Mr. Scruggs to Mr. Foster.

No. 342.]

Sir: On the evening of the 1st instant, Dr. Urbaneja, minister of foreign affairs of the Puledo government, called at this legation and in a somewhat excited manner complained of a violation of the so-called blockade of Puerto Cabello by the U. S. S. Kearsarge, on the 30th ultimo. He stated that when the American merchant ship Philadelphia, of the Red D line, approached Puerto Cabello from Curacao, as per her regular itinerary on the 30th, she was warned by the Venezuelan steamship Mariscal de Ayachuco, that entrance to the port was prohibited; whereupon the Philadelphia signalized the Kearsarge, which conveyed her into port.

I inquired what evidence he had that the port was really under efficient blockade. He replied that he had the statement of the commander of the blockading squadron. I asked him what was the actual force and disposition of that squadron. He said all three of the little armed vessels of Venezuela had been instructed to make the blockade effective. I enquired whether it was not probable that the little Mariscal de Ayachucho was at the time the only blockading force any where near Puerto Cabello; and whether she had not appeared there only on the day named, when, by the published itinerary, the Philadelphia was due at Puerto Cabello. He hesitated a moment and then said his government considered the blockade legal. I then suggested that he make his complaint in writing. On the evening of the 3d instant I received his memorandum on the subject, dated back to the 1st, a copy and translation of which I inclose. I inclose also a copy of my memorandum in reply, dated the 4th.

Early in the morning of the same day (the 4th), I wrote to Admiral Walker, at La Guayra, by special courier, setting forth the facts of the case, as per copy herewith inclosed; inclosing to him copies of the two memorandums, and also copies of Messrs. H. L. Boulton’s letter of the 3d, and of my reply thereto.

At 3 p.m. on the same day, I cabled you. At 6 p.m. same day, I received a telephone message from La Guayra, saying the admiral would clear the Philadelphia for Puerto Cabello that evening.

At noon next day (the 5th) the special courier returned with Admiral Walker’s reply, a copy of which I inclose, from which it will be seen that, in reality, no valid blockade had ever existed at Puerto Cabello. [Page 630] Some hours later, I received from Messrs. H. L. Boulton & Co., a copy of Capt. Chamber’s letter dated the 4th, which I inclose, from which it will be seen that the Philadelphia was not even hailed, much less warned by the Ayachuco.

Had I known the facts thus disclosed, I should have deemed it quite unnecessary to cable you.

At 10 o’clock a.m., on the 6th, I received your telegram of the 5th.

In this connection it is proper to add that, at no time during the present civil war, or during the special troubles at Puerto Cabello, has Consul Riley written or telegraphed me a word in relation to affairs at or near that port. I have had to depend entirely upon unofficial sources for information, and these have not been always reliable. I am utterly at a loss to account for the consul’s inattention to his duties in this matter.

I have, etc.,

William L. Scruggs.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 342—Translation.]

Memorandum by Señor Urbaneja.

By executive decree of the 26th of August ultimo and in conformity with article 3 of the legislative decree of the 17th of May, 1873, the custom-houses established in Ciudad Bolivar and Puerto Cabello were suppressed. By article 3 of the said executive order all vessels bound for the mouths of the Orinoco or to the Bay of Puerto Cabello were to be detained by the ships of the Government designated for that purpose and from there convoyed to the nearest port of entry thereto, for the purpose of their proceeding in conformity with the provisions of the Código do Hacienda and other laws which regulate the foreign and coasting trade. In article 3 the term of thirty days was fixed for the enforcement of the foregoing for all vessels hailing from the United States. By article 5 it was declared that after the lapse of that term all vessel which came to those ports would be considered as smugglers and would be prosecuted and punished as such and conducted to the nearest port of entry to be there judged in accordance with the fiscal laws of force. Said decree was issued by virtue of the preexisting legislation and was sent to the diplomatic representative and consuls of foreign countries in Caracas. Up to now they have not given any answer to the Government in this particular, from which it is presumed they assent to the measure, which otherwise was not necessary if Venezuela has the rights of a sovereign nation. In view of these premises, it has greatly surprised the executive to hear the report which has reached him relative to the occurrences of yesterday between the Venezuelan war vessel Mariscal de Ayacucho, the frigate Kearsarge, and the American merchant steamer Philadelphia. The first one being in observation observed that the latter proceeded to Puerto Cabello, and when he wanted to approach her with the object of notifying her of the blockade of the place and the consequent prohibition to enter the same the frigate Kearsarge interposed herself between them to protect the entry of the Philadelphia and threatened with its guns the Venezuelan war vessel. If it is considered that the thirty days mentioned before have elapsed, that the Mariscal de Ayachuco was before the entrance of the port and was performing an act of jurisdiction, that the port was effectively blockaded and two others like her of war, and that the blockade is not only obligatory for merchant vessels, but for men-of-war, the unusual act referred to can scarcely be explained and much less justified.

