Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, With the Annual Message of the President Transmitted to Congress December 5, 1899
Mr. Hay to Mr. Russell.
Washington , September 6, 1899 .
Sir: Referring to Mr. Loomis’s No. 301, of June 30 last, relative to the efforts made to obtain a change in the Venezuelan law in regard to the deposit of ships’ papers, I inclose a copy of a dispatch from the United States consul at La Guaira relating to the subject and referring to a communication which he has addressed to you concerning it.
I am, etc.,
Mr. Goldschmidt to Mr. Cridler.
La Guaira , August 17, 1899 .
Sir: I beg to acknowledge receipt of your No. 31, dated July 14, 1899, concerning the law obliging American vessels to deposit their papers at the custom-house. In reply thereto I would say that I should have previously reported on the subject but for the fact that several of my predecessors, according to the records of this consulate, have upon different occasions complained of the matter without apparent result.
However, I wish to say that this custom is the cause of many annoying occurrences to which vessels are subjected, and those are aggravated because they are subjected to the whim and pleasure of the customs officials who, in these countries, are, as a rule, without the least conception of what is customary in civilized countries where generally international rights are respected.
Vessels are frequently detained without cause or reason, simply because it pleases them to do so, and I think that the time has come when the United States should take steps to prevent this country from exacting the deposit of these papers.
As an example of the obnoxious custom I inclose copy of a dispatch addressed to Hon. W. W. Russell, chargé d’affaires of the American legation at Caracas, under date of the 9th of August, 1899, which will illustrate one of the methods to which American vessels are frequently subjected.
Up to date I have not received any answer to said dispatch.,
Respecting your request to furnish information which would assist in facilitating a change of methods, I believe that very little can be done in an amicable way to settle this matter unless you take up such cases as the one referred to in my inclosure, and upon making the necessary representations try to secure the customary privilege of depositing ship’s papers at their respective consulates.
Another way would be to issue to vessels visiting this port a duplicate register and other papers, so that they would always retain a copy, and in case of emergency could leave the duplicate at the custom-house if delivery could not be secured at the time scheduled for departure.
This latter, I believe, is the case with the German steamers touching at these ports, and I am told they all carry a duplicate register and never deliver the original.
At any rate, I believe that the time has come for these medieval, petty annoyances to cease in regard to international commerce, and if one country can not secure their rights alone, the matter might be settled if all maritime powers who have commerce in Venezuelan ports joined hands in an effort to secure their rights.
I am, etc.,
Mr. Goldschmidt to Mr. Russell.
La Guaira , August 9, 1899 .
Sir: I report the following incidents happening at this port yesterday, August 8, with request that you forward to the Government of Venezuela a complaint against the local custom-house officials for what I consider very shabby treatment on their part against the undersigned United States consul, a thing which is of frequent occurrence here, and to which I no longer intend to submit, not on my own account or because of my personal feeling, but because I consider them insulting as representative of the United States at this port, and because I believe that it should not be permitted to continue thus without a strong protest being made.
The facts in the case are as follows: Yesterday at about 11 o’clock a.m., while on board the American steamship Philadelphia, where I had gone to forward my official dispatch, a note was brought to me from the representative of the house of H. L. Boulton & Co., at this port, requesting me to come ashore at once, as the steamer was being detained, the custom-house officials refusing to deliver the ship’s “register “and “license of navigation” before 1 o’clock.
I immediately left the ship and went to the house of Boulton & Co., where I was told by Mr. Schunk that the custom-house had refused to deliver the papers of the ship, as she was expected to remain here, owing to some mail or other matter which was to arrive here at 1 o’clock p.m., by train from Caracas.
I was requested by the house of Boulton to go to the custom-house and inquire officially as to the reason of the detention of said steamship Philadelphia, which I immediately proceeded to do. Upon arrival at the custom-house no one was to be found except Mr. Juan Casañas, who, upon my request, went to the resguardo at about 11.30 o’clock a.m. and from there telephoned to Mr. J. M. Rivas Mundarain, who was then in Macuto at his house, the following question, asked in official capacity of the collector:
“What is the reason of the detention of the steamship Philadelphia, and why were the papers refused to the ship?”
Mr. Casañas answered that the collector said that the whole thing was a mistake, that the ship was not being detained, that the clerk who said so was wrong, and that the papers should be handed over immediately.
Believing that the matter was settled, I returned to H. L. Boulton & Co., and upon arrival there found that the collector of customs had rung them up by telephone from Macuto, reiterating the same statement made to Mr. Casañas and which that gentleman reported to me a few minutes before. Thereupon a man was sent in search of the clerk in charge of the papers and the dispatch of the steamer, who was breakfasting at his house. He soon arrived at the house of Boulton, where, in the presence of witnesses, he was asked what were his orders from the collector concerning the dispatch of the steamship Philadelphia. Mr. Antonio Gonell, the clerk referred to, replied in the presence of witnesses that his orders from the collector were not to give up the ship’s papers until 1 o’clock p.m.
Thereupon I told him of the reply of Mr. Rivas Mundarain to my inquiry by telephone, that the ship was not to be detained one moment, that he never gave such an order, and that the clerk, Mr. Gonell, was wrong.
We again tried to ring up Mr. Rivas Mundarain, but could get no connection by telephone with his house in Macuto.
I then left in company of Mr. Gonell and Mr. Schunk for the custom-house, believing that Mr. Gonell would then give up the ship’s papers.
Mr. Gonell retired to the private “apartments” of the collector, and, returning after a few moments, informed me that he had tried to ring up the collector in Macuto by telephone, and that the clerk at the telephone office told him that he had orders not to connect anyone with the collector’s house at Macuto.
The same attempt being made successively found different telephones with the same result. I concluded that the collector wished to detain the ship until he attained his object; that he wished to shift the responsibility for such action on the shoulders of the poor clerk, Mr. Gonell; that he did not care whether he sent the American consul upon a wild-goose chase, and consequently showed that he was entirely indifferent, as he seems to care very little how American officials are treated, by previous occurrences.
To sum up, I wish to say that the ship’s papers were not delivered until 1 o’clock p.m., and that when I first asked for an explanation I requested Mr. Casañas to tell Mr. Mundarain that the Philadelphia was an American mail steamer, and, further, that it was impossible for the ship to pass through the “Los Roques” [Page 784] before night if detained, and that such an act would endanger the ship and lives of the passengers. I tried to show him that some grave consequences might be the result of this action, but in spite of this they did as they pleased, and did it unmanfully by playing a sort of hide-and-seek game with me and with the steamship agents.
That I wish to protest against such treatment, and that if the Government of Venezuela is fair and just they should punish the offenders, whosoever they may be.
That if they had manfully stated that the steamer was being detained for some reason or other, then there would have been some ground or base for action, but under the existing circumstances it was but an attempt at boy’s play, to which I object.
Hoping that you will take some action in the matter, believe me, etc.,