to Mr. Bayard.
Bogotá, April 7, 1888. (Received May 5.)
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your No. 63, of the 6th of March last, and would inform you, that when the intention of the Colombian Government to let a contract for the ice monopoly on the Isthmus of Panama was first made public, I looked into the question with the view of protesting against it, should I find sufficient grounds. I found, however, that it had long been the custom of this Government to grant such monopolies. For instance, the exclusive privilege of slaughtering, the sale of salt, tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, and lucifer matches, in Bogotá and other places in the Republic, is sold [Page 421] to the highest bidder, in the same manner as has just been done with the ice monopoly on the isthmus.
On general principles I felt sure that such a measure could but be prejudicial to American interests.
The first letting was fixed for the 18th of January last, and on the 15th I received a cablegram from the agent of the Boston Ice Company requesting my interference in its behalf. This was the first intimation I had had of its interest in the question, or of the existence even of such a company. I immediately called on the minister of foreign affairs, Holguin, and unofficially represented to him the injury the proposed measure would be to the company in question, and generally the impolicy of such a measure. He replied, in substance, that the Government was compelled to draw revenue from every available source, and that the letting would have to be made in accordance with the published programme. I pointed out to him that, as there were but three days before the letting, the time ought to be extended, so as to allow the Boston Ice Company to take measures to protect its interest, or to bid for the contract should it desire to do so. He admitted the fairness of this suggestion, and promised to see the President, and if possible to have the time for closing the contract extended. The day following he informed me he had seen the President, and that letting had been postponed forty days, namely, until the 1st day of March.
In both of these interviews with Minister Holguin I dwelt upon the injury the granting of this monopoly would be to the company which had long been engaged in the ice business on the isthmus, and had a large capital embarked in the enterprise, and that in any event time should be allowed it to dispose of its stock and plant, and suggested one year for this purpose. He admitted the reasonableness of this suggestion, and promised that it should betaken into consideration when the contract was to be formulated, but added that he could not promise that as much as a year would be granted, but said he would do the best he could. The Government did fix ten months from the day of letting for the contract with the new parties to go into effect, and I was assured by Minister Restrepo afterwards that this time was given in compliance with Minister Holguin’s promise to me.
In accordance with the invitation for proposals from Minister Restrepo, dated Bogotá, January 21, 1888, the contract was let out in this city on the 1st day of March, and was taken by Messrs Maal, Jose Ma. Sierra, Juan de C. Gaveria, and associates, for the term of twenty years, at $45,000, Colombian silver, per annum, payable yearly in advance; the contract to go into effect ten months from the date of the letting.
I have just returned from an interview with Señor Restrepo, minister of foreign affairs, in which I called his attention to the points dwelt on in your dispatch, as objections against the ice monopoly. He assured me that nothing but the poverty of the Government would have induced it to grant the monopoly in question, but that the contract had now been made, as I already knew; the money required from the grantees to insure its fulfillment on their part had been deposited; and that it was therefore irrevocable. To the friendly expressions in your dispatch towards the Colombian Government the minister replied that these sentiments were fully reciprocated by his Government, and that as an evidence of its desire to throw no obstructions in the way of the freest trade intercourse between the two countries his Government had permitted the free introduction of fresh beef on ice from the United States, notwithstanding the fact that there was a slaughter monopoly on the isthmus.[Page 422]
It may be mentioned that the Boston Ice Company itself enjoyed the advantages of an ice monopoly at one time on the isthmus, as I am informed by Mr. R. W. Rice, its Panama agent, in a letter to this legation, dated January 2, received January 18 last.
I am, etc.,