No. 75.
Mr. Williamson to Mr. Fish.

No. 52.]

Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith a translated copy of a circular just received from the government of Costa Rica. For the present I shall dismiss it by inviting you to its careful perusal. * * * * * * * I beg, however, to assure you I feel myself too secure in my disposition in favor of impartial justice, as well as in my determination to permit no sentiment or idea of partisanship to influence me in the discharge of my duty, to allow this circular [Page 113] to elicit from me such a reply as would either compromise the Government with Costa Rica or the other four states. After having carefully canvassed the circular as well as all the facts in connection with the whole subject of the alliance, I hope to be able to write such a letter as will meet your approval.

I learn here that it is very dangerous now to travel through Honduras, and that the president, Arias, is just about to abdicate in favor of Leiva. I shall not, therefore, go to Comayagua until there is a fair prospect of my finding a government that is not just on the eve of dissolution.

I have, &c.


Circular of the government of Costa Rica.

Sir: The official and semi-official press of Central America has published the treaty of alliance concluded at Managua on the 26th of August last between the government of Nicaragua and Don Buenaventura Carazo, representative of Guatemala and Salvador, which treaty has been approved by the congress of Nicaragua. Having this document in view, the framers of which have completely forgotten the most solemn previous conventions, the most common principles of international rights, the forms most constantly in use among nations, and every species of consideration and respect which ought to be observed among governments, especially people who belong to the same family, and who at one time formed one national body, and who in the future are destined to renew this union from the same identity of interests, the government of Costa Rica cannot remain indifferent. She must raise her voice to vindicate herself against the calumnious charges which are made against her, to repel the menaces, and to protest against the intervention of the other sister republics in matters which concern Costa Rica alone. It is to this end that the undersigned has received instructions from his government to address the other governments with whom it has relations, for the purpose of setting forth its policy respecting the other states of Central America, and of making a statement of the acts which preceded that convention, and the compacts infringed by the government of Nicaragua in concluding the same. Notwithstanding that the alliance stipulated for in the treaty appears now to be only defensive, the government of Costa Rica, however much she may desire peace, cannot delude herself, and is under the necessity of considering it offensive as well as defensive, and adopted by these three governments in opposition to her tranquillity and independence. Thus it is that she is forced to assume a position in which she must and does decline all responsibility for the consequences which may follow this treaty, so unjust and injurious to the government of a sister republic, with whom they were at peace and on terms of friendship. The administrations which governed the republic of Guatemala and Salvador having been overturned in 1871, in consequence of events which took place in that year, the government of Costa Rica hailed with joy the new administrations which succeeded, as well because of her duty to accept the governments which those people had chosen for themselves, as because of the true principles of liberty and progress proclaimed, which were in accord with the sentiments of the administration of Costa Rica. Unfortunately the peace was disturbed in the republic of Guatemala in consequence of the efforts made by the reactionists to re-establish the fallen regime. So far as Costa Rica was concerned, she only lamented this disturbance, and desired the re-establishment of tranquillity and the good of her fellow-citizens. In the mean-time, the government of that republic, so soon as it was installed, doing due justice to Costa Rica, opened offical relations, which the previously existing government had for so many years refused to entertain; at the same time it accredited near this cabinet a minister plenipotentiary with whom a treaty of peace and friendship was adjusted. A short time afterward another minister was sent to change that treaty, as he professed, although this could not be done, because it had been approved neither by this government nor by that of Guatemala. It is likely that the said minister did not come to present this question. It is probable that the true object of this second mission was to endeavor to gain the aid of the government of Costa Rica for the expulsion of the reverend [Page 114] Fathers of the Company of Jesus who had taken refuge in Nicaragua, since, in the course of the conferences, Minister Nerida proposed a draught of an alliance, the object of which should be the expulsion of the Jesuits, for the purpose, he said, of fixing the principles of liberalism in Central America; and in order to interest Costa Rica, he hinted that, with the intervention of Guatemala, the boundary question between Costa Rica and Nicaragua could be settled in a manner favorable to the interests of Costa Rica. The government of the undersigned did not think it well to enter into such an alliance, because it involved an act of injustice and an inconvenience. It was unjust to interfere with the internal affairs of Nicaragua, obliging her government to expel persons to whom she believed it her duty to grant an asylum, and it was inconvenient for Costa Rica and for Nicaragua that the question of boundaries, which interested them alone, should be decided by the intervention of a third party acting, not in the capacity of a friend to both sides, but as an ally of one of them only. This refusal, however, did not produce any disagreement whatever. During the stay of Minister Nerida in Costa Rica he complained to the government of two acts which, he said, would certainly affect the neutrality of this republic in the internal questions of Guatemala, and impair the harmony which existed between the two governments. He complained of the enlistment which he said was taking place in Punta Arenas, and said he was sure that the General Sherman, belonging to the railroad company, was being armed in the port of Limon for the purpose of directing her attacks against the other states of Central America. Immediately upon receiving this intimation, the government directed that all acts of hostility against any other republic for which preparations might be making in the territory or waters of Costa Rica should be prevented. These orders were more than carried out, for the commandante at Limon did not simply prohibit everything of a warlike character from being transferred to her, but he placed a guard of soldiers on board, who did not leave her until she was ready to sail, being entirely unarmed. Afterward it was published that the General Sherman had been bought from the railroad company by some emigrants, and armed in the port of Colon, United States of Colombia. The government is sure that not a single Costa Rican was found on board of her.

