Mr. Shannon to Mr. Foster.

No. 168.]

Sir: Referring to the Department’s instruction numbered 61, of May 24, 1892, in regard to the increase of port charges to which the steamers of the Southern Pacific Company, running from New Orleans to Bluefields are subjected, and directing me to report the facts of the case, and the grounds of the increase, I have the honor to state that I promptly addressed the minister for foreign affairs of Nicaragua upon the subject, and have already received a very lengthy communication from his excellency in reply.

[Page 164]

In this note, as will be seen, his excellency promises to inform me without delay of the result of his inquiries into the matter, and then refers to a similar complaint from our legation at Guatemala in 1889, at the same time furnishing a Spanish translation of Mr. Hosmer’s note of August 3, 1889, as well as copy of the reply of the minister for foreign affairs of Nicaragua of August 21, 1889. As copies of these notes were doubtless furnished the Department at the time by our legation at Guatemala, I have thought it unnecessary to furnish other copies.

His excellency then enters upon some very extended observations regarding the anomalous condition of affairs in the Mosquito Reservation, quoting largely from Mr. Bayard’s No. 999, of November 23, 1888, to Mr. Phelps, then our minister in London, as well as from the note addressed, under date of January 19, 1889, to the Marquis of Sailsbury, by Dr. Cardenas, then the Nicaraguan minister in London.

In substance his excellency claims that through the continuance of the English protectorate in the Mosquito Reservation, that should long since have ceased by virtue of treaty stipulations, Nicaragua is prevented from exercising her sovereign rights, thus making possible such irregularities as are complained of by the Southern Pacific Company, and in the new effort which the Government of Nicaragua proposes soon to make near the Government of England to secure the cessation of the protectorate referred to, the hope is expressed that the Government of the United States will extend to this sister Republic the same vigorous and powerful support as on former occasions.

A copy of the entire note in the original Spanish, with translation, is herewith appended.

I have, etc.,

Richard Cutts Shannon.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 168.]

Mr. Shannon to Señor Bravo.

Mr. Minister: I have the honor to invite the attention of your excellency to a copy of a letter herewith inclosed, which has been referred to the Department of State at Washington, and by which it appears that the steamers of the Southern Pacific Company running from New Orleans to Bluefields, Nicaragua, have been lately subjected to an increase of port charges.

Among other statements made by the writer of this letter is the following:

“It is the impression of our friends in New Orleans that there is some treaty under which Bluefields and Grey town were to be free ports, and our people suggest that these port charges are an infringement of the treaty provisions in regard, to Bluefields and Greytown.”

The Department of State at Washington is not aware of the treaty stipulations referred to in the foregoing passage, and I am instructed to ascertain and report the facts of the case, as well as the reason for the increase of port charges complained of.

I beg, therefore, to respectfully bring the matter to the attention of your excellency, and to ask that I may be furnished with such information as will enable me to comply with my instructions.

With renewed assurances, etc.,

Richard Cutts Shannon,
[Page 165]
[Inclosure 2 in No. 168.—Translation.]

Señor Bravo to Mr. Shannon.

Mr. Minister: There has been received at the offices of this ministry the note of your excellency of the 9th instant, in which attention is called to the increased duties collected at the port of Blue lie Ids for anchorage, pilotage, and wharfage from the captains of all ships arriving at that place; and it is further stated that those who complain of this increase of port charges consider it a violation of the treaties concluded with Great Britain, since both Bluefields as well as Greytown were to be free ports.

I have already forwarded to the ministry of the interior a copy of your excellency’s note, and while awaiting the occasion to transmit such reply as may be received from that ministry, I will take the liberty of presenting some observations which certainly have not escaped the notice of your excellency and which have a solid basis in diplomatic documents.

