No. 105.
Mr. Scruggs to Mr. Frelinghuysen.

No. 87.]

Sir: In accordance with your instruction (No. 51 of the 6th March last), I brought the subject of clearances of American vessels at Colombian free ports to the attention of the Government here, in a note of the 11th ultimo, a copy of which I inclose.

You will see from the reply thereto, a copy and translation of which I inclose, that the Colombian Executive is fully committed to the reform suggested, and that the promise is renewed to induce Congress (which is still in session) to so amend the existing law as to require but one transaction before the consul and the administrador of the port, in order to the clearance of American steamers.

Several leading members of both houses have promised me to push the measure through, if possible, before the session closes, but as an early adjournment is expected, I do not feel very sanguine of immediate success.

I have, &c.,

[Page 238]
[Inclosure 1 in No. 87.]

Mr. Scruggs to Mr. Roldan.

Mr. Secretary: In accordance with instructions which I have received from my Government, I again invite your excellency’s attention to the subject of entrances and clearances of American vessels in Colombian ports, and more particularly in the free ports of Panama and Colon.

Article 3 of law 40, of June 24, 1879, provides that consular offices shall not return the register and other documents to the captain who may have deposited them in their charge “until the clearance be presented to them executed by the proper authorities.”

This was understood, at the time of its enactment, as requiring only the concurrence of the consul and the administrador of the port in order to enable the vessel to clear, and therefore that it would not be inconvenient of application to the steamers which frequently touch at the free ports.

But as it is now interpreted and put into practice at Colon and Panama, it is found to be a serious inconvenience, and it is the more so since five official transactions, instead of one, are there required before the vessel can weigh anchor. For, in addition to the usual clearance by certificate of the administrador, or chief officer of the port, the captain must obtain a certificate from the prefect of the department, another from the juzgado of the department, one from the headquarters of the resguardo, and still another from the subordinate officer of hacienda; thus making five distinct transactions instead of one.

This multiplicity of certificates necessarily involves great and extensive delays to steamers engaged in the Isthmian transit trade. Thus, for instance, American steamers can never have more than a few hours in which to definitely fix an hour for departure; they must go out to sea at any hour of the day or night as soon as they get the last package on board from the Pacific side. Hence all this time and labor of procuring four collateral certificates from petty local officials, and of giving in an account of their outgoing cargo, &c., is, besides being quite unnecessary, seriously detrimental to the interests of the free commerce transit of the Isthmus.

My Government is of the opinion that, upon general principles, the position of the free ports of Panama and Colon, as mere stations on one of the world’s most important highways, should demand simpler and less rigid rules against vessels of mere transit passage than may be required to protect the fiscal interests at ports of entry. It is furthermore of opinion that the mutual concessions and guarantees under which the free transit was established entitle all who honestly and peaceably use it to exceptional facilities, which may not be necessary or proper at other ports.

It is not believed that the liberal and enlightened Government of your excellency contemplates the adoption of a contrary policy, and therefore that it is only necessary to point out the inconveniences and hardships of the new rule referred to in order to insure its revocation.

It is the wish of my Government that the transit traffic of the Isthmus should be unhampered by petty and vexatious restrictions, and that the indispensable formalities for the entrance and clearance of steamers at Colon and Panama be reduced to the simplest and most expeditious form. And in this, it is pleasing to note that the Government of your excellency has heretofore concurred; for in his note addressed to this legation under date of October 23, 1879, the honorable Dr. Rico, then secretary for foreign affairs, promised to recommend such a modification of law 40 as might be required by the exceptional position of the free ports of Colon and Panama. It appears, however, that owing, doubtless, to some oversight, no special provision has ever been made therefor, and hence my Government now renews its friendly suggestion that while the law 40, as applied at other ports, is not complained of, the condition of the free ports named puts the matter there on a different footing. I am accordingly instructed to ask that the rule at Colon and Panama be modified and so simplified as to involve but one official transaction, before the consul and the chief authority of the port, as a condition to the clearance of a steamer.

I improve, &c.,

[Inclosure 2 in No. 87.—Translation.]

Señor Perez to Mr. Scruggs.

Mr. Minister: By means of your courteous communication of the 11th of last April, your excellency thought well to reproduce the application formerly presented with respect to the necessity of introducing several changes in the legislation upon [Page 239] maritime police, in order to facilitate, by the supression of certain formalities, the sailing of North American ships that enter the ports of this country, especially in what concerns those of Panama and Colon.

The matter having been submitted to the consideration of the department of finance, its chief has communicated to me under date of the 11th of the present month that his opinions upon the subject are in entire accord with those which your excellency expresses in the note of which I have made mention, and that in consequence he has addressed the legislative body requesting the corresponding modifications.

Promising to opportunely inform your excellency what Congress may resolve with respect to this matter,

I avail, &c.,