No. 178.

Mr. Becerra to Mr. Bayard.


Sir: I had the honor to receive the very polite note of your Department yesterday afternoon, and therewith copy of the documents in reference to the prompt and efficient action of the respective American authorities, upon the request of this legation, to prevent the shipment [Page 235] of arms and munitions and the fitting out of vessels destined for the part of the Colombian territory now the theater of an armed insurrection against the lawfully constituted Government of that Republic, which is the friend of the United States. I return thanks to the honorable Secretary for the diligent action which has followed my representations, and I hasten to amplify, with the speed which the case requires, the details which the attorney of the district of New York needs with reference to the shipment of arms and munitions on board of the Albano, bound for Sabanilla, and for the insurgents who have actual possession of that port.

The Albano belongs to the line of English steamers of the British Atlas Company, which has resident officers in the cities of New York and Liverpool, which steamers are engaged in regular trade between the former port and those of the Atlantic coast of Colombia. The company has contracts with the Colombian Government whereby in some respects their service of transportation is favored, and therefore, they are subject to greater and stricter duties of neutrality in the domestic contentions of that country.
Notwithstanding this, the company has received on board the Albano a large quantity of arms and munitions purchased in New York by Señor Benjamin Gaitan, the known agent of the insurgents, with funds taken by force from the custom-house at Barranquilla, or as a forced loan from the peaceable commercial element of that city, whose residents are in great part foreigners. And, moreover, it has agreed to transport the arms and munitions and the purchaser thereof, the agent of the rebels, to a port which the competent authorities of Colombia have closed to foreign commerce in virtue of the decree competently issued and communicated to the foreign consuls resident there.
Further, in conformity to the legislation of Colombia, all operations of commercial importation are based upon the previous intervention of the consul of Colombia at the port of the vessel’s departure; yet, notwithstanding this, the Albano has been cleared for Sabanilla without that essential requirement being complied with, thus withdrawing herself from the lawful jurisdiction of Colombia, and putting herself under that of the rebels, whose interest is from that moment to attract to themselves the greatest possible number of warlike elements in order to prosecute their work.
The arms and munitions embarked on the Albano are evidently intended for the insurgents who are now the masters of the port of Sabanilla, and their carriage thither, if unfortunately it be accomplished, will be such efficient aid that without it the cause they espouse would be lost. The reason of this is that they almost wholly lack munitions suitable for the arms that they have succeeded in capturing, while in the national arsenals there is an abundance of such munitions. This explains why, as I have been informed, the company owning the Albano has charged the shippers of the arms extraordinary freight money.
The United States, as guarantors of the neutrality of the transit by way of the Isthmus of Panama, according to the treaty of 1846, are naturally interested in preserving order there and in warding off or suppressing whatever efforts or elements may tend to a contrary result. Now, then, it is a fact which admits of no doubt, that a large part of the arms put on board the steamer Albano are intended for the insurgents who are preparing to invade the State of Panama. The American Government, in fact, knows that a band of those same insurgents by surprise and force seized in the port of Colon (Aspinwall) a steam-tug which is the property q£ the railway company, and it is aware that [Page 236] the captors have taken the tug to Sabanilla, in search of the means of carrying the war into the Isthmus. Your Government has already given directions for the recovery of that property, thus supplementing, at the instance of this legation, the want of means on the part of the lawful authorities of the State of Panama to do the same thing. If, then, the embarkation and dispatch to the rebels of the armament purchased in New York were tolerated by the American authorities, the result would be that these latter themselves would furnish means in opposition to the fulfillment of the obligation assumed by the United States to guarantee the neutrality of the interoceanic transit by the way of Panama, to the injury of such transit, or at least its paralyzation in the event of the rebels carrying the war into that territory, as it is at present their very clear intention to do.

I venture to hope that the facts and considerations here set forth will carry to the mind of the proper American authorities the conviction that the case now presented is one of the clearest and most urgent character in so far as it concerns the neutral duties of this nation, and that it is likewise a very appropriate one for demonstrating the high policy of moral protection in the interest of peace in South and Central America, which the present administration doubtless holds.

I am, &c.,