No. 187.

Mr. Becerra to Mr. Bayard.


Sir: Our interview which took place yesterday, at 2 o’clock p.m., had reference to a matter of such vital importance to the interests and the honor of the people and the National Government of Colombia, which are now intrusted to my discretion and zeal, that I deem it proper, and, as a matter of course, worthy of your approval, Mr. Secretary of State, that I should state in this note, and put on record therein, if not all the particulars of the interview, at least the main agreement in which it resulted, together with the considerations which suggested it on both sides. Consequently, Mr. Secretary of State, I have the honor to lay before you my recollections of that interview, begging that you will rectify, or, if you think proper, confirm them, so that we may thus place on record that exchange of sincere and ingenuous opinions whose object [Page 245] was the common benefit of the two countries, and which, if faithfully carried out, will establish a precedent worthy of great respect in their mutual relations.

On the day preceding the aforesaid interview I had the honor to address to you, Mr. Secretary of State, my note of that date, April 2, containing a statement of the reasons why, notwithstanding the most earnest efforts of the Colombian Government and the antecedents of many years, interoceanic transit across the Isthmus of Panama has not, during the past few days, been as efficiently protected as is to be desired. You began, Mr. Secretary of State, by remarking that my note was clear, intelligent, and well calculated to give a correct idea of the condition of affairs in Colombia, especially on the isthmus. You added that the statements therein made showed that the protective action of the Colombian authorities had been either wholly wanting or very insufficient, which fact had given rise to the outrages committed in the city of Colon against the persons and property of many American citizens. The object of my note having been to explain and even to justify that insufficiency, on the ground of the exceptional nature of the circumstances, I hastened to reply that your remark was unfortunately well founded, and that I should in no case have recourse to the subterfuges so often made use of in what is called diplomacy for the purpose of distorting facts, especially as I had unlimited confidence in the uprightness of the American Government, and in the spirit of justice and equity which lies at the root of its whole present policy.

Incidental remarks then led us to the special object with which I had solicited the interview. From what had been published in the newspapers, I was aware that the United States Government was preparing to send an expedition to the Isthmus. I did not know, however, what was its object, how large it was to be, or the legal grounds on which the Government proposed to send it. I therefore expressed the desire which I naturally felt to be informed of these particulars, with which desire you unhesitatingly complied by informing me that several men-of-war and a few transports were, indeed, about to sail for the ports of Colon and Panama, with a sufficient force of marines to effect a landing, if necessary; that the sole object of the expedition was to re-establish railway transit between the two oceans, which you supposed to be still interrupted, and to afford shelter and protection to the many American citizens who had been rendered homeless by the burning of Colon; that the United States thus performed the duty which was rendered incumbent upon them by the treaty (still in force) concluded in 1840, wherein it is provided that they shall “prevent the free transit from the one to the other sea from being interrupted or embarrassed,” and that, too, with the greater reason, inasmuch as it had been seen that the authorities of the Colombian Government, which was the first guarantor of that freedom of transit, had of late been unable to perform that duty, thereby rendering possible the commission of acts of violence and outrages against officers and citizens of this country, against which public opinion in the United States vigorously protested I then told you that I had good reasons to assure you that free transit had already been re-established, and that the national forces which had just recaptured Colon and defended Panama would be sufficient not only to protect the transit but also to support the action of the authorities in bringing the criminals to condign punishment. I briefly explained the political condition of Colombia, and said that re enforcements for the national garrison on the Isthmus would probably soon sail, if they had not done so already, from the port [Page 246] of Buenaventura, which is very near to Panama. To these statements of mine you replied by formally declaring that the United States forces were to be sent to the Isthmus, in pursuance of the spontaneous action of the United States Government, solely in order that the duty might be fulfilled which is rendered incumbent upon the nation by the treaty of 1846, it being understood that if, on arriving at Colon, they should find the freedom of interoceanic transit restored, and the Colombian authorities in possession of force sufficient to furnish a guarantee that order would be maintained, the said forces would be withdrawn, as their mission would then be at an end. I then expressed the satisfaction which I felt on learning what limits were to be set to the action of the United States on the Isthmus by the exceedingly moderate and upright policy of their Government, and I promised to make a statement of that policy and of its character to the national authorities at Panama, urging them at the same time to do all in their power to strengthen themselves, in order thus to render unnecessary the intervention of the second power guaranteeing interoceanic transit, or at least to render it of very short duration. I then wrote a couple of telegrams, which you told me, in compliance with my special request, would be sent without delay by the Department of State.

In the course of the interview I took occasion to mention that I had seen with painful surprise that several New York papers reported that language which was unfriendly and even diametrically opposed to the very moderate and prudent policy of this Government had been used by the naval officers who were about proceeding to the Isthmus. You were pleased to take note of my observation, and I have seen by the dispatches of the Navy Department that the Government desires that there be no lack of decorum in language on the part of those who are to execute its orders. All this goes to strengthen the very great confidence with which, as the representative of the most delicate interests of my country, I have from the very outset viewed the policy and the methods of action of the American Government.

Here ends my statement of my recollections of our important interview of yesterday, which I most respectfully submit to you, Mr. Secretary, for approval or correction. I would add that the foregoing statement may be not improperly supplemented by that of my recollection of our previous interview in relation to the same subject, at which I had the honor to be accompanied by the minister of Mexico. Foreseeing, as I then did, some if not all of the painful events which have since then taken place, I hinted to you, Mr. Secretary, that it would be well if the crews of the war vessels then anchored at Panama could be ordered by the Government to lend aid to the lawful authorities of the Isthmus, whenever the latter might deem it necessary for the protection of transit and of the interests of foreigners You listened to my remarks with favor, and doubtless acted accordingly. It is not for me to inquire why the orders, which must have been given, were not executed, but I may be allowed to deplore the causes or circumstances that led to this omission, since the burning, and, as is said, the total destruction of the city of Colon was thereby rendered possible.

I again offer you, &c.,