No. 592.
Mr. Baker to Mr. Frelinghuysen.

No. 683.]

Sir: Referring to my No. 669, of date 21st ultimo, relative to the case of Mr. John E. Wheelock, I inclose herewith—

A translation of a note from Mr. Seijas, of date March 29 last, relative to that case.
A translation of a report on the case from the ministry of interior relations to the minister of exterior relations, of date 28th of March last, which report was inclosed to me along with said note from Mr. Seijas.

I also send, as an accompaniment, a copy of the Gaceta Oficial, of date 20th ultimo, containing documents purporting to look to the capture of Eusebio Sotillo, charged with being the principal offender in the outrage perpetrated upon Mr. Wheelock.

It will be seen that Mr. Seijas, in his said note, refers to his note to me of the 23d of August, 1881, in which last he refers to two decrees, of date February 14, 1873, and to a resolution of date February 1, 1881.

For an adequate understanding of the position of this Government the in closures herewith should be read and considered in connection with Mr. Seijas’s said note of the 23d of August, 1881, and said two decrees and resolution.*

I draw special attention to that part of said report on the case from the ministry of interior relations, which I have translated as follows:

It results from this prompt action that Eusebio Sotillo, with some accomplices, was the author of the torments and outrages (los tormentos atropellos) suffered by the North American citizen Wheelock.

Such is the reported result of the investigation of the matter ordered by the Government through its agent or representative, Dr. Ignacio Dugarte.

In view of the obvious meaning of this Government, as indicated by Mr. Seijas’s present note and its reference to his note of August 23, 1881, I can but report the existing status and await further instructions from the Department.

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 683.—Translation.]

Mr. Seijas to Mr. Baker.

Mr. Minister: I have brought to the knowledge of my Government the conference which we had on Tuesday, the 26th of March, in which your excellency spoke to me of the earnest desire of the United States for a speedy and favorable settlement of the claim of Mr. J. E. Wheelock.

I requested a report on the subject from the ministry of the interior, and I hasten to inclose a copy of the same, which has been communicated to me.

Your excellency will thereby see that the Executive has made every effort to bring to trial the parties who were concerned in the outrages upon that citizen of the United States, and that his efforts have not beeu successful is due to the escape of the ex-commissary, Sotillo, who was the principal one of the guilty parties. This, Government has been unable to effect his arrest, notwithstanding the requisitions sent for this purpose to the authorities of the localities whither it was presumed that he might have gone. The requisitions have been repeated, in order that the offender may be apprehended and sent to the place where he is to be tried.

Your excellency will thus see that the circumstance that nothing has been done in the case is due to the provisions of our laws, according to which an offender cannot be tried in his absence. That would be condemning him without a hearing, which is prohibited in this as it is in your excellency’s country.

As to the rest, I must refer to what I stated at length to your excellency in my note of the 23d of August, 1881, which was designed to explain the reason why the President had not been able to entertain various claims presented to this ministry by your excellency’s legation.

[Page 910]

Nothing could be farther from the intentions of this Government than to disregard the friendly representations of the United States, to which country Venezuela owes so much, and with whose wishes it always desires to comply. When it does not do so, this is due to the necessity under which it is of conforming its action to the requirements of the laws.

I renew, &c.,

[Inclosure 2 in No. 683.—Translation.]

report of the ministry of interior relations.

No. 220.]

Citizen Minister of Foreign Relations:

I have the honor to comply with your request, officially addressed, and to herewith transmit to you the information found among the archives of this department relative to the complaint and claim of the North American citizen, P.* E. Wheelock, for the outrages to which he declares he suffered at Caratal, in the jurisdiction of the old state of Guayana, now an integral part of the federal territory of Yuruari.

This affair being brought to the knowledge of the ministry under my charge, by order of the national Government, and through that department, in order to proceed to the investigation of the preferred complaint, and the punishment of the aggressors and accomplices, it was ordered in the first instance (termino) to send to Guayana, and so it was in fact, an advocate, Dr. Ignacio Dugarte, in the character of a national attorney-general (fiscal nacional), in order that, in representation of the Government of Venezuela, he might take part in the proceeding (Juicio) raised by the citizen Wheelock.

This is stated in order to make manifest the zeal with which the President of the nation watches for the cause of justice, and for the individual guarantees and interests of foreigners who conduct themselves in Venezuela in a satisfactory manner.

Arrived at Guayana, the aforesaid advocate, attorney-general, acted personally in the aforesaid proceeding, and supported by the influence of the political authorities and the rectitude of the judicial employes, he practiced such opportune and legal diligence, they succeeded in putting in evidence the offense committed to all its circumstances, with its authors and accomplices.

