Mr. Woodford to Mr. Sherman.

No. 189.]

Sir: Since the receipt of the Spanish note dated February 1, 1898, I have waited for suitable opportunity to have full and frank discussion with the Spanish minister for foreign affairs concerning the real condition of affairs in Cuba and the duty of the United States in regard thereto.

After an informal conversation which I happened to have with the minister for the colonies on the 22d instant, I decided that the suitable opportunity had come, and that day I addressed an official communication to the foreign office, asking for an interview with the minister for foreign affairs at his private residence on Wednesday afternoon, March 23. I asked, as my knowledge of Spanish is limited, that he invite his colleague, the minister for the colonies, to be present, so that our conversation might be accurately interpreted.

The minister promptly replied, granting the desired interview at his private residence, and on Wednesday, the 23d instant, I met the two ministers in official conference.

I began the conversation by reading the following statement:

I ought, at the beginning of our interview, to say to you that the report on the Maine is in the hands of the President. I am not to-day authorized to disclose its character or conclusions. But I am authorized to say to you that, beyond and above the destruction of the Maine, unless some satisfactory agreement is reached within a very few days which will assure immediate and honorable peace in Cuba the President must at once submit the whole question of the relations between the United States and Spain, including the matter of the Maine, to the decision of Congress.

I will telegraph immediately to the President any suggestions that Spain may make, and I hope to receive within a very few days some definite proposition that shall mean immediate peace in Cuba.

Minister Gullon replied that his Government had not received the text of the Spanish report upon the explosion of the Maine, and in the absence of any statement by myself as to the character of the American report he could not discuss the matter, but that the Spanish Government would certainly do whatever right and justice should require when his Government should have full knowledge of all the facts.

He then said that he was surprised at the apparent change in the attitude of the United States, as indicated by the statement which I had just made, and added that he would be glad to have me tell him, if I would, why my Government presented such a statement at the present time.

I replied substantially as follows:

The United States has not varied its attitude since I came to Spain last September. My first words to Her Majesty when I was presented at San Sebastian were the sincere expression of the desire of the United States for peace in Cuba and peace between Spain and the United States. Peace seemed to be made possible by the removal of General Weyler, by the attempted change in the methods of conducting the civil war in Cuba, and by the proffer of autonomy to the island. I believe that the present Spanish Government was sincere in the efforts it initiated. My Government hoped earnestly that these efforts would be successful, and that peace might be established firmly and permanently. In this hope we have been disappointed. The entire winter has passed. We are within a few weeks of the rainy season. [Page 699] Peace is not yet in sight. The military operations conducted by the Spanish troops are accompanied by the necessary destruction of all means of subsistence where such troops operate. The insurgents in turn lay waste the country to prevent the movements of the Spanish forces. Thus the island continues to be devastated; opportunities for the support of the population by their labor are practically denied, and all the sufferings and horrors of civil war continue. The peace which seemed to have been made possible last autumn has not been secured. Peace is as necessary now as it was then, and the time has come when the United States must, in the interest of humanity and because of the great and pressing commercial, financial, and sanitary needs of our country, ask that some satisfactory agreement be reached within a very few days which will assure immediate and honorable peace in Cuba.

I then told him that this is the desire and judgment of the serious and earnest people of the United States; that the horrible facts with regard to the famine, destitution, sickness, and mortality among the people of the island had gradually become known to our citizens, and that humanity and civilization required that peace must be secured and firmly established at once; and that neither the present judgment of the civilized world nor the final judgment of history would excuse the United States in longer permitting the present condition of affairs in an island lying within 100 miles of our coast.

I told him first that the population of Cuba in January, 1895, just before the rebellion broke out, was about 1,600,000; that since February, 1895, Spain had sent to Cuba more than 200,000 soldiers and officers; that from the best information my Government could get there are now in Cuba, including the remnants of the Spanish army, not more than 1,200,000 souls; that thus the deaths during little more than three years had exceeded the births by nearly 400,000; that these figures were an indictment against the methods of Spanish rule and against its continuance in Cuba which the conscience and judgment of the United States could no longer disregard and which must require early and effective decision at our hands.

I next spoke of the sanitary conditions of the island and pointed out the constant danger which these conditions threatened to us, who are such close neighbors to Cuba, and said that our responsibility and duty are precisely what would be the duty of the minister himself in case there was a pesthouse next door to his own residence, filled with contagious disease and threatening each moment the health and the lives of his family.

I next told him that we raise in the United States but about one-tenth of the sugar we consume; that we must purchase from abroad the remaining nine-tenths; that before the present civil war we drew much of our supply from Cuba and sold to Cuba in return flour, meat, and manufactures; that all this commerce is practically destroyed.

