No. 453.
Mr. Morgan to Mr Blaine.

No. 208.]

Sir: Accompanying my dispatch No. 159, January 28, 1881, I transmitted to you a copy of my note to Mr. Mariscal of the 27th January of the same year, in which, complying with the instructions contained in your Department dispatch No. 87, December 22, 1880,I called his attention to the discrimination to which American trade was subjected by the customs authorities at La Paz in favor of traders of other nationalities, as well as to the unjust fines which were imposed upon commercial dealers at the different ports of the republic.

In my note to Mr. Mariscal I endeavored to treat the grievences to which I was directed to call his attention from a general point of view, in the hope that, if their existence was recognized, some means might be devised which would remedy them. The instances to which I directed his attention were intended to show the existence of the evil for which a remedy was thought necessary.

I have now received a reply to my note to Mr. Mariscal, dated May 26, in which he contents himself with transmitting to me a copy of a note addressed to him by Mr. Landero, secretary of Hacienda, to whom it appears my note of the 27th January to Mr. Mariscal was referred. A translation of Mr. Mariscal’s note to me I inclose. I also inclose translation of the secretary of Hacienda’s note to Mr. Mariscal.

The secretary of Hacienda, in his note to Mr. Mariscal, confines himself to a discussion of the cases to which I had referred (which were merely given by me as examples), and does not touch upon the general topic which was the subject of my note. As to the complaint that fines were imposed upon American shipmasters for acts which were committed, without objection to ship-masters of other nations, he denies that the fact is as it is stated to be. He protests, on the contrary, that fines are imposed by the customs officials of the republic only upon those who violate the law, and that they are imposed upon all alike who render themselves liable to them, without any regard to the nationality of the offender.

In explanation of the case of the chess-board referred to in your dispatch to me as having been seized because it did not appear on the manifest, and to which I called Mr. Mariscal’s attention in my note of the 27th January, the secretary of Hacienda says that it was seized because it was found concealed with other articles intended to be smuggled in one of the bulkheads of the vessel, and that the seizure thereof was under the circumstances justifiable.

As regards the case of Mr. Ramirez, the secretary of Hacienda declares that the information conveyed by Consul Turner to the effect that he was not permitted to abandon the goods which had been consigned to him rather than pay the fine which had been imposed upon them is not correct. Indeed he says that the goods were abandoned, and that it was because of their abandonment that they were delivered over to the courts for adjudication thereon. He also declares that the information conveyed by Consul Turner to the effect that the captain of the Germain bark Jupiter was allowed to land and sell a quantity of clothing which had neither been placed upon the ship’s manifest nor covered by a consular invoice, is equally incorrect. He bases his denial upon the statement that the Jupiter, on the voyage in question, had arrived at [Page 764]La Paz, in ballast from Mazatlan, and that, inasmuch as she had been searched by the custom officers at Mazatlan before sailing from that port, the goods referred to by Consul Turner could not have been aboard of her.

To the cars of the Caroline, whose captain, according to Consul Turner’s report, was permitted to dispose of a quantity of stores which would have been confiscated had tire same rule been applied to them which was applied to the goods shipped to Mr. Ramirez, the minister of Hacienda does not refer.

As regards the chess-board and the refusal of the customs officials to permit Mr. Ramirez to abandon the goods which had been shipped to him, these are questions of fact, alleged on one part and denied on the other, which I cannot decide.

As regards the answer made by the secretary of Hacienda respecting the bark Jupiter, it appears to me that it can scarcely be considered an answer. It certainly, it occurs to me, does not follow that because the custom-house officials at Mazatlan failed in their search of the vessel to discover certain articles of commerce on board of her, that therefore they were not on board, and that these articles were not sold at La Paz, the sole question being whether or not they were allowed to be landed and sold at that port without having been found on the ship’s manifest or covered by a consular invoice. It appears to me, therefore, that the statements of Consul Turner, as to the cases of the Jupiter and the Caroline, are substantiated, not refuted, by the secretary of Hacienda’s letter to Mr. Mariscal.

The secretary of Hacienda informs Mr. Mariscal that the statements which I have received from Vera Cruz, and which I communicated to Mr. Mariscal, that merchants had been made to pay a fine because although it was stated on the invoices which were sent to them what the goods they covered were it was not stated what they were not, were erroneous, but he makes no allusion whatever to the cases to which I called Mr. Mariscal’s attention, and it appears to me that his denial is not an answer to the charge.