He caused to review and construct de novo the commenced proceedings, examined for himself the proofs, asked the ratification of them, called new witnesses, reinterrogated those already examined, and caused a sketch of the localities in which the act was committed to be made, in order to better form a judgment and illustrate the matter.

It results from this prompt action that Eusebio Sotillo, with some accomplices, was the author of the torments and outrages suffered by the North American citizen, Wheelock.

The tribunal of instruction, on the petition of the national attorney-general, decreed the apprehension of Sotillo and of those complicated in his offense. Sotillo, warned undoubtedly of the punishment in store for him, escaped, although prompt measures were taken for imprisoning him; the necessary requisitions were delivered and published in the official publications.

As for the results of the proceeding, it is its legality which involves civil responsibility. The attorney-general prayed, the tribunal decreed it, and the end was accomplished, with all the formalities of the case—a precautionary attachment of the property and rights of property of the aggressor Sotillo—all of which appears in detail in the said judicial proceedings.

Ultimately the national Government has directed reiterated orders to the governors of the states to render up the fugitive Sotillo to prison, but till now, notwithstanding the interest displayed, his whereabouts have not yet been discovered.

This is all that is known of the process. It is necessarily paralyzed by the flight of the offender, inasmuch as the citizen minister will comprehend our laws do not permit full prosecution in criminal proceedings when the prosecuted is absent.

And finally, to terminate this report, I will inform you that the Government has recently reiterated its firm resolution to capture the offender and his accomplices.

God and federation.

[Page 911]
[Inclosure 3 in No. 683.—Extract from the Gaceta of April 20, 1883.—Translation.]

United States of Venezuela, Office of the Executive of the State of Bermudez, Administrative Section, Twentieth year of the Law and Twenty-fifth of the Federation.

No. 110.]

Citizen Minister of Internal Relations: I have addressed a circular to the competent authorities of all the districts of this state, instructing them to make every effort to arrest Eusebio Sotillo, who escaped from the federal territory of Yuru-ari after having cruelly maltreated a North American citizen named John E. Wheelock.

I have the honor to communicate the above information in reply to your note of the 20th ultimo, and I assure you that I shall spare no pains to effect Sotillo’s arrest, in case he is still within the limits of this state.

God and the federation.


(20th and 25th.)

Citizen Minister of Internal Relations: In pursuance of the contents of your official note of the 20th ultimo, the government of this state has issued the order of which a copy is herewith inclosed for the information of the national Executive.

God and the federation.


(20th and 25th order.)

Let the foregoing note be published in the Official Gazette, and let it be communicated to the district governors and to the supreme court of justice, to the end that they may instruct the officers in their respective jurisdictions to make the most earnest endeavors to effect the arrest of Eusebio Sotillo in case he may have taken refuge in this state; and when they shall have effected said arrest, let them deliver the accused to the executive of the state, so that he may take suitable action in the case. Let a copy of this order be transmitted, for the information of the national Executive, to the minister of internal relations, in reply to his note of the 20th ultimo.

  • PEDRO TORRES, Secretary.

(20th and 25th.)

No. 370.]

Citizen Minister of Internal Relations, Caracas: I have had the honor to receive your two notes of the 20th ultimo, whereby you reiterate to this government your request that it will endeavor to discover the whereabouts of the fugitive Eusebio Sotillo, who, according to information received by you, has taken refuge at Santa Maria de Ipire.

The present secretary of this Government, who filled the same office in that of Guarico in 1881, assures me that he made every possible effort at that time, by order of the executive of the state of Guzman-Blanco, to discover the whereabouts of Sotillo in Guárico, and that the latter could not be found in that territory.

I shall, as speedily as possible, in obedience to your renewed orders, send requisitions in every direction with a view of effecting the arrest of the delinquent.

God and the federation.


Mr. Seijas to Mr. Baker.


[The following are the papers referred to in Mr. Seijas’s note:]

Mr. Minister: Your excellency’s communication was duly received at this ministry, together with copies of the documents upon which the captain of the schooner [Page 912] Anna S. Murch bases his claim to the sum of $2,400 on account of damages suffered at the bar of Maracaibo, in January, 1879, owing to that vessel’s not having been towed by the steamer Livingston, which had been assigned to that duty, but which left her there for thirty-five days, during which time the boards of her hull were destroyed by worms, so that new ones had to be procured. It is further stated that, owing to an insurrection, the authorities at Maracaibo employed the steamer in towing the vessels of their own squadron. The accompanying copies of documents are, 1st, a letter from Messrs. H. W. Lord to the honorable W. M. Evarts, Secretary of State; 2d, a statement of the damages which grew out of the schooner’s detention and of the value of the new boards required; 3d, the protest entered at the commercial agency of the United States at Maracaibo. It is argued that the pilotage dues are paid to the Government; that it is not permitted to employ any other than Government pilots, and that the authorities of Zulia caused the delay.

