to Mr. Putnam
Washington , May 31, 1881.
Sir: By dispatches received from the minister of the United States in Central America, this Department has been informed that the governments of Costa Rica and Colombia have executed a convention by which (article 1) the Republic of Costa Rica and the United States of Colombia agree to submit to arbitration the question of boundaries existing between them and the designation of a line which shall divide forever and with all clearness, the territory of the first from the territory of the second, each one remaining in full, quiet, and peaceful dominion with respect to each other, of all lands left on its side of the aforesaid line, which shall remain without special charge or grievance whatever in favor of the other.
Under article 5, in consonance with the preceding articles, and for their execution, the high contracting parties name as arbitrators: His [Page 71] Majesty the King of the Belgians; in the unlooked-for case that he shall not choose to accept, His Majesty the King of Spain; and in the event, equally unlooked for, that he shall also refuse, His Excellency the President of the Argentine Republic, in all of whom the high contracting parties “have, without any difference whatever, the most unlimited confidence.”
This convention was signed in San José on the 25th December last; was ratified by the council of state of Costa Rica, signed by President Guardia, and transmitted to the Colombian Government for due ratifications.
No formal communication, either by the Republic of Costa Rica or the United States of Colombia, has been made to this government, of their intention to negotiate or the actual execution of this convention; and we are still without information of its ratification by the Government of Colombia.
It is sufficient for your present instruction to say that the boundary in dispute is the line of territorial division between the Republic of Costa Rica and the State of Panama, one of the component states of the United States of Colombia, and its final settlement by this arbitration will define the limits of the State of Panama and the extent of the rights of the sovereignty of the United States of Colombia over its territory.
You are aware that by the thirty-fifth article of the treaty of 1846–’48, with the United States of Colombia, then known as New Granada, the United States of America guaranteed not only the neutrality of the Isthmus of Panama, but the sovereignty of the United States of Colombia over the territory of that state. You will observe by reference to the provisions of that treaty that this obligation was assumed by the United States of America, not only that any interoceanic communication through the isthmus might be protected by the power of the United States of America, but that they should also be in position to assert and maintain the rights which they have acquired under the treaty. This guarantee is therefore not only an obligation which they may be called on to perform upon the demand of the United States of Colombia, but it is also a right which they may claim to exercise in their own discretion, for the maintenance of their own interests.
The effort, apparently a very earnest one, which is now being made to construct an interoceanic canal across the isthmus, and the necessity which this government now recognizes of establishing under its treaty privileges such coaling and naval stations on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the isthmus as will enable it to discharge, if required, the obligations of guarantee which it has assumed, make it a matter of direct interest to the United States of America to have ascertained what are the limits of the State of Panama, and especially its littoral extent on either ocean.
The guarantee of the United States of America has now been in force for over thirty years, and upon more than one occasion they have been called upon to discharge the duties which it imposes, in the interests of other powers, while recent events have given increased and increasing importance to the rights which it confers, it cannot be a matter of indifference to the United States of America whether the littoral line of either ocean in the neighborhood of any projected interoceanic communication is within the guaranteed territory of the United States of Colombia, or within the lawful boundaries of the Republic of Costa Rica, with whom its treaty obligations are of a different character.[Page 72]
While, therefore, the Government of the United States of America does not claim or desire that the Republic of Costa Rica and the United States of Colombia should on all questions of difference which may, arise between them seek either the advice or arbitration of this government, I cannot but feel that in a question of such direct concern to its interests and to its treaty rights and obligations it was not only warranted in expecting the formal communication of such action as has been already taken, but that its opinion, both as to the character of the submission and the selection of any arbitrator to be chosen, is entitled to the most respectful consideration.
It belongs, of course, to His Majesty the King of the Belgians to determine how far his acceptance of the arbitration which has been asked of him, will be influenced by the fact that he may be called upon to decide questions of grave consequence and direct interest to this government, which have been raised without our knowledge, and are to be settled without our participation. But it is proper, in order to avoid any future misunderstanding, or anything that may then be construed into intentional disrespect of the decision which His Majesty may make, that His Majesty should be informed that while the Government of the United States has neither formed nor desires to express any opinion upon the merits of the convention between Costa Rica and the United States of Colombia, yet it will not hold itself bound by any decision which would modify or limit either the rights or interests which may have been secured to it by the treaty of 1846, the obligations of which it has discharged, from the date of its signature to the present day, with scrupulous fidelity, unless it has had full opportunity to explain and enforce those rights and interests before an arbitrator in whose appointment it has been consulted and in whose selection it has concurred.
The method in which you will make this communication must be left to your own judgment. I desire, if possible, to avoid a communication so formal that it might be misinterpreted into a protest, and you will take care before approaching the subject at all to learn that the invitation to arbitrate either has been, or will positively be, given to His Majesty.
Should it then become necessary you will take care that your representation of the feelings and opinions of your government are made in the most respectful form, and you will endeavor to satisfy His Majesty that they are communicated to him with no pretensions of interference with the exercise of his own discretion, but with the earnest desire of guarding against the possibility of such a misunderstanding on his part of the position of the United States of America as might tend to diminish the friendly feeling and high consideration for His Majesty which this government has always entertained and expressed.
I am, sir, &c.,