No. 193.

Mr. Becerra to Mr. Bayard.


Sir: I have received and have read with the greatest attention the extended note of the 6th instant, which you had the kindness to address to me in reply to mine of the 4th, relative to certain opinions; expressed [Page 251] in one of the dispatches sent by cable to the Navy Department by Commander Kane, of the war steamer Galena, now stationed in the Colombian waters of the Isthmus of Panama.

After a careful examination, I find that the well-considered statements made in your note are so well founded, and that the purpose which therein appears to avoid wounding the honor and the just susceptibilities of the people and the legitimate authorities of Colombia is so evident and at the same time so upright, that I do not hesitate to declare that those statements are satisfactory and well calculated to strengthen the confidence which has long been felt by the people and Government of that country in the upright and friendly disposition of the United States of America. I must, in fact, believe, in view of the shortness of the time at his disposal, of the complicated nature of the circumstances, and and of the uncertainty of men and events which are the main characteristics of the present state of affairs on the Isthmus, that the officer in command of the Galena did not mean to refer to the legitimate Colombian authorities and to the tribunals of the country when, in announcing the detention on board of his vessel of two of the principal persons who were guilty of burning Colon (as he did in his report), he stated that he deemed it improper to turn them over to the acting authorities because those authorities would allow them to escape.

In view, Mr. Secretary of State, of the considerations set forth in your note, and of the lofty spirit of justice which dictated them, I abstain, at least for the present, from calling the attention of this Government to the anomalous circumstance that a vessel of war belonging to a nation friendly to Colombia, and now anchored in the territorial waters of that country, is exercising in those waters jurisdictional acts of so pronounced a character as detaining on board two Colombian citizens, concerning whose right to the enjoyment of their personal liberty and concerning whose criminality no one is competent to take cognizance except the courts of Colombia, in the manner provided by the laws of that Republic. I must suppose, in deference to the tranquilizing statements regarding the policy of this Government, that that detention, although anomalous, is temporary, and that it will cease as soon as the lawful authorities are able to receive those prisoners with safety and bring them to trial.

It will not be superfluous here, in order to remove all doubt on this subject, for me to inform you, Mr. Secretary of State, that, with the exception of General Ramon Santo Domingo Vila, constitutional governor of the State of Panama, now absent in the military service of the nation; of Dr. Pablo Arosemena, the legal substitute of said governor, and of General Carlos Gónima and Colonel Ulloa, officers commanding the federal troops, all persons who claim to exercise supreme authority, and who do, in part, exercise such authority, in the name of the nation, are mere usurpers, with no title save that of material force. Among the number of these are the rebel leader Prestan, who has been driven out of Colon, and his lieutenant and companion, Aizpurú, who now holds Panama, and will probably continue to do so until the arrival of the national forces, who will restore order there, together with the authority of the United States of Colombia.

I renew, &c.,