It seems to me that the notice which has been taken of my note to Mr. Mariscal is more an intimation that the matters to which it referred concerned Mexico alone and that suggestions upon the subject from third parties were not entitled to much consideration certainly that no reforms are considered by the Mexican Government as necessary in the administration of the custom-houses.

The many fines and exactions which customs officials in the different ports of the republic are permitted to impose upon every infringement, fancied or real, of the custom-house regulations—regulations which are so difficult to observe that I am informed it is next to impossible for any invoice to be made out under them which the ingenuity of the customs officials cannot find, or pick, a flaw of some sort in (and a flaw discovered a fine follows).

The ingenuity of the officers, perhaps being quickened by the fact that the fines which are imposed upon the errors which they discover never go into the general treasury, but contribute to increase the value of their positions, is a source of constant complaint from all those with whom I have conversed who have any commercial relations with the country, and is a subject which has often occupied my attention. If a remedy could be found therefor the commerce of the country would be relieved of a serious burden.

Whether a remedy could be found outside of a treaty is not for me to say, but it has frequently occurred to me that if an understanding [Page 765]could be arrived at between the two governments by which invoices properly certified by the consul of the government to which goods are shipped should be taken as true (fraud always accepted), and the description of the goods therein be taken as the proper description thereof, the evil so much complained of would, in a great measure, at least, be remedied. Should it be the purpose of our government to negotiate a commercial treaty with Mexico (Mexico consenting thereto), as I have seen it suggested that it was, this question would doubtless engage the attention of the commissioners appointed to negotiate the same. If, however, there should be no such purpose, I venture to suggest whether some agreement might not be entered into between the two governments upon the subject by which the same end, in so far as the verity of invoices, properly authenticated, are concerned, might be accomplished.

I am. &c.,

[Inclosure 1, in No. 208.]

Señor Mariscal to Mr. Morgan.

Sir: In consequence of your excellency’s note, dated the 27th of January last, relative to the complaints of citizens of the United States who trade with Mexico, and who affirm they have been molested by employés of the custom-houses of different ports of the republic, I have the honor to transmit to your excellency, with the present note, a copy of an official communication on this subject, dated 19th instant, which was addressed to me by the secretary of the treasury.

I renew, &c.,

[Inclosure 2, in No. 208.—Translation.]

Mr. Landero to Señor Mariscal.

State Department and Office of Hacienda and Public Credit, Section 1st.

In relation to your communication of the 7th of February past, in which you inclosed a note addressed to you by the minister of the United States, who complained of the conduct of the employés in the maritime custom-houses toward American merchants and ships, inquiries have been instituted and particular attention has been paid to the points specified in the complaint made by the American minister in reference to the maritime custom-house of La Paz.

From the divers reports made to this department it appears that the said complaints are groundless for the following reasons:

Although it is a fact that a chess-board which belonged to the captain of a vessel was confiscated, it is not true that it was found in the cabin of the vessel; it was, with fifty-two packages, concealed in a bulkhead of the ship, and the entire lot, having been seized as contraband goods, was consigned to the judicial authorities, who condemned the said packages to be sequestrated.

It is generally understood that when contraband articles are seized the officers can make no exception of anything distrained, however insignificant its value may be.

With regard to the case of Mr. Ramirez, who received certain effects not protected by a proper consular invoice, he incurred the penalty specified by law for such an offense, and the officers were obliged to enforce it. The statement to the effect that the custom-house officials were unwilling to permit Mr. Ramirez to waive his claim is inexact, because the said gentleman, and also the firm through whose agency the merchandise came, abandoned their claim in conformity with the law, and the customhouse officers only fulfilled their duty by consigning the affair to the judicial authorities.

The statement that the captain of the bark Jupiter was permitted to land and sell clothing on which no duty had been paid) is not exact because the said bark arrived [Page 766]in ballast from Mazatlan; when it anchored in that port it was searched, and when it was dispatched thence in ballast it had not on board the articles reported.

The notification given to the American minister to the effect that in Vera Cruz a fine had been imposed because certain invoices which they presented, while they contained a description of what the goods were did not state what they were not, is also incorrect.

In conclusion I desire to state that the custom-house employés entertain no prejudices against American vessels, nor against any others, nor would the government tolerate any abuses of the kind. The custom-house officials limit themselves merely to enforcing the laws, and punishing those who infringe them without regard to nationality.

This statement I have the honor to make, in reply to your above-mentioned official communication.

Liberty in the Constitution.