No. 551.
Mr. Fish to Mr. Cushing.

No. 3.]

Sir: The attention of this Government has been frequently called by citizens of the United States to the wrong done them in the embargo of their property by the colonial authorities of Cuba for alleged disloyalty, in virtue of a decree of April 20, 1869. Their estates have been seized by arbitrary executive act, without judicial hearing or judgment, and in manifest violation of the provisions of the treaty of 1795. In many instances the seizure has been made with such improvidence and want of consideration, that the property of one person has been seized for the alleged offense of another. Promises were made, from time to time, to release some of these estates, which promises were evaded or deferred for insufficient reasons. In some cases, after promise had been given to disembargo the property, it was leased to strangers for a series of years, so as to render the order of disembargo ineffectual, and to continue to deprive the owner of the possession and use of his property.

Of course, no relief in the premises could be obtained by the action of the mixed commission sitting at Washington, and this Department continually insisted that the property itself should be restored to the owners by the same executive authority which made the seizure, leaving only the question of resulting damages to the consideration of the commission.

You are referred to the frequent and earnest instructions to your predecessor with regard to these cases. After various repeated and urgent remonstrances, the late government of Spain, on the 12th of July, 1873, on the recommendation of the minister of the colonies, setting forth the illegality of these acts of sequestration, their injustice to the parties interested, and their injuriousness even to the public interests, all embargoes [Page 864] put upon the property of alleged disloyal persons in Cuba were declared removed from the date when the decree should reach the capital; it was ordered that all property disembargoed should be forthwith delivered up to its owners or their legal representatives; and a commision was appointed to hear and decide summarily upon all such applications as might be made by the interested parties.

Notwithstanding the imperative character of this decree, no regard was paid to it in Cuba for a length of time; it was not officially published there, and the authorities at Havana even proceeded to advertise for sale embargoed property belonging to citizens of the United States. These instances led to further remonstrances on the part of the United States.

At length, contemporaneously with the official visit of SeƱor Soler y Pla, minister of ultramar, to Cuba, partial execution was given to the decree of July 12, 1873, in so far as it applied to several of the parties named in a list communicated to the Spanish government by this Department.

It is now learned that in the case of some of the estates covered by that decree, and ordered by the commission to be delivered to the owners, delivery is obstructed on the allegation that the estates are subject to leases to third parties for a series of years, by which the owners are not only deprived of the actual possession of their property and of the income which it would yield in their hands, but the property itself is undergoing waste and depreciation.

The leases which are thus interposed as a justification for continuing to disregard the decree of the home government and the assurances given to this Government, and in continued violation of the rights of our citizens, are understood to be leases given by some pretended authority subsequent to the act of embargo.

In some cases, (that of Ramon Fernandez Criado y Gomez, for instance,) it appears that the authorities claim that the property was under judicial embargo and finally confiscated.

The chronological series of papers which accompany my No. 2, of even date with this, contains copies of the correspondence, telegraphic and otherwise, on this subject between this Department and its agents and the Spanish authorities. On examining it, you will find that the Spanish government has practically admitted that the seizure and retention of these estates was a violation of the rights of the proprietors.

You will therefore make it your first duty after your credentials are presented in Madrid, to represent to the government there, courteously but firmly, that the President expects to see the estates of American citizens which have been seized in Cuba in violation of the provisions of the treaty of 1795, whether by embargo or by confiscation, restored to them without further delay, and without any incumbrance imposed by Spanish authority in Cuba.

He does not question the willingness of the authorities at Madrid to comply with these expectations. It will be your duty, while giving assurances of our convictions of the good will of the Spanish government in this respect, to leave no doubt of our expectations that it will find means to compel its insubordinate agents in Cuba to carry into execution its agreements with this Government respecting these estates.

I am, &c,

HAMILTON FISH.