The Acting Secretary of State to Minister Merry.
Washington , January 13, 1905 .
Sir: It is represented to the Department by Mr. Selden Bacon, acting as attorney for some American citizens engaged in business at Bluefields, Nicaragua, that his clients are seriously injured by reason of the following conditions, which, as he informs the Department, now prevail at Bluefields, viz:
1. That by virtue of a series of executive decrees promulgated by the Nicaraguan Government, dated, respectively, November 12, 1902, October 4, 1903, and May 14, 1904, customs duties and various other governmental dues are estimated in gold at a ratio of five to one throughout Nicaragua; that at interior points the payment of such duties and dues is permitted to be made in the paper currency of Nicaragua, which is worth less than half as much as the silver coin in which payment of the dues and duties is required to be made at Atlantic coast points, including Bluefields. The Department is further informed by Mr. Bacon that on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua substantially all business, and particularly all business of importing and exporting, is conducted by foreigners, many of them American citizens; while at all points in the interior of the country commerce is conducted almost exclusively by native business houses. The discrimination, on its face merely a local one, would seem, if these representations are correct, to be substantially a discrimination against the foreign merchants, who are largely Americans.
2. Mr. Bacon further represents to the Department that in October, 1899, an act was passed by the national assembly of Nicaragua, which was approved on November 4, 1899, by the President of that Republic, authorizing the Nicaraguan executive to establish aduanas de revision at Bluefields, Granada, and Leon, one for each of three districts into which the country was correspondingly divided, in which said aduanas de revision all imports into the respective districts should be reexamined and the duties thereon reassessed, after having been once assessed in the regular custom-house. It is particularly pointed out that this reassessment is not confined to cases of appeals, but applies to all imports.
3. Mr. Bacon further represents to the Department that the Nicaraguan executive has recently, by virtue of this act, established one such aduana de revision at Bluefields, on the Atlantic coast, for that district, but has not as yet established any aduana de revision at Leon or Granada, and it is urged that therefrom results a like discrimination aganist American merchants and in favor of native merchants.[Page 696]
4. Mr. Bacon further represents to the Department that such double customs examination, in itself a burden on commerce, is made even more burdensome by the requirement that the two examinations at Bluefields be made at different points, separated by the width of the bay and sufficient to necessitate extra packing and transportation charges. It is further represented to the Department that the aduana de revision at Bluefields was established by executive decree dated February 25, 1904, in connection with the grant of the wharfage “concession” mentioned below.
5. Mr. Bacon further represents to the Department that the Nicaraguan executive, by virtue of alleged authority conferred by the said act of November 4, 1899, approved by an executive decree dated February 25, 1904, a concession granted by him to one T. M. Solomon, a citizen of Louisiana, and his successors, of the right to construct and maintain one or more wharves at Bluefields. This decree and concession contained also the following provisions, namely:
That as soon as one of these Solomon wharves, with accompanying warehouse, should be completed, the government would undertake to establish the Bluefields aduana de revision provided for by the act of November 4, 1899, on that wharf; that thereafter all merchandise exported or imported by any person through Bluefields should be loaded and unloaded on such wharf or wharves, and every schooner or vessel of whatever kind arriving at Bluefields or Rama (a port twenty miles up the Bluefields River from Bluefields) should be required to anchor at the Solomon wharf and pay the wharfage charges established by the concession; that all merchandise imported for the Pearl Lagoon district should also be required to pay the Solomon wharfage dues as fixed by the concession.
The Department is further informed by Mr. Bacon that this concession and decree of February 25, 1904, goes on to make the following provisions:
That all merchandise which, after being assessed in the aduana de revision, shall not be withdrawn from the private warehouses (to be erected by Mr. Solomon in connection with his wharf) within two days shall be subject to whatever storage charges Solomon or his successors may fix.
That should imported merchandise be heavy and bulky, as iron safes, boilers, et cetera, it may be assessed by the officers of the aduana de revision within the ship, permission having been previously obtained from the proper authority; but where such permission is granted Mr. Solomon or his associates shall be advised of this fact in order that they may demand and receive the whole amount of the wharfage charges precisely as if the merchandise had been unloaded on the Solomon wharf.
That all the steamships and all other vessels arriving in the Bay of Bluefields, either with passengers, in ballast, or otherwise, shall land at the Solomon wharf and pay the regular wharfage charges fixed by him.