The government of Costa Rica was entirely ignorant of this expedition, which she is so falsely said to have aided. The minister of Guatemala was here, and an account of these measures and their result given to him. This incident neither gave occasion for reclamation nor answer, and the relations between both cabinets have continued friendly until the present time. Relations with the government of Salvador have been maintained in perfect harmony, without a question to disturb the peace. In respect to these two republics, therefore, the government of Costa Rica has no reason even to suspect that they have any motive for complaint. In regard to the republic of Nicaragua, the undersigned must confess that, although a friendly and fraternal tone has been maintained, yet at bottom a lack of cordial feeling exists on account of this boundary-question, which is being debated between the two republics. But it must be acknowledged that, if this question exists to-day, it was called into being on the part of Nicaragua, in the year 1870, by the Executive’s putting in doubt, before his Congress, the validity of the treaty of limits, which was concluded in the year 1858, and which had been accepted and executed by both sides for the space of twelve years. Had it not been for this occurrence, both republics, whose interests are so identical, would have continued friendly. It cannot be denied that the question in itself is a grave one. If the treaty of 1858 should be declared null and void, as is demanded by Nicaragua, Costa Rica would be freed from the obligation, which this agreement imposes upon her, to keep aloof from the shore of the great lake and from that of the San Juan; in fact, her interest would be to recover the limits which she formerly possessed, and to which she has a right, according to ancient titles. Nicaragua, also, in view of the construction of the interoceanic canal, desires to possess this route, to the exclusion of Costa Rica. Even now she also takes the highest interest in the Colorado River, which unquestionably belongs to Costa Rica throughout its whole extent. Notwithstanding this ground for dispute between the two countries, and although on various occasions they have discussed the question with a good deal of warmth, it has been agreed on both sides never to resort to extreme measures, but to procure an amicable settlement by common consent or by arbitration, which means has lately been proposed and has been accepted by the government of Costa Rica, with the proviso that the right of Costa Rica to Guanacaste should not be called into question, for reasons stated in the President’s message to the Congress of Costa Rica on the 1st of May of this year. It could not be otherwise. Between Costa Rica and Nicaragua a solemn compact exists, which precludes the possibility of war between the two republics. As this stipulation is of such vital importance in showing exactly the conduct of Nicaragua, the undersigned will copy literally the first three articles of the treaty of peace and friendship drawn up in this city on the 30th of July, 1868, between Messrs. Julian Volio and José Maria Zelaya, the first having been commissioned by the government of Costa Rica and the second by Nicaragua, which read thus:

  • Article 1. There shall be constant peace and perpetual and sincere friendship between the republic of Costa Rica and the republic of Nicaragua.
  • Art. 2. Never in any case, therefore, shall the said republics go to war. Should any differences occur between them, they shall furnish the necessary explanations, and if they do not settle the difficulty and re-establish a good understanding, they shall resort to the arbitration of a friendly nation.
  • Art. 3. If, unfortunately, any nation should go to war with Costa Rica or Niecaragua, the high contracting parties agree, in the most absolute manner, not to make an offensive alliance or to lend any aid whatever to the enemies of either of the two republics; but they declare that this does not prevent them from concluding defensive alliances for the defense of their respective territories in case of invasion.”

