Mr. Blaine to Mr. Abbott.

No. 48.]

Sir: Your dispatches Nos. 53 of January 11, 56 of January 20, and 65 of February 1, 1890, in relation to foreign trade with the San Blas coast and the reported seizures of vessels unlawfully engaged therein, have been received, and I have much pleasure in commending your full and clear reports on the subject.

A report of Mr. Vifquain, consul at Colon, accompanied by translations of all the Colombian laws and regulations bearing on this point which he has been able to discover, agrees fully with the results of your examination and bears out the conclusion that direct trade on the San Blas coast from a foreign country or indirect coastwise traffic from an open free port are distinctly prohibited.

Your dispatches * * * indicate that, while steps have been taken to properly instruct the consuls and local customs officers of Colombia as to their exact function in the premises, no penalty is likely to be visited on vessels which may be found to have engaged in the prohibited traffic in good faith under clearances or licenses mistakenly granted by Colombian officers. This proper and equitable view of the situation was to be expected, and you will use your best endeavors to see that no American vessel, reasonably appearing to have acted in good faith, shall be subjected to other inconvenience or restraint than may be requisite to insure compliance with the promulgated rules and laws of Colombia in this regard.

You will at the same time impress upon the Colombian Government the necessity of clearly making known its requirements, in order that the officers of Colombia may properly do their duty, and that the shipping of a friendly neighbor may not be annoyed and interfered with as a consequence of the contradictory interpretation of the laws of Colombia which is admitted to have been made by its agents.

I append for your information copy of a letter addressed by the Department to Messrs. Foster & Co., of New York, the complainants in the case of alleged seizure of the Julian, together with the annexed translation of the Colombian laws on the subject prepared by Mr. Vifquain.

I am, etc.,

James G. Blaine.
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[Inclosure in No. 48.]

Mr. Adee to Messrs. Foster & Co.

Gentlemen: Referring to your previous correspondence with this Department relative to trade with the San Blas coast of the Isthmus of Panama, I have the pleasure to transmit herewith for your information a translation of the laws, decrees, and regulations of the Republic of Colombia applicable to such traffic, as collected by the consul of the United States at Colon.

It appears from these extracts that the port of San Blas is not mentioned as a port of entry (puerto habilitado) or as a free port, although, being within the limits of the State of Panama and distant only about 150 nautical miles by water from Colon, it would appear to be, as claimed, a dependency of that port comprehended within the free zone of the Isthmus of Panama.

By article 16 of the fiscal code, the following are declared ports of entry on the Atlantic coast of Colombia, to wit: Carthagena, Sabanilla, Colon, Santa Martha, and Rio Hacha. The following on the Atlantic coast, are declared by article 17 of the fiscal code to be free ports, to wit: Colon, Boca del Toro, Chagres, and Puerto Bello, all within the lines of the State of Panama, and, in addition to these, the ports of the archipelago of San Andreas, in the Atlantic, which belong to the State of Bolivar.

The only point upon which the report of the consul is not clear is as to whether San Blas is comprised within the free zone of the Isthmus of Panama. But, as San Blas is not habilitado, the obligation to enter at some port legally open to foreign vessels before proceeding to San Blas appears to be certain.

In addition to Mr. Vifquain’s the report, the Department is in receipt of very full dispatches on the subject from our minister at Bogota. Mr. Abbott’s careful examination of the Colombian statutes on the subject, made, as he reports, under good legal advice, leads him to the same conclusions as Mr. Vifquain has reached, that nothing is found that gives a colorable right to carry on direct traffic with the San Blas coast. The laws are general and apply as much to Colombians as to foreigners. In fact, his latest dispatch, dated the 1st ultimo, refers to the reported detention of a Colombian schooner engaged in illicit trade.

Mr. Abbott and Mr. Vifquain agree in declaring that no American vessel has been seized. Orders were given by the Colombian minister of finance to permit the Julian and Willie, or two schooners which are supposed to be the ones named, to proceed on their voyage to San Blas after entry and payment of duties at Carthagena. Mr. Abbott remarks that 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.”

