Mr. Loomis to Mr. Hay.

No. 564.]

Sir: I have the honor to inclose a copy of a note from the minister of foreign affairs, with translation of same, in reference to the presence of the Scorpion in the Orinoco River. I also inclose a copy of my answer to this note based upon your cabled instructions.

In this connection it may be of interest to the Department to know that when the British gunboat Alert went to Ciudad Bolivar last summer to inquire into the facts concerning the killing of the British consular clerk at that port, Mr. Grant-Duff, the British chargé d’affaires here, asked permission from the Venezuelan Government for the gunboat to go to Ciudad Bolivar. He reported his action to the foreign [Page 543]office in London and was promptly informed that what he had done was not at all necessary, and that in the future permission for English war vessels to navigate the Orinoco River was not to be asked.

I have, etc.,

Francis B. Loomis.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs to Mr. Loomis.

[Inclosure l.—Translation.]

Mr. Minister: The law of May 15, 1882, numbered 2419 in the national compilation, gives to the head of the Government the power to grant or not, in his judgment, permission to foreign men-of-war to enter, for scientific purposes, ports that are not open. Every time that a war vessel of the United States has made a request of this nature it has been granted without any difficulty, and not long ago United States war vessels were engaged in scientific work in the Cano of San Juan and at the bar at the mouth of the Orinoco, but these vessels had gone through with the legal formality above mentioned, and this formality can not be dispensed with, except in violation of the well-established principles of international law.

By direction of the Supreme Chief of the Republic, I call your excellency’s attention to the aforementioned law for the reason that this Government has been disagreeably surprised to learn that a war vessel called Scorpion, flying the flag of the United States, had entered the harbor of Santa Catalina, a port that is not open, and situated in the Dalla Costa district of the State of Guayana; that an officer in uniform went ashore from said war vessel and returned on board accompanied by a gentleman called Boynton, an employee of the company which has its agency at said port, and that no explanation was given for this flagrant violation of the usual formalities.

The grave nature of this act, violating, as it does, the very principles on which national sovereignty are based, compels the Supreme Chief of the Republic to respectfully call the attention of the Government of the United States to this delicate question, and to protest in the most solemn manner against the action of the man-of-war Scorpion as opposed to the principles of international law and a violation of the laws of this Republic.

In compliance with an imperative duty, I have directed the foregoing communication to your excellency, and I renew, etc.,

Eduardo Blanco.
[Inclosure 2.]

Mr. Loomis to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Mr. Minister: I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your note of February 9 in which you state that an American war vessel, the Scorpion, has been seen in the Orinoco River at Santa Catalina and that her presence there was not in conformity with certain sections of the law of Venezuela, which, as I gather from your note, provides that foreign men-of-war shall not enter the Orinoco River for scientific purposes without first having asked permission of the chief of the Venezuelan Government. I was not aware that there was a law in force closing the Orinoco River to the public vessels of a friendly nation bent on the peaceful and inoffensive mission of seeking information from its nationals engaged in lawful business on the banks of that stream. It is true that when it was desired to do certain scientific work for the benefit of navigation and the shipping of all nations at the bars of the Orinoco and San Juan rivers, the formal permission of the Venezuelan Government was asked; but in these cases it was deemed necessary to keep a war vessel in Venezuelan waters for many weeks, and the officers and men on these scientific expeditions were at work in small boats taking many observations and measurements, so it was only natural that their presence for a long period, and their activity, should be explained in the form of asking permission for the performance of the task in question.

[Page 544]

The Scorpion, as I understand it, recently made a very quick trip to Santa Catalina and immediately returned to the coast. Her visit was of course wholly inoffensive in character and devoid of significance in any other sense than the one I have the honor to indicate, and, as your excellency knows, there are precedents for the informal visits on the part of war vessels of a friendly nation.

I should esteem it a favor if you would be kind enough to furnish me with a list of the Venezuelan ports, streams, and harbors, concerning which there is a special provision of law respecting the entry of foreign men-of-war.

I take, etc.,

Francis B. Loomis.