It has been considered, on examination, that this is a case in which it is eminently proper to demand compensation, and, therefore, your excellency has been authorized to make it known, and to say that it is confidently hoped, in view of the circumstances, that an indemnity will be granted to the claimant for the losses and damages suffered by him.

From the statement made of the matter, it is inferred that this Republic is to be held responsible for the conduct of its officers; and that being the case, this Government directed that the claim be laid before the high federal court, so that by means of discussion, and of the evidence produced, that tribunal might decide on the merits of the case, and order or deny the payment by the national treasury of the amount claimed. The Executive is precluded by that law from taking cognizance of any foreign claims, of which notice was given in due time, and recently, by means of the resolution of the 1st of February of this year, which was inserted in the Official Gazette, and likewise in the report of this department to Congress in its recent session.

In order to show the necessity and the right with which the Republic has proceeded to establish such a law, I shall make some observations in regard to its clauses; and for the purpose of making them appear more acceptable to the United States, I shall employ no arguments that do not carry the weight of laws or treaties of that country, or of opinions and assertions of its high functionaries, especially the members of the Cabinet at Washington.

I beg to remark, in the first place, that this course, far from indicating any lack of disposition to secure the good opinion of friendly nations, gives evidence not only of the most sincere desire to do so, but also of a disposition to hesitate at no pecuniary sacrifice in order to secure that good opinion.

I must also add, that although I enter into explanations in treating solely of the observance of express laws, this is because, as the claimant is the Government of the United States, for which that of Venezuela entertains so much respect, and for which it desires to show the utmost deference, it has been thought proper to furnish a convincing demonstration of our reasons for not having done so on this occasion.

On the 14th of February, 1873, two decrees, which have since been in force, were issued. They were issued in virtue of the attributes of sovereignty of the State, and with the patriotic purpose to put an end to the inveterate abuses introduced in this branch. Here aliens have thought themselves exempted from the obligation to obey the laws, and whenever any act of authority has been exercised towards them (or else on some other pretext) they have presented claims to the executive branch of the Government, thus converting the same, for their convenience, into a tribunal in which there is no opponent, where proofs are not presented, appeals are not heard, and where none of the rules of practice are in use which are designed to secure wise decisions. The Executive has thereby deviated from the only path that the Constitution has marked out for him. Such has been the origin of the numerous and ever-recurring indemnities that have, by their enormous burden, oppressed the treasury of the Republic, besides causing infinite disagreements. It was necessary to oppose a dike to the torrent, and this was done.

The principal provisions of said decrees are, 1st, that which declares that foreigners have no right to have recourse to diplomatic interference except when, having exhausted all legal resources before the competent authorities, it clearly appears that justice has been denied or notable injustice committed; 2d, that which places foreigners on the same footing with Venezuelans in cases in which there is a right to ask for indemnity for losses or damages arising from war; 3d, that which disclaims the responsibility of the nation and of the states for damages or expropriations that have not been executed by legitimate authorities, acting in their public capacity; and, 4th, that which charges the federal treasury with the obligation to pay the damages, injury, or expropriations executed by national or state officers either in civil or foreign warfare or in time of peace, provided the claim be submitted to the high federal court, subject to certain proceedings.

The first principle was admitted by the United States as far back as February 22, 1792, and April 12, 1793. (Reports of Attorney-General Randolph in the case of Mr. Pagan, a British subject.) In the first he says that the custom of sovereigns is not to interfere [Page 913] in the administration of justice until the foreign complainant has had recourse to the highest tribunal of the country; in the second, that it has been made a rule of justice not to interfere in suits of citizens before foreign courts, except in case of denial of justice, palpable and evident injustice, or violation of existing rules and forms.

The same principle has been carried so far that it extends to cases in which a citizen of one country has received offense from the Government of another, since even then, in order that the aggrieved party may be entitled to help from his own Government, he must have had recourse in vain to the courts of justice of the offending state, unless the latter, by the acts of its competent authorities, relieves such aggrieved party from the necessity of pursuing such a course. (Report of Attorney-General Akerman of December 28, 1871, on the contribution of two dollars for each passenger, which was exacted by the State of Panama.) The Attorney-General says that the object of such a rule is clearly to give the offending Government an opportunity of rendering justice to the aggrieved party in the regular way, and thus to avoid all occasion for international discussion.

