Mr. Bayard to Mr. Becerra .
Washington , April 6, 1885.
Sir: I had the honor to receive, late on the afternoon of Saturday last, the 4th instant, your note of that date, in which you are pleased to express to me the feelings of surprise, grief, and indignation with which you have seen the publication in the daily papers of a telegram from the commander of the United States steamer Galena, now at Colon, to the effect that he holds two of the most prominent of the insurgents who assisted in firing that city, and that he deemed it unsafe to deliver them to the Colombian authorities, lest they should be allowed to escape. You ask that redress be afforded for the insult which, in your judgment, Commander Kane has thus offered to the Colombian Government and people.
You do me simple justice when you intimate that I should share your surprise and grief at anything that might indicate a lack of confidence in the Colombian Government, or in its representatives, by any officer of the United States. Permit me, however, to suggest some considerations which may serve to qualify the sentiments you perhaps not unnaturally express in relation to the telegram.
While the language attributed to Commander Kane, expressed with the necessary brevity of telegraphic communication, may appear to you unpleasant, yet the time when it was written and the circumstances surrounding the writer must be justly considered before measuring the imputed offense.
It was a period of great excitement—by no means wholly allayed, be it observed—when power was changing hands almost hourly between the contending parties at Colon and along the line of the railway transit, and it was wholly uncertain who really represented the lawful Government of the United States of Colombia upon the Isthmus of Panama.
General Aizpurú, who captured Panama, was not the officer of that Government, but General Gónima, who attacked him, was such an officer. Between these two a doubtful part seems to have been played by Dr. Arosemena, the president of the State of Panama, who appears to have temporarily yielded to General Aizpurú under constraint and contingently upon the outcome of the insurrectionary attack upon Cartagena. At any rate, their actions rendered it very confusing to a third party, such as the United States naval commander, to know who represented the legitimate authority of the Colombian Government on the Isthmus. In this confusion I myself still share.
The latest dispatch received by this Government from Panama was dated April 3, and was from General Aizpurú. In that communication he assumes to speak as an authorized commander of the Government of Colombia for the whole territory of the Isthmus. Yet you informed me on the same day that General Gónima was regularly in command at Panama, and Colonel Ulloa at Colon.
A later telegram from Commander Kane, received since your note of the 4th was delivered, speaks of the presence at Colon of a force, about one hundred in number, of troops of the Colombian Government, but without indicating whether they are acting under the orders of the [Page 248] regular Government commander, or obey the insurrectionary leader. General Aizpurú.
In a state of affairs so confused and confusing, Commander Kane can hardly be blamed with justice for not knowing who were the lawful authorities of the federal Government of Colombia, with which alone this Government maintains international relations; or for hesitating before giving up the two marauders who had assisted in burning the city and blocking the transit, until events had disclosed that he might do so with security.
The action of Commander Kane has been so vigorous in a direction favored and desired by the Colombian Government which you represent, and his instructions and objects have been so entirely in the line of Colombian interests, that an unfavorable construction imputing disrespectful language to him should not be placed upon an expression contained in a hasty telegram written to his superior in office.
For my part, I am positive that no offense was intended; and I trust this frank statement will entirely satisfy the friendly mind of the honorable representative of Colombia in the United States.
Accept, sir, &c.,