitted in the ancient colonial code so long in force in Spanish America. I expressed my satisfaction on learning that no sufficient warrant remained to justify or excuse such instances of apparent disobedience as had heretofore marked the conduct of successive commanding officers in Cuba. And I observed that in my opinion Spanish dominion in Cuba was more seriously imperiled by the insubordination of prominent officials than from any other particular cause. It was difficult for us to comprehend how the government of an important province, without any rights of its own, could be directed from Madrid while the orders and decrees of the mother country were habitually set aside by agents whose arbitrary will was the only law of the place. The minister said it was precisely to inaugurate a better system of administration that he was about to visit Cuba. It was his purpose and wish to hear all parties and all classes, and to ascertain, if possible, whether some practicable means could be found to reconcile the conflicting elements which had so long disturbed the peace of the island and retarded the reforms the Spanish revolution of 1868 should have long ago extended to the Antilles.

I then asked his excellency whether he had received any communication from the State Department in regard to a note I addressed his colleague, Mr. Carvajal, on the 16th instant, on the subject of the customs-regulations in Cuba, in their relation to the lines and penalties imposed on foreign ships. Mr. Soler y Plá replying in the negative, I stated in general terms the questions at issue, and the series of representations already made in the matter. Intimating my surprise that a translation of my note had not been placed in his hands, as I had been assured would be done before his departure, his excellency gave me permission to send to him the following day a duplicate of my communication; which I have done, after again inviting the attention of Mr. Carvajal to the business.

In reply to a suggestion that you might, perhaps, have occasion to address the Spanish minister in Washington about some pending question in Cuba during his excellency’s presence in the island, Mr. Soler y Pla desired me to say to you that he would be most happy if you would bring to his notice, through that channel, any matter of interest to the United States that might come within his powers.

I asked his excellency if he contemplated visiting the United States before his return. He said that he desired very much to do so, yet this would depend on circumstances he could not now forecast.

After some conversation on the results of emancipation in the United States andtheimportanceofprovidingmeansforthe education of the freed people in Cuba, I alluded to the financial crisis in the island and the means of improving its revenues by a more liberal commercial policy. 1 pointed out that the large exports of flour, grain, and meat, from the peninsula to European markets, proved that Spain was able to compete with the United States and Russia in agricultural production.

It followed, therefore, that the large advantages given to this class of Spanish products in Cuba was a monopoly from which a few traders profited to the prejudice of general interests; that these privileges were especially injurious to the Cuban revenues, burdensome to consumers, [Page 848] and without benefit to the home producers; injurious to the island, because if the discriminating duties were removed or reduced, American flour, entering Cuban ports and paying a moderate duty, would yield a large sum annually to the treasury; burdensome to consumers, because the high discriminating duties excluded competition either in price or quality, and needlessly increased the cost of bread; and without advantage to the Spanish farmer, because he only received the market price in the peninsula, and this was regulated, not by the relatively inconsiderable consumption in Cuba, but by the average demand in Europe. I will not trouble you with a recital of other illustrations and arguments advanced, as the topic is, of course, a familiar one to the Department. Mr. Soler said he would give it attention, and hoped to have an opportunity of resuming the subject with me on his return.

Since the foregoing was written I have learned from the ministry of state that all the papers—including my note of the 16th instant and appendixes—touching the Cuban customs-regulations, were placed in the hands of the colonial minister a few hours before his departure.

My conference with Mr. Soler is mentioned to-day by the reactionary journals, and they point to the circumstance that it took place shortly before he left the capital, as if they did not relish my having, as it were, the last words with his excellency. In truth, these journals, and the influences they represent, earnestly opposed the mission until they found the purpose of the government could not be shaken, when they suddenly changed front and have since endeavored to surround the minister with associations favorable to existing interests and hostile to any change.

I am, &c,