Mr. Abbott to Mr. Blaine.

No. 60.]

Sir: The New York papers from December 28 to January 9 have just arrived. By them I infer that it may have been the custom of our schooners to call at Puerto Bello, on the Isthmus, as well as at points on the coast of San Blas. All my previous dispatches have been written solely with reference to trade upon the San Blas coast, as I have never understood that our schooners have done business in the free territory. Incidentally, however, the laws respecting the free territory have been stated in general terms, and, perhaps, sufficiently for a proper understanding of the case; but, in view of the statements made in the New York press, and that there may be no mistake, I beg leave to call the attention of the Department more particularly than I have done heretofore to the difference between the free territory and the San Blas coast.

The last free port (so called) east of Colon, as will be seen in the list of ports given in the fiscal code, is Puerto Bello. East of Puerto Bello lies the San Blas coast, which is not in the free territory. The laws applicable to the coast have been forwarded and explained in previous dispatches. Those applicable to Puerto Bello and other free ports (so called) have also been incidentally referred to. These free ports, except Colon and Panama, were legally closed to direct traffic by decree 638 of 1883, which also stated at length the manner in which trade in those ports should be conducted. In addition to that decree, is the decree 521 of 1887, a copy of which I inclose, together with law 107 and 109 of 1887. These all relate to trade in free territory and have nothing to do with the San Blas coast. But, as they have been cited by the Colombian vice-consul as applicable to that coast, I thought that the laws themselves would furnish the best evidence to the contrary.

It will be noted that a vessel bound for Puerto Bello, or any other free Atlantic port closed to direct importations, should enter Colon and there conform to the regulations of said decrees, after which it can proceed to its destination with such cargo as may be designed to supply the necessities of the inhabitants thereof. But importations not necessary for that purpose are not permitted.

On the other hand, vessels bound for the San Blas coast must enter Carthagena, pay their duties, and may then proceed to their destination.

[Page 246]

All the laws seem to be perfectly clear except that concerning the right of a foreign vessel to go from Carthagena to San Blas. As to this right, however, I no longer entertain the doubt expressed in my last dispatch, but think the right is, and will be, recognized by this Government.

The New York papers contain what purports to be a copy of a letter written by the Colombian vice-consul in New York to the owner of the Whitford, informing him that he might clear for Colon and there receive a license to trade upon the San Blas coast. Such information would be correct if the Whitford desired to go to Puerto Bello with such cargo as the law permits, but is not correct for San Blas. The vice-consul has fallen into a serious error, and, although he may not be able to bind his Government so as to prevent it from legally seizing the schooner, he has at least furnished the owners thereof with a document which will enable them to purge themselves of any attempt to defraud the revenue of Colombia.

This Government will treat this whole matter in a most friendly and proper spirit, in my belief. So far as I am informed, nothing arbitrary or unusual has been meditated or performed. There is no desire to drive our commerce from the San Blas coast, nor to confiscate the vessels of those who have acted in good faith. There is a desire to enforce the revenue laws, which are intended to be just and to furnish all conveniences to traders consistent with the nature of the means at hand and the proper enforcement of the law.

I would suggest that the licenses said to have been issued at Colon, permitting trade upon the San Blas coast, be carefully scrutinized. It may be that they were only granted for Puerto Bello.

The great difficulty experienced here is that of securing reliable information. It is not known whether the Julian and Willie are in Carthagena or not. The ministry here did not expect that those boats (if those are the ones) would be brought to Carthagena to be condemned, but solely to pay their duties and receive permits to go to San Blas. What has really been done no one knows. It would be a source of satisfaction if our vice-consul in Carthagena would notify this legation when events so important are taking place.

Information has just been received at the foreign office that the schooner Whitford has arrived at Colon, and was there informed by the authorities that she would have to proceed to Carthagena and pay her duties, in order to obtain permission to trade upon the San Blas coast. What course the captain of the schooner took is not known.

I am, etc.,

John T. Abbott.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 66.—Translation.—From the Diario Oficial, August 9, 1887.]