It can not be excused, alleging the circumstance that the Philadelphia is serving the mails between Venezula and the United States; said employmnt does not exempt her from suffering the consequences to every vessel that violates a blockade, unless the great nation of the North wishes to practice with us such an unusual novelty in maritine international law.

The excuse that the blockade established over Puerto Cabello is not effective, as it is evident that the three war steamers commissioned for that purpose, although small, are in perfectly good condition, are very well armed and with a corresponding complement of crew, circumstances, all of which make them sufficient to maintain an effective blockade against any merchant vessels, and it is proved by the same act which provoked this memorandum, as only by virtue of the illegal intervention of the American war frigate, could the Philadelphia evade the power of the blockading squadron.

[Page 631]

It is the opportunity to consign here, that the Government has given explicit orders to the commander of the national squadron, that in case such an act shall he repeated, to maintain by force the decorum of Venezuela, even though we recognize beforehand the weakness of our means, before nations more powerful than Venezuela, but not less than them, free, haughty and sovereign.

The Government of Venezuela, in preservation of the rights of the Republic, and in fulfillment of its duties, solemnly protests against such an act and its consequences, hoping that the most excellent minister of the United States in Venezuela may request from the commander of the Kearsarge an explanation of his conduct, so much so, in case if it should be repeated, it might well happen that the entry in Puerto Cabello of the ship South Portland, which left New York with a cargo of arms and ammunition, destined for use of the insurrectionists that are now in possession of said place, may be favored.

Lastly, the Government of Venezuela declares that it looks upon such a proceeding as a violation of the neutrality, or more, as an act of undue and violent intervention in the domestic affairs of Venezuela of the gravest character for having been an armed one, as the minister of foreign affairs has stated to Mr. Scruggs in a verbal conference of which this memorandum is a resumé.


[Inclosure 2 in No. 342.]

Memorandum by Mr. Scruggs.

The memorandum of Dr. Urbaneja, dated the 1st instant, was not received until the evening of the 3d. It complains of a violation of the blockade of Puerto Cabello by the United States war ship Kearsarge.

All publicists agree that, to constitute a violation of blockade, three things must be proved: First, the existence of an actual blockade; second, knowledge of the party supposed to have offended; third, some act of violation, either by the ingress or egress, with a cargo laden after the commencement of the blockade.

With regard to the first, there must be a valid blockade; that is to say, the actual presence of a sufficient force to make the blockade effective. And this course must be continuous; the only exception being temporary absence of the blockading force produced by accident, as in case of storms. Furthermore, this force must be stationary; not a mere cruising squadron, here to-day and there to-morrow, placed near the entrance at intervals of time. Finally, mere cabinet or paper blockades have no validity whatever. In the language of the Paris Conference of 1856, “Blockades, in-order to be binding, must be effectual; that is to say, maintained by a force sufficient in reality to present access.”

With regard to the second point, even assuming, for the sake of argument, that the blockade is effective (which is at least open to question), there must be due notice of that fact communicated to neutral powers; and the usual, as well as best notice is when a vessel, approaching a port, or attempting to enter it, is warned off by a ship pertaining to the blockading squadron. My information is that, in the present case, no such warning has ever been given. The only notice of which I have any knowledge, is the published decree of August 26, 1892, a copy of which was duly transmitted to my Government. Speaking for myself, and solely on my own responsibility, that notice can not be held to be legal. On the very day that decree was published, and for many days thereafter, there was not even a de facto government in Venezuela. The President, Dr. Villegas, was a fugitive. There was no ministry. There was no one to whom the diplomatic representatives might address themselves. Complete anarchy prevailed. This state of affairs continued until late in the evening of September 3, when I received notice of the assumption of the executive by his excellency Dr. Pulido as president ad interim. But from the provisional government thus established no formal notice of the blockade of Puerto Cabello was received.

The third inquiry, namely, as to whether there was some act of violation, is satisfied, in the present case, by the responses to the first and second.

In conclusion, it may be superfluous to add that the United States naval force now in Venezuelan waters is here as a friend to Venezuela not to violate neutrality with respect to parties to the present unfortunate civil war, but to preserve it; not to disregard the sovereignty of Venezuela, but to respect it; that it is charged as well with the protection of the neutral rights of American commerce as with the protection of life and property of resident American citizens; and that it is under the immediate personal command of an able and experienced naval officer of high rank, who understands his rights and duties in the premises, and is prepared to maintain and fulfill them.


[Page 632]
[Inclosure 3 in No. 342.]