One of the attributes of the sovereignty of a country consists, unquestionably, in levying duties, and in opening, closing, and establishing ports, acts which, in virtue of rights common to all nations, deserve the mutual respect of each. The sovereignty of Nicaragua extends to the Mosquito Reservation, which is an integral part of its territory, and since it was not the Republic which imposed the increased duties of which the company of New Orleans complains, that measure ought not to be respected, and more so if one remembers that the regulations issued by the authorities of the reserve should be submitted to the revision of the Government of Nicaragua in order to leave its sovereignty intact, according to the treaty of Managua. The measure under consideration has never been submitted for revision, and your excellency will readily understand that this requisite being wanting, according to the text of that treaty, which in its third article says:

“The Indians of the reserve shall be governed according to their own customs and according to any regulations which from time to time may be adopted by them not inconsistent with the sovereign rights of Nicaragua,” that measure, I repeat, cannot be obligatory.

According to the convention concluded with England in 1860, the Mosquito tribes of the Reserve only have the rights which I have just mentioned; and in no manner can they regulate foreign commerce, or establish duties upon vessels arriving at their ports, because this right belongs exclusively to the Republic, which is sovereign throughout that region and along its coast.

It is evident that the meaning of the treaty which recognized the Reserve is that the ports of that region should be free, as was expressly stipulated in respect to San Juan del Norte, which was for some time in the power of England.

It was also stipulated in that treaty that the Mosquito tribes, under the rule of an elective chief, and of his own caste, should govern themselves; but the fact is that no measure of that municipal government appears sanctioned by the chief of the tribe, but all measures are issued by a court which resides in Bluefields, composed exclusively of English subjects coming from the Island of Jamaica, who not only exercise administrative functions, but have also arrogated to themselves the rights of legislating, and levying contributions and imposts, not only upon commerce, but also upon emigration and immigration—that is, a capitation tax upon all persons who enter and leave the territory. An authentic proof of this is the reclamation which, under the 3d of August, 1889, was presented to this Government by the Legation of the United States in Central America, of which document, as well as the reply of this ministry, I have the honor to inclose herewith a copy for your excellency.

Nicaragua, on her part, keeps the engagement to respect the self-government of the Mosquito; but that government itself is illusory, inasmuch as the court is formed of individuals who do not belong to the caste—English subjects, as has been said, who have monopolized the government of the Reserve; and it is due to that fact that this court, in its regulations and laws, assumes to exercise powers inconsistent with the sovereignty of the Republic, and which are neither sanctioned by the treaty of Managua nor the arbitral award of the Emperor of Austria.

I also call the attention of your excellency to the fact—denounced in the press that the punishments indicted upon offenders in the Mosquito Reserve are of a different nature from those prescribed by the laws of the Republic, whose sovereignty that court should respect.

Only lately my Government has been obliged to protest against the tendencies of the Mosquito council to go beyond the limits traced by the Republic for the Reserve, [Page 166] establishing a new boundary line by which they pretend to include our gold placers at Cuicuina, and posting notices threatening all those who construct buildings in the town now being established in that locality with the loss of their property.

It is well known to the whole country that the chief of the Reserve is only such in name, and that it is a foreign race which rules throughout that territory against all right, thus postponing the period when the Mosquito tribes may be reincorporated with Nicaragua; and that its council, trusting to the support of a powerful nation, constantly decrees measures in violation of the agreement made, and on account of which the Government of Nicaragua can not be held responsible.

The authorities of the Reserve have on repeated occasions granted rights to exploit for long periods, the natural wealth of the country, even in places not embraced within the limits established by the treaty of Managua; and when the Government of Nicaragua has requested explanations regarding these irregular proceedings, they have been refused in disrespectful terms, leaving to the Republic, as the only evidence of its sovereignty, the obligation of answering to foreign nations for these unjustifiable acts.

In this connection, I take the liberty of transcribing for your excellency some paragraphs from the note which, under date of the 1st of January, 1889, was addressed by our minister in London, Dr. Don Adan Cardenas, to his excellency, the Marquis of Salisbury, as well as some passages from the luminous despatch, which, upon this same question, was addressed by the Hon. T. F. Bayard, Secretary of State of the American Government, on the 23d of November, 1888, to Mr. Edward J. Phelps, minister of the United States in London.