Not having lately received any complaints from the government of Nicaragua, or any questions concerning any acts which could be interpreted as hostile to the tranquillity of Nicaragua, the government of Costa Rica ought to rest tranquil in the faith of the treaties: that is, if these have any significance in the relations among peoples and governments. Besides, the government of Costa Rica had other reasons to think that it had a guarantee from the government of Nicaragua.” It felt implicit confidence in the personal character of the head of that republic, whose antecedents, in its opinion, were in favor of peace between the two republics, that he would exercise his influence, if he had any in the government, for the good of Costa Rica, instead of promoting revolutions in the neighboring republics. On account of all these antecedents, it is easy to understand why the government of the undersigned deemed the report unworthy of special attention when it was announced that the governments of Guatemala and Salvador had accredited a legation near the government of Managua. Being at peace and in harmony with both of those republics, having a solemn treaty with Nicaragua, which made war impossible, since it provided means for the settlement of any difference that might arise, this government paid no heed to the published statements which declared that the legation was hostile to Costa Rica.

Thus it was that, resting its faith on these bases, the government gave all its attention to the work of the railroad, and even thought to make it interoceanic, not only for the good of Costa Rica, but of all Central America and all the nations of the earth, when she was surprised by the treaty of alliance between the three republics, which was published for the first time in the Official Bulletin of Salvador. It is not necessary to enter into an analysis of this document, so highly offensive and menacing to the dignity, tranquillity, and independence of Costa Rica: it is sufficient simply to read it to perceive that its whole spirit is of a low, personal character that should never enter into negotiations on so grave a question. Apart from the opprobrious terms of the treaty toward the legitimately established government of a sovereign nation; apart from the calumnious accusations which it contains, there is at the bottom of it a provocation which is almost equivalent to a declaration of war, and this although not a single note had been addressed to this government asking for explanations or showing in any manner that there existed cause for complaint, so that the government of Costa Rica might have an opportunity to explain its conduct. It is surprising that the three states mentioned should have thought proper to act in violation of that which is prescribed by the laws and usages of nations in similar cases; but more especially is this surprising in the case of Nicaragua, with which country there existed rigorous compacts for the prevention of such an event. That government ought, if she had any complaint, to have addressed the government of Costa Rica, asking explanations or demanding satisfaction, and, not being satisfied with the explanations, or satisfaction having been denied, she should have resorted to arbitration, as mentioned in article second of the treaty of peace and friendship above referred to. Had the government of Costa Rica opposed all these means of conciliation, then that government would have a right to ally itself as it thought fit, and even to declare war. By acting as she has, the government of Nicaragua has openly infringed the stipulations of that treaty, and Costa Rica is justified in providing for her security and in vindicating her offended dignity without regard to the treaty. Even without having had official notice of the agreement adjusted at Managua, the chief magistrate of Costa Rica, though he had only heard rumors concerning that alliance, solemnly declared that he would not raise a single soldier in Costa Rica to go and invade any of the other states. This programme shall be maintained, notwithstanding the provocation contained in the treaty of Managua. The government and people of Costa Rica desire to work, and know too well the value of peace to permit themselves to break it thoughtlessly; but at the same time they know how to protect their territory and to preserve their independence. The government of the undersigned cannot foresee what measures prudence will counsel them to adopt for their protection. This depends upon the Rivas-Carazo treaty and the conduct of the three mentioned states; but from this time forth we decline all responsibility which may arise from the unjustifiable acts which have produced the present state of feeling.

I beg you to submit these considerations to the government which you represent, and to accept the assurance of the distinguished appreciation with which I have the honor to subscribe myself,

Your very obedient servant,