Mr. Foster to Mr. Scruggs.
Washington, September 8, 1892.
Sir: I have received your dispatch, No. 321, of the 29th ultimo, in relation to the taking of six passengers from the United States mail steamer Caracas, in the port of Puerto Cabello, by the insurgent commander, Gen. Urdaneta, on the 17th ultimo.
Your action in the premises and your note of the 19th ultimo to Dr. Urbaneja, then minister for foreign affairs, seem in the main to have been discreet and proper. It is observed that your note follows, in general outline, the precedents of the recent Barrundia episode in Guatemala, so far as they appeared to you to be applicable to the present case. There are, however, certain changed conditions in the Puerto Cabello incident which should be borne in mind in any future proceedings.
The relation of Gen. Urdaneta to the party at the time in power, at Caracas, is not clearly understood, but it is believed to have been one of independent insurrection in the interest of the establishment of a so-called western league of five Venezuelan States. Having gained temporary possession of Puerto Cabello, he seems to have made use of his arbitrary military power to invade a foreign mail steamer in transit and to remove, by force, certain passengers who had lawfully embarked at another port of Venezuela, and against whom no lawful charge existed.[Page 624]
It would be impossible for this Government to acquiesce in the arbitrary and forcible violation of its flag by a merely military power, without due and regular warrant of law and in conformity with the ordinary course of justice, even though such force were exercised by the titular and responsible government of the country with which this Government maintains friendly relations. The defiance of international rights and the hostile violation of the flag are more conspicuously indefensible, from every point of view, when committed by an irresponsible military chief, representing no recognized government and using brute force in furtherance of an insurrectionary movement.
If the situation is correctly apprehended here there is no room for any discussion with the responsible Government of Venezuela touching the question of right. The question of might is not open to discussion under any circumstances.
The Department is informed through unofficial channels, that having quitted Puerto Cabello for the purpose of attacking La Guayra, Urdaneta, on learning that Puerto Cabello had in the meantime been taken by a lieutenant of Gen. Crespo, returned the next morning to Puerto Cabello, and, without trying to retake the city, went alongside the fort at the entrance to the port and took off all the men and ammunition there. It is supposed that he at the same time took off the six passengers whom he had taken from the Caracas and imprisoned in that fort. From Puerto Cabello, Urdaneta is reported to have sailed to La Vela de Coro, which he was unable to capture, and at last reports was returning to Maracaibo, which was still in possession of his lieutenants. It is presumed to be his design to make a stand at Maracaibo against the forces of Gen. Crespo, or whoever may succeed in the eastern States of Venezuela.
Should the six passengers still be held by Urdaneta, the commanders of the United States war ships would be fully warranted in demanding their unconditional surrender, and, if refused, in backing up the demand by all necessary force.
Should they, however, in the shifting fortunes of war, fall into the hands of any faction opposed to Urdaneta, and still be held prisoners, it is probable that the right of this Government to have them replaced under its flag would be promptly and cheerfully recognized upon request. This presumption would amount to full assurance should they be repossessed by a responsible national authority, and in such case you will ask their return.
The commanders of the United States naval vessels wall be furnished with a copy of this instruction, and will govern themselves accordingly.
I am, etc.,