Mr. Sleeper to Mr. Gresham.

No. 75.]

Sir: I have taken from the report of the minister of foreign affairs a synopsis of matters which appear to me to be of some interest to the Government of the United States. I shall also forward the printed report of the minister, in order that the Department may inform itself more particularly upon any subject.

1. Boundaries between Colombia and Costa Rica.


At your sessions of 1892 you were informed of the modification introduced into the proceedings relating to our boundaries with our neighbors on the north, in consequence of the arbitration treaties having lapsed. The causes of such lapse could not be more weighty, if we look at the letter and spirit of the treaties, nor more worthy of consideration, in view of the necessity of removing all danger of inefficacy in so important a matter as that of our northern frontier.

To maintain that treaties which are void, or of very doubtful force, may serve as titles to extremely valuable rights, is to maintain that a question of this gravity may remain unsettled, or liable to future objections. If the admission of the lapse of the treaties involved the breaking off of all amicable negotiations concerning the pending dispute, there would be some reason for claiming that those agreements, however defective, should continue to serve as a basis in this matter; but, as Colombia has declared her wish that they be renewed and amended, all claim to the contrary fails to be just or proper.

In the correspondence, which I have the honor to transmit herewith, is set forth in detail the course of these negotiations in the last phase which they have assumed. Our Government wishes the question of our boundary with Costa Rica to be settled in the manner prescribed by justice, to wit, by renewing and amending the treaties as experience demands, and at the time and place which may be most convenient to both countries.

It is desired that the treaties should contain stipulations relative to the practical execution of the award, to the costs of the litigation, to the enlargement of the powers which the arbitrator should have, to harmonize, as far as possible, the chief interests of the parties; and our Government, in acting in this way, is actuated by friendship toward Costa Rica, and acts in confidence of its rights, strengthened by new evidence.

The Costa Rican Government has at last assented to these proposals, as well as to that which has been made to it to fix upon a temporary boundary intended to put an end to the frequent complaints addressed to it by Colombia of the violations of the status quo to which both countries are pledged with respect to the possession of the zone now in dispute.

Complaints of this kind were mutual some time ago, owing to the surveys made by the Panama Canal Company in the districts adjacent to the Almirante Lagoon. The San José Government remonstrated at that time to the Colombian Government respecting the duties imposed [Page 194] by the status quo which had been agreed upon. The explanations on our part, however, were so candid and sincere that Costa Rica has not since found it necessary to make the slightest complaint of Colombia’s proceedings.

This has not been the case with regard to our rights to present possession of a part of the zone in dispute. The authorities of Panama and Bocas del Toro, the periodical publications of the country, the documents published by Costa Rica, and respectable private individuals, are continually informing the Government that agents of the neighboring, Republic, by what authority is not known, are committing acts of possession incompatible with the duties which have been expressly acknowledged.

On the Atlantic side, the Costa Rican Government has definitively admitted that the boundary of present possession is formed by the Sixaola River, so that it has no right to exercise acts of jurisdiction on the right bank of that river; but, notwithstanding this, Costa Rican agents or individuals have recently made surveys and drawn up maps on this side of the Sixaola.

On the Pacific side, the Costa Rican Government admitted, as far back as 1880, that it could not occupy territory situated on this side of Punta-Burica, for, at the demand of our Government, it vacated that territory in a manner which may be designated as solemn; and yet it has just been learned, through a perfectly reliable channel, that in that territory, exclusively under the jurisdiction of Colombia, colonists are settling, under the protection, as is asserted, of the San José Government and without the consent of the Colombian Government.

To these two species of violation of the status quo must be added another, which affects the whole of the boundary between the two countries. The Costa Rican Government recently published a geographical map of its territory in which its southern frontier does not even coincide with the extreme claims stipulated in the old treaties, but is drawn much farther this way than the straight line connecting Punta-Burica with Escudo de Veraguas, thus embracing a part of the Colombian territory which has not only been always under the jurisdiction and in the possession of the Republic, but forms a part of its undisputed territory.

These acts would not benefit Costa Rica, even if the arbitration treaties were in force, but would be prejudicial to her rights and interests, because they would prove, before the arbitrator, her disregard of indisputable and acknowledged duties. Notice having been given of the abrogation of those treaties, and Costa Rica being interested in their renewal, it is hard to understand why, at the very time that she is negotiating for such renewal, she puts an insuperable obstacle to it; for Colombia can not consent to the amicable act of fixing upon a temporary boundary and renewing the arbitration compromise, until such irregularities have ceased.

