Mr. Rockhill to Mr. Dupuy de Lôme.

No. 180.]

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.

Accept, etc.,

W. W. Rockhill,
Acting Secretary.
[Inclosure in No. 180.]

Mr. Lee to Mr. Rockhill.

No. 98.]

Sir: With reference to my dispatch No. 89, of the 19th instant, relative to the registration of foreigners in a special register opened at the office of the general government of this island, I beg to inclose a copy translation of a communication from the Governor-General in answer to one from this office, dated the 14th instant, a copy of which I had the honor to forward to the Department with my dispatch No. 84, of the 15th of same.

I am, etc.,

Fitzhugh Lee,
Consul-General.
[Subinclosure.—Translation.]

General Weyler to Mr. Lee.

Sir: Upon replying to your polite official note of the 14th instant, I must begin by calling your attention to the literal text of the decree of the 14th July last, which requires foreigners resident in this island to register in the special register of citizenship which is kept at the general government, because, in its second paragraph it says: “That after the expiration of the term mentioned in the previous article foreigners who have not effected their inscription or registry,” can not invoke “the rights or privileges granted them by our laws,” and in no wise is any allusion made to treaties existing between Spain and other nations.

From those laws, or, be it, the laws ruling in Spanish territory, the first and fundamental one in respect to foreigners, is that of the 4th July, 1870, which regulates the rights that Spain grants to foreigners residing in the Spanish ultramarine provinces, rights that it limitedly sets forth in article 29, and following; and among them are:

  • First. Security of person, property, domicile, and correspondence in the form established by law for Spaniards.
  • Second. To meet and assemble together in those cases and under the conditions determined for Spaniards, and provided that the object is not hostile to those States with which Spain has friendly relations.
  • Third. To emit and publish their ideas, in accordance with the laws ruling in the matter for Spaniards, and under the limits imposed by the preceding paragraph.
  • Fourth. To address petitions to public powers and the authorities in the same manner as prescribed by law for Spaniards.

Said rights, those of articles 35 and 36, and all others that Spain grants by this or any other law to foreigners to reside in her ultramarine possessions, shall not be claimed by any but foreigners registered in accordance with what is ordered in article 7 of the same law relating to foreigners, and to them is applied the decree of the 14th of July last.

But now in treating on this subject, I must make a distinction between those foreigners by their own right, born abroad; the children and wife of a foreigner, and those others who, having been born Spaniards, have changed their nationality. Because, if to the former, whenever they are not registered, alone may be denied the aforesaid rights, the latter, in that case, and while they live in Spanish territory, have no means to allege their status as foreigners.

Spain does not investigate the acquisition of a foreign citizenship, and always accepts as valid that conferred by a friendly nation, and never disputes it, but the Spaniard who continues to reside in Cuba, if he wishes to be considered as a foreigner, [Page 684]must comply at least with the requirement of the inscription or register, which is but the manner of informing this government that he has ceased to belong to it, and has embraced another flag.

It is conclusively stated in article 73 of the regulations to carry out the law of civil register of 1884, a law of which one who has been a Spaniard can not allege ignorance: “Change of nationality shall produce legal effects in the Island of Cuba and Puerto Rico, only from the day on which they may be entered in the special register which shall be kept at each of the general governments of said islands.”

As you will observe, my decree of the 14th July has been adjusted strictly to the written law, and in no wise alters the principle that a law of interior order can not derogate treaties and international laws.

On the contrary, it strengthens the universal principles of that branch of law when it solely refuses to foreigners not registered those rights which it is in the power of the government which offers him hospitality either to grant or deny, according as those who accept that hospitality comply or not with the laws of interior order, and which, as regards naturalized foreigners, warns them—because thereto sanctioned by a law of 1884, unfortunately forgotten until the present—that unless so inscribed, they shall not be considered as such foreigners while they continue to reside in Spanish territory.

You will have observed, also, that means have been provided for the register of foreigners by dictating measures for those who reside in places remote from the capital, and extending until the 31st October, the term of one month which expired on the 14th instant, but if I am to submit my acts of governor to the strict standard to which they correspond, I must exact the registrations of all foreigners residing in this island and maintain my decree of July 14 in the form explained.

I am convinced that you, who have so discreetly taken measures to assist in my purpose to keep in the general government a register of foreigners, and for which I tender my best thanks, will no doubt recognize the right I have in the matter and will furnish to your Government the explanations you deem most pertinent, and meanwhile I reiterate the assurances of my most distinguished consideration.

God guard you many years.

Valeriano Weyler.