Mr. Abbott to Mr. Blaine.
Bogota, February 1, 1890. (Received February 25.)
Sir: The situation in respect to the difficulties on the San Blas coast remains the same as noted in my No. 57 of the 20th ultimo, except that notice has arrived of the seizure of a Colombian schooner engaged in illicit trade. No other official information has been received, and it is not known, except from the New York papers of December 24 and 26, what has been done with the Julian and Willie, nor, indeed, whether they have been seized or not.
A copy of the New York Herald of December 31 has also been received, with an account of the warlike demonstration of the schooner Geo. W. Whitford.
The owner is represented as saying that the captain has been instructed to comply with all the customary rules and regulations of the country and to take out his trading license at the port of Colon, etc.
As I wrote before, I have been able to find no trace of any law authorizing the issue of any such license. The granting of such documents is without legal warrant and contrary to the spirit and reason of the law. If they could be given, they would defeat entirely the purpose for which the law was framed. It is possible, and, I suppose, from what the owners and captains are reported to have said, true, that such licenses have been given by some official in Colon. If so, the act was illegal and served no legitimate purpose.
The laws and decrees of Colombia are contained in so many different books and diarios oficiales that one always feels more or less uncertainty in making any statement in regard to them. I have, however, made a careful personal search, only now completed. I am a little late in reporting, but felt that I could not safely act more expeditiously. I have not hesitated to avail myself of the freely offered aid of the Government, the great familiarity with the laws possessed by the German minister, and the researches of the British chargé made in the case of the Pearl, in addition to which I have taken good legal advice. Nothing has been found which gives even a colorable right to carry on direct traffic upon the San Blas coast. The laws are general and apply as much to Colombians as to foreigners.
I beg leave to submit a more complete statement of the laws relative to the matter than the limited time at my disposal permitted me to do in my No. 54 of the 11th ultimo. I also send translations of the most important provisions. I have examined with care all changes made [Page 242] since the passage of the laws, but have not included immaterial changes herein.
The fiscal code of the United States of Colombia was enacted May 22, 1873, and went into effect January 1, 1874. Upon the change of the constitution the same code, with such changes and modifications as had been made since its enactment by laws and decrees, was continued in force by the law 57 of April 15, 1887, So that from 1874 to the present time the law has been well known and duly published to the world.
By its provisions direct importations to places not ports of entry, among which are and always have been those of the San Blas coast, are clearly and specifically prohibited, as well as all commerce between the free ports and places not ports of entry.
The free ports are named in the code and include not only Colon and Panama, but other free territory. The executive power is authorized to permit or prohibit direct importation into the free ports, except those of Colon and Panama, which are always free, and to establish regulations for trade in the free ports and territory and in the ports and territory which are not free in order to prevent smuggling.
In execution of this power, the President, on the 23d day of June, 1883, issued decree No. 638* of that year forbidding direct importation to all the free ports, except, of course, Panama and Colon, and reiterating, quite unnecessarily, I think, the provisions of the fiscal code prohibiting commerce between free ports and places not ports of entry, so that the owners of the Julian and Willie are not victims of this decree, because the law prohibiting direct importations to places not ports of entry and trade between free ports and places not ports of entry does not depend upon this decree, and had in 1883 been in force since January 1, 1874, as it has been even to this date.
As I understand the case, schooners have been dispatched by Señor Calderón, the Colombian consul, against the well-known officially published laws of his country, and some official in Colon, also contrary to those laws, has granted trading licenses for the San Blas coast. Whether the owners themselves knew the laws or not, they were engaged in illicit trade, the only excuse for which arises from the illegal acts of subordinate Colombian officials. This excuse, I think, ought to prevail, and, in my opinion, will induce this Government to treat the matter in a conciliatory and friendly way and release the schooners if it shall appear that they are still in custody. As I have neither instructions nor definite information, I have done nothing more than inform myself as to the laws and gather all information possible.
I am not yet quite certain that the present officials have had any knowledge of the course pursued by Señor Calderón until the seizure of the Pearl.
I feel quite confident, however, that they were entirely ignorant of the licenses issued at Colon until the arrival of the New York papers of the 24th ultimo.
By our treaty the coast trade of the contracting parties may be regulated by each as it sees fit.
There seems to be no direct provision of law authorizing, in terms, a foreign vessel to enter Carthagena, pay her duties, and proceed to the San Blas coast. Nor is there any prohibition of such act. The laws imply it, however, the foreign minister asserts it, and the minister of hacienda says that he issued orders to permit the Julian and Willie, or two schooners which are supposed to be the ones named, to proceed on [Page 243] their voyage after such payment. Nevertheless, there seems to be some indefiniteness or lack of definite knowledge about this point, which, however, is probably not just now important.
Since writing the above I have again applied to the minister of hacienda for a definite statement of the law in this matter. His reply in writing is as follows:
The boat should be dispatched for importation to Carthagena, and subsequently to San Blas for comercio costanero.
I shall make immediate report when official news of seizures arrives.
I have, etc.,