The Duke de Arcos to Mr. Hay.
Washington, December 13, 1899.
Mr. Secretary: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note No. 57 of the 9th instant, whereby you were pleased to inform me that, after a careful examination by the United States Government of the request made by me in an interview with the honorable Secretary of State of the 7th instant relative to the propriety of extending the time allowed to Spanish residents of the islands which were formerly under the dominion of Spain to choose their nationality, that Government has decided that, inasmuch as the treaty of peace fixes the date when the time allowed for such option ends, the Executive power of the United States can not change that decision.
I return to this matter, Mr. Secretary, because, having thus far discussed it merely by word of mouth in sundry conversations that I have had with you, I deem it proper and necessary that the opinion entertained concerning it by this legation should be stated in writing. I will state this opinion in a few words:
The treaty of Paris of December 10, 1898, says in its ninth article that Spaniards “may retain their Spanish nationality by making at a registration office, within one year after the exchange of the ratifications of this treaty, a declaration of their purpose to retain said nationality.” The clear and evident intention of the treaty is to allow to Spaniards one year’s time to make said declaration. On the 11th of April next, if the registers are closed on that day, the Spaniards will not have had the year’s time granted them by the treaty. In Cuba the governor-general issued an order, No. 107, on the 11th of July last, designating the town halls as registration offices and laying down rules for the enrollment. These offices were open on the 18th of the same month, and it is only since that day that the Spaniards have been able to enroll their names. In Porto Rico the corresponding order bears date of August 21, and it was not published in the [Page 718] Gazette of Porto Rico, the official organ, nntil the 13th of September following. The orders issued by the governor-general were, moreover, so tardily executed that I am informed that even in the course of the month of October the municipality of Ponce, the second town in the island, did not receive the declarations of Spaniards, and I do not know when they have finally been able to exercise their right. As the treaty did not determine which were the registration offices that it mentions, it was necessary to define them, and this was done by the American Government through the orders of the governorsgeneral; it was done, however, with the delay which I have mentioned. Before the issuance of those orders Spaniards could not enroll their names, for their declarations would nowhere have been received. They consequently will not have had—without any fault on their part—the full year to which, according to the treaty of Paris, they are entitled.
But, while this state of things is a serious one, the case, in its connection with the Philippine Islands, is far more serious. On the 26th of August I was informed by the Department of State that orders similar to those issued in Cuba and Porto Rico had been sent to the Philippine Islands. It may be presumed that these orders did not reach their destination until after the beginning of October, and, when they had reached there, it was not possible to enforce them save in the few places that were occupied by the American troops. Of those places, with the exception of the capital, there were, doubtless, few in which the occupation was considered permanent enough for the establishment of a registration office. Still, even if this had been done, inasmuch as until recently the places occupied have been comparatively few, and as the Spanish population is very widely disseminated on the islands, it would have been impossible for the Spaniards to avail themselves of the right granted them by the treaty; and this, as in the Antilles, would have been due to no fault of theirs, but merely to the force of circumstances.
In vain does the honorable Secretary of War say, as is stated in your note of the 9th instant, to which I have the honor to reply, that, since those declarations may be made before any court of record, the Spaniards have only to avail themselves of the privilege granted them by the treaty. Where are there any such courts of record in the Philippines? Outside of Manila and a very few other towns, no municipal government is prepared to receive such declarations.
Consequently, the decision of the American Government, if it is to be upheld, is equivalent to the annulment of a provision of the treaty which distinctly says that one year shall be granted to Spaniards in which to make their declarations. I can not believe that such is the intention of the President of the United States. I can not believe that, in a matter in which an arrangement between the two contracting parties is so easy, the Spaniards are to be deprived of all the facilities granted them by the treaty for choosing their nationality, when the principles of modern law all tend to allow to every individual the privilege of choosing his nationality.
I can but hope that the American Government will again take into consideration this matter, which may be summed up very briefly, to wit: The treaty of Paris designates one year in which the Spaniards may make their declaration, and I ask one year for them.
I avail myself, etc.,