to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Bogota , October 2, 1882. (Received November 4.)
Sir: The records of this legation show that from the earliest recognition of her national independence Colombia has been almost constantly at issue with our diplomatic representatives here touching the custody of the register and papers of American vessels by our consuls in her ports. The legislation of the Republic relative to the formalities of entrance and clearance of foreign merchant vessels in her seaports is certainly a serious chapter in parliamentary literature; and whilst I do not doubt its general rectitude of intention, it has certainly been, as a whole, singularly at variance with recognized international usage.
This legislation finally culminated in law 60 of 1875, and that law was the occasion of the diplomatic agreement of 1876, in which our representative here seems to have taken the initiative. By that agreement the Colombian law, whereby the inspector of the port was made sole custodian of ships’ registers and papers, was held in abeyance, and the foreign consuls in the ports of the Republic were thenceforth to have the undisputed custody of the register, muster-roll, &c., of the ships of their respective nationalities. It was further specified in the “agreement” that the obnoxious law 60 should be repealed, or else so modified as to conform to international usage.
In August following, however, our national Legislature, in its desire, to economize public expenditures, abolished this legation. The obnoxious law 60 was lost sight of, and when the Colombian Congress convened in February, 1877, it, so far from repealing or modifying the law referred to, passed a supplementary act providing for its rigid enforcement.
This culminated in the unfortunate affair of the Lorine, at Aspinwall, and when this legation was restored the discussion of the subject of the custody of ships’ papers was resumed. That discussion resulted in the repeal of the law 60, in accordance with the “diplomatic agreement” of 1876, and in the enactment of law 40 of 1879, whereby the consuls’ right to the custody of ships’ papers was fully conceded.
But very soon thereafter the State authorities of Panama practically defeated the operation of the new law by a local edict requiring shipmasters to procure, at great delay and expense, collateral certificates from every petty State official in the place that the vessel owed them nothing and that it had their consent to go to sea.
This renewed the discussion at Bogota, and finally resulted in the federal law 109 of 1880, providing for the enforcement of law 40 of 1879, unembarrassed by the local or State law of Panama referred to, or by any other local law or edict wkatsoever. It was supposed, therefore, [Page 224] that the question had been thus finally settled, and that it would not again crop out for vexatious discussion at the Colombian capital.
What was my surprise, then, upon assuming the duties of this post, to find that, among other complaints against our consul at Aspin wall by the inspector of that port, was one that he persistently refused to respect this very local edict which the Colombian Congress had so expressly set aside.
This complaint was the occasion of my note of the 2d ultimo, addressed to the Colombian minister for foreign affairs, a copy of which is herewith submitted.
The minister’s reply thereto, dated the 25th ultimo (a copy and translation of which I inclose), shows that whilst he is desirous of asserting: the supremacy of the federal over the State law, he seems not to have realized that a federal official in Aspin wall had been persistently endeavoring to enforce the local edict over the consul’s just opposition. Hence my rejoinder of the 26th ultimo, a copy of which is herewith submitted, and which I trust may be the finale of a discussion extending through a period of more than half a century.
I have, &c.,