The definite statement made to Mr. Abbott by the minister of finance is as follows: “The boat should be dispatched for importation (import entry?) to Carthagena and subsequently to San Blas for comercio costanero.” There appears, therefore, to be no trace of any law or regulation authorizing the issue of a license for direct trade of a foreign vessel with San Blas or for a coasting license between a free port and San Blas. Any action to the contrary by the Colombian consul at New York, or by any official in Colon, appears to have been, without legal warrant, and steps have been taken by the Colombian Government to instruct those agents as to their proper duty. Mr. Abbott does not apprehend any difficulty in relieving from penalty any vessels which may have been found to have engaged in prohibited trade on the San Blas coast under clearances or licenses which, although invalid, may have been procured in good faith by the masters from the agents of the Colombian Government.

I am, etc.,

Alvey A. Adee.

laws regulating commerce in Colombian waters.

[Translated and transmitted by Consul Vifquain, of Colon, February 3, 1890.]

Decree No. 638 of 1883, relating to formalities for the commerce of Panama and Colon and other ports of the Republic.

The President of the United States of Colombia, by virtue, etc., decrees:

Article 1. The importation of foreign goods into the free zone of the Isthmus of Panama can only be done at the ports of Colon, on the Atlantic, anc. Panama, on the Pacific.

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Art. 2. (Relates to police matters in port.)

Art. 3. The agents or consignees of merchant vessels arriving at the ports of Colon and Panama will present to the respective administrador de hacienda, through the intermediary of the inspector of the port, in a period not exceeding 3 days, a copy of the manifest, with a full and complete description of the cargo, and also comply with” other minor regulations, as provided by article 41 of the fiscal code,* excepting those provided for in articled of the law No. 60 of 1875.

Art. 4. The formalities of the visit of entry and other regulations relating to the police of the port having been accomplished, and which, in accordance with law, must precede the discharge of the cargo, the vessel will be allowed to discharge without hindrance, having due regard for the provisions of the “port rules” established by the Panama Railroad, as approved by the executive power of the Republic. No reshipment from one vessel to another is allowed without the knowledge and consent of the jefe del resguardo, who is the inspector of the port.

Art. 5. Before a vessel will be permitted to load with foreign goods the captain, supercargo, or agent of the vessel will notify the inspector of the port in writing, stating therein the port or ports at which the vessel intends to touch, the pier or place where the goods are to be put on board, in accordance with article 6 of this decree, and the number of days and hours likely to be required for the loading of the vessel.

If any of the ports of this country named in the application in writing is not an open port (no habilitado), the inspector of the port will at once notify the captain, supercargo, or agent of the vessel that the transaction is absolutely prohibited, and he will take the necessary steps to prevent the goods for such port or ports to be shipped.

If the vessel intends to sail for a port or ports in the free zone of the Isthmus of Panama in accordance with law, the goods will be allowed to be placed on board, provided the inspector of the port has ascertained by the facts the capacity of the vessel and other circumstances, that the goods are intended for the free zone, and not for the purposes of introducing goods at such places as are not enjoying the privileges of the free zone. In all cases the inspector of the port will adopt all means of precaution which he may deem necessary to prevent the fraud.

Art. 6. In the port of Panama the only place at which it is allowed to load, as provided in article 5 of the decree, is the one known as El Taller, and in the port of Colon that part of the port included within the existing piers.

Art. 7. Vessels or craft of more than 25 tons will not be allowed to take foreign goods without first producing two responsible sureties, satisfactory to the inspector of the port, who will be held responsible in a sum equal to twice the amount of import duties which said goods would have to pay under the fifth schedule of the tarifa (tariff law). In this case a sufficient number of days will be allowed to produce a voucher or certificate establishing the facts guarantied, to wit, that the goods were delivered in the ports designated by the sureties, and, if no voucher or certificate is presented at the expiration of the specified time, then the surety will be forfeited.

Art. 8. The same surety of which article 7 treats, and for the same causes, will be required from the captain or shipper of goods of any vessel preparing to leave this port of Colon or Panama, when, in the judgment of the respective inspector of the port, there are reasons for believing that it is intended to take such goods as contraband (smuggling) to a port that is not an open port.

