Mr. Uhl to Mr. Bartleman.

No. 109.]

Sir: I have received your Nos. 142 of April 30 last, 145 and 150 of the 9th and 18th ultimo, bearing on the subject of the seizure by the Venezuelan Government at Ciudad Bolivar of the steamship Bolivar for violating the decree of July 1, 1893 (law of April 23, 1894), which closed the Pedernales and Macareo mouths of the Orinoco to foreign commerce.

From these dispatches it appears that the Bolivar, a steamship of the General Steamship Company, of Wilmington, Del., was refused its clearance papers by the customs authorities at Ciudad Bolivar unless the said vessel gave a bond for the result of a suit entered in the local courts for alleged violation of the decree of the Venezuelan ministry closing the Caño Macareo to foreign commerce, the said vessel having passed, through that channel.

The above information was transmitted to you by telegraph on the 28th of April by the U. S. commercial agent at Ciudad Bolivar, and you very properly advised him in reply to tell the agent of the Bolivar to give the desired bond under protest if he desired to have his ship cleared.

Three days before the receipt of the above you had been, however, informed by Mr. W. P. Pierce, U. S. consul at Port of Spain, Trinidad, that he was “preparing papers as provided for by paragraph 313 of the Consular Regulations, under which the Bolivar might, without hesitation, display the American flag as her national colors and claim the protection of the United States accordingly.”

You thereupon used your good offices with the minister of foreign affairs at Caracas, in the first place to have the steamer released on condition it should not repeat the offense, and later on, when you were advised that the bond required by the collector of customs of Ciudad Bolivar was for the amount of 60,000 bolivars, to have it reduced to 10,000, which you considered “as a nominal and sufficient amount.”

The agent of the Bolivar refused, however, to give any bond, claiming that there had been no violation of law, and insisted that the only route by which a river boat of the build of the Bolivar could reach Trinidad was by the channels opening into the Gulf of Paria, of which the Macareo is one. You then endeavored to obtain a special permit for her return to Trinidad through the Macareo channel, but up to the date of your last dispatch (May 18, 1894) you have been unable to secure it.

To reach a correct understanding of the case it is necessary to complete the information contained in your dispatches under acknowledgment by means of that which has come to this Department from Mr. Pierce, our consul at Port of Spain, Trinidad, of which I inclose a copy.1

From Mr. Pierce’s dispatch No. 169 of April 28, 1894, it results that the Bolivar was ordered to be arrested for violating the decree of July 1, 1893, prior to the date on which he, Mr. Pierce, was requested to authorize her to carry the flag of the United States. “The information brought by young Mr. Carpenter,” he says, “left little room to doubt that the steamship Bolivar would be arrested if she returned to Ciudad Bolivar under the Venezuelan flag, and under the belief that she would not be arrested under the American flag, or if arrested, she [Page 794]would have less trouble in being released under the American flag than she would under the Venezuelan flag. Mr. George F. Carpenter, attorney for the General Steamship Company, of Wilmington, Del., thought it best to bring the vessel under the American flag, and accordingly he made a declaration as to the ownership, etc., of the vessel and I issued a certificate substantially as provided for by paragraph 313 of the Regulations.”

It appears, therefore, that the transfer to the American flag of this vessel, supposing that our consul in Trinidad had authority to make it as he did, was made to escape proceedings instituted against it in the Venezuelan courts for an alleged offense committed while it was not only under the Venezuelan flag, but, as is shown by the inclosed letter of the president of the General Steamship Company, while it had a Venezuelan register, and consequently this transfer can in no wise withdraw it from Venezuelan jurisdiction for prior acts of commission. While fully appreciating your desire to protect the owners of the Bolivar in every way consistent with their rights and privileges, you should do nothing beyond asking a prompt and impartial settlement of the pending action.

I am, etc.,

Edwin F. Uhl, Acting Secretary.
  1. Not printed.