This consideration has been the reason that the Colombian Government has hitherto confined itself to repeatedly calling the attention of the Government of the neighboring Republic (to these facts); and it has received from it the most satisfactory assurances in the sense asserted by Colombia. It is, however, to be presumed that the intentions of that Government have been thwarted by its agents, as several circumstances render it certain that the duties relative to the present possession of the disputed territory have not been thoroughly performed.

The theoretical statement of our rights and the protests against the [Page 195] violation of them have not, therefore, had the desired effect, and in this situation, the Vice-President of the Republic has instructed me to address to the Ministry of Government a communication setting forth the condition of affairs and the necessity of organizing at Panama two peaceful but active and efficient expeditions, to go, one to Punta-Burica and the other to Sixaola, for the purpose of making an investigation at the principal points in those districts, in order to learn the state of things and to make the rectifications demanded by the rights of the Republic.

United States of America.


The Congress of 1892 approved bylaw 101 the contract made between the Government and Mr. Alexander Weckbecker, a citizen of the United States of America, in which the latter sold to the nation the estates of Pescaderias and lands of “Madre de Dios,” situated in the department of Cundinamarca, for the sum of $150,000, Colombian money.

The contract was confirmed by said law, and the sale was completed on the delivery of the said lands and their payment, the Government being in full possession of said estates, of which use has already been made, contracts having been signed with the minister of hacienda for the renting of the “Bodegas de Bogota,” a part of said lands. There having been between the nation and Mr. Weckbecker, as also between this gentleman and the former state of Cundinamarca, several lawsuits respecting these same lands, which gave rise to claims on the part of the Government of the United States, the legation of the said country has declared to this Ministry that all claims made in the favor of the rights of Mr. Weckbecker shall be considered as satisfied the moment the above contract be carried out, and as this has been done, all disputes with Mr. Weckbecker, either diplomatic or judicial, may be considered as at an end.

2. Discussion as to the nationality of Mr. Perez Triana.

On account of the measures taken by the executive and judicial authorities in relation to the intrigues arising from the making of the contracts for the construction of the Puerto-Berrio and Bucaramanga railroads, the U. S. legation intervened in favor of Señor Santiago Pérez Triana, against whom some accusations were pending, in connection with his participation in the negotiation of those contracts.

The remonstrance of the U. S. minister was considered by the Government under two points of view, that of the local jurisdiction and that of Señor Pérez Triana’s nationality. With regard to the first point, the Government maintained, as was just and evident, that as the prisoner was in Colombia, and as the object was to investigate acts committed in this country, he could not evade the jurisdiction of the courts, even on the supposition of his “being a citizen of the United States. This principle received additional weight from the fact that the charges against Señor Pérez Triana related to acts which, as they affected the national interests, would be under the jurisdiction of the Republic, even if they had been committed in a foreign country, as the Colombian criminal law considers every person whose delinquency may cause loss to the national treasury, subject to the sovereignty of this country.

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As to the nationality of the prisoner, this ministry equally maintained that, according to state doctrine in the United States, as well as the practice of the Government in Washington, together with the several treaties between the United States and other nations, nationality acquired by naturalization in that country is lost by the individual subsequently becoming domiciled in his native country, provided the residence be more than two years.

The occurrence of this circumstance in the case of Mr. Pérez Triana was proved not only by his physical residence in Colombia, but by facts which demonstrated his separation from the United States, and intention of not returning. This and the several undertakings begun by the said individual in Colombia, not only with respect to the railways of Antioquia and Santander, but in other branches, as of agriculture, mines, and commerce, completely proved his intention of remaining in the country, or at least of establishing in it his center of operations for these undertakings and speculations.

The U. S. legation having admitted the general principle of the loss of nationality from subsequent domiciliation, there only remained the difference of opinion between this ministry and the legation as to the question of the residence of Mr. Pérez Triana, but as he (Pérez) had already expressly admitted his domicile, and had also indirectly admitted his Colombian nationality, the rights of the Republic could not be placed in doubt.

Although the particular case of Mr. Pérez Triana may be considered as terminated, the Government thinks that, to avoid any further controversies with the United States, it would be most expedient to come to an agreement respecting the nationality of Colombians who, after becoming naturalized in that country, should return to the land of their birth. Some states, especially those which form to-day the German Empire, have agreements made with that object, whose principal stipulation is that the original nationality shall be considered as reestablished after a residence of two years in the old country.