Decree No. 521 of 1887 (August 8) upon commerce in the free ports.

The President of the Republic of Colombia, in execution of laws; 107 and 109 (article iii) of the present year, decrees:

  • Article I. Persons introducing foreign merchandise into the free ports of the Republic for consumption therein shall present to the chief inspector of customs of the port into which the merchandise is imported the consular invoices thereof, certified agreeably to article ii of law 107 of the present year, within 48 hours from the time when permission shall have been given by the manager of the mails to whom it belongs to discharge said merchandise.
  • Art. II. The invoices mentioned in the preceding article shall be compared by the chief inspector of customs with copies of the manifests which shall be presented by the consignees of the vessels whose discharge has been permitted by virtue of the provisions [Page 247] of article lit of decree No. 638 of 1883; and, if the comparison shows a disagreement in the two papers, the said officer shall investigate the cause of such disagreement and shall make a note of the result of his investigation at the foot of the invoices and the manifests.
  • Art. III. The chief inspector of customs shall, either in person or by means of agents appointed therefor, attend carefully to the unloading of the vessels, and shall register, in a manner capable of verification, the packages disembarked according to their class, number and marks, having regard, as a general rule, to causing the least possible amount of obstruction and delay in the transport of the merchandise to its respective destinations.
  • Paragraph.—The register in which is recorded the packages disembarked shall also serve to verify the conformity of the invoices and manifests; and, if such conformity do not appear, the chief inspector shall proceed in the same manner as in article ii of this decree.
  • Art. IV. If an entire agreement between the invoices and manifests shall appear, the chief inspector shall place a certification of the fact at the foot of the invoices and shall deliver them to the interested party.
  • Art. V. When the chief inspector of a free port shall believe that merchandise has been introduced without presentation of the certified invoices treated of in the foregoing article ii of law 107 of the present year, he shall proceed as provided for by the terms of articles 125 and 126 of the fiscal code. He shall demand that the certified invoices be presented, and shall examine the packages by their marks and other external signs, and shall open them if there be no other way of establishing their identity with those mentioned in the invoices.
  • Art. VI. In case of a failure to present the invoices of one or more packages although they may have the same marks as others imported with them, a fine shall be imposed of double the amount of consular fees for certification of the document; and, in the case of deficiency or inexactitude of dates respecting the packages mentioned, the fine imposed shall be 50 per cent, of said amount.
  • Art. VII. In case the importers of merchandise in the free ports shall fail to present invoices agreeably to the provisions of law 107 of the present year, there shall be imposed a fine equal to four times the sum fixed as consular certification fees for said invoices, and the cargo shall be opened by the proper officer to verify that it does not contain articles of merchandise which are prohibited.
  • Art. VIII. The proceeds of the fines shall be received by the manager of the mails of the respective port, in virtue of the notice of the inspector, who shall inform of the fact the government of the department and the general office of accounts.
  • Art. IX. The party interested may appeal against the imposition of the fines in writing within 6 days before the governor of the department, who shall obtain from the inspector the information and documents necessary to an understanding of the case, and, in his quality of agent of the executive power, will give final decision upon it.
  • Art. X. For execution of this decree the consuls of the Republic will forward to the chief inspector of the free port for which the merchandise is bound a copy of the certified invoices, agreeably to the provisions of article 48 of the fiscal code.
  • Art. XI. Whenever the inspector shall see good cause to suspect that one or more of the packages subject to the formalities of this decree contains prohibited merchandise, or others which do not agree with the invoices, he shall open and examine them.
  • Art. XII. If the packages should be found to contain prohibited merchandise, the governor of the department, the judicial authority, and the agent of the ministry shall be notified without delay, and the proper parties be called to account agreeably to the laws and the present decree, and the merchandise shall be held in deposit pursuant to the orders to be given by said governor.
  • Art. XIII. Respecting the cargoes which pass through the Isthmus of Panama, bound for the national custom-houses of the Pacific, or which arrive at the port of Colon, not for the purpose of disembarking, but to be transshipped for the customhouses of the Atlantic, they shall be governed by the observances actually in force. The ship shall present its invoices to the officers stationed there, to whom the consuls shall also remit sealed papers containing copies of the manifests and invoices mentioned in the first part of article 48 of the fiscal code.
  • Art. XIV. For the execution of the preceding articles the respective inspectors shall inspect the manifests presented to them by the captains of vessels and the contents of the invoices, regarding the destination of the merchandise and other circumstances; and they shall proceed, in case of infraction, in accordance with the suitable provisions of the same articles.
  • Art. XV. The formalities regulating traffic between the free ports and the other ports of the Republic shall be the same which have been in force according to the fiscal code, the aforesaid decree, and the other legislative and executive provisions upon the subject.
  • Art. XVI. The inspectors of the free ports shall retain copies of the invoices to be sect to the consuls for fulfillment of articles 48 of the fiscal code and 10 of this decree, and the registers of the unlading of vessels for the formation of statistics in the terms of article 34 of decree No. 638, already cited; and, if such copies are not received in good season, they shall be demanded without delay.
  • Art. XVII. This decree shall be in force in the free ports from the 21st of next September.

