Mr. Hart to Mr. Day.

No. 83.]

Sir: It appears that one of my dispatches of the 12th instant was intended to accompany the translation of certain portions of the report of the minister for foreign affairs as transmitted to Congress, was sent without its inclosure. I have now the honor to forward the said translation. I beg to call the Department’s attention particularly to that portion of the accompanying inclosure which relates to the Star and Herald claim, and to ask the Department’s instructions in the premises. When I have taken up the matter with the foreign office it has been treated as a claim which was not expected to be insisted upon. If it be the purpose of the Department to push the claim to a conclusion I shall of course lose no time in endeavoring to carry out such instructions as it may be pleased to give me.

I am, sir, etc.,

Chas. Burdett Hart.

The Star and Herald reclamation.

I have but little to add in regard to this subject to the well-reasoned exposition contained in the report which was presented to you by the foreign office in your past sessions. Reading with attention the antecedents of this reclamation you will be able to comprehend the justice with which the Government, although it always shows deference to the opinions of the Cabinet at Washington, denied continually the pretensions of the Star and Herald Company to reclaim by means of a diplomatic action a heavy indemnity for the damages which it was said to have suffered on account of the suspension imposed upon it by the civil and military officer of the isthmus, Gen. Ramon Santodomingo Vila. The Government could not accept the idea that a newspaper enterprise founded in Colombia and in such a way attached to the part of Colombian territory where it had its residence, that it could not exist outside of it, and which in addition belonged exclusively to Colombian citizens at the time when the reclamation was initiated, should have acquired the rights of a foreign enterprise on account of the simple desire of its owners, and should have a right to diplomatic protection against the action of the Colombian authorities. And much less could this exceptional position be accepted in favor of a periodical that had constantly taken part in our internal affairs, that had acquired a political character and had entered on prohibited ground, publishing articles that favored the separation of the isthmus. This precedent being established other newspaper enterprises in the Republic would have made haste to incorporate themselves in some form [Page 231] in foreign countries, so that they might acquire diplomatic protection whenever the Government should apply to them the laws governing the press which every nation has a right to pass, and thus we should have political papers which would make use of the same right that our own papers enjoy to discuss our political affairs and yet enjoy the privilege of foreigners in order to escape the responsibility which their conduct might impose upon them.

Neither was it permissible that they should desire to make the National Government responsible for an act executed without its permission or authorization by an agent whose conduct was disapproved afterwards, so that in consequence of the Star and Herald incident General Sandomingo Vila ceased to be civil and military governor of the department of Panama. To give such an extension to the responsibility of governments would have been but little in conformity with what is established by the common consent of natural right and the practice of nations. Finally, the reclamation of the Star, which raised the damages to the sum of $90,000, was notably unjust, because the enterprise did not suffer on account of the suspension, which it knew how to escape, publishing the same paper under another name; neither were the damages, in case they existed, justly represented by so large a sum, because in this case it would be necessary to give to the enterprise a commercial value that it never had, as is proved by the price, relatively high, which it brought at the auction which followed the insolvency of the company.

The Government also had serious doubts whether there was any person who had a legal right to present the reclamation of the former Star and Herald company, because the enterprise went into insolvency and all its goods and rights on the isthmus were sold at public auction in 1893 to its present possessor, D. Gabriel Duque. The Hon. Mr. Sleeper, in charge of the affairs of the United States legation, presented this point in such form as to leave no place for doubt. In a note of the 1st of April, 1897, he said the following: “Your excellency, indeed, does not pretend that this claim was sold to the person who is now publishing the Star and Herald; but to remove all doubt I beg to inform your excellency that the said person has placed on the files of the Department of State his authority to Mr. Meyers to represent his claim.” It appears, then, by the official testimony of the Government, which has sustained the claim, that the rights which the Government may represent belong to Mr. Duque, owner to-day of the Star and Herald. Now, this ministry possesses a declaration given August 17, of last year, before the consul of the United States of America by the said Mr. D. Gabriel Duque, an American citizen and managing director of the Star and Herald and Estrella de Panamá in which he states that neither he nor the enterprise of which he is the manager have rights against the Colombian Government coming from the claims made on account of the suspension of the Star and Herald and Estrella de Panamá in the year 1886, neither as owner of the said rights nor by any other title which has been used in the name of the enterprise of the said Star and Herald in order to claim from the Government an indemnity, “to which,” he adds, I renounce from the present time, because conscientiously, as an honorable man, and as the principal member of the said enterprise, I stated that it is not guided by anything else than justice harmonized with those acts that are based in legal right, with which the aforesaid claim is at variance in every respect.”

The reasons set forth by the Government of Colombia in the course of this long debate had sufficient force to demonstrate the fact that the claim made on behalf of the Estrella has no foundation. If to these reasons we add the decisive testimony that I have just cited, it may be confidently sustained that this disagreeable claim has been closed in a definite manner, because the American Government, if it believed that it ought to favor a pretension that it esteemed well founded, could not continue to give its powerful support to a claim which, by the spontaneous manifestation of the person to whom it is of interest to make it effective, it is in all respects unjust and unfounded.