On the 5th of July, 1837, Attorney-General B. F. Butler was consulted in reference to the case of two Frenchmen who had been subjected to certain acts of gross violence, one in his person and the other in his dwelling, and in whose behalf the French chargé d’affaires had solicited the interposition of the Federal Government. Mr. Butler replied as follows: “There can be no doubt that, in conformity with international law, and independently of treaty stipulations, subjects of a state with which the United States are at peace, who come to our territory and place themselves, with the consent of the General Government and that of the States, under the safeguard of our laws, have a right to be protected in their personal rights, the same as native citizens; and that it is the duty of the Executive of the United States, to whom the Constitution intrusts the care of our foreign relations, to take all the legal measures that may conduce to this end. Nevertheless, it is obvious, in view of the principles on which our institutions are based, and of their particular structure, that the attributes of the Federal Executive, in this respect, will, in most cases, be limited to the mere duty of seeing that the laws enacted by Congress in the matter be faithfully executed and reparation can be obtained solely by means of the courts of justice, or, in cases that demand it,’ by special interposition of the law-making body.” We here see not only a confirmation of the rule adopted in the decree, but also the only function that it is proper for the Executive to perform in cases of complaints on the part of foreiguers; and, likewise, that the constitution of Venezuela is, with but trifling difference, modeled after that of the United States.

On the 9th of July, 1844, Attorney-General Nelson expressed the opinion that the invasion of the Texas custom-house by citizens of Arkansas, and the forcible removal of effects therefrom, did not constitute a basis for a claim against the United States Government.

In 1851, owing to a riot that took place in New Orleans against the consul of Spain, the Spanish flag, and the property of various Spanish subjects, indemnity was claimed in their favor. Mr. Webster agreed to grant it to the consul, but refused it to the other parties, saying: “The rights of a Spanish consul, a public officer residing here, under the protection of the United States, are entirely different from those of Spanish subjects who have come to this country to mingle among our citizens and to carry on their private business in our country. The former may claim a special indemnity; the latter are entitled to the protection which is due to our own citizens. Although the losses suffered by Spanish citizens are much to be regretted, still it is known that many American citizens have suffered similar losses from the same cause, and those private individuals, subjects of Her Catholic Majesty, who come of their own accord to reside in the United States, have certainly no cause of complaint if they are protected by the same law and by the same tribunals as the natives of the country.” Diplomatic intervention on the part of the minister of Spain was thus rejected, and the Spanish Government accepted the rejection. Thus triumphed a sound principle as regards equality between foreign and native citizens.

In relation to this subject, Mr. Webster said on another occasion: “International law in no case grants to foreigners residing in a country privileges denied to its own citizens or subjects, except, perhaps, that of leaving such country.”

On the 27th of September, 1866, Mr. Seward, then Secretary of State, wrote: “The principle is clear that a foreigner who settles in a country of his own choice accepts the conditions and obligations, both in peace and war, to which a native of that country is subject. No Government can be required to abandon its right of jurisdiction over all such persons in its territory, unless this abandonment has taken place by a special agreement, such as are all the treaties between Christian states and those states that profess Mohammedanism, or any other religion.”

Yet not only as a rule of voluntary conduct, but also as a bilateral obligation, have the United States adopted this maxim. See article 27 of the treaty of September 6, 1870, between the United States and the Republic of Peru: “As a consequence [Page 914] of the principle of equality established, in virtue of which the citizens of each of the contracting parties enjoy, in the territory of the other, the same rights as natives, and receive from the respective Governments the same protection for their persons and property, it is declared that there shall be no ground for diplomatic intervention, except in cases where such protection has been denied, where the legal authorities have failed to take the necessary steps to afford such protection, where they have acted with manifest injustice, and where the legal methods of redress have been exhausted.”

The point examined has a close connection with the duty which is incumbent upon foreigners to obey the laws of the state which permits them to enter its territory and reside there. If, on the one hand, such an obligation exists, which is generally admitted, and, on the other, it is unquestionably the right of a country to enact, both in civil and criminal matters, such laws as it considers proper, it is quite unreasonable and unjust that foreigners should avoid the obligation of obeying the legislative enactments, or that they should be above them. The axiom has been several times recognized by the United States: for instance, in the case of Carlisle vs. The United States, it was established that “domiciled foreigners in the United States owe local and temporary submission to the Government of the United States; that they are bound, during their residence, to obey all the laws of the country not having immediate reference to citizenship, and that for the infraction of those laws they are subject to the same penalties as citizens.”

