Mr. McKinney to Mr. Gresham.

No. 19.]

Sir: In continuation of my No. 12 in answer to your No. 6,* I have the honor to say that I, immediately on receipt of your communication, sent an official dispatch to the minister of foreign affairs, in which I expressed the feeling of the Government of the United States in regard to the boundary question between Colombia and Costa Rica.

The minister of foreign affairs personally requested that I withdraw the official communication on the plea that he preferred to deal with this legation upon such matters in personal interviews.

[Page 267]

On his urgent request I withdrew the document and he promised before he sent an official communication to the Government of Costa Rica regarding the boundary question he would transmit a copy to me, that I might ask my Government to use its good services to induce Costa Rica to accept the propositions of the Colombian Government. It appears that the letter of the Colombian Government was sent to Costa Rica on the 6th of September, while we were not given its contents until the 21st of September, when he sent us a copy published in the official organ of the Government, a copy and translation of which I inclose.

I also inclose a copy and translation of his letter to me.

On account of so long a time having elapsed since the communication was sent to Costa Rica, I did not deem myself justified in sending a cable upon the subject.

I am, etc.,

Luther F. McKinney.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 19.—Translation.]

Señor Suarez to the minister of foreign affairs of Costa Rica.

Mr. Minister: I have the honor to answer the note of the 29th of last June, in which your excellency refers to the settlement of the boundary between Costa Rica and Colombia, an affair which has been a subject for much discussion between the two governments, and which was submitted for arbitration to the Government of Spain until the respective conventions were rejected, because the time had expired within which the decision in regard to the controversy of the boundary limits should have been rendered.

Your excellency is surprised that the Government of this Republic neglected to communicate to the Government of Costa Rica its intention to denounce those acts, and that it confined itself to making its declaration to the arbitrator in person.

The surprise of your excellency would be well founded if the note which this office sent you on the 16th of March, 1891, had been honored with an answer, but having waited in vain for the said reply, this office concluded that the Government of Costa Rica no longer considered it necessary to treat directly with Colombia in regard to this matter. Moreover, in the notes whereby the Government of Spain was made aware of our intention to reject the conventions, care was taken to inform the Government of Costa Rica that they would also be informed of this fact, after the last pending note should be answered, relative to the settlement of a provisional boundary by which mutual and frequent complaints could be avoided, and it was added that every means should be used to renew the treaties and to prolong the jurisdiction of the arbitrator, always provided that he should consent to act in this capacity for the two republics and do them the favor and the honor to study and decide the subject referring to their common frontier.

Your excellency can ascertain this by looking at the notes, of which I have the honor to send an authorized copy.

Your excellency is also surprised that the Government of this Republic should have rejected the treaties after the arbitrator had declared, without any objection on the part of Colombia or Costa Rica, that the boundary question between these two states should not be touched until after the question between Colombia and Venezuela had been decided, and until after the acceptance of the arbitrament, and for the same reason the decision regarding the limits should not commence to be reckoned until the decision in regard to that other matter had been rendered.

In order to be able to ascertain the force of the argument it must be remembered that the arbitrator accepted the commission on a certain date; that he at that time decided that this question should be studied after the questions relative to the arbitration between Colombia and Venezuela should have been decided, a thing which was likely to happen any minute; that sixteen months after having accepted the jurisdiction he stated that the twenty months’ limit allowed him in which to render the decision should not commence to be computed on the date of acceptance, but rather, after the controversy in regard to the boundary between Colombia and Venezuela [Page 268]had been decided, and that the parties made no objection to such a proposal, although the representative of Colombia took care to inform the diplomatic agent of Costa Rica, Señor Peralta, of the necessity of rectifying the treaties.

Thus the question which has been discussed is as follows: An agreement was entered into between two nations to determine by arbitration their common frontier; the decision of this serious and important question was to be given within a fixed time. Can the time which is definitely named in these treaties be indefinitely postponed by any other will or authority than that which gives to them force and validity?

This question is so clear that no misunderstanding can arise in the answer. However, supposing its solution were doubtful, this other question would arise, equally important, and worthy of the strictest attention, namely, jurisdiction being doubtful, and the power being given by two states to an arbitrator to decide a controversy so interesting as that of international limits, will it be prudent, just, or right to hazard the success of a decision requiring so much labor, and of a judgment worthy of respect, by neglecting to remove errors from the treaties, or to correct anything which might make them worthless in the future?

