No. 685.
Mr. Fish to Mr. Russell.

No. 50.]

Sir: Mr. Dalla Costa, the Venezuelan minister, called upon me on the 27th ultimo, and it may be important that you be advised of the purport of the conversation.

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He then said that President Blanco was very much disturbed by the language of the President’s messages to Congress on the subject of the claims against Venezuela.

I expressed surprise, as the language of the President had, in my [Page 1376] opinion, been very moderate considering the conduct of Venezuela; and that unless a different course was pursued by Venezuela, I thought he might expect much more decided language, if not anticipated by action on the part of the President before the next Congress should adjourn. That the United States felt deeply aggrieved by the course of Venezuela in refusing compliance with the obligations of the treaty, and with the awards of the arbitrators to which the claims had been solemnly referred. That we had now waited some seven years, and have been met by vague promises, and still more vague allegations of corruption on the part of individuals, and by an entire disregard by Venezuela of the terms of the treaty.

That if a state, after having submitted a controversy regarding claims and debts due to individuals, to arbitration, whether by another state or by a commission, refuses to pay the award, it loses credit and leaves no alternative with other powers than that of refusing intercourse, or of an ultimate resort to war.

I complained that Venezuela was now withholding the payment of the pitiful percentage which she professes to lay aside for the payment of the treaty-pledge, and is endeavoring to prescribe a condition to the United States as to the disposition which the United States should make of the money.

I told him that this is an objectionable, if not an offensive, procedure; and that our minister in Venezuela had been instructed to make a demand for the immediate and unconditional payment of the amount thus held; and that unless Venezuela should made payment, he must not be surprised to find intercourse with Venezuela broken off and a recommendation to Congress for decided measures to secure what the treaty calls for.

He again referred to the charges of corruption on the part of some of the officers of the commission, and says that Mr. Talmadge, the commissioner, held a power of attorney from some of the claimants; and that Mr. Stilwell, who was minister of the United States at the time, had received $100,000 of the certificates of awards, which he thought was conclusive evidence of fraud.

I put to him the case that, were he going to some South American or other remote state, as judge or umpire to decide upon claims, if I had claims on which he would have to pass, I would be very glad to place with him the authority to receive the proceeds of the awards on my claims with the confidence that they would be speedily and faithfully accounted for to me; that I would give this power not knowing other parties in the country; that it would not be done to affect his judgment, and doubtless would not affect his judgment, and would not be productive of pecuniary gain to him, and that it was quite consistent with integrity of character and of conduct that the minister, (Stilwell,) should have become the depositary of very many certificates of awards.

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He stated that Venezuela now had about $50,000, and that, with the amount already paid, that would more than satisfy the honest claims. I repudiated this suggestion, insisting that if the $50,000 were paid it would make, with the previous payments, only about two years’ interest on the awards; that the payments already made amount to about one hundred thousand dollars, whereas the claims admitted by the Venezuelan commission (and awarded without the intervention of the umpire) amounted to upward of $450,000.

I called to his attention the act of Congress, which declares the award final, and told him that on no consideration would we go behind it or reconsider any individual claim which had been awarded.

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I further stated that it was now some seven or eight years since the award was made; that the interest upon the admitted claims would largely exceed the amount claimed; and, in conclusion, I expressed the strong hope that his government would see both the justice and wisdom of adjusting these claims, as well as others which had been diplomatically recognized.

Mr. Dalla Costa again called on the 3d instant, and asked whether, when Mr. Munoz Castro had failed to furnish the evidence of alleged fraud in the awards under the claims treaty within the allowed time, we had considered the question closed. I told him that we had always regarded, the subject as closed by the award of the commission, and that the consent to receive proof of fraud had been a matter of grace, and although the time allowed Mr. Castro had passed without the production of any proof, I was not prepared to say we would not have received and considered it subsequently; but not a scintilla of evidence or of anything approaching thereto had been offered.

He said that the government of Venezuela had probably labored under a mistake in supposing that the question was still open; that they were encouraged in this opinion by the representations of former ministers in Venezuela—he named Culver, Turpin, Pile, and Pruyn; also, that his government laid great stress on the fact that Talmadge, the commissioner, had a power of attorney from one of the claimants; and he referred to my having said to him last Thursday that the acceptance by the commissioners of a power of attorney to receive the amount of an award was by no means an evidence of fraud, and asked whether he correctly understood me. I replied that he did, and that a party against whose claim a commissioner had decided might have given such a power, and the fact of the decision would be the strongest answer against any influence exercised by the possession of the power.

He said that that is exactly the case; that they have possession of a power given by a Mr. Murray to Talmadge for a claim of $400,000, which had been rejected.

He said his government looked upon it as conclusive evidence of fraud, and were thereby led into their present position.

He further asked whether, in case he wrote me a note and inclosed this power, I would reply to that effect. I declined saying whether I would or would not. I said he had a perfect right to address me a courteous note on the subject, and that I reserved the decision of my answer until I received this note.

I said that Mr. Castro had written a very offensive note, and that President Blanco had on more than one occasion been guilty of language about the President of the United States and the present Government that * * * and I would, therefore, enter into no assurances as to the future.

He said that his government seemed to think that he had not presented their case efficiently, and also that there is yet hope for revision.

I reminded him of the repeated assurances given by our representative to Venezuela, and by myself to him, that the question was closed, and that the resolution of Congress on the subject precluded any further negotiation, which he said he understood, but his government still hoped; and I advised him to disabuse them of the idea as soon as possible, and to recommend a speedy adjustment, as our patience is about exhausted, and that we were not inclined to patiently receive any more of the abusive language of * *

I am, &c.,