File No. 837.156/138.

The American Minister to the Secretary of State.

No. 637.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of the Department’s instruction No. 195 of the 13th instant concerning the Habana-Casa Grande bridge project, and to transmit herewith enclosed copy of a note, which, in pursuance of the Department’s instructions, I addressed to the Cuban Government on the 24th instant.

On that day Mr. J. A. L. Waddell, representing the firm of Waddell and Harrington, who appear now to be the promoters of the project, called at the Legation and stated that, as he did not consider our objections to the project valid and reasonable, he intended to go ahead “and put the project through despite the objections of the American Government.”

The Legation did not endeavor to enter into a discussion with him as it did not consider it within its province, but, at his request, agreed to inform the Department of his intention of going ahead with the construction of the bridge.

I have [etc.]

A. M. Beaupré.
[Page 378]

The American Minister to the Cuban Secretary of State.

No. 501.]

Your Excellency: Referring to your excellency’s confidential note No. 9 of January 24, 1913, in regard to a concession for a bridge across Habana harbor, I have the honor to inform your excellency that my Government has now completed its study of the matter, as a result of which it is convinced that the project is inadmissably detrimental to the vital interests of both Governments, and I am instructed accordingly to express to your excellency’s Government the confident hope that appropriate measures will be taken to prevent its execution.

The project is objectionable upon the following principal grounds among others of less import:

Location of piers.—The channel of Habana harbor is already very narrow for existing traffic. The immediate effect on the location of bridge-piers in the shallower water on either side of the channel will be to divert to the main channel, and thus further congest it, small vessels which can now use the shallower water. The inadequacy of the channel will be further accentuated by the progressive increase in the volume of oversea traffic, and in the size of vessels calling at Habana, particularly after the opening of the Panama Canal. For these reasons the widening of the channel will in all likelihood eventually be found necessary, but obviously could not be accomplished with bridge-piers occupying the space available for the purpose. In this connection attention is invited to a project formulated, after an exhaustive study of the matter, by a board of engineers appointed for the purpose, contemplating certain needed improvements in the littoral between La Fuerza and the Punta. This project was formally sanctioned by the Provisional Governor of Cuba on November 19, 1908, and is described on pages 348 and 349 of Governor Magoon’s report for the period between December 1, 1907, and December 1, 1908, and a map is inserted opposite page 390 of the same document. These improvements would seem to be of greater moment to the public welfare than a bridge across the harbor of doubtful or unproven necessity.
Clearance under bridge.—It seems that as the bridge is now planned the clear (maximum) height from water-level is but 150 feet. While it is true that none of the vessels which regularly call at this port now require a greater clearance, there is a marked tendency to increase, and during the past two tourist seasons larger ships have come here than a few years before had been thought likely. The larger modem vessels plying between European ports and the United States have a mast height of from 156 to 212 feet, and there is a general tendency to increase the height of wireless-telegraph masts. After the Panama Canal is opened much larger vessels will regularly call at this port than at present.
Danger of bridge.—The possibility that the bridge might, through accident or design, be dropped into the harbor, and thus completely block egress and ingress, is regarded by my Government as one of the serious disadvantages of the project—a compelling consideration, in fact, which outweighs in itself any advantages which friends of the bridge might claim for it. In case of war no more effectual nor an easier method could be found to blockade the harbor.
Cabaña Military Reservation.—The alienation of the excellent military reservation back of Cabaña fortress must, upon mature reflection, seem to the Cuban Government, as it does to my own, very ill-advised. This is the only State land close to the city suitable for a military encampment, and it is necessary, moreover, as a field of fire for the Cabana and Morro fortresses; for, while the fortresses themselves are out of date, new defenses for this harbor will eventually be required on this reservation, and none of it ought, therefore, to be alienated from the State.

There are other considerations scarcely less compelling than the foregoing—such, for instance, as the marring effect which a bridge across the entrance to Habana harbor would have upon its enviable and universally admired beauty and picturesqueness—into which I need hardly enter.

The friends of this bridge may cite, in attempted refutation of these arguments, the examples of bridges in other ports of the world; but they can hardly point to a bridge across the very entrance of a harbor of the commercial and naval importance of Habana.

[Page 379]

It has been suggested that under the Constitution and laws of Cuba the Executive could not legally annul this concession. I understand, however, that it is a well-established principle of Spanish, and consequently of Cuban, jurisprudence that the Government may at time revoke or annul a contract or concession, not alone for infraction, of any of its terms or conditions by the party or concessionaire but merely on grounds of public interest or convenience; for the rule is universally accepted that a State may rectify its errors even at the cost or inconvenience of another, because, as distinguished from the errors of a private party, they affect the general public interest. The fact that in this case the concession was authorized by an act of Congress should have little or no bearing; for, after all, the Congress merely authorized the Executive to exceed a power already vested in him by the laws in force; that is to say, to grant, in addition to the bridge concession, certain public lands desired by the concessionaire. Thus viewed, this special act of Congress is no more mandatory than the Law of Waters or other general laws ordinarily applicable.

I avail [etc.]

A. M. Beaupré.