Mr. Webster, in a report to the House of Representatives of his country, expressed himself thus: “But independently of residence with the intention to continue the same; independently of any acquisition of domicile; independently of the taking of an oath of fidelity or the renunciation of previous fidelity, it is well known that, according to public law, a foreigner, or born foreigner, while he continues within the dominions of a foreign Government, owes obedience to the laws of that Government, and may be punished for treason or other crimes, the same as a native subject, unless some other provision is made by treaty stipulations; but this duty of obedience to the laws, arising from local and temporary submission, ceases, as a matter of course, the moment he returns to his native country.* * * But, as has already been remarked, every foreigner residing in a country owes fidelity to that country and obedience to its laws while residing there, as a duty which is made incumbent upon him by the mere fact of his residence, and of the temporary protection that he enjoys, and is as much obliged to obey its laws as are its native subjects or citizens. This is the universal understanding in all civilized states, and it is a doctrine nowhere better established than in this country.”

The same recognition is evident from the treaties concluded between Colombia and the United States October 3, 1824, articles 3, 10, and 11, and between Venezuela and the United States January 20, 1836, articles 3, 13, and 14, and on the 27th of August, 1860, articles 3 and 4. The doctrine of the exclusive right of each state to legislate within its own limits in regard to personal rights, and to the status and civil condition of its citizens, and with respect to all the personal and real property situated in its territory, and the doctrine that all persons within the limits of a state are entitled to the same usage as the subjects of such state, whether their residence be permanent or transient, are conclusively established by the following American publicists: Kent, 2 Lectures; Wheaton, chap. 2, part 2; Halieck, chap. 7; Woolsey, O 66; and Field, article 356. Noteworthy are the remarks of Attorney-General Cushing, written May 27, 1855, in reference to a claim of Peru which was based on the stranding of the bark Eliza through the want of skill or the carelessness of a pilot. That learned lawyer therein showed the irresponsibility of the United States in that case, the competence of the courts to take cognizance of it without any assumption of suretyship on the part of the Government, the right of regulating the condition of foreigners and of compelling them to obey its laws, and the expediency of returning to the observance of those rules of international law with the Spanish-American nations, with respect to which “Great Britain, France, and the United States have each assumed, on various occasions, rights of interference in behalf of their subject or citizens in those countries which not one of us would tolerate in our own country, in some cases through necessity, and in others with very doubtful discretion or justice. This has greatly aggravated the evils of misgovernment there, as will palpably appear from careful study of the internal condition of the South American Republics.”

With regard to the second rule, which establishes equality between foreigners and Venezuelans in cases in which the right exists to ask indemnity for losses or damages caused by war, it is but the result of that equal footing on which both should stand, in the example to which the law has reference, and is in harmony with that precept of international law according to which a foreigner residing in the country of a belligerent can lay no claim to indemnity for losses of property occasioned by the acts of war of another belligerent, as Attorney-General Stanbery opined in the case of Wheelwright et al., American merchants domiciled at Valparaiso, when the bombardment [Page 915] of that city by the Spanish fleet, in May, 1866, took place, according to the precedents created by the cases of San Juan de Nicaragua and that of Copenhagen.

For the third rule, which excludes responsibility on account of acts of illegitimate authorities, no better support can be found than the 14th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which, under number 4, is as follows: “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations, and claims shall be held illegal and void.”

In consequence of this amendment, the United States have refused to entertain French claims growing out of damages committed by the so-called Southern Confederates, and the utmost that has been admitted by them is their responsibility for acts committed during a state of war or insurrection by their own civil or military authorities. Thus it is stipulated in the convention concluded by both parties January 15, 1880, in reference to which the minister of foreign affairs of France, on laying it before the Legislative Chambers, said: “As regards damages resulting from the war for secession, we should have been very glad if the convention could have been made applicable to destructive acts committed by the so-called confederates, as well as to those committed by the Federal authorities. A system of jurisprudence, however, has long existed in the United States behind which the American Government has intrenched itself for the purpose of rejecting all such demands, and our efforts have been met by a resolute attitude which has declined all further discussion on this subject.”

The making of the federal treasury responsible for seizures or damages committed by national or state officers is an act of generosity on the part of the Republic. Vattel, in examining how far the state is responsible for acts of its citizens, shows that it cannot be held re sponsible for the acts of private persons, unless it has approved or ratified them, or refused the means of obtaining justice to the aggrieved party. That the same should be decided when the perpetrator of the injury is a national officer is established by Calvo in the following words:

“Within the jurisdictional limits of a country all representatives of authority are personally responsible in the degree established by the internal public law of each state. When they are derelict in the performance of their duties, exceed their powers, or violate the law, they create, according to circumstances, for those whose rights have been violated, a legal means of redress by administrative or judicial procedure; but as regards third parties, whether native or foreign, the responsibility of the Government that has appointed them remains a purely moral one, and it cannot be made direct and effective except in cases of complicity or manifest denial of justice.”