Although established precedents, the laws of equity, and obvious considerations of convenience may be sufficient to form a fixed rule in the matter, it seems preferable to arrive at a permanent settlement of the point by means of an international treaty. The fact is, that as we are not obliged to come to an understanding about this matter on account of forced military service, cases of this kind must necessarily be rare, but although that necessity does not exist, we must take into account the political troubles of the Latin-American Republics and the recognized desire for foreign nationality as a shield against responsibility produced by civil war. The Government is therefore preparing the necessary instructions for its representative in Washington with the object of attaining that result.

3. Chicago Exposition.

The participation of Colombia in the. Columbian Exposition in Chicago, inaugurated with the object of celebrating the fourth century of the discovery of America, was the occasion of expressions of esteem and gratitude on the part of the legation of the United States in Bogota, addressed to this office, accompanied by an Act passed by the Congress of the United States, in which the people and Government of that nation gave thanks to the several governments of the world for their cooperation in the Quadricentennial Exposition.

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4. Closure of ports during cholera.

The measures taken by the Government in 1892 to protect the towns on the Atlantic coast from contagion from the Asiatic cholera by the closure of the ports against vessels proceeding from infected or suspicious places, caused the U. S. Government to claim that their vessels should be exempted from such a measure, and claiming, with justice, that the epidemic had not declared itself in any part of the United States.

The home office having resolved to empower the authorities on the coast to decide each case on its own merits, the press of this capital and of other places declared the closure to have been stopped in favor of the United States on account of the Government at Washington having declared its intention of opening our ports by force. It was evident that this false report tended to diminish the cordiality cultivated by the United States with Colombia, as it made the Government of that country appear to ignore the sovereignty of the Republic in the most flagrant manner; and it was also evident that it made this Republic appear to be insensible to so great an insult, and to tolerate the violation of her most sacred rights. For these reasons it was necessary to rectify these assertions, and to this end a note was passed to the American legation in this city, in which, having explained the causes thereof, it was asked whether the President of the Union had given any order resembling that which had appeared in the public papers. The representative of the United States certified not only that such orders had not been communicated to the legation, but that having asked the Secretary of State whether any such orders had been transmitted to any agent of their Government, it had received an answer in the negative.

5. Defense of our rights over the islets Roncador and Quitasueño.

During your last session you were informed of the claims that were being made by this Government to the Government of the United States against the abuses that were being committed by certain traders, who, without any permission from Colombia, export large quantities of guano from the islets of Roncador and Quitasueño, which form part of the group of the isles of Providencia. These deposits of guano were, in former times, rented out by this Government to certain contractors, and if they were again put upon the market (after a short study) their probable value would give the public treasury a sum of some consideration.

It appears that the extractors of guano obtained from the United States Government a license to work the guano deposits on the islands under the pretense that they were res nullius, not belonging to any State whatever; but this assertion was absolutely false, as the islets are the property of Colombia by virtue of perfect titles of dominion and of public and repeated acts of possession. Roncador and Quitasueno form part of the Archipelago of Providencia belonging to the Republic, of which it has been in peaceful possession since its existence, as it was formerly in that of Spain; and besides, the inhabitants of the neighboring islands make use of these islets for stations in certain periods of the year for the fishery of tortoise shells and to cultivate as much as possible that part of the territory.

The Colombian chargé d’affaires in Washington has presented to the United States Government a long and well-argued statement, which leaves no doubt as to the exclusive right of this Republic to the isles of Roncador and Quitasueño, and as the Secretary of State declared [Page 198] that the permission granted to the extractors of guano would be of no value on Colombia proving its rights before 1869, the date when the permission was granted, it is to be hoped that the honorable Government of the United States will do justice to our rights, and withdraw the license given under false impressions, and that Colombia will be able by this means to utilize that source of wealth.

6. Commercial reciprocity.

The result of the proclamation of the President of the United States on the 15th of March, 1892, by which the provisions of the tariff law of October 1, 1890, were applied to the importation of coffee and hides from Colombia, continues to affect these articles of our commerce.

The documents annexed contain the correspondence that has passed between our legation in Washington and the Secretary of State, the matter having been handled by our representative with unanswerable logic, notable tact, and in a masterly form which does great honor to the worthy minister of Colombia in the United States and Italy. Our legation has shown both clearly and strongly, with moderation and energy, that the application of the tariff bill to the coffee and hides imported from Colombia to the United States is wanting in legality, is a violation of the stipulations of the treaty of 1846, and prejudicial to the commerce of both countries.