  • Rafael Nuñez.
  • Antonio Roldán,
    Secretary of the Treasury.
[Inclosure 2 in No. 66.—Translation.—From the Diario Oficial, June 23, 1887. No. 7084.]

legislative power.—national legislative council.

Law 107 of 1887 (June 21) on commerce in the free ports.

The national legislative council decrees:

  • Article I. Ninety days after the publication of this law in the Diario Oficial the cargoes of foreign merchandise bound for the free ports of the Republic for consumption therein shall be subject to the formalities exacted by the fiscal code for merchandise bound for the closed ports, as to the exactions of said code of the presentation of invoices certified by the respective consuls.
  • Art. II. Persons discharging foreign merchandise for consumption in the free ports of the Republic, upon presenting to the consuls the invoices of the cargoes, shall declare under oath that the contents of said documents are exact, and shall be responsible to the Government for any differences between them and the contents of the packages, and also for not unloading prohibited articles of merchandise.
  • Art. III. In the future, in addition to the commodities mentioned in article ii of law 36 of 1886, the national coin, of whatever denomination or metal, with the exception of gold and silver of 0.900 and the unsigned banknotes of the national bank, shall be held to be prohibited articles.
  • Art. IV. The inspectors of the ports of Panama and Colon shall receive the invoices of cargoes of foreign merchandise destined for consumption in those cities and shall be empowered to inspect suspected articles with formalities prescribed by Government in a special decree.

  • Vicente Restrepo,
  • José M. Rubio Frade,
    Vice President.
  • Roberto de Narvaez,
  • Manuel Brigard,
[Inclosure 3 in No. 66.—Translation.—From the Diario Oficial, June 28, 1887. No. 7090.]

legislative power.—national legislative council.

Law 109 of 1887 (June 22) of authorization to the Government.

The national legislative council, in view of section 9 of article 76 of the constitution, and considering that it is of the utmost importance to provide for the protection of the revenue and the prosecution and punishment of frauds committed upon it, matters which can only be suitably provided for by the legislative power, decrees:

  • Article I. The executive power is hereby authorized to introduce into the customs and salt mines service all modifications suited to enhance their efficiency, increasing the personnel of the custom-houses and assigning to now employés appropriate salaries not to exceed those now paid to the same customs officers.
  • Art. II. These salaries shall be considered as included in the law of salaries and shall figure in the respective accounts of expenditures.
  • Art. III. The executive power is also authorized to make such regulations as may be necessary for the prosecution and punishment of fraud on the revenues newly created.
  • In said regulations the measures to he pursued shall he specified and the employé in whose province it shall lie to apply the penalties against persons guilty of fraud.
  • Art. IV. The executive power shall give account, in due season, to Congress for the use made of the authorizations contained in this law.

  • Vicente Restrepo,
  • José Ma. Rubio Frade,
    Vice President.
  • Roberto de Narvaez,
  • Manuel Brigard,