Mr. Sherman to Mr. Dupuy de Lôme.
Washington, July 2, 1897.
Sir: You will doubtless recall the correspondence* which took place between my esteemed predecessor and yourself in February and March of last year concerning the expropriation of property of citizens of the United States for military use in Cuba, in violation of the provisions of article 7 of the treaty of 1795, and you will especially remember the gratifying assurance conveyed by your note of April 1, 1896, that General Weyler had issued positive orders to the civil as well as the military authorities of the island, in conformity with the wishes expressed in Mr. Olney’s note of February 14 preceding.
The comparative lack of complaint on this score during the past year has been regarded by this Government as a gratifying proof that the just claims of this Government to protect the property rights of its citizens in Cuba under existing treaties were distinctly admitted and positively safeguarded. A circumstance, however, is now reported to me, which, if it does not arise in ignorance of the facts of ownership or in gross misconception of his rights and obligations in the matter on the part of the superior authority of the Island of Cuba, manifests such a complete disregard of the rights of an American citizen as to [Page 515] call for earnest protest and instant demand, such as the consul-general of the United States at Havana has been instructed by cable to make.
I am advised that the sugar estate known as La Confianza, situated in Vieja Bermeja, in the district of Alfonso XII and the province of Matanzas, has been virtually seized by the royal authorities under a proclamation by which the whole of the said estate has been included in one of the “agricultural zones” created by the Governor-General of the island for the declared purpose of relieving the distress of the inhabitants resulting from the enforced concentration of destitute agricultural labor in the garrison towns without resources of their own and without adequate support by the State. The property in question belongs to a citizen of the United States, Mrs. Enriqueta Echarte de Farres, wife of the American citizen Edelberto Farres, residing in New York.
I had occasion, in my note of the 26th ultimo, to set forth the views of the President respecting certain inhumane practices in the conduct of the present protracted war in Cuba, and especially with regard to the concentration of the dispossessed laborers of the plantations in the garrison towns, there to be huddled without means of existence and to be exposed to pestilence as well as famine. That the inhumane aspect of this measure may have impressed itself upon the responsible representative of His Majesty’s rule in Cuba, and may have suggested the need of providing occupation and support for the starving crowds his policy has forced into the cities or camped in their purlieus, may be an encouraging sign from which I should regret to withhold any just praise, but I can not ignore, the fact that the appropriation of the estate of an American citizen and its diversion from its hitherto productive uses for its owner’s benefit by conversion into an agricultural colony of impoverished concentrados, however commendable from the Spanish standpoint or from that of abstract humanity, is a flat violation of the treaty rights of that citizen.
Your Government has admitted the wrongfulness of the practice of expropriating the property of citizens of the United States, even when the military exigencies of a campaign in the field might be pleaded in excuse for taking supplies and food for which rightful compensation is made. It is obviously a more unlawful proceeding to invade the landed estate of an alien owner and, by virtual confiscation thereof, convert it indefinitely to the public use as an agricultural settlement under conditions which, even if their early termination might be looked for, must destroy the material resources of the property, depriving the owner of even the poor return which might enable the constantly accruing taxation thereon to be met, and working grievous wrong to a citizen of a friendly State.
The consul-general of the United States at Havana has been instructed that the right of this Government to protest against the order referred to, and to demand its revocation so far as it shall be found to violate the treaty rights of an American citizen, is beyond question, and he is told, while strongly but temporarily obeying the President’s direction, to leave no doubt in the mind of the responsible Spanish authority of the Island of Cuba as to the earnestness of the demand or as to the confidence here felt that it will be promptly respected as befits the good relations which this Government is desirous in every way to subserve.
I should be glad if you would add your representations to mine, in order that this just cause of remonstrance may be dispelled.