Mr. Bayard to Mr. Belmont.

No. 31.]

Sir: Referring to my instruction to you, No. 27, of the 20th ultimo, relative to the fines imposed by the Spanish customs officials in Cuba and Porto Rico upon American shipmasters for trivial errors in the manifests of their vessels, and referring particularly to the mention therein made of the fines imposed upon the steamer Cienfuegos, of the James E. Ward & Co. line, I inclose herewith for your information a copy of a dispatch from the United States consul at Santiago de Cuba, dated the 8th ultimo, transmitting to the Department and commenting intelligently upon the protest of Captain Colton, of the Cienfuegos, and mentioning, as you will observe, by way of illustration of the vexatious character of the system of penal fines complained of, the recent case of the schooner H. J. Cottrell, upon which the authorities of Santiago sought to impose a fine because her manifest had been irregularly made out by the Spanish consul at Mobile.

I am, etc.,

T. F. Bayard.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 31.]

Mr. Reimer to Mr. Rives.

No. 209.]

Sir: I beg to acknowledge receipt of your dispatch No. Ill, dated January 18, contents of which I have duly noted. Inclosed I have the honor to hand you a protest made on January 18 by Capt. Lodge Colton, of the steamer Cienfuegos, of New York. This protest I did not send you before this, only giving a copy to Captain Colton, as that genteman desired, before instructing me to send it through its proper channel, to consult with his owners, Messrs. James E. Ward & Co. This firm, I understand, has already sent you a copy.

The fine in question is a nominal one, and relates to the use of the word “drugs” in the manifests of the cargo of the steamer. This term the custom-house authorities here judged a “vague “term, and consequently liable to a fine under article 26, paragraph 3, of general orders to captains of vessels trading between foreign ports and the Island of Cuba. The grounds for this protest I based principally on title 3, section 2, article 26 of the “Ordenanzas generates de la Renta de Aduanas de la Isla de Cuba,” and it would here be well to state to you the exact text of said “ordenanza.”

“El manifesto servirá de base para todas las operaciones ulteriores y deberá necesariamente expresar.” (Translation:) The manifest shall serve as a base for all subsequent operations, and must necessarily express—then giving general instructions as to the making out of the manifest.

  • Article 3 states: Número, clase, marcas, numeración y peso bruto de todos los bultos que trae á board, etc., no se admitirá nunca la expresiòn de mercancias ú otra de la misma vaguedad. (Translation:) Number, class, or kind—marks, numerals, and gross weight of all the packages brought on board, etc. Never will the expression merchandise or terms of the same vagueness be admitted.
  • Article 9 states: Los Consules cuídaran bajo su responsabilidad de no visar los manifestos en que falta alguno de los requisites antes expresados, salvaran por nota antorizada [Page 678] y sellada, cuantas alteraciones, etc., dando aviso á la Dirección-General de Hacienda de haberlo visado el mismo dia en que efectuen, (Translation:) The consuls will take care under their responsibility not to visé the manifest in which are wanting any of the beforementioned requirements, calling attention by authorized and stamped memorandum to any alterations, etc., giving notice to the Dirección-General de Hacienda of having viséed the same day on which such act was performed.

As you will see this clearly places the responsibility on the shoulders of the Spanish consul in New York with whose visé the manifest was provided, and the customhouse authorities here have performed an illegal act in fining the vessel. Besides this, the word “drugs” can not be considered a vague term according to commercial usage.

The question of fining vessels, very often for a mere orthographical or careless mistake in the manifests is becoming a very serious one, which is damaging our commerce with the Island of Cuba to an extent which can not be over estimated, and steps should be taken to force Spain to abolish this, I might almost say ridiculous sytem, and place the question of imposing fines and the discretionary powers of the officials on a sound common sense basis. The case which forms the object of this protest is only one of the many I have to deal with. I have fortunately been able so far to avoid the payments of fines and have always been met with courtesy and respect by the officials when contesting the payments of fines imposed. The whole fault lies with the Spanish law, which, if not speedily, will, and at present does, severely injure our commerce with this island.

The schooner H. J. Cottrell arrived here on January 26 from Mobile and brought a manifest of lumber for the making out of which the captain paid $5 to the Spanish consul at Mobile, and on presenting his manifest here, the custom-house authorities attempted to fine him for not having his manifest properly made out; to this, however, I most strenuously objected and no fine was imposed. Where there is no intention to defraud or intentional disregard of the law no fine should be imposed.

I have, etc.,

Otto E. Reimer.