Art. 9. The voucher or certificate referred to in the two preceding articles, and for the same causes, will consist of a certificate from the custom-house officials at the [Page 252] place of destination if the cargo is landed at a port of this Republic which has custom-house officials, or from the consular officer of this Republic in case the goods are discharged in a foreign port, or, in case there is no Colombian consul at the place, then from a consular officer of another nation, in accordance with article 52* of the fiscal code, or, in default of any and all consular officers, then from a certificate signed by three responsible merchants doing business at the place of discharge.

Art. 10. When, in accordance with articles 5 to 9, respectively, there is no objection whatever to grant the vessel permission to load the cargo, the inspector of the port will give it in writing.

(Articles 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 are immaterial to the point of issue; they refer to hatches, to guards, etc.)

Art. 17. All foreign goods which will be put on board of ships in the ports of Panama and Colon, respectively, in destination for a port or ports of this Republic at which importation of such goods can be done, all rules and regulations provided by section 2 of chapter 2 of the fiscal code, as also those provided by articles 5 to 14 of the law No. 109 of 1880, will be strictly observed.

Art. 18. At the other free ports of the Isthmus of Panama besides Colon and Panama, as specified in articles 17 and 18 of the fiscal code, the commerce of foreign goods to open ports of this Republic will not be allowed without said vessel touching at Colon if said ports are on the Atlantic side and at Panama if on the Pacific side.

Art. 19. As regards the preceding article (18), the respective inspectors of the port will secure on board or at the place of discharge, if necessary, the data required to make certain of the correctness of the manifest and will place evidence of that fact upon the document. This document must show, also, the certifications as provided by article 55 of the fiscal code.

Art. 20. It is absolutely prohibited to trade or traffic between the free ports of the Isthmus and such ports as are not qualified as open ports (no habilitado).

(Article 21 refers to domestic products going from a free port to some open port.)

(Article 22 provides for the several degrees of punishment to be inflicted for violation of the provisions enumerated in the preceding article.)

(The remainder of the decree has no particular bearing on the point at issue—trading on the San Blas coast and San Andreas.)

Articles of the fiscal code relating specially to the traffic between free ports and such localities as San Blas.

Art. 12. It is absolutely prohibited to traffic between the free ports of this Republic and such ports as are not qualified by law as open ports; consequently, when a vessel of any kind, large or small, carries goods from a free port to another port not open to commerce, such punishment will be inflicted as provided for such cases by article 326 of this code. The captain of the vessel or “patron” of the craft, their accomplices and auxiliaries, will in each case be arrested by the competent authorities and be subject to a fine of 200 pesos and imprisonment for from 2 to 4 months.

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This punishment will not only he inflicted when the vessel is caught in the act of carrying or discharging the goods, but also when preparations are making and the fact reported to a public employé, and after having been fully verified in the courts.

Art. 13. Is also declared contraband (smuggling) the goods carried by a vessel caught on the high seas, in a bay, or in a creek or cove, or in a port where there is no custom-house, with one or more boats about it, or attached to its sides, and not belonging to the vessel itself, or sent there (to the vessel) by the authority of a collector of customs or deputy.

The vessel, boats, captains, patrons, accomplices, and auxiliaries will be amenable to such punishment as prescribed by article 12 of this code.

Art. 14. The coastwise traffic, or cabotage, with foreign goods is equally prohibited from the ports that are not open ports to those that are such.

Art. 19. The ports situated on the islands of this Republic are closed to exterior commerce; consequently, only coastwise traffic is allowed on such islands.

The ports mentioned in the preceding articles are exempted from the provisions of article 19.

Art. 20. All the regulations provided for and by the system of customs can be executed in the free ports with absolute freedom, excepting only those which are expressly prohibited by articles 39 and 40 of this code. (These two articles refer to the prohibition of the importation of false money, or money less than 0.835 fine, machinery for the manufacture of false money, and nitroglycerine.)

Law No. 109 of 1880.