The law which authorizes the Government of the United States to tax the coffee, hides, molasses, sugar, and tea imported from foreign countries, in no way gives it absolute authority, as it requires as an indispensable condition that, in the country where these things are produced, the products from the United States shall be unequally and exorbitantly taxed, in comparison with the duties imposed by the United States custom-house tariff.

This is the reason why the tariff law has been called the law of commercial reciprocity. The President of the United States, under the provisions of the law, is to decide the question of reciprocity by comparing the duties levied in that country and those levied in a foreign country, also the different tariffs of the countries which export the articles referred to in the law of 1890.

In levying on the coffee and hides of Colombia the differential duties of the McKinley law, it was necessary that the above-mentioned comparisons should have proved three things: First, that the Colombian tariff was more severe on articles imported from the United States than the tariffs of other countries to which the additional duties have not been applied; secondly, that the fruits and produce of the United States were treated worse than those of Europe; and thirdly, the want of proportion between the duties levied in Colombia on imports from the United States to those levied in the United States on those of Colombia.

Notwithstanding that none of these facts have been proved, as the custom-house tariff is much more liberal than that of the other countries more favored by the Government in Washington, and as the imports from Europe can not be considered as treated with more favor than those of the United States, and as the exports from this country to the United States are no greater than the imports, it follows that the decree which applies to this country the provisions of the McKinley law, is not based on the conditions required by it, viz, want of reciprocity.

But where the irregularity of the proclamation is most manifest is where it touches the articles of the treaties existing between the two [Page 199] countries, in which articles Nos. 2 and 5 guarantee to this Republic the same treatment in the custom-house tariffs as that given to the most favored nation. The Government of the United States having conceded to several countries the right of introducing coffee free of duty, Colombia has a right to be treated on the same footing, according to these stipulations, even if such favors had not been granted gratuitously, and since the Mexican and Argentine Republics were so treated, Colombia should be placed on the same footing with them.

The present difference in the price of bills on the United States and of those on Europe is not in proportion to the intrinsic value of their respective moneys. As this inequality goes on increasing the result will be the diminution of bills on the United States, caused, most undoubtedly, by the falling off of our exportation to that country. The imports will at the same time continue to diminish, owing to the high prices of their goods; and instead of our trade increasing with the States, as happened in former times, it will decrease on account of the application of the tariff bill.

The present Government, whose ideas on protection are well known, is the one called upon to rectify the unjust application of differential duties on our exports, and to give ear to the repeated protests that have been made. In truth one of the principal doctrines of the present Government is to abolish the tariff law, the said Government being noted for its deference to existing treaties. The Secretary of State, with laudable frankness, has recognized our rights, but instead of taking a resolution in accordance with these rights and with the treaties of 1846, it has been considered preferable to have the matter to be decided by “general politics,” that is to say, to the repeal of the tariff law.

This solution would not be satisfactory, even were the law of reciprocity entirely abolished, in such a way that it would coincide with the rights we hold through the treaty, as then we should still be under the necessity of demanding the return of those duties that have been paid under protest, and a precedent would remain against the interpretation of the provisions of the treaty of 1846; and if the law were not abolished, but simply amended, the result for this Republic would be most pernicious, for not only would the putting aside of our treaty rights be passed over, but it would permanently injure our commerce. It appears that the latter is the solution that will take place, as the Government has unofficial information that Congress has decided that coffee shall enter free of duty, but that hides shall continue to pay in accordance with the old tariff law. The question of our rights will remain in the same state until the Government at Washington revokes the proclamation of 1892 in favor of Colombia, recognizes our rights of free importation, and decrees the return of the custom-house duties that were paid under protest. As for the question itself, it is only half arranged, as coffee is the only article that can be imported free of duty into the United States.

It is to be hoped that the Government of the Union, convinced, as it is, of the justice of our claims and protests, as also of the pernicious state of affairs with respect to the commerce between the two countries, will adopt measures in accordance with our rights and in deference to justice, which is one of the characteristics of the illustrious President of the United States of America.

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France.—Convention regarding aliens, commerce and navigation.

The last Congress having approved the convention on commerce and navigation and the status of foreigners, concluded between Colombia and the French Republic on the 30th of May, 1892, the ratifications were exchanged on the 5th of October last, the convention coming into force from the 13th of the same month, in accordance with the last article of said treaty.

Great Britain.

The steamer Tartar, of the British navy, requested last year, through the British legation in this city, permission to sound Sabanilla Bay, and to make a sketch of the port. * * * It was resolved to grant the request made by the British legation, and orders were therefore sent to the coast, which arrived after the departure of the British vessel. As the legal provisions applicable in such cases are not very clear * * * it would seem desirable to agree upon a fixed rule, which should be in accordance with national rights and international courtesy.

