No. 168.

Mr. Scruggs to Mr. Bayard.

No. 240.]

Sir: Mr. Consul Dawson, of Barranquilla, informs me that during the suspension of mail communication between Bogota and the coast, he transmitted to the Department a copy and translation of the executive decree No. 173, of the 10th of February last, which somehow got through the lines. It levies a line of 50 per cent, on all consignees of merchandise who may have paid import duties thereon to the rebel authorities and may afterwards refuse to pay duty on the same goods to the Government. I infer from Mr. Dawson’s letter that some correspondence has passed between you and the Colombian minister in Washington on this subject, but he probably was not acquainted with its contents, or else assumed that I was already familiar with them, and the Government here informs me that it has had nothing from Dr. Becerra on the subject.

On the 19th instant an order was issued by the secretary of finance enforcing the decree of February last and specifying certain firms to be proceeded against without delay.

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In the absence of instruction on the subject, I feel it to be my duty to remonstrate against this proceeding. In the course of my interview I told the minister for foreign affairs that, in my opinion, the principles involved in that decree would never be acquiesced in by foreign Governments whose citizens or subjects might suffer from it, and that I should write to the United States consul at Barranquilla to advise American consignees to allow their goods to be sold by order of the Government rather than pay the fines imposed.

In reply the secretary intimated that the decree was never intended to be enforced against neutral foreigners, and asked me to point out the names of any American citizen on the list.

Of course there are no American names on the list, and I suggested that some of the native firms might be merely consignees of American manufacturers and merchants, and that to avoid complications it might be well to so modify the decree as to exempt all foreign interests. He then asked me to embody my objections to the decree in such a written memorandum as might be used by him at the next regular Cabinet meeting, which I did, as per copy herewith submitted.

Thus the matter stands for the present. The decree has not yet been revoked, nor has it been enforced, and I have every reason to believe it will not be enforced against American consignees.

I have, &c.,


P. S.—The minister for foreign affairs sends me a private note, just as the mail is closing, to assure me that the decree referred to will be revoked.

W. L. S.
[Inclosure in No. 240.]


The decree No. 173 (February 10, 1885) involves principles which it is believed foreign Governments represented in Colombia will never accede to; because—

While it may be a question how far a Government is responsible for acts of insurgents, there is no question that it is bound to use all possible means to protect resident citizens of foreign Governments against such acts. How, then, can Colombia, in justice to such denizens or to the Governments whose citizens they are, take advantage of her failure to so protect them by imposing upon them penalties based on the very acts she was bound to prevent? The persons thus doubly taxed were compelled by superior force to submit to the alternative of paying import duties to the authorities in actual possession of the custom-houses or of the complete loss of their property. Suppose they had adopted the latter instead of the former alternative; would it be pretended, in such case, that they ought to be taxed because the Government allowed them to be robbed? And the principle in both cases is the same.
Again, to enforce the decree would be to assume retroactive jurisdiction over a port confessedly not within the control of the Government; and if this power be claimed in virtue of the fact that, by an earlier decree, the port was declared closed, the reply is that such a “paper blockade” is neither legal nor obligatory, as demonstrated in Mr. Bayard’s note to Dr. Becerra of April 24 last, a copy of which ishere-with submitted.

In accord, therefore, with this position, I have upon my own responsibility (in advance of instructions from my Government on the subject) written to the United States consul at Barranquilla to advise American citizens to refuse to pay the fines indicated; but rather to allow their goods to be sold by order of the Government, should extreme measures be resorted to.

W. L. S.