The Secretary of State to the Colombian Minister.
Washington, March, 19, 1909.
Sir: In your recent conversations with me you have acquainted me with the telegraphic advices you have received from your Government concerning questions of punctuation and of interpretation which have arisen with respect to article 6 of the United States-Colombia treaty, signed January 9 last, and which questions it would appear advisable to dispose of in order to facilitate the consideration of that convention by the Congress of Colombia.
Minister Dawson has also cabled to me in the same sense.
Upon examination of article 6 I find that the comma in the Spanish text of article 6 is obviously misplaced. To render the sense of the equivalent English text the comma should be after “comercio” and there should be none after “refugio.”
This change is immaterial and can be made by Mr. Root and yourself initialing it on the margin of the original signed treaty in this department. Minister Dawson and the Colombian minister for foreign affairs can do the same with the treaty in Bogota.
As to the second point, Minister Dawson writes that the minister for foreign affairs of Colombia requests that he be authorized to hold himself in readiness to write a note saying that the use conceded is understood to be only as that right of refuge recognized by international law to be subject to the usages established by international law with regard to right of refuge and not as involving any breach of Colombian sovereignty over her ports.
As this Government understands it, article 6 merely grants the use of Colombian ports as places of refuge (in the sense of shelter) in case of stress or need, for vessels passing through or bound to pass through the canal.
That such use is merely by favor and without prejudice to the sovereignty of Colombia is shown by the rest of the article, which (1) subjects the granted favor to Colombia’s duty to enforce neutrality in time of war; and (2) grants the further favor of exemption from anchorage or tonnage dues, which, without such concession, Colombia would collect in virtue of her sovereignty.
There would seem to be no possible objection to Mr. Dawson exchanging notes with the Colombian minister for foreign affairs in the sense suggested in his telegram. We understand that all the article does is to recognize the standing doctrine of international law concerning the friendly shelter of vessels in stress or need, plus the concession of exemption from anchorage or tonnage dues in such case.
I am sending a telegram to Minister Dawson in the sense of this note, and I trust that this will remove the impediment which has arisen.
Be pleased to accept, sir, the renewed assurances of my distinguished consideration.