* * * * * * *

“It is evident that the sovereignty of Nicaragua over the territory of the Reserve and its inhabitants is a limited sovereignty; but the only limitations of the sovereign rights of Nicaragua are expressly set forth in the treaty, and declared in the award of His Majesty, the Emperor of Austria and are the following:

  • “1. (Art. III of the treaty.) The right is conceded to the Indians to govern themselves and all persons residing within the district of the Reserve according to their own customs, and in conformity with the regulations which may be adopted by them, the same ‘not being inconsistent with the sovereign rights of the Republic.’
  • “2. (Art. V of the award.) The Republic of Nicaragua has not the right to grant concessions to exploit the natural products in the territory assigned to the Mosquito Indians.
  • “3. (Art. VI of the award.) The Republic of Nicaragua is not empowered to regulate the trade of the Mosquito Indians, nor to levy duties on goods imported into or exported from the territory reserved to the Mosquito Indians.”

“With the exception of these limitations, there are secured to Nicaragua all the other rights inherent in sovereignty. Among these ought to be considered as essential that of providing for the security and defense of the territory, and that of foreign representation, and all the secondary rights which are derived from these; among others, the right of transit, that of occupation, the establishment of military posts, forts, arsenals, etc., ports and custom-houses for the inspection of merchandise intended for consumption, in the interior of the Republic, post-offices and telegraphs for the service of the inhabitants of the interior, ways of communication, etc.

“And it can not be alleged that these rights are contrary to the letter or spirit of the treaty, or to the domestic government of the Indians, since there is not to be found either in said treaty or in the award a single clause which forbids their exercise to Nicaragua; because far from these rights being subordinate to the privilege of self government granted to the Indians, it is rather this privilege itself which is expressly limited by the sovereignty of Nicaragua, according to article 3 of the treaty, which says: ‘The Indians will enjoy the right of governing themselves and all the persons residing within the said district according to their own customs, and in conformity with the regulations which may from time to time be adopted by them—the same not being inconsistent with the sovereign rights of the Republic of Nicaragua. Subject to the above-mentioned reserve the Republic of Nicaragua agrees to respect and not to interfere with such customs and regulations so established or to be established within the said district.’

“From these conditions, which limit the right of the Mosquito Indians to local Government, are deduced for Nicaragua other rights indispensable to guarantee its soveignty. Nicaragua has taken upon itself the engagement to respect and not to oppose the regulations issued under these conditions; but it can disprove them and oppose them whenever it considers them inconsistent with its superior prerogatives. Hence springs the right of veto, and that of preventing regulations from being carried into effect when inconsistent with Nicaragua’s sovereign rights.

“The erroneous idea which the authorities of these Indians have regarding the privileges which the treaty grants to them of self-government, within the territory of the Reserve, strengthened by the opinions and the support of the British Government in this matter, has carried the ignorance of their true relations to Nicaragua, [Page 167] even to the disrespect of actually preventing the transit of goods belonging to the Government destined for the interior of the Republic, and arbitrarily detaining them for several months.

“But it is not only with regard to the points here discussed that an understanding and application have been given to the treaty contrary to its evident meaning, and to the purposes of the high contracting parties. The Government itself established and maintained up to the present time in the Reserve is far from realizing those purposes, as may be inferred from the following extract from some of the stipulations of the treaty:

  • “‘(a) Great Britain and Nicaragua agree to secure for the Mosquito Indians of the Reserve the right of governing themselves according to their customs, in the territory of the Republic which is assigned to them under the sovereignty of the same, and under the condition of not ceding the said territory to any foreign person or state.
  • “‘(b) Nicaragua, desirous of promoting the social improvement of the Mosquito Indians, so necessary under the system of self-government, agrees to grant a subvention of $5,000 a year for the period of five years.
  • “‘(c) It is declared, moreover, that no clause of the treaty is to be interpreted as preventing the Mosquito Indians from agreeing to their absolute incorporation with the Republic, on the same footing with its other citizens.
  • “‘(d) Great Britain thus having secured to the Indians the right of self-government, and in other stipulations the interests of its resident subjects, agrees to withdraw the protectorate which she has exercised over the same three months after the exchange of the ratifications of the treaty.’

