Mr. Abbott to Mr. Blaine.

No. 65.]

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.,

John T. Abbott.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 65.—Translation.]

Extracts from the codigo fiscal of Colombia which went into effect January 1, 1874.

Title 3.—Chapter 1.

Art. 8. The custom-houses of the Republic have for their object the administration of the imposts which the law establishes upon foreign merchandise at its importation and upon the vessels which may enter the ports.

Art. 9. The commercial operations subject to the administration of the customhouses are classified as follows:

Importation, which consists in the introduction of foreign merchandise for the consumption of the Republic.
Exportation, which consists in sending its products from the Republic to foreign countries.
Transit, which consists in the passage of foreign merchandise through the territory of the Republic to another country.
Coasting trade (cabotage*), which consists in the traffic which is carried on by sea in foreign merchandise, lawfully imported, which has paid the legal duties between the ports of entry of the Republic.
Deposit, which consists in storing foreign merchandise introduced for transit or reëxportation in the warehouses of a custom-house while these operations are being carried into effect.
The coasting commerce (el comercia costanero) is that carried on by every kind of vessel between the ports of entry of the Republic and places not ports of entry (los no habilitados), in the transportation of the products of the country or foreign merchandise which has paid the legal import duties.

Art. 10. Importation is permitted only into free ports and ports of entry (habilitados).

Transit only through free ports and the ports of entry of Cucuta, with destination to Venezuela.

Deposit is only permitted ordinarily in the custom-house of Cucuta. In the other custom-houses it may be allowed by exception in the cases mentioned in article 81 of this code.

Exportation will follow the rules laid down in articles 195 to 205, 268 to 272, of this code.

Art. 11. The operation defined by article 9 shall be executed through legally constituted ports of entry, their execution being expressly prohibited through places not ports of entry (no habilitado), except as provided in the preceding article, and except, also, as provided by article 208 in respect to exportation.

Art. 12. Commerce between free ports and places not ports of entry is absolutely prohibited. Consequently, both the ship or smaller boat which may carry merchandise from a free port to a place not a port of entry, as well as the merchandise carried, shall be subject to the penalties established by clauses 2 and 3 of article 326 of this code.

The captain of the ship or person (patron) in charge of the smaller boat, his accomplices, aiders, and abettors (encumbredores), shall each be fined by competent authority $200 and imprisoned from 2 to 4 months.

[Page 244]

Paragraph.—This penalty shall be inflicted, not only when the boat may be surprised loading, unloading, or carrying merchandise, but also when, after such proceedings have taken place, the act has been denounced before some national employé and fully proved in a judicial trial.

Art. 13. Merchandise is also declared to be contraband when found in a vessel surprised on the high seas, in a roadstead, or inlet, or in a port where there is no custom-house, having one or more vessels about the same (of any size or description) or tied to its side which may not belong to the same, unless sent by permission of the chief officer of the custom-house.

The ship itself, the small boats around it (embarcaciones), the captain, master, and his accomplices and aiders, shall be subject to the penalties established by article 12 of this code.

Art. 14. Commerce of the coasting trade (cabotage) and coasting commerce (costanero) with foreign merchandise from places not ports of entry to ports of entry is also prohibited.

* * * * * * *

Art. 15. Coasting trade (cabotage) is also prohibited in vessels which carry merchandise for importation or exportation.

Art. 16. [Contains a list of the ports of entry, which includes no place on the San Blas coast.]

Art. 17. [Contains a list of free ports, in which no place on the San Blas coast is included.]

* * * * * * *

Art. 22. Commerce from free ports of entry shall be treated as foreign commerce.

Art. 23. There shall be a custom-house in every port of entry.

* * * * * * *

Art. 32. The executive power is permanently authorized to establish the following regulations:

* * * * * * *

§ 2. To permit or prohibit the importation of foreign merchandise into the ports or territories which existing laws may have declared free, except the ports of Panama and Colon.

* * * * * * *

§ 5. To establish the formalities to be observed in free ports and in ports and territories which are not free in order to prevent smuggling.

* * * * * * *

§ 10. To prohibit reëxportation or coasting trade (cabotage) by the same vessels which bring the merchandise, unless said acts may be done in a different voyage from that in which the importation was made.

* * * * * * *

Art. 51. When it happens that any document certified to by a Consul is not in the prescribed form, said functionary is liable to a fine equal to double the fee for said document.

* * * * * * *

Art. 302. All foreign merchandise may be carried from one port of entry to another or from a port of entry to a place not a port of entry, on the seacoast, after the import duties have been paid or secured on said merchandise.

* * * * * * *

Art. 304. Permission to load and proceed from one port to another must be in writing from the chief customs officer, who shall take into account the prohibition of article 202, and after a visit and thorough inspection of the vessel’s hold.

* * * * * * *

Art. 316. The provisions of articles 303 to 307 and of 310 are extended to vessels carrying foreign merchandise imported into ports of entry (habilitados) destined for ports on the coast not ports of entry (no habititados) for foreign merchandise.

* * * * * * *

Art. 325. The offenses connected with the commercial operations of customhouses are enumerated in the various preceding articles, and also in the following:

* * * * * * *

§ 3. The discharge, loading, or transportation of foreign merchandise for coast trade, either for cabotage or for reëxportation made at places not ports of entry or at points or at hours not authorized, or without the proper documents.

* * * * * * *

[Page 245]

Art. 331. When deposits of foreign merchandise are discovered in houses, huts, ranches, or other places on the coast which may be suspected, on account of their proximity to a port, such merchandise shall be dealt with as provided for in section 2, article 325, unless its legal introduction can be established.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 65.—Translation.]

Article 15. The offenses defined in article 325 of the fiscal code, or of that which replaces it in the custom-house code, shall be punished as follows:

* * * * * * *

In the second and third cases loss (confiscation) of the merchandise and the boat or other vehicles in which the contraband goods may be carried, even though they may not be the property of the defrauders.

  1. Printed infra, p. 250.
  2. Colombian laws divide what is known to our system under the general term of “coasting trade” into cabotage and el comercio costanero, as defined in clauses 4 and 6 infra.