Mr. Scruggs to Admiral Walker.

Sir: I inclose for your information a copy of a memorandum which I have received from the authorities here, and also a copy of my memorandum in reply thereto, in relation to the reputed blockade of Puerto Cabello. I inclose also a copy of a letter on the same subject from the agents of the American Red D steamers, and of my reply thereto.

My own judgment is, formed upon the best information obtainable here, that there is no real or valid blockade in the accepted or legal sense; but that, one or more of the little Venezuelan vessels make their appearance there at intervals when, by the published itinerary, one of the merchant steamers of the Red D line is expected at that port.

This, however, is a question of fact to be decided by you as the commander-in-chief of our naval forces now in Venezuelan waters; and hence before giving a definite reply to Messrs. Boulton & Co’s letter, I should like your opinion as to whether there is or is not an efficient blockade of Puerto Cabello.

Should it be decided to dispatch the Philadelphia to Puerto Cabello on her regular itinerary, I think it would be prudent in view of the threats made to have one of our naval vessels there for her protection; and also for the protection of the incoming steamer of the Red D line.

I send you this by a special courier who will, if you desire, bring your answer.

I am, etc.,

William L. Scruggs.
[Inclosure 4 in No. 342.]

Messrs. H. L. Boulton & Co. to Mr. Scruggs.

Dear Sir: Although Capt. Chambers has not yet reported the fact to us, we are credibly informed that on the approach of his steamer, the Philadelphia, of the Red D line, to Puerto Cabello, on the 30th ultimo, an attempt was made by one of the Venezuelan little gunboats to prevent her entering the harbor, but that having signaled the American war ship Kearsarge, then, as we are informed, anchored in the bay, she received from said man-of-war the necessary assistance to reach the port.

We have since, however, been indirectly intimated that the authorities here maintain that the blockade is now effective and that our steamers are debarred from touching at Puerto Cabello or any other port declared to be under blockade, and that should any attempt be made to disregard this intimation the steamers will be fired upon and sunk, if necessary, without any regard to interference on the part of American vessels of war or, in fact, to any ulterior consequences.

As the carrying out such a threat would entail a heavy pecuniary loss on the Red D line until such time as the Government of the United States should be able to enforce its payment by a future government of this country guiltless of the outrage, and the line in the meantime will be completely disorganized, we again take the liberty of applying to you for instructions on this all-important point, as we shall have to justify thereby to the directors the course we may in consequence have to adopt.

A written answer will therefore greatly oblige, dear sir, your very obedient servants,

H. L. Boulton & Co.
[Inclosure 5 in No. 342.]

Mr. Scruggs to Messrs. H. L. Boulton & Co.

Gentlemen: I have received your letter of this date inquiring whether your steamer Philadelphia, of the Red D line, shall proceed on her regular itinerary to Puerto Cabello, or whether she ought to avoid that port in view of threats by the authorities here if she disregards the reputed blockade of that port.

My information, derived from unofficial sources, is that there has not been hitherto any efficient or legal blockade of Puerto Cabello; consequently my instructions to [Page 633] our consuls have been uniformly to clear American merchant vessels for that port. But whether at present there is or is not an efficient blockade is a question of fact to be decided by the commander-in-chief of our naval forces now in Venezuelan waters, and hence I prefer to await his reply to my inquiry of this date before giving a more definite reply to your note. I should hear from him on the subject today or tomorrow, when I shall at once advise you of his decision.

In case it shall appear that there is no efficient blockade I shall advise you to dispatch your vessels as usual and request the admiral to send down a vessel for her protection.

I am, etc.,

William L. Scruggs.
[Inclosure 6 in No. 342.]

Admiral Walker to Mr. Scruggs.

Sir: I received by special messenger this afternoon your letter of to-day with its several in closures.

Respecting the inquiry which you make as to the character of the blockade of Puerto Cabello by the naval force of the Venezuelan Government and the protest of the Venezuelan minister for foreign affairs against the action of the U. S. S. Kearsarge outside of Puerto Cabello on the 30th ultimo, I have the honor to reply as follows:

As you have already indicated to the Venezuelan cabinet, it is well understood that a blockade “to be binding must be effective,” and that its character of effectiveness should be evident, not only by the presence of a sufficient naval force off the blockaded port to render the ingress or egress of vessels hazardous, but by the continual presence of such a force unless temporarily driven away by stress of weather. A blockade which is not sustained by the actual establishment or an armed force is a “paper” blockade only, and is not recognized as valid by the law or custom of nations, and if the blockading force be withdrawn voluntarily, the blockade has actually ipso facto been raised and new formalities are necessary for its reëstablishment.

This, as I undertand it, is the opinion of the best international publicists, and is the practice of admiralty courts.