“But the Mosquito Indians, contrary to the purposes above expressed, have not been governed by themselves, nor are they now, and the Territory and the Government are virtually in the power of a group of foreigners, complete strangers to the uses and customs of the Indians. It is true that the nominal chief of the Government is an Indian, and that some of his race take part in the general assemblies, but the executive council is formed exclusively of individuals of the group referred to—a circumstance difficult to explain if one reflects that during a period of more than thirty years of such rule many Indians must have reached a sufficient degree of civilization to form part of the executive government, considering the resources which that government has had at its disposal; and it certainly can not be alleged to be the custom for those Indians to be always governed by persons of a distinct race and tongue, since that custom, if such we can call it, would be an imposition and contrary to the natural tendency and autonomy of political associations.

“It is evident that so long as this situation continues, in consequence of the interpretation given to the treaty, the definitive incorporation of the district with the Republic can not be carried out as provided for in the treaty, and consented to by England as the natural result of ail its stipulations, notwithstanding that the great majority of the Indians of the Reserve have expressed to the Nicaraguan authorities sentiments of adhesion to the Republic, and the desire to place themselves under the ægis of its laws; because the rule to which they are subjected is a permanent obstacle to every act or public manifestation looking to that end.

“As to the renunciation by England of her protectorate over the Indians, it will remain virtually without effect, because the authorities of the Reserve, considering themselves to be sustained by that Government in all that relates to the extension of their privileges, they will continue to solicit its support so as to oppose the exercise by Nicaragua of her sovereign rights; and the British Government, as signatory of the treaty, will be perpetually authorized to intervene in the affairs of Nicaragua as regards the Reserve, thus contributing to maintain indefinitely the present state of affairs.

“Besides the injury that Nicaragua suffers in her rights and in her interests by the interpretation which is given to the treaty, and by the application which has been made of it to the rule of the Reserve, contrary, as I have sought to demonstrate, to the positive provisions of the treaty, and to the purposes which inspired it; there are other injuries and serious inconveniences for the Republic, of a political and administrative character, inconsistent with the duties and responsibilities which the sovereignty and foreign representation of that district impose upon it, and inconsistent with the development of the interests of the vast and important region of the Republic situated to the west of the Reserve.

“That portion of the Mosquito tribes of Nicaragua which occupy the reserve being organized as a political association upon the basis of the treaty, and in conformity with the English interpretation of the same, according to the opinions communicated by Mr. Gastrell, and according to those sustained on other occasions by the Government of Her Majesty, the district of the Reserve would continue, as regards this Republic, in the situation of a State within a State, and the sovereignty of Nicaragua would be reduced to a nominal sovereignty, inasmuch as there is implicitly denied to her the essential right of del ending her territory, she having already been deprived by the authorities of the Reserve of even the right of transit, and [Page 168] because there is absolutely denied her the right to object to and oppose the regulations and acts of the Indians which are considered to be inconsistent with the sovereign rights of the Republic.

“Obvious are the serious consequences resulting from this state of things, not only for the security of the territory of the Reserve, but also of the Republic, and I will not occupy the attention of your excellency in enumerating them. Not less evident and serious are the complications which may arise in the relations of Nicaragua with other nations in the not improbable case of diplomatic intervention on account of reclamations of foreign subjects for acts of the government of the Indians.