Calvo expounds another system of jurisprudence when he discusses the same point in relation to acts performed in foreign countries, having a really national character, and imputable to representatives, officers, delegates of public force, or others. He thinks, however, that even then a Government may disclaim responsibility for the acts of its agents, when it expressly disavows such acts and furnishes proof that it has not authorized them. He adds that in such a case the Government is obliged to make amends for the injury done, and to punish the party who has committed it.

The opinion of Attorney-General Cushing has already been cited, according to which the United States were not responsible to a citizen of Peru for the loss of the bark Eliza, although that Joss was due to the want of skill or carelessness of one of the pilots, who were incorporated into an association by the laws of California. That profound lawyer said: “Governments consider themselves responsible to individuals for damages occasioned to them by public officers in the collection of the revenue or other administrative acts ordered by the Government, but not for errors of opinion, or even for corruption of administrative, judicial, or ministerial officers, when such officers are administering their public authority for the benefit of individuals as contradistinguished from the Government.”

The same Mr. Cushing, in the case of a United States consul who had improperly ordered the sale of a vessel in a foreign port, was of opinion that the United States were not responsible for the loss arising from the illegal reception of money by consuls, or for any other act performed by them in violation of their duties, unless when such money had been used for the benefit of the Republic.

In view of these precedents, Attorney-General Akerman decided that the Government of Brazil was not responsible to a citizen of the United States for the corruption of a municipal judge of the Empire in the authentication and rectification of the report of a number of surveyors of a damaged vessel, even should the charge be proved.

I cannot pass over the following precedent in support of what I have said: In 1868 the Government at Washington appointed a commission to examine the pecuniary claims preferred by American and foreign citizens which were based upon losses or acts of spoliation suffered during the civil war at the hands of the Federal authorities. [Page 916] The commission was declared sovereign, that is to say, there was to be no appeal from its decisions, and not only was no diplomatic intervention to be allowed in favor of foreign claimants, but such intervention was ipso facto to cause the rejection of any claim in behalf of which it should be attempted. Although, in the convention concluded with France, January 15, 1880, the United States assumed the responsibility for the consequence of acts committed during a state of war or insurrection by the civil or military authorities of one or the either country (sic), this in no wise lessens the force of the principle, being as it is a voluntary renunciation of a right which every one is at liberty to renounce, especially when there are considerations of equity to be considered, and when the renunciation bears the character of reciprocity.

It remains for me to justify the provision which submits claims to the decision of the highest and most reputable tribunal of the Venezuelan federation. I will begin by saying that it has done this in the exercise of its right to enact such laws for its own territory as may appear best adapted to its convenience and interest.

During a war in which the vessels of an enemy are captured on the high seas, or in the very territory to which they belong, and neutral vessels are captured on the high seas, or in the enemy’s territory, in case they carry contraband of war or violate duly established blockades, they are forcibly taken, according to the usage of all nations, to the captor’s country to be subjected to the decision of its prize courts. In case of an unjust decision the nation that considers itself aggrieved has recourse to diplomatic methods only when all judicial means have been exhausted. With greater reasons should these tutelary principles of the sovereignty of states be admitted when individuals are concerned who of their own accord have entered the country with the condition of respecting its laws, and by their choice exposed themselves to such contingencies as may arise.

The United States have a Court of Claims, to which must be submitted, if so determined by the Secretary of State, and as if it were by the voluntary act of the claimant, any claim preferred against any Department involving disputed facts, or controverted questions of law, when the amount in dispute exceeds three thousand dollars, or when the decision affects a class of claims or furnishes a precedent for the future conduct of any Executive Department in the adjustment of any case without regard to the sum involved in that particular case, or when, in virtue of the Constitution of the United States, any authorization, right, privilege, or exemption is claimed or denied. That court, before which all vouchers, papers, proofs, documents, accounts, &c., are laid, examines and decides such claims. From the jurisdiction of the court are excepted all claims against the Government that were pending in December, 1862, and that have grown out of treaty stipulations concluded with foreign states or with the Indian tribes.

