No. 201.

Mr. Becerra to Mr. Bayard.


Sir: I hasten to transmit, in compliance with the urgent and well-founded requests of the Department of State the information which the United States attorney in the city of New York has asked for as an important element in the prosecution that has been commenced against the City of Mexico, charged with violating the neutrality laws.

I offer the following information on the first point:

Early in January last, according to an official telegram received at this legation, a party of armed men, belonging to different States of the Colombian Union, without legal authority of any kind, and being in open rebellion, against the constitutional authorities of the nation, took possession, by surprise, in the upper portion of the Magdalena River—which washes the shores of seven States, and which, according to the constitution, is a national highway, subject to the federal authorities and to the laws of the Union—of five of the steam merchant vessels which navigate that river under various flags, among them that of the United States. Having obtained possession of the vessels, which could not be protected by any authorities, the rebels sailed down the river, surprising the peaceful towns along its banks, together with other vessels sailing therein, compelling those which were going up to turn back, to the great detriment of the interests of commerce and to the great inconvenience of the peaceful passengers who were on board. With the large convoy of vessels thus surprised, they reached Barranquilla unexpectedly, which port is situated on the same river, near the maritime port of Sabanilla, where there was but a small garrison of one hundred men, who were intimidated, and, believing themselves to be in the presence of a powerful enemy, abandoned the city. The perpetrators of the coup de main at once took possession, removed the loyal authorities from office, obtained control of the revenue offices of the nation, among them the custom house, and without delay commenced hostilities against the inhabitants of the State of Bolivar, who remained loyal to the National Government, as also against the legal Government and the peaceful citizens of the neighboring State of Magdalena. In the course of these hostilities those rebels have succeeded, being re-enforced by their allies from the various localities of that region, in holding possession of the city of Barranquilla, in controlling the seaport of Sabanilla, and subsequently in invading the State of Magdalena, and taking its capital city, Santa Marta, which is a national port, with a custom-house.

As they held the city of Barranquilla, which is a rich center of supplies, and thus controlled the funds of the custom-house, and the money yielded by forced loans, the rebels were enabled (1) to prevent the navigation of the river, and thus to paralyze all commercial traffic; (2) successfully to resist the national forces which left Panama for the purpose of compelling them to obey the legally constituted authorities; (3) to send forces to attack the city of Cartagena, which is obedient to the federal Government; (4) to send agents to Curaçao and New York for the purpose of procuring elements of war, so that they might be enabled to carry hostilities to the interior of the country; and, finally, (5) [Page 262] to purchase those elements in the latter of the aforesaid cities, paying for them with the money which they had taken from the nationa coffers, and to carry hostilities to the port of Rio Hacha, which has always been and still is under the jurisdiction of the legal authorities.

On the second point:

All the persons to whom the attorney’s question has reference are rebels in arms against the National Government, and some of them, such as Messrs. Manotas and Espriella, are officers of the State of Bolivar, who are unfaithful to their duty to obey the Government of the Union.

Mr. Benjamin Gaitan has been and is the principal agent, who has been employed by the rebels to charter vessels, purchase arms and munitions, and send them from the port of New York for the purpose of aiding the said rebels and carrying on warlike operations in Colombia.

On the third point:

During the months of February and March the port of Barranquilla, in the Magdalena River, and that of Sabanilla, on the sea coast, were held by the rebels. During the same time the port of Rio Hacha, in the State of Magdalena, was under the control of the legal authorities.

On the fourth and fifth points:

I am ignorant as to the whereabouts of the fiscal officers of the port of Rio Hacha, who, being deceived by the presence of a friendly flag, went on board of the City of Mexico, and were there taken prisoners.

I this day instruct the Colombian consul at New York to send the attorney the information referred to in the fifth point of his interrogatories.

I reiterate, &c.,