“Before whom, under such circumstances, shall the necessary steps be taken? And who shall be held responsible, if responsibility there be, resulting from such acts? In the first case, not certainly before the authorities of the Indians, since they have no foreign representation and are not recognized by any power as an independent nation, and because the territory of the Reserve forms an integral part of the territory of Nicaragua, under its sovereignty. Consequently such reclamations will be addressed to Nicaragua, and it will evidently be the duty of its Government to discuss the questions thus arising. In the second case the Indians could not be directly held responsible for the reasons stated, but the Government of Nicaragua would be so held, either directly or indirectly, and from this would result a manifest inconsistency, if we accept the British interpretation of the treaty, because denying to the Republic the right to intervene in the acts and regulations of the Indians, and the means of making effective the responsibility which they may have incurred, there would be no ground for holding Nicaragua responsible, or the Indians through her.

“I have taken the liberty of referring to the possibility of these questions, not simply as to probable theoretical cases, but because such questions have already presented themselves in practice, representations and reclamations by foreign governments and persons having, on various occasions been laid before the Government of Nicaragua for acts done or tolerated by the Mosquito authorities; among others, one by the Government of Honduras, because of an armed expedition directed against that Republic, which remained for some time and obtained a supply of provisions in the territory under the jurisdiction of the Indians.

“Administered under such conditions, the territory of the Reserve occupying a vast extent of the Atlantic coast, will be a permanent obstacle to the industrial and administrative development of the adjacent region of the Republic, which has its natural communication with the Atlantic by means of the great rivers which traverse it.

“These difficulties and perils to which the Republic is exposed by the anomalous position of the Reserve in respect to Nicaragua, increase in gravity in view of the movement of foreign immigration which has begun already to set in toward that part of the territory, and in view of the movement which will shortly take place with the commencement of the works for the opening of the Interoceanic Canal.”

Mr. Bayard made no observation whatever respecting the limits assigned to the Reserve, but expressed himself as follows.

“The matter is one in which the Government of the United States feels at least an equal interest with that of Great Britain, inasmuch as a number of our citizens are now engaged in business within the Reservation, and by far the larger part of the foreign commerce of that region is at present carried on between the ports of Bluefields and New Orleans.”

From the paragraph here transcribed your excellency will see that the foreign colony is not only composed of individuals of the English nationality, but also of the American nationality, and even of others; and in case of conflict between these individuals of different nationalities it would not be England that would be called upon to furnish a remedy, but Nicaragua, which, according to the treaty of Managua, is the sovereign of the Reserve, inasmuch as the foreign representation and the right of revision belong to the Government; but these attributes of its sovereignty the Republic can not exercise, due to the fact that, as was before said, the individuals who compose the court of the Reserve belong to a different race from that of the tribe, and whose chief interest consists in preventing the reincorporation of that territory and the submission of its inhabitants to their legitimate sovereign.

Secretary Bayard, referring to the Treaty of Managua, further says:

“The conclusion of this arrangement was officially communicated to the Government of the United States which, regarding it as a final withdrawal of British influence from the Mosquito country, expressed its satisfaction at a settlement that appeared to put an end to the disputes to which the Clayton-Bulwer treaty had given rise.”

* * * * * * *

“The Government of the United States had not, however, anticipated that under cover of this treaty the Government of Great Britain would continue to attempt any interference with the affairs of the Mosquito Indians. It is superfluous to say that if it had been supposed by the United States that the treaty of Managua was [Page 169] understood by the Government of Great Britain to give that country a right of influence, direction, or control over the destinies of the Mosquito territory, as against the State of Nicaragua, that convention, far from being hailed by this Government as a solution and termination of disputes concerning the British protectorate over the Mosquito Indians, would have been regarded as a serious obstacle to any such settlement. Under Article VI of the treaty of Managua, Her Britannic Majesty was bound to use her good offices with the chief of the Mosquito Indians, so that he should accept the stipulations of that convention; and it might have been naturally assumed that upon such acceptance by the Mosquito chief. Her Majesty’s right to further interference was at an end.