It is well known that for many years there was no court in the United States having power to take cognizance of claims against the United States Government. This was looked upon as a great defect in the Constitution of that Republic, and remedied by the creation of the said Court of Claims. And that resource or privilege, as it is styled in the law, is not granted to foreigners unless the nation to which they belong grants the same privilege to citizens of the United States.

In order to refute the doctrine that when a homicide is committed the Government in whose territory it takes place is obliged to pay a pecuniary indemnity to the family of the foreigner killed, it is sufficient to quote Mr. Fish’s reply bearing date of February 19, 1875, to Mr. Mariscal, the minister of Mexico, who had presented a claim for the killing of some of his countrymen.

Mr. Fish wrote: “Though I have been much struck with the moderation, clearness, and fullness of your statement, I have not been able to reach your conclusion as to the accountability of this Government in the case referred to, or in others of a similar character. I am not aware, that any Government is answerable in pecuniary damages for the murder of individuals by other individuals within its jurisdiction. It is undoubtedly the duty of a Government to prosecute such offenders according to law by all the means in its power. If this duty be honestly and diligently fulfilled the obligation of a Government in such case is discharged.”

In the first years of the existence of Venezuela there were not many claims against her; as she went on developing her relations with other states, and above all in consequence of repeated internal disturbances, the numbers of demands increased. They have cost the treasury large suras of money. They have always been attended with exaggeration and want of credible proof, not to speak of other abuses. The very nature of the case is calculated to promote such a state of things. There is no need of recalling to mind the cases in which the United States, feeling convinced that the claimants were acting in bad faith, have refused to entertain their claims. I cannot, however, pass over in silence what took place at Caracas in 1868, in the case of the Anglo-American claims submitted to the decision of a mixed commission, whose corruption has again and again been rendered evident by the investigations and reports which have been made in the Congress of the United States.

[Page 917]

I will say, in conclusion, that claims have constituted a real calamity in the Spanish-American republics, not only subjecting them to the displeasure of powerful states, but compelling them to undergo humiliation and immense pecuniary sacrifices. In May, 1880, Venezuela’s debt on account of claims amounted to nearly $5,000,000. From the debt due to France the present difficulties with that power have arisen. It is impossible for these republics to prosper and progress while these obstacles exist. Their efforts must, therefore, be directed to overcoming them. This is the explanation of the Venezuela laws of February 14, 1873, which have been analyzed; of the decrees and circulars of Peru of 1846, of February 4 and 24, 1857, of January 25, 1859, and December 16, 1877; of the law of the United States of Colombia concerning the rights and duties of foreigners; of the law enacted by Ecuador of November 3, 1880; of articles 14 and 23 of the new constitution adopted by Guatemala in 1879, &c.

The illustrious American, President of the United States of Venezuela, hopes that his excellency the President of the United States of North America will see in the foregoing remarks the serious obstacles which have prevented this ministry from acceding to the demands of the United States legation in favor of certain American citizens, notwithstanding the friendly disposition of this Republic towards that country, its desire to act in compliance with the wishes of the United States Government, and its earnest purpose to cement the relations existing between the two countries on the most solid basis.

I renew, &c.,


Decree of the 14 th of February, 1873, abrogating the decree of 1854 (No. 864), relative to the indemnification of foreigners, and related to the law of 1869 (No. 1684).



I, Antonio Guzman-Blanco, provisional President of the Republic, and general-in-chief of its armies, in the exercise of the powers which the congress of plenipotentiaries of the states in session at Valencia conferred upon me by its resolution of July 12, 1870, do hereby decree as follows:

