Mr. Hay to
Washington, December 22, 1880.
Sir: It has been observed for several years back that of the well-founded complaints which this government has been constrained to make to that of Mexico respecting the harsh or unjust enforcement of the Mexican customs regulations, the greater part are based upon proceedings against American vessels by the revenue authorities at La Paz. Indeed, so frequently is this the case, and so technical and vexatious the obstructions placed there in the way of the unhampered trade between the two countries so much to be desired, especially on the growing Pacific seaboard, that the circumstance could not fail to attract the attention of this government.
Recent instances, in the cases among others of the Dreadnaught and Newbern, are familiar to you, in which the action of the Mexican authorities has brought about complaints of international gravity. These, however, are but the more important cases. The petty exactions which are reported from time to time are, if less important, unfortunately more numerous, until it has at last come to be, in appearance, the rule of action of the local authorities to visit upon the slightest shortcomings of legitimate trade the severe penalties of ascertained crime. The pretexts of interference are occasionally sought with much ingenuity—as in the seizure of a chess-board belonging to the master of a trading vessel on the ground of its being unmanifested contraband merchandise. In short, [Page 753]it has been said, by well-informed persons at La Paz, that under the local customs administration there, the risk of doing legitimate trade is as great as or even greater than that of smuggling.
The matter is rendered still more vexatious by the observed fact that the extraordinary vigilance and severity of the La Paz officials seems to be confined almost entirely to American vessels and American goods. The inclosed dispatch from Mr. Consul Turner is selected from a number of like import, to show the relaxation (if not the violation) of the existing rules, by the collector of that port, in the case of a German vessel, the Jupiter. Not long since another German vessel, the Carolina, was in like manner permitted to dispose freely of a quantity of stores, the mere presence of which on board an American vessel would probably have subjected her to fine and detention.
It is not for a moment to be supposed that these proceedings take place with the knowledge of the Mexican Government, or, if known to be of actual occurrence, that they could or would be justified on any grounds of equity or comity. The Government of Mexico has too often given unequivocal public expression of late to its desire to encourage and develop commerce with the United States, to permit the inference that the acts of the collector at La Paz, in visiting upon American vessels and goods all the rigor of which the regulations are capable, and notably relaxing their operation toward vessels of other countries, are a correct reflex of the policy of the central government.
It is desired that you should bring this subject to the attention of Señor Mariscal, in a dispassionate way, and as affecting Mexican interests more than our own. In doing so, it is not advisable to give too much prominence to the representations made by Mr. Turner, inasmuch as it has unfortunately happened in the past that the fearless and honest discharge of his duty by an American consul in Mexico has sufficed to bring upon him the resentment of the officers with whom he must deal and the baseless charge of unfriendliness. You will present the question in its general aspect, as one of large public policy rather than of individual grievances, and will treat the facts on which it rests as undisputed and readily proven.
I am, &c.,