Art. 20. The jurisdiction of the inspector of the port of Panama will extend to the littoral and islands of the State of Panama in the Pacific Ocean, and that of the inspector of the port of Colon to all the littoral and islands of the State of Panama in the Atlantic Ocean. (San Blas is on the littoral of the State of Panama; the archipelago of San Andreas does not belong to the State of Panama; it belongs to the State of Bolivar.)

Law No. 21 of 1886.

Art. 2. Sailing vessels are prohibited to trade between Colon and the open ports of the Atlantic, as also between Panama and the Pacific coast of this Republic. (This was amended by the law No. 90 of the same year, adding after the word “Republic” the words “with the exception of the ports of Buenaventura and Tuniaco.”)

Chapter 9 of the code—violations, punishments, etc.

Art. 326. In case a vessel has no register, manifest, or other documents provided by law, a fine of 200 to 1,000 pesos.

In case of an attempt to unload cargo in a different port than the one mentioned in manifest, the loss of the merchandise, vessel, and other vehicles helping it.

The same forfeiture in case foreign goods are attempted to be imported or re-exported by means of coastwise traffic to or from ports not open to commerce.

Various other penalties for misrepresentations in the manifest, for resistance to custom-house authorities, for taking goods from the custom-house without the prescribed formalities, etc.

  1. Article 41, fiscal code.—All captains or supercargoes of vessels that are loading in foreign ports, and the destination of which is one of the ports of this Republic, must present to the consular agent of the United States of Colombia, or to his substitute, a manifest, signed in triplicate, which will contain, in order and clearly, the following data: (1) The class, the flag, the name, and port (home) of the vessel; (2) the port of departure and the port or ports of this Republic at which said vessel intends to stop; (3) the name of shipper, and the name of the person or persons who sends each lot of goods, and of the person to whom it is consigned; (4) the marks and number of each package and their net weight; (5) the number of bultos (packages) in each shipment and the total of the same destined to each port.
  2. Article 9 of the law No. 60 of 1875.—No punishment will be inflicted for failing to enumerate in the manifest the following: Live animals, tiles, brick, paving stone or rough stone, timbers for building, grindstones, lime in barrels or sacks, marine salt, lead in sheets or ingots, pig iron or sheet iron, rods, staves for barrels, chains (large), iron bars (large and small), drilling iron for mines, demijohns (empty), and large boilers of copper or iron.
  3. Article 16 of the code fiscal.—The following are declared open ports (habilitados) for the importation and exportation, to wit: Carthagena, Sabanilla, Colon, Santa Martha, and Rio Hacha, on the Atlantic side. * * *
  4. Article 52 of the fiscal code.—In such ports as have no Colombian consular officers, or in those which have no Chilian consular officers, who, by treaty with his Republic, are obliged to certify Colombian invoices and manifests, or, if there are no consuls of a friendly nation at all in said ports, then by the signatures of two merchants, and whose signatures authenticate the document.
  5. Article 17 of the code fiscal.—Are declared free ports: (1) Colon, Boca del Toro, Chagres, and Puerto Bello; (2) Pacific side; (3) those of the archipelago of San Andreas, in the Atlantic.

    Article 18 of the fiscal code refers to Panama.

  6. Article 54 of the fiscal code.—Respecting vessels arriving in an open port from one of the free ports, the same rules will be observed as if they had arrived from a foreign port.

    Article 55 of the fiscal code.—If in some of the free ports there are no public officials at all (consular agents, inspector, or postmaster), the vessel going from such a port to some open port (habilitado) with foreign goods must secure at some other port where such officials are located all the necessary certifications as provided by articles 41 and 42 of this code.

    Article 42 of the fiscal code.—All persons desirous to send goods to the open ports of this Republic (habilitados) must present to the consular office, or to his substitute, at the place where the goods are shipped from, triplicate invoices which will express: (1) The name of the shipper, where the goods are from, the consignee’s name, the the port of destination, and the name of the vessel; (2) the marks, enumeration, description, contents, and net weight of each package; (3) the total value of the invoice, without details respecting each package.