  • Article 1. Persons preferring claims against the nation, whether natives or foreigners, on account of damages, injuries, or seizures by national or state officers, either in civil or international war, or in time of peace, shall do so in the manner established by the present law.
  • Art. 2. The claim shall be made by a formal application to the high federal court.
  • Art. 3. To such trials shall be summoned, in addition to the representative of the nation, the officer who is charged with having committed the acts, and the state to which such officer belongs.
  • Art. 4. Before the trial of the case the court shall cause to be published in some newspaper, at the expense of the claimant, an abstract of the demand, in which shall be stated the acts and other grounds on which the claim is based, the name, surname, domicile, and profession of the claimant, and the amount claimed. This abstract shall be signed by the clerk of the court.
  • Art. 5. In these trials oral testimony shall not be admitted, except in case it shall be proved that the officer who caused the damage or made the seizure refuses to give the proper written evidence, or when it shall evidently appear from the nature and circumstances of the case that it is wholly impossible to obtain such evidence.
  • Art. 6. The court may order the collection of such evidence as it may deem conducive to the elicitation of the truth, either on petition of the parties, or of any other person, or officially.
  • Art. 7. The nation shall have the right to be reimbursed by the responsible officer, or by the state to which such officer belonged when the offense was committed, for any sum that may be paid by the national treasury in virtue of condemnatory judgment.
  • Art. 8. Any claimant that shall manifestly appear to have exaggerated the amount of the damages claimed shall forfeit any right that he may have, and shall be liable to a fine of from 500 to 3,000 venezolanos, or to imprisonment for from three to twelve months. If it shall appear that the claim is wholly fraudulent, the guilty party shall be liable to a fine of from 1,000 to 5,000 venezolanos, or to imprisonment for from six to twenty-four months.
  • Art. 9. In no case can it be claimed that the nation or the states are bound to grant indemnity for damages, injuries, or seizures that have not been executed by legally competent authorities, acting in their public capacity.
  • Art. 10. No action shall he brought to obtain indemnity for the damages, injuries, or seizures of property referred to in this law if two years shall have elapsed since such damages, &c., were committed.
  • Art. 11. All persons who, not being in a public capacity, shall order contributions or forced loans, or who shall commit acts of spoliation of any kind, as also the persons executing such orders, shall be responsible, directly and personally, in their property, to the injured party.
  • Art. 12. In these trials the law shall be followed which regulates the proceedings of the high federal court.
  • Art. 13. The law of March 6, 1654, concerning indemnification to foreigners, is hereby repealed.

  • The minister of foreign relations,
    D. B. BÁRRIOS.

Decree of the 14th of February, 1873, declaring the duties and rights of foreigners, and relating to the law of 1869, No. 1691.



I, Antonio Guzman-Bianco, provisional President of the Republic and general-in-chief of its armies, in the exercise of the powers which the congress of plenipotentiaries of the states in session at Valencia, by resolution of July 12, 1870, conferred upon me, do hereby decree:

  • Article 1. Foreigners shall enjoy in the territory of Venezuela the same civil rights as Venezuelans, without any limitation save those established in the constitution and those which are provided for by special laws.
  • Art. 2. The following foreigners shall be considered as domiciled for the purposes of this law:
    Those who have acquired a domicile in accordance with the provisions of the civil code.
    Those who have declared to the governor of the federal district, or to the president of any one of the states, the intention of becoming domiciled in the country.
    Those who have resided in the territory voluntarily and without interruption for more than two years, and not in any diplomatic or consular capacity.
    Those who have purchased landed property in the territory of the union and are actually in the country.
    Those who reside in the territory for commercial purposes or for the transaction of their business, having an established house, although they may fill a consular position.
  • Art. 3. Domiciled foreigners shall be subject to the same obligations as Venezuelans as regards their persons and property. They shall not, however, be obliged either to perform military service or to pay forced and extraordinary war contributions in case of internal disturbances.
  • Art. 4. Foreigners taking part in the domestic contests of Venezuelans shall lose their character as identified with native citizens as regards the discharge of the obligations resulting from a state of war, both in relation to their persons-and property.
  • Art. 5. Neither domiciled nor transient foreigners shall have the right to seek redress, diplomatically, except when, having exhausted all legal resources before the competent authorities, it shall clearly appear that there has been a denial of justice, or notorious injustice.
  • Art. 6. Foreigners shall not have the right to ask indemnification from the Government for the losses or damages resulting from war, &c., except in the cases in which natives of Venezuela have said right.
  • Art. 7. The provisions of this law shall not affect the stipulations of public treaties.
  • Art. 8. The presidents of the states, and the governor of the federal district, shall, immediately after the promulgation of this law, form a list of the foreigners domiciled in the territory under their jurisdiction, and shall transmit the same to the ministry of foreign relations.

  • The minister of foreign relations,
    D. B. BÁRRIOS.
[Page 919]

Resolved: The illustrious American, President of the Republic, who, for a long time, has been laboring for the elucidation of its rights in its foreign relations, and who, from the many and important concessions made by him, in proof of friendship and good will, hoped that he would be aided in putting sound principles into practice, regrets to observe that forgetfulness of such principles on the part of certain foreigners still continues. Since they insist on disregarding the legal methods of redress, and on laying their complaints before the executive diplomatically, as if there were no tribunals of justice, and as if the executive had power to order the payment of indemnities, whereas according to the law of February 14, 1873, the high federal court alone has power to decide claims growing out of damages, injuries, or expropriations committed either by federal or state officers; therefore, I declare: That claims not presented in the manner required by law will hereafter be disregarded.

Let it be published.

By the national executive:

  1. Here added to this dispatch. See post.
  2. An error of one of the initials.—J. B.