Thus the Government of Colombia, recognizing, as any just and honorable government must, the necessity of repairing a bad foundation in a costly edifice, has worked for the desired end with the impartiality called for by the rights and interests of both parties, with the frankness and fidelity which the gravity of the situation demands, and with the respect which is owed to the high arbitrator, whose decision ought never to be considered as doubtful. Your excellency thinks it strange that the Colombian Government should have rejected the treaties regarding the boundary between Colombia and Costa Rica after Dr. Antonio Roldan and the undersigned, then acting minister of foreign affairs, had stated in letters, written after Colombia had announced the lapse of such treaties, that it was still hoped that Spain would settle the pending question.

In the first place these opinions alone, expressed before an accurate calculation of the terms had been made, bearing in mind the dates of the letters of acceptance of the arbitrator, and of his declarations to that effect, these opinions, I say, are wanting in that force which would be necessary to continue a jurisdiction which Congress alone has the power to do, in conformity with the public law of the nation. In the second place, if your excellency will have the kindness to look at the notes of October 19, 1891, and March 17, 1892, sent by this office to his Catholic Majesty, through his legation at Bogota, you will find that the Government of this Republic, while rejecting the treaties, stated at the same time its intention to renew them if Costa Rica should give her consent, and prolong the jurisdiction conferred upon the Government of Spain, provided that this high arbitrator should deign to accept it.

Thus the ideas of Señor Roldan and of the undersigned regarding the decision to be given by the Spanish Government were in harmony with the prevision voluntary then, as to-day, that the decision shall have that high origin, because it is scarcely possible that Costa Rica will refuse to accept the propositions of Colombia in regard to the renewal of the treaties.

From the foregoing I hope that your excellency will see that the Colombian Government, far from rejecting the idea brought forward by Costa Rica, in the note which I have the honor to answer, strove to suggest it, in the very act by which it announced the lapse of the treaties. Therefore there will be no unwillingness on the part of the Republic that the negotiations which may be necessary for the renewal of these conventions be held at Bogota or Madrid, whereby a treaty may be made, in which the same referee may be named, and in which the boundary limits are clearly and exactly stated, and which contains clauses of obvious advantage, such for instance as those relating to the expenses of the trial, to the carrying out of the sentence, and to the committee which must be named for studying the ground before the decision is given, or to mark the boundary line decided upon by the arbitrator, etc. But to accomplish this it is indispensable that your excellency’s Government, as soon as it finds time, answer the above-mentioned note which the Colombian Government had the honor to send you March 16, 1891, and in accordance with this note, do all that is possible to decide upon a temporary boundary, to the end that the frequent quarrels and vexations may be avoided which arise through the trespassing by agents of Costa Rica upon territory which is recognized by your Government in the actual possession of Colombia. Repeated and friendly complaints have been sent by my Government to that of Costa Rica in regard to this matter before commencing, as was right, direct measures to avoid the violation of a statu quo which is by common accord perfectly legal until the jurisdiction of the frontiers shall be definitely settled.

Frankly speaking, the note to which I refer was sent in order to obtain an amicable solution of this question, which is urgent in spite of its temporary character. Not only have we waited in vain for a reply to this note, but we have received with increasing wonder the complaints of the authorities of this Government at Bocas del [Page 269]Toro, making public new acts of violation of the territorial sovereignty of Colombia, committed by citizens or agents of Costa Rica.

With such a condition of affairs and while the two governments, animated by brotherly friendship, neglect to put a stop to such irregular proceedings, the Government of Colombia does not desire, nor would she be able in fact without injuring her rights and interests, to again renew the arbitration treaties regarding the frontiers. For in all such acts the greatest harmony and good will must prevail between the two parties.

It would be impossible for Colombia to sign an arbitration treaty regarding boundary limits, and at the same time be obliged to repel invasions of territory which is in her possession, her expostulations being disregarded.

I take, Mr. Minister, etc.

Marco F. Suarez.
[Inclosure 2 in No. 19.—Translation.]

Señor Suarez to Mr. McKinney.

Marco Fidel Suarez politely salutes his excellency, Mr. McKinney, and, referring to their recent interview about the question of boundary, now pending between Colombia and Costa Rica, has the honor to forward to him the Diario Oficial of yesterday, in which may be found the last note sent to the Government of that Republic regarding this matter.

  1. See No. 28 to the U. S. minister to Nicaragua, p. 202.