The decree referred to by the Venezuelan minister for foreign affairs establishing a blockade of Puerto Cabello, is dated August 26, 1892. By its terms it was to go into effect on the 10th of September for vessels arriving from the Antilles, and on the 25th for vessels arriving from the United States.

Under date of September 16, Commander White, commanding the Concord, reported to me from Puerto Cabello in the following words: “There is no semblance of force off the port of Puerto Cabello, and so far as I am informed there never has been.” The Concord was again in Puerto Cabello on September 21, and spent some time several miles outside of the port engaged in compass observations. While so engaged “the horizon was carefully scanned and no blockading vessels were sighted.”

The U. S. S. Kearsarge entered and left Puerto Cabello on September 23. She returned to Puerto Cabello on September 25 and left on September 27. Nothing was seen of blockading vessels.

The steamship Venezuela, of the Red D line, arrived at Puerto Cabello on September 25 and sailed from that port on September 26, and suffered no molestation whatever. I have no knowledge of the presence of any vessels of the Venezuelan Government off the port of Puerto Cabello prior to September 30, twenty days and five days, respectively, after the declared blockade against the Antilles and the United States, and I have conclusive evidence that upon certain dates, between September 10 and 30, no blockading force existed. Further I am informed by Capt. Chambers, commanding the steamship Philadelphia, that when he sailed from Puerto Cabello for La Guayra on October 1, no Venezuelan gunboats were in sight, but that he passed one of them at a distance of 30 miles east of Puerto Cabello.

The evidence all points to the conclusion that there has been no actual blockade of Puerto Cabello prior to the expected arrival of the Philadelphia and that the Venezuelan Government sent its gunboats off to that port to intercept that vessel, and probably also to look out for the South Portland. Failing in their purpose they left the vicinity of Puerto Cabello and thereby raised the blockade, which had been only temporarily established. The blockade was therefore not “effective” until or about September 30, and was raised on the same or following day.

Regarding the action of the Kearsarge off Puerto Cabello, on September 30. Bearing in mind the affair of the Caracas when Urdaneta, a general of the de facto government of Venezuela, took by force out of that steamer six passengers who held [Page 634] permits from his Government to leave the country, and that no actual blockade of Puerto Cabello had been established, I sent the Kearsarge there to protect the American mail steamer from unlawful and irregular interference from either faction. Her attitude and action on the 30th of September were proper under the circumstances and meet my approval. As a matter of fact on the occasion referred to, although one of the Venezuelan gunboats steamed toward the Philadelphia, she did not speak her, nor did she make any recognized signal to attract her attention. It was thought quite probable that she was looking out for the South Portland, and merely went near the Philadelphia to determine her identity.

My position, as you know, is entirely neutral. I do not incline to either of the factions which are struggling for the control of Venezuela. It is simply my duty to protect the United States flag and United States interests from annoyances and exactions which are outside of the strict and proper enforcement of belligerent rights. Touching the South Portland, to which the Venezuelan minister for foreign affairs refers, her case appears to me to be quite apart from that of the Red D steamers. She is alleged to be laden with munitions of war, and, if that be true, she takes the chances of any vessel engaged in contraband trade.

The Red D steamers form a regular line and no accusations of contraband trade have been made against them. The Philadelphia coming here from Puerto Cabello has been entered and cleared without annoyance or delay, and has sailed this evening for Puerto Cabello.

In conclusion, I would suggest that the decision of our Government respecting this alleged blockade of Puerto Cabello be speedily obtained. Serious questions are likely to arise at any time, and as commander-in-chief I should be glad to have those exact instructions from the Government which which should follow a discussion and decision of the question in Washington.

In the meantime I would be very much gratified to receive your own conclusions upon the subject and the substance of such communications as you may see fit to make to the Venezuelan Government.

I am, etc.,

J. G. Walker.
[Inclosure 7 in No. 342.]

Mr. Chambers to Messrs. H. L. Moulton & Co.

Gentlemen: In answer to your letter of the 3d instant, which duly came to hand at 11 a.m. to-day, I hasten to reply that in no way did the Government steamers attempt to prevent to entering the harbor of Puerto Cabello on the 30th ultimo.

The U. S. S. Kearsarge met the ship about 8 miles from the harbor and escorted us in the harbor under orders from the flagship Chicago.

In that way we passed one of the small steamers and he blew one short, quick blast of his whistle. The meaning I did not understand; he had no signals up, only his ensign.

On the night of the 1st of October, 11:30 p.m., we also passed the same steamer on our way to this port. We passed close to him; he had no lights burning; did not sound his whistle or in any way molest us.

I will strictly follow your request to report to you all details of interest on our outward bound (passage) voyage.

I remain, etc.,

J. Chambers, Master.