Venezuela.—Free navigation of the River Orinoco.

A large part of Colombian territory being watered by navigable branches of the River Orinoco, has enabled the republic to make use of this river as far as the open sea by any of its outlets, with no other obligations than those of observing the police laws that Venezuela might make for internal security and for the protection of her revenues.

This right of Colombia has been confirmed still more now that the frontier limits have been decided, and it is admitted that the territory of our country exteuds as far as the left bank of the Orinoco, the river there having become international, its navigation is free to both countries. * * *

Execution of the boundary award.

In your sessions of 1892 you were informed of the period agreed to between the governments of this country and Venezuela for the sending of a mixed commission, composed of representatives of each country, with the object of planning out on the spot the artificial portions of the frontier defined in the sentence of arbitration pronounced by His Majesty the King of Spain on the 16th of March of 1891. This period elapsed during the ordinary sessions of the last Congress in Venezuela, which were concluded the end of last May, since which time, on account of a recent political transformation, Congress has not met, as the convention called in 1893 only met to decide certain questions. The commission, however, has not as yet been sent, on account of Venezuela having dispatched to this capital, as I have already said, a legation of the first class to negotiate with Colombia an arrangement as to several points relating to the question of frontiers, after recognizing the absolute rights of the republic, as defined and set forth in the sentence of arbitration. The views and claims of Venezuela and Colombia have been given out in the following declaration or agreement:

The minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Colombia and the envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of Venezuela, together in the department of foreign affairs in the city of Bogota April 4, 1894, hereby agree to certify to, by the [Page 201] present document, duly certified by our respective signatures, the following declarations which we have made verbally in several conferences which have taken place:

  • First. The envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of Venezuela declares that his Government has accepted and accepts, as natural and indispensable, the arbitration sentence pronounced by His Majesty the King of Spain, the 16th day of March, 1891, in which sentence or decision he fixed upon as judge at law, the line of division which in 1810 divided the viceroyship of Santa Fe from the captainship of Venezuela, to which reference is made in the treaty of arbitration and compromise of September 14, 1886, signed by Colombia and Venezuela, for the purpose of adjusting in a definite manner the controversies which have existed as to the real situation of the frontier line according to the “uti possidetis” of 1810, the recognized basis of their respective territorial rights; and that consequently and in compliance with the provisions contained in the arbitration treaty of 1886 those portions of territory separated by the said divisional line of 1810 fixed by the arbitration sentence remain ipse facto the territorial property of the two nations, respectively, giving them thus full rights of jurisdiction and sovereignty as regards possession and occupation of said territories.
  • Second. The envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of Venezuela also declares that as many questions exist between that Republic and Colombia, which are now being settled, and the Government of Venezuela, considering that among these questions of common interest there are many, economic and political, connected with that of frontier boundaries, and that they would be much facilitated if Colombia would on her part nobly concede, in some parts of the line, a slight rectification, he has submitted these desires and views in a friendly and fraternal spirit to the minister of foreign affairs.
  • Third. The envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of Venezuela also declares that in accordance with the “uti possidetis” and in virtue of the arbitration sentence, all disputes as to frontiers between the two countries having been settled, nothing prevents the two governments, leaving to the arbitration sentence all its validity and its final and unchangeable character, from adopting the modifications heretofore mentioned, taking into account their mutual convenience and common interests, compensating each other reciprocally in the manner best adapted to their mutual advantage.
  • Fourth. The minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Colombia also declares that having heard, in the several conferences held with the minister of Venezuela, the explanations offered by said minister in regard to the above-mentioned modifications, and having also received from his Government special instructions, he has stated to the representative of Venezuela that, finding in the just considerations and proposals of said nation a full recognition of the arbitration sentence and of the rights acquired by both countries from said arbitration, and from the treaty of 1886, and consulting at the same time with equity, broadness of ideas, and international cordiality the common interests of both nations, the Government of Columbia accepts in principle the proposal of the Government of Venezuela for certain modifications of the frontier line, which modifications shall be determined after conclusion of the treaties which are on the point of being settled referring to commerce and navigation between Colombia and Venezuela, so that the interests of both parties shall be equally taken into account.

In witness whereof we sign the same, and have affixed hereto our respective seals

[l. s.] Marco F. Suárez.
[l. s.] J. A. Unda.

I am, etc.,

Jacob Sleeper,
Chargé d’affaires ad interim.