File No. 819.55/27.
The American Chargé d’Affaires to the Secretary of State.
Panama , September 20, 1913 .
Sir: With reference to my despatch No. 493 of August 4, 1913, and previous correspondence with regard to Law 50, I have the honor to inform you that, as reported in my telegram of August 30,1 a committee of Panaman merchants called recently on the Minister for Foreign Affairs on behalf of the Chinese to protest against the application of the law, which would in their opinion if carried into effect result in the virtual expulsion of the Chinese colony from the country and have a disastrous effect on trade. They explained to the Minister that over a million dollars in trade and credits would be [Page 1121]adversely affected by the Government’s determination to enforce the law, and requested a change in the Government’s attitude with regard to the taxation or expulsion of such Chinese as failed to comply with its provisions.
To this protest a verbal reply was returned; in effect the Government confirmed its intention to take the registration of the Chinese, but promised a reduction from $250 to $125 U. S. currency in the tax levied upon Chinese who had entered the country since the passage of the exclusion act of 1904 and desired to remain. Señor Lefevre added that the Government pledged itself to urge and effect with the Assembly the reduction of the tax to the amount of the first payment, namely $125, In this connection I would refer to my despatch No. 493 of August 4, 1913, and to my subsequent interviews with Señor Lefevre at which I have been repeatedly assured by him that the tax would never amount to more than $125 and that a special session of the Assembly would if necessary be called to effect this reduction.
In his repy Señor Lefevre added that the time within which aliens affected by the provisions of the law might register would be extended until September 20, after which date they would be liable to arrest and imprisonment for non-compliance. Those possessing valid cédulas must surrender them and will be given new ones on paying the registration fee of $3 gold.
To nearly every one of the above points the Chinese have objected, and particularly to the provisions regarding registration. It is, I believe, the determination of the Government to obtain and examine these cédulas, under the guise of registration and probably with a view to taxing the owners of cédulas which are invalid or illegal, and the refusal of the Chinese as a body to surrender to Government officials the cédulas—legal or illegal—which they already possess, issued to them under previous administrations and which at least recognize their presence here on the Isthmus, probably with the same idea that these will be found illegal and they themselves liable to taxation, which has led to the present difficulty.
Up to the present, so far as I am aware, not one of the 2,500 to 3,000 Chinese upon the Isthmus has registered, and the situation is at a complete deadlock.
Part of this difficulty has been caused by the action of the Chinese Consul General, who has asked all of his people to surrender their cédulas to him for examination, and now has the greater number of these in his hands. He states as his reason the desire to take an accurate census of the Chinese, as well as to examine the nature of the cédulas to detect forgeries, but it is possible that he is retaining them in order to prevent the registration of any considerable number of the Chinese, either among the more wealthy, the more timid or the more favorably situated of his people, until some satisfactory arrangement can be made with the Panaman Government. Señor Lefevre has told me that many of the Chinese have informed him that they were ready and willing to register and pay the reduced tax but could not recover their cédulas from the Consul General, and he even showed me a telegram received from Chinese in the interior laying their inability to register to this cause. While in the present state of feeling upon both sides I can not lay much weight [Page 1122]on the validity of the motive which prompted this telegram, it, among other reasons, has caused intense ill feeling between Mr. King and the Foreign Office, and Señor Lefevre has threatened to cancel the Consul General’s exequatur.
In the exercise of my good offices I have offered to allow the cédulas, more than 1,400 of which are now in the possession of Mr. King, to be brought to this office and examined here in the presence of the owner of the cedilla, a representative of the Government and a representative of the Chinese, and on proof of its validity to certify to the authenticity of the document, my idea being that the owner of the cédula could then present it and register without fear that it would be found illegal. In this way those who possessed valid cédulas and wished to register could do so, to the gradual elimination of those possessing forged or invalid cédulas who could be dealt with later in separate classes. This plan would seem to offer a solution of the difficulty by at least starting the registration of the Chinese in conformity with the law, and has met with the entire approval of the Government but has been refused by Mr. King. An alternative method has been proposed by Mr. King under which certain Chinese would be arrested for non-compliance with the law and under habeas corpus proceedings a test case made which would involve the constitutionality of the law. Apart from the danger of such procedure, the very name of unconstitutionality arouses the anger of the Government, due to the activities of the many Panaman lawyers retained by the Chinese, and the plan has been rejected by the Government.
A further complication has arisen recently on the arrival of the steamer Acapulco bringing thirteen Chinese direct from San Francisco to Panama. These were at first not permitted to land, although they bore passports issued by the Government of Panama, and were told that they would have to register, the Government apparently using every effort to get someone to register in order to break the deadlock. On its appearing, however, that their destination was the Canal Zone and not Panama their passports were at length examined and being found correct they were released, I have the honor to reopen this despatch to report that, as confirmed in my telegram of September 17, direct relations between the Foreign Office and the Chinese Government have been broken off by the revocation of the exequatur of Mr. Ow Yang King. This act has not been unexpected and the reason for the revocation is laid by the Panama Government to the persistent advice given by Mr. King to his people not to register under the law, thus rendering him persona non grata to the Panaman Government.
I have [etc.]
- Quoted in telegram of September 2 to the Minister to China.↩