No. 468.
Mr. Soteldo to Mr. Frelinghuysen.


Most Excellent Sir: In accordance with my promise to your excellency, I wrote to my Government urging the importance of a speedy settlement of the citizen Wheelock’s claim.

Not content with recommending this officially, I addressed a private letter to his excellency the President of the Republic, very specially urging an immediate settlement of the case, with a view to the removal of every obstacle that might, even indirectly, give rise to any difference between two nations which should constantly draw closer the bonds of friendship and good will that already happily exist between them.

At the time of writing those communications I was not familiar with all the phases of the case, nor did I know how it conflicts with the vital institutions of the country which I represent.

The facility with which the people of Venezuela and of other Spanish-American republics are burdened with enormous debts for the payment of claims of friendly powers growing out of injuries suffered by their citizens or subjects, has given rise to abuses which threaten to absorb the revenues of them all, and to precipitate them into ruinous conflicts. The history of the past appears incredible as regards these claims, to secure the payment of which the facts have been distorted and exaggerated in every conceivable way, so that trivial acts have been made to appear as most scandalous outrages.

If is wholly impossible for any people to pay fabulous sums for every injury suffered by the citizens of other countries, who, in such cases, have enjoyed privileges that have never been accorded to the natives of any country, among which has been that of having direct recourse to diplomatic intervention on the part of their respective Governments, in disregard of the methods of redress established by law, that is to [Page 598] say, of the courts and other constituted authorities, which alone are now competent in Venezuela to take cognizance of and decide cases like that of Wheelock, the Executive having no power whatever to interfere with their proceedings.

I make these remarks in order that your excellency may see the special reasons which have compelled the legislative branch of the Venezuelan Government to put a stop to these abuses, and to relieve the people of the constant pressure which was exhausting their resources and vital elements. Laws have been enacted, similar to those of other countries, for the purpose of dispelling the hope of making a fortune at the expense of the public treasury, which was so frequently entertained by those who had some real or imaginary grievance, and who sought to realize their expectations without having recourse to the courts of the country, which are absolutely the same for both natives and foreigners seeking the redress of their wrongs.

Your excellency will be convinced, in the matter in question, of the very great interest which has been taken by Venezuela in Wheelock’s case, it having spared no pains to redress his grievance.

The President’s letter, a copy of which I have the honor to inclose, will convince your excellency that no charge can be made against my Government on account of occurrences over which it had absolutely no control, of which it bad no knowledge, and to secure reparation for which the proper course for the complainant would have been to have recourse to the methods prescribed by the laws of the conntry which were in force at the time when his complaint was made.

With the most distinguished consideration, &c.,


President Blanco to Mr. Soteldo.

Esteemed Friend: By your letter of December 15, and by the report of the minister of foreign relations, I have been informed of the recommendation made to you by Mr. Frelinghuysen in regard to the case of Mr. Wheelock. I have also been informed of the steps taken in this case by Mr. Baker.

Entertaining as I do the most ardent desire to act in consonance with the wishes of the United States, I have sought to devise some means of doing so without infringing the laws of February 14, 1873, and without establishing a precedent that might at one blow render my arduous toil and important work in the matter of claims of no avail. Neither I nor other persons have been able to succeed in devising such means. The Government has taken a deep interest in investigating the facts of and in inflicting proper punishment for the offense which gave rise to Mr. Wheelock’s complaint. It even sent a lawyer, at its own expense, to Guayana, that he might expedite the preliminary proceedings in the case. To its efforts have been due the issuance of a warrant for the arrest of ex-Commissioner Eusebio Sotillo and for the seizure of his property, with the view of making him criminally and civilly responsible. Unfortunately, he effected his escape, and it has thus far been found impossible to arrest and bring him to trial. The Executive has done and is still doing all in his power to secure his arrest, trial, and punishment.

As to the indemnity, it has been maintained that the Republic owes him none, but he may bring his case before the high federal court and demand such reparation from the party who injured him as he may consider himself entitled to. The law has made the nation resposible for seizures of property, damages, and injuries done by federal officers of the States, but it has not empowered the Executive to make awards in such cases.

The laws of February 14, 1873, in relation to foreigners and claims, have been vindicated at considerable length by the dispatch of the department of foreign relations, which contained many opinions, decisions, and arguments of United States authorities.

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To take a retrograde step in this matter would he not only to act in violation of positive laws, but to make the action of the Government inconsistent with itself.

The ultimatum of the French Republic of March 31, 1881, was rejected for the reason that it demanded, in addition to the re-establishment of the provisional quota of 1873, payment of those claims which, like that of Mr. Wheelock, should have been laid before the aforesaid court.

I trust that, having examined the case in question, you will duly appreciate the force of these observations, and that you will communicate them to the honorable Secretary of State as an explanation of the insurmountable obstacle which, in spite of my best wishes, prevents me from acceding to the arrangement proposed.

I am, sir, &c.,