Mr. Clark to Mr. Hunter.
Samana , October 15, 1877. (Received November 20.)
Sir: The statements and other general information herewith respectfully submitted, showing the condition of trade and commerce at this port, are only such as could be prepared during the brief time spared from other pressing engagements. As no such commercial reports have, to my knowledge, been heretofore sent from this commercial agency, I did not expect to be required to furnish anything of the kind, until receipt of circular “Separate,” bearing date of August 16, 1877, from the Department of State.
This circular reached me on the 7th instant, only one week since; consequently, while said statements may be regarded as accurate as far as they go, they are not as full and complete nor are they tabulated in the manner I would wish to present them to the Department.
The growing importance of our port also demands a fuller and more comprehensive report than I can give in the limited time now at my command.[Page 133]
The geographical position of Samana, its commodious and perfectly secure anchorage, and the configuration of the island generally, clearly point out our port as the natural principal outlet for the produce of this republic.
The Yuna River draining a large portion of the “Vega Real,” the most fertile district of the island, discharges its waters into Samana Bay at a point some 25 miles from this town. This river is tortuous, has an average width of 25 to 30 yards, and has a shallow bar at its mouth, which once passed, a sufficient depth of unobstructed navigable water for all the purposes of traffic is found for a considerable distance toward its source. The improvement of this stream, particularly at its mouth, is now engaging the attention of one of our principal business firms, who expect to secure a considerable amount of produce, which at present goes overland to Puerto Plata at an expense of carriage much greater than would be required to deliver the produce at this port for shipment abroad. The views of these gentlemen appear to me to be sound. I have on one occasion ascended the river in a small steam-launch as far as Almacen, some 50 miles distant by water from its mouth; of course this distance is very much shorter “as the crow flies.”
We have three lines of steamers touching regularly at Samana, viz: The Royal Mail Steam-packet Company’s steamers (British), arriving bimonthly; the Hamburgh American Steamship Company’s steamers (German), bimonthly; and Messrs. Clyde & Co., of New York, run their steamship Tybee constantly between that city and the different ports of this island, the latter vessel arriving on no fixed dates, but making on an average about ten trips per year; a Spanish line of steamers is also soon to touch here. The British and German steamers connect at St. Thomas, with steamers of their own lines, respectively, for Europe direct, the bulk of the tobacco crop (the chief staple of export of Santo Domingo) being sent to Hamburg and Bremen.
Business in all branches has been very dull during the whole of the past year, the principal causes being—
- The constant revolutionary movements, which, since January, 1876, have distracted the country, and which tend to seriously operate against the extension of business in any direction on the part of our merchants.
- The small crop of last year amounting to (more or less) 60,000 seroons, of which the exceedingly small quantity of 7,500 seroons only were shipped from this port. This, together with the reason stated under No. 1, has caused the merchants of the interior to limit their importations to articles only strictly necessary.
- The suspension of payment to the government officials and employés, and the remission hence to the capital of all the custom-house revenue, thus drawing the little money formerly in circulation away from our place.
The crop of this year has disappointed our expectations, as an unusually large yield was confidently predicted in the early part of the season. In the Santiago district the crop will be abundant. In Mocha and La Vega it has turned out small, consequently Puerto Plata will have the benefit of the large yield of the Santiago district. The total crop will probably reach 100,000 seroons, of which some 10,000 will go forward from this port.
Owing to the small amount of importations of last year and the beginning of this (for which a further reason is found in the fact of all duties being now required to be paid in cash), the exportations will doubtless considerably-exceed the value of the imports, thus enabling our merchants [Page 134] to fulfill any unsettled obligations they may have in St. Thomas, from which place our stocks, particularly in lines of dry-goods, are to a considerable extent filled up.
Duties could formerly be paid in part with “valés” or “pagarés” against the government, which paper could be purchased at 40 per cent. to 60 per cent. discount by the merchant, and was accepted at the custom-house at par. The new order of the administration, requiring all cash in payment of duties, has had the effect of diminishing in a measure importations, as before stated.
Import duty is fixed at 40 per cent., with 6 per cent. off, equivalent to 34 per cent. on goods arriving direct at Dominican ports from the countries in which they were produced or manufactured; this duty is not calculated upon the values indicated in the invoice presented by the merchant, but on the values fixed by government as specified in its published “Arancel,” and which values often vary very considerably from the actual ones. Machinery, agricultural implements, books and printed matter generally, and breeding stock are admitted free of duty. Zinc and other metallic roofing was to have been also admitted free, but whether the decree to that effect has been issued, I am unable for the moment to state.
The manner in which the present government is canceling the interior debt is inflicting a severe wound upon the interest of the merchants. Claims against the government are now divided into two classes, the “deuda deferida,” and the “deuda moderna,” the latter being the preferred, and to be first extinguished. Government obligations classed “deferida” can be converted into the “deuda moderna” by a loss of 50 per cent. of the face of the claim, and the obligations classed “moderna,” are being bought in by the government, at stated intervals, holders offering their claims by tender, the lowest being accepted; the price paid being generally about 10 per cent. of the nominal value of the claim. Thus the holder of a “deferida” obligation gets but 5 cents on the dollar. This is probably the nearest approach to declared repudiation (with a saving clause) ever achieved by any government. Yet the present administration takes much pride in exhibiting to the outside world the large amount of the interior debt now being extinguished. It is needless to add that holders of government paper to a very large amount prefer to keep their claims locked up rather than present them for settlement on the above terms by this government, with the hope that a new administration will deal more justly with them.
A shipment of coin from the United States arrived at the capital a short time since, destined for circulation in this country. This coin (one cent pieces) has not as yet, however, been used, as the merchants are strongly adverse to this measure of the government, and-with good reason, as there is no guarantee that the advertised amount only will be put into circulation. It can be readily seen that the metal of the new coin is base, and probably not worth one half of its nominal value. Information recently reached here by means of a printed circular from New York, in which it is stated that the new coins were not issued from any mint, but were fabricated in a factory of buttons, and other articles of copper, bronze, &c.
For many years past the bay and peninsula of Samana have at different times attracted the attention of the American people. The beautiful, the magnificent natural scenery, the wonderful fertility of the soil, &c., have been set forth in glowing terms; all such descriptions however should be, and probably are, taken (by prudent people) cum grano sails. Casual visitors unaccustomed to the luxuriant vegetation [Page 135] of the tropics, are apt to be over-enthusiastic in such descriptions, which generally speaking, convey wrong impressions. As I purpose, however, to transmit to the Department another paper for this mail, in which the comparative productiveness of the soil of Santo Domingo will be more particularly enlarged upon, I close this report with the hope that it may, taken in connection with the accompanying inclosures, be found to meet, in a measure at least, the requirements of the service; and with high consideration,
I am, &c.,
Vice Commercial Agent.