No. 208.
Mr. Dichman to Mr. Blaine .

No. 303.]

Sir: Permit me to invite your attention to the accompanying publication, being a dispatch from the Colombian secretary of legation at Paris, purporting to give an account of an interview between that gentleman, General Sandford, and Mr. de Lesseps, during which the latter appears to have stated his views of the political questions connected with the proposed canal at some length and with considerable warmth of feeling, concerning which I only beg leave to observe that the statement concerning the neutrality of the Suez Canal is perhaps not strictly correct, for by means of the fortifications at Perim and the possession of Cyprus the British Government exercises a dominion over the Suez Canal as great as over any highway in the British Empire; and concerning the crowning of Mr. de Lesseps’s career—to be killed at the Isthmus of Panama fighting for “the independence and integrity of Colombia,” as he expresses it; that, I suppose, may be taken as a figure of speech prompted by the “noble outburst of enthusiasm” by which the Colombian secretary of legation says he was carried away.

Of course the opinions of Mr. de Lesseps are highly colored by the interest which he must feel in the success of his enterprise, and for the expression thereof he is, perhaps, not fairly subject to criticism.

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure in No. 302.—Translation.]

Mr. Pereira to the Secretary of Foreign Relations of Colombia .

* * * * * * *

When I was introduced into the room in which was Mr. de Lesseps he was engaged in an animated conversation with the North American general, Mr. Henry Shelton Sandford (the same who went to Bogotá, in the years 1860 and 1861, with the double charge of representing there the North American Government and the Panama Railroad Company), whom he was endeavoring to convince that the American policy in questions relative to the canal showed great injustice and very little wisdom.

Upon my arrival he paused in order to present me to General Sandford, as the secretary of the Colombian legation in France, and to add that I could, without doubt, give him creditable information upon the latest phases of the subject. Introduced thus directly into the conversation I stated that I was unable to give them any authentic account of what had occurred, since I had received nothing; still less could I guarantee the authenticity of what the public press had published, but I was inclined to believe that at bottom there was much truth in what was said. According to the newspapers a protocol of conference had been signed in Washington, whose official text I did not know, but that I imagined would prove to be that given by the press; that our minister, in view, without doubt, of the gravity of the question, had believed it necessary to go in person to submit to the consideration of the Government of Bogotá the propositions of that of Washington; that in Colombia all this had caused much alarm, and that the Senate had unanimously authorized the executive power to denounce the treaty of 1846, upon the provisions of which the American Government based its pretensions to erect forts upon the isthmus.

“The question of the neutrality of the canal,” said Mr. de Lesseps, “has no other true or practical solution than that which the logic and principles of international law indicate; to respect the sovereignty of Colombia in that territory. If Colombia permit, which she will not, that the United States construct fortresses there she will undoubtedly lose the isthmus. There remain to her, then, but two paths; to celebrate [Page 360] with the principal European maritime powers treaties similar to that which binds her to the United States, or denounce the latter contract, as the Senate has suggested, and which, without doubt, is the best that can be done if she would avoid complications in the future. Under any circumstances the diplomats will continue to agitate the question in order to arrange everything upon paper; but the important point is that meanwhile I may open the canal.

“Diplomacy has never served but to recognize accomplished facts. The sword or genius opens a highway according to its mode without caring for idle discussion, and diplomacy comes afterwards to say that what was done was well done. For more than thirty years I have served as a diplomat, and I have never had occasion to do otherwise.

“When it was proposed to open the Suez Canal, the same questions arose that arise to-day. All the powers began negotiations with the object of reaching a general agreement and guarantee in common the neutrality of the canal. The negotiations are still pending, but the question is resolved in the manner most simple and that best conduces to the interests of all. The men-of-war and the armies of all the nations of the earth may pass through without any distinction. In the last year 97,000 soldiers of different nations passed through the canal.

“England was no less hostile to the Suez Canal than the Americans show themselves to be to-day to that of Panama. Lord Palmerston directed various protests, full of threats, to the Ottoman Porte, with the object of forcing him to revoke the concession for the opening of the canal.” * * *

“Lord Palmerston proved to be a great statesman,” here interrupted Mr. Sandford.

“And nevertheless the English cabinet finally consented that the work of excavation should be begun when the enterprise was already almost completed.

“For that reason I say to Americans and Europeans, negotiate, negotiate as much as you wish, if before you have terminated your discussion I shall have opened the canal and solved the problem.”

“But the conditions of the canal of Suez,” objected the general, “were not the same as those of Panama. There the neutrality is effective, because it is to the interest of all the maritime powers of the first order; here we are the only maritime power menaced, and, it gives me pain to confess it, we have not a war marine that can advantageously oppose that of England for example. Our extensive Pacific coast is to-day well defended by two men of war; the canal opened, that defense would be insufficient. Ours is a country of work and of peace. We have no such armies as in Europe, and have cause to fear everything from a canal in which our preponderance shall not make itself exclusively felt.”

“These fears, replied Mr. de Lesseps,” are unfounded. To-day all nations desire peace and work. Without doubt, English fleets may pass through the canal, but yours, also, may do the same, and really this is not a serious argument. Every road brings us nearer, it is true, but it serves equally for offense as for defense. The navigation of the seas is free. No nation, be she perhaps the most powerful, may say to the others, ‘Your ships cannot pass through here.’ * * * ”

“The canal is an artificial work that does not enter the case; it is the Strait of Gibraltar to America.”

“That is an error; the canal as the strait is ever the sea. What I am going to do is join the waters of two oceans that nature has separated. Gibralter is an inaccessible rock, where, by an exceptional situation, the English have succeeded in fortifying themselves in what they won in honest war; but the same will not happen with Panama. This is an open territory of a sister nation of which you cannot possess yourselves without violating the law of nations nor without a struggle, long, tenacious, and without quarter. The Colombians have, as I, Spanish blood in their veins, and the last one will die rather than consent to such spoliation. You are a great, strong, and rich nation; they, few in numbers, helpless and poor, but no matter. It will make no difference, because you cannot commit an act like that, which would be unworthy of such a people, which I am pleased to call the most advanced upon the globe. And, besides, it is not so easy as it would appear to conquer a nation, warlike and of such glorious traditions, that counts upon the immense moral force that justice, right, and the sympathies of the civilized world give it.

“As for me,” he added in an outburst of noble enthusiasm, “I would be honored, to crown my career, to be killed there, defending with arms in my hand the independence and integrity of Colombia!”

His interlocutor, partly discomfited and part in doubt, said to him, “You are very young.” “Not very,” replied instantly the illustrious old man,” when I visited San Francisco and Chicago, I said to their people, who appeared to doubt the success of my enterprise, ‘You are great cities, not one-third as old as I am, and it is very difficult to make me believe that you can doubt the incomparable power of labor, you who are its most surprising manifestation.’” And terminating the interview, he said to Mr. Sandford, “I return to the beginning. The canal will be built, and its neutrality will be preserved, not because diplomacy will resolve the question, but because it is demanded [Page 361] by the very nature of things, by universal interest and our own business (undertaking), which consists in the ships of all nations, whether men of war or merchantmen, passing through it without other condition than the payment of their respective contributions.”

Such were, if not with his own words, the ideas expressed in substance by Mr. de Lesseps. Perhaps I may have misunderstood some point or committed errors, but, as the mail goes to-day, I have no time to correct the account I have just written; and thus I send it, hoping that the secretary will not ill receive the liberty I have taken.

I am, &c.,