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.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 87.]
Mr. Scruggs to Mr.
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
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.
Señor Perez to Mr.
States of Colombia, Office of Foreign Affairs,
May 22, 1883.
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.,