Mr. Scruggs to Mr. Foster.
Caracas, August 29, 1892. (Received September 7.)
Sir: On the 18th instant I received a telegram from Capt. Woodrick, of the American merchant steamship Caracas, under that date from Curacao, as foliows:
Gen. Urdaneta took out of my ship six Curaçao passengers at Puerto Cabello. I protested at consulate.
I at once made known the contents of this telegram to the minister of foreign affairs, and, at his request, gave him a copy of it. To my inquiry whether Gen. Urdaneta was a Government officer the minister at first gave an evasive reply, and then stated frankly that Urdaneta’s position was equivocal and that the Government had no means of controlling his actions.
I then suggested to the minister, as a means of avoiding a disagreeable question, that his Government interpose its authority in so far as it might have authority, or its good offices, in default of actual authority, for the immediate release of the passengers of the Caracas.
He asked for a few hours’ time in which to confer with the President (Dr. Villegas), and late the same evening I received his verbal note in reply, a copy and translation of which I inclose. A copy of my reply thereto, dated the next morning, the 19th, is likewise submitted. I inclose also a copy of my supplemental note of the 22d with copies of Capt. Woodrick’s letter and protest therein referred to; also a copy of Consul Hanna’s communication of the 20th, of which a copy was likewise sent to the minister.
As you are aware, this country has been in a state of complete anarchy for several weeks past. There is a de facto government, but it has no means of making itself respected by any one of the armed factions now contending for power. As the contest continues, the parties become more and more desperate, and less disposed to respect the neutral rights of foreigners, and the time has already arrived when foreign governments will be forced to the alternative of either abandoning their citizens to the mercies of an irresponsible mob, or of taking some prompt and efficient steps for their protection.
Moved by these considerations, I cabled you on the 22d as follows:
A war vessel is needed here at once.
The mere presence of one of our naval vessels anywhere in Venezuelan waters, or even at the harbor of Curacoa, would have prevented the unfortunate incident at Puerto Cabello. As it is, we have already lost prestige; and, in the absence of a naval vessel, we may expect similar occurrences. The final outcome will be the seizure of one of our mail steamers by some one of the armed factions who may need it for transporting [Page 616] troops between the coast ports. If I may venture a suggestion, it is far preferable to incur some little expense and inconvenience in preventing such infractions than to make futile demands upon a feeble and hopelessly bankrupt government for pecuniary indemnification.
I have, etc.,