Mr. Rockhill to Mr. Dupuy de Lôme.
Washington, September 9, 1896
Sir: With reference to my note of July 25 last, regarding the decree of July 14, 1896, issued by the Governor-General of Cuba, I have the honor to inclose you a copy of dispatch No. 98, of August 22, 1896, from our consul-general in Cuba, and with it a copy of a letter from the Governor-General of Cuba explaining his said decree, which undertakes to deprive citizens of the United States residing in Cuba of their right to invoke the laws of that island in case they fail to register, as prescribed in Article I of the said decree.
The Governor-General explains that his decree is merely declaratory of the municipal law of Cuba, which entitles foreigners residing in that island to the rights of Cuban law only when such foreigners have complied with the law requiring registry. He alleges that the rights and benefits conferred by the municipal law of Cuba are distinct from and are in addition to those which foreigners enjoy under the laws of nations and by treaty. The right to invoke the municipal law, therefore, he regards as unguaranteed and revocable, and subject to any condition which the municipal law may impose.
It is not necessary for this Government to enter into an elaborate argument to demonstrate that the rights which a foreigner is inherently entitled to enjoy in any country necessarily include the right to invoke the municipal law to the extent that that law is essential in carrying out the guaranties of international law and treaty, and that he can not be excluded from the protection of the municipal law without violating his guaranteed rights under international law and treaty.
The two systems of law and the rights existing under them are inseparable. The law of every country includes as a part of its system the principles of international law and the obligations of its treaties with foreign countries; and our citizens in Cuba are entitled by international obligation to invoke the laws and judicial procedure of Cuba regardless of registration. This principle was admitted by Spain in the correspondence which preceded the protocol of January 12, 1877.
Our consul-general at Habana has been directed to say to General Weyler that the right of citizens of the United States in Cuba to the benefit and protection of the municipal law in Cuba, so far as that law is guaranteed to them by international law and treaty, is not derived from any Cuban statute, but from international law and our treaties with Spain, and that this right is not subject to withdrawal by municipal legislation or decree, nor to any condition which the authorities of the island of Cuba may seek to impose. The rights of our citizens in that island, whatever those rights may be, are beyond the power of the Cuban authorities by municipal regulation to destroy or curtail. The consul-general was at the same time directed to inform the Governor General that the practical utility of registration was fully recognized, and it was hoped that all citizens of the United States residing in Cuba would comply with article 1 of his said decree. The issue taken is solely upon [Page 683] article 2 of the decree denouncing practical outlawry upon citizens of the United States who may fail to comply with article 1 of the decree.