to Mr. Evarts.
Santiago, Chili, March 9, 1878. (Received May 3.)
Sir: For many years the boundary line between Chili and the Argentine Republic has been, with those countries, a subject of diplomatic discussion. The controversy relates, in the main, to the exercise of jurisdiction in the Straits of Magellan and in the country contiguous to the mouth thereof on the Atlantic coast. Chili has for a long time been in actual possession of the Straits, and has likewise asserted her right of dominion to that portion of the Atlantic coast lying between the mouth of the Straits and the river Gallegos; while the Argentine Government maintains that this possession has been in violation of her rights, and that the claim in regard to the Atlantic coast is without merit. In the question is involved the dominion to a considerable part of Patagonia, but I judge that it is regarded with comparative indifference by the parties concerned, except in so far as it may affect jurisdiction to the Straits and the contiguous Atlantic coast.
The controversy is as old as the republics engaged in it, and on more than one occasion it has seriously threatened the peace of the southern part of South America. It has, indeed, been a constant source of anxiety. Both governments have always professed to be desirous of settling their differences amicably, and for many years negotiations to that end have been pending, but from time to time they have been broken off and then again renewed, only to be interrupted again, until each government was led to regard the other with suspicion, if not with enmity. The dispute has latterly assumed a more threatening aspect than at any former time, and it has seemed to me, from the tone of public sentiment as it has manifested itself through the public prints, that unless the differences should soon be settled amicably, war must certainly follows The danger seems to have been comprehended by both governments, and with a view of averting a war, for which neither of them is prepared, they have, during the past few months, labored assiduously, apparently, to arrive at an amicable arrangement. The negotiations have been conducted at Buenos Ayres. The information which we get here is not entirely satisfactory, but enough is known to warrant the statement that a basis for a peaceable settlement has been arrived at; that the protocol, which has been signed by the representatives of both governments, names the King of Belgium as arbitrator, to whom is to be referred the matters in dispute; and that pending the settlement, Chili is to retain jurisdiction of the Straits of Magellan to the Atlantic, and the Argentine Government is to exercise jurisdiction of the Atlantic coast to the mouth of the Straits.[Page 87]
For some reason the government here is exceedingly reticent on the subject of the negotiation, and inquiries at the foreign office are universally answered that “negotiations are proceeding satisfactorily,” but nothing further. My information is derived from Buenos Ayres, but I regard it as reliable. In an interview which I had yesterday with the diplomatic representative here of Belgium, he informed me that he had a short time since addressed the Minister of Foreign Relations on the subject, and expressed a desire, inasmuch as it was reported that the King of Belgium had been named as arbitrator, to be furnished with information for the use of his government in regard thereto. But he was informed by the Secretary that it was not deemed advisable at present to furnish any information on the subject.
It is asserted that since the signing of the protocol an effort has been made by Chili to reopen the discussion with a view to a settlement without arbitration, and that to this is to be attributed the reticence of the authorities here. By others it is claimed that this reticence comes from the fact that the protocol cedes to the Argentine Government, pending the arbitration, jurisdiction of the Atlantic coast to the mouth of the Straits. It has always been the policy of Chili, they say, to insist upon its right to a part of that coast, and that the government is loath to meet the storm of indignation which would follow an authoritative promulgation of the terms of the protocol. With this latter class I do not agree. It does not stand to reason that the government would become a party to a contract the terms of which it knew to be absolutely obnoxious to the country. I am, however, inclined to believe that Chili is making another effort to settle the dispute without the aid of an arbitrator, and in this, it seems to me, she is to be commended.
The peaceable solution of this dispute is to be attributed, in my judgment, more than to any other cause, to the depleted state of the treasuries of both countries. Chili is quite as well prepared, I judge, to carry on a foreign war as any other government in South America, except, perhaps, Brazil, and I am confident that her Exchequer is not in such a condition as to warrant her in entering upon the extraordinary expenditures required in such an emergency.
I can well understand why Chili should regard it as important that she should continue to exercise jurisdiction of the territory bordering, upon the Straits of Magellan. Her commerce is almost entirely carried on by way of the Straits, and she might well regard with apprehension an effort upon the part of a neighboring government, having no such interest, to obtain control thereof.
I have, &c.,