Mr. Abbott to Mr. Blaine.

No. 54.]

Sir: Your cablegram dated January 8 was duly received on the evening of that day.

Up to the date of your telegram I had no knowledge of any difficulties upon the San Blas coast except the seizure of the British schooner Pearl, said to have been found trading in closed ports, for which she had not cleared and in which she could not legally trade. On inquiry I find that one other schooner, flying the Dominican flag, has also been captured. The Government disclaims any knowledge of other seizures.

Acting upon the supposition that some vessel of the United States has been taken by the Colombian man-of-war La Popa, I have prepared the following statement of the law applicable to the case.

The codigo fiscal recognizes three classes of ports, viz, free ports, ports habilitados, and ports not habilitados.

Importations are not permitted, except into free ports, and ports habilitados being expressly prohibited into ports not habilitados. Commerce between free ports and ports not habilitados is expressly prohibited. Coast trade between ports habilitados and ports not habilitados is permitted to vessels of all nationalities which may carry merchandise of the country or foreign merchandise on which the regular import duties have been paid in some port habilitado. Every port habilitado has a custom-house.

Between the free port of Colon and the port Carthagena, which is habilitado there are no ports of entry, all being ports not habilitados.

Within those limits lies what is known as the San Blas coast. Consequently, none of its ports are either free or habilitados and all direct importations are prohibited and clearly illegal. If made, the vessel and cargo are subject to confiscation. Consuls certifying to invoices to these ports are liable to fine.

Notwithstanding all this, the Columbian consul in New York has—to how great an extent I can not say—granted the usual papers to vessels clearing from that port for San Blas, and perhaps for other ports not habilitados.” This action is clearly contrary to law. The evidence, as to the length of time during which this custom has prevailed is somewhat conflicting, but I have good reason to believe that this Government is properly chargeable with knowledge of the fact and has not seen fit to stop the practice until the case of the Pearl was presented to its notice by the British chargé d’affaires.

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Definite orders to issue no more such papers have recently been given to the consul, and it is quite possible that his illegal practice, perhaps begun when this coast was of less importance than now, had escaped the notice of the present officials until the case of trio Pearl arose.

The opinion of the minister of foreign affairs ad interim, and of the President of the Republic, is decidedly in favor of releasing any boat which may have been captured having consular invoices of the New York consul giving as her destination any of the ports not habilitados. The minister of foreign affairs has been absent for a month, and his opinion is not known. The minister of hacienda, under whose jurisdiction are custom-house matters, is also absent. It can hardly be doubted, however, that they will coincide with the President and minister ad interim.

There is more than the usual activity in executing the laws upon the San Blas coast for two reasons—the illicit commerce is believed to be increasing, and the Government naturally desires to receive the revenues therefrom. It is furthermore desired to prevent any importations of weapons of war.

I am of opinion that the Government is perfectly justified in preventing, in the customary manner, this illicit trade. But I do not see how it can for a moment justify the seizure of vessels allowed to clear for unauthorized ports by the express permission of a Colombian consul, nor do I anticipate that any serious objection to release vessels so seized, will be made by this Government.

I am, etc.,

John T. Abbott.