According to these views of the State Department, it has interpreted in the same manner as Nicaraguan statesmen the terms of Article VI of the treaty of Managua; and it is not understood why, after Nicaragua has fulfilled the obligations which she contracted by virtue of that treaty, it should be sought to deprive her of the rights which belong to her by virtue of that same instrument; and that Her Britannic Majesty, although under another form, should continue to exercise her protectorate over the Mosquito territory, thus preventing the Republic from seeking the improvement of the Indians, so that when the time comes for their reincorporation in the Republic they may be in a condition to use the rights which the constitution and the laws grant to other citizens of the country.

“To this agreement of arbitration” further says the Secretary of State “the Government of the United States was not a party, and it is not bound by the award of the arbitrator, nor committed in any way to an admission of the right of Great Britain to interfere in disputes between the Republic of Nicaragua and the Indians living within her borders.”

* * * * * * *

This award, as will be perceived, does not by any means go to the lengths to which the British Government now seeks to proceed under the recent note of Mr. Gastrell to the Nicaraguan authorities. The award declares that the Republic of Nicaragua may hoist its flag throughout the Reservation, and may appoint a commissioner for the protection of its sovereign rights; but that it may not grant concessions for the acquisition of natural products within the territory, may not regulate the trade of the Indians, and may not levy, import, or export dues in the Reservation. Beyond this no limitation is declared upon the sovereign rights of Nicaragua, nor is the extent of its sovereignty further defined.”

* * * * * * *

“To the United States, in common with all other powers, it is important that Nicaraguan sovereignty should exist in fact as well as in name within the Mosquito Reservation. With the sovereign alone can we maintain diplomatic relations, and we have a right to look to that sovereign for redress in the event of wrongs being inflicted upon any of our citizens. If the Republic of Nicaragua is to be limited to the mere formal right of hoisting a flag and maintaining a commissioner within the Reservation, how can it be called upon to perform any of its international obligations?

“Nor is it consistent with the general views and policy of the United States to look with favor upon the establishment of such an imperium in imperio in Central America.”

* * * * * * *

“The President can not but regard the continued exercise of the claim on the part of Great Britain to interfere on behalf of these Indians as the assertion of a British protectorate in another form; more especially when this effort is directed to prohibiting Nicaragua from exercising military jurisdiction in the immediate neighborhood of the Atlantic mouth of the projected canal.

“The United States can never see with indifference the reestablishment of such a protectorate. Not only would the extension of European influence upon this continent be contrary to the traditional and frequently expressed policy of the United States, but the course of Great Britain in assuming or exercising any dominion over the Mosquito coast, or making use of any protection it may afford or any alliance it may have to or with any people for the purpose of assuming or exercising any dominion over that territory, would be in violation of the express stipulations of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty, whose binding force Great Britain has up to the present time so emphatically asserted.”

* * * * * * *

“Whether the interference of the British Government be regarded as a breach of existing treaty engagements, or whether it be looked upon simply as an effort, not prohibited by express agreement, to extend her influence in this continent—in either case the Government of the United States can not look upon such acts without concern. The circumstances of the particular locality render the subject one of [Page 170] peculiar interest and importance to the people of this country, and I should he wanting in my duty to them should I fail to bring the matter directly and frankly and in a spirit of sincere friendship to the notice of Her Majesty’s Government.”

* * * * * * *

My Government, Mr. Minister, will have to take measures near the Court of St. James to the end that there may be given a practical meaning to the sovereignty which, according to the treaty of Managua, this Republic has in the Mosquito territory, with the limitations agreed to between the high contracting parties; and in view of the opinions expressed by Mr. Bayard, in his note to Mr. Phelps, minister to England, my Government hopes that the Government of your excellency will support, as on that former occasion, the justice of its cause, and will act conjointly with it so as to secure, according to the treaty of Managua, that the protectorate may cease, which, under another form, the Crown of England still pretends to exercise in favor of the Mosquito Indians.

Renewing to your excellency, etc.,

Jorge Bravo.