That these regulations shall be in force for twenty-five years, and during that term all merchandise exported as well as imported shall pass over the Solomon wharf and pay for the mere right of transit or wharfage 15 per cent less than the tariff established by the Corinto wharfage concession.[Page 697]
That the chiefs of the regular custom-house at the Bluff and of the aduana de revision at Bluefields shall not permit the exportation of merchandise or produce of any kind from the port of Bluefields unless the exporter produce a receipt from Solomon for the payment of his wharfage charges thereon.
That Mr. Solomon, his successors and associates, shall enjoy the fiscal privileges for the collection of the charges so authorized, and may collect such charges as provided by the police law.
That canoes belonging to Creoles who transport wood, fish, bananas, and necessaries from their own properties within the jurisdiction of Bluefields shall be exempt from these wharfage dues, even though compelled to come alongside the wharf.
It is further represented to the Department that the Corinto tariff referred to includes the following rates, payable in United States currency: On general freight, $1.60 per ton and $1.10 per half ton, with a minimum charge of 60 cents per package; 25 cents per piece for baggage; 85 cents per ton for lumber; 25 cents each for passengers, and 25 cents a head for cattle.
Mr. Bacon further represents to the Department that Mr. Solomon has recently completed the contemplated wharf, and, according to the terms of the concession, the Bluefields aduana de revision is now established thereon, and consequently all imports to and exports from the port of Bluefields are now required to be examined at the regular Bluefields custom-house at the Bluff, then to be transported some miles across Bluefields Bay to the Solomon wharf at Bluefields, and there reexamined by the officers of the aduana de revision, paying Solomon the specified wharfage dues, and that by this means Mr. Bacon’s clients are practically debarred from the use of their own wharves at Bluefields, on which for many years they have been accustomed to land their goods after the examination in the custom-house at the Bluff.
It is further represented to the Department that on the Bluefields side of the bay, where the Solomon wharf has been erected, the water is so shallow that vessels drawing over 6 or 8 feet can not approach the Solomon wharf, but that by the terms of the concession they are none the less required to pay the Solomon wharfage dues.
6. Mr. Bacon further represents to the Department that on April 30, 1904, the Nicaraguan Government, by legislative act, approved a twenty-five year concession to Mr. Charles Weinberger, a citizen of Louisiana, and his successors for the exclusive right of navigating by steam, naphtha, gasoline, electricity, or alcohol the Escondido, or Bluefields River and its tributaries, and that this concession contains express provision that its recession, in consequence of diplomatic representations, shall afford Mr. Weinberger no ground for complaint against the Nicaraguan Government.
It is further represented to the Department that attempts have already been made to put this monopoly in force and to prevent steam navigation of the Bluefields River by any persons other than Mr. Weinberger and his licensees.
Your attention is called to the provisions of Article VII of the Anglo-Nicaraguan treaty of Managua, of January 28, 1860, requiring as one of the conditions of the surrender of the alleged British protectorate over the Mosquito Reserve that the Nicaraguan Government declare Greytown a free port, at which no duties or charges shall be imposed [Page 698] upon vessels arriving in or departing therefrom except those specified in the treaty.
Your attention is especially called to the correspondence between this government and that of Nicaragua, conducted in 1892 through the American minister, Mr. Shannon, and the Nicaraguan minister of foreign affairs, Señor Jorge Bravo, and to the position then taken by the Nicaraguan Government that these provisions concerning Grey-town were equally applicable to all ports and waters of the former Mosquito Reserve, and particularly to Bluefields (see U. S. Foreign Relations, 1893, pp. 163–174), a position out of which grew the negotiations at the Court of St. James, which resulted in the de facto incorporation of the Mosquito Reserve into the territory of Nicaragua.
The foregoing facts, if substantially true as reported, seem to justify the parties in their complaint and to entitle them to the good offices of this government, to the end that the Nicaraguan Government be requested not to enforce the wharfage and river monopolies complained of.
It is hoped, too, if the nature of the provisions has been correctly stated, that the Nicaraguan Government will find it possible entirely to dispense with the aduana de revision, as an unnecessary burden on commerce between Nicaragua and other states; at the least it would seem possible, without prejudice to any interests of the Nicaraguan Government, to provide that the officers of the aduana de revision should make their examination of merchandise at the place where the goods are subjected to the ordinary customs examination, and without delay.
It can not be doubted that the Nicaraguan Government, on its attention being called to the practical discriminations alleged to be made against foreign merchants, both in the requirements of payment in silver on the coast and in the establishment of an aduana de revision at Bluefields, while none is established at either Leon or Granada, will remove any cause for dissatisfaction.
You will communicate the contents of this dispatch to the Nicaraguan Government and supply the Department with full advices in regard to the matters of fact in question and with copies of all documents, acts, and concessions necessary to a full understanding of the matter.
I am, etc.,