I then called his attention to the large amounts of American capital invested in Cuba, partly in actual ownership of Cuban property and partly as loans to Cuban corporations and residents, and pointed out how valueless are such holdings and such securities so long as this civil war continues. I emphasized the tremendous pecuniary loss which the people of the United States suffer and must suffer until peace is restored.

I closed by expressing my belief that the present Spanish Government [Page 700] would deal justly and honorably in regard to the destruction of the U. S. S. Maine in the harbor of Havana whenever I should be instructed to present that matter for diplomatic action, but that now, beyond and above the destruction of the Maine, and even beyond and above all questions of the destruction of American property interests in Cuba, the great and controlling questions of humanity and civilization require that permanent and immediate peace be established and enforced in the island of Cuba.

Minister Gullon replied to me, through Minister Moret as interpreter, that Spain might be relied upon to do what is right and just and honorable in the matter of the Maine; that he was glad to be again assured of the belief by the United States that the present Spanish Government had sought to secure effective peace through granting liberal autonomy to Cuba; that this autonomy had not as yet secured all the results which had been confidently expected, but that it had made large and effective progress; that the Spanish military movements were constantly becoming more successful; that autonomy was constantly winning adherents from the neutral population of the island; that insurgents were constantly surrendering and accepting the new conditions of legality under the Spanish flag; that, from his advices and the assurances of General Blanco, he believed that the insurrection would be practically suppressed before the rainy season began; that all the rebel leaders, with the exception of a few chiefs, were willing now to submit if the United States would only advise them to do so, and that if we would withhold intervention until the beginning of the rainy season he believed that he could assure the Government of the United States that the rebellion would then be ended and that autonomy would be assured in its successful operation. He added that the Spanish Government is ready to enlarge and increase the present grant of autonomy in all honorable ways that will add to its efficiency and guarantee its success.

He then asked me if I would not telegraph my Government requesting it to withhold action until the beginning of the rainy season.

I replied that I would send by telegraph, in his own words, whatever request he should make, but that in order to avoid possible mistake he must hand me, in English, the precise words he wished me to telegraph; that I should report our interview fully to my President; that I could give him no assurance whatever that I would personally indorse or approve his request; that I had come, reluctantly but positively, to the judgment that autonomy could not give peace to Cuba within any reasonable time; that the insurrection seemed too strong to be suppressed by the insular government and Spain combined; that the insular government, backed by Spain, might be too strong for the insurgents to overthrow it; that continuous civil war seemed to be the unfortunate destiny of Cuba under the Spanish flag; and then I added, kindly but firmly, that I did not believe the delay for which he asked to be possible, and that my Government wished immediate and honorable peace; and I repeated that unless some satisfactory agreement is reached within a very few days the President must submit the whole question to Congress.

He told me that he was going at once to a meeting of the council of ministers; that he would send to my residence, before 8 o’clock that evening, such memorandum as he might wish me to telegraph; and thus our official interview closed.

He did not send me any memorandum that night.

[Page 701]

To-day, March 25, the Spanish minister for foreign affairs telephoned me, asking me to be at his office this afternoon at 4 o’clock. I went, and we conversed, with Mr. Merry del Val, one of the sub-secretaries of the Spanish foreign office, as interpreter. This is the same gentleman who acted as interpreter in my first official interview with the Duke de Tetuan on the 18th of last September.

The Spanish minister was very earnest in his desire that the report of the investigating commission on the subject of the Maine should not be sent to Congress, but should be held as the subject of diplomatic adjustment between the two Governments. He assured me that Spain would do in this matter whatever should be just and right. He suggested that the matter of securing peace in Cuba should be left to the insular government of Cuba and submitted to the insular parliament, which will be assembled on May 4 next. He expressed his belief that the insular authorities would then be able to secure early and honorable peace in Cuba. I reminded him that the interests and the duty of the United States required that peace be secured at once, and asked him if the Spanish Government would be willing to grant and enforce an immediate and effective armistice or truce between the military forces of Spain and those of the insurgents, provided the insurgents would agree to and would enforce a like complete and immediate armistice or truce. He replied that he could give me no final answer without consulting his associates in the Spanish cabinet, but that personally he feared that such armistice is impossible.

Our interview closed by his stating that he would send me to-night or early to-morrow morning such memorandum or statement, in reply to my statement delivered to him on March 23, as he should wish me to telegraph to the President.

I will telegraph same as soon as received, and have the honor, etc.,

Stewart L. Woodford.