File No. 837.911/22.
The American Minister to the Secretary of State.
Habana, March 18, 1913.
Sir: Referring to previous correspondence in regard to the libelous attacks upon the personnel of this Legation by the newspaper “Cuba,” I have the honor to transmit herewith enclosed, for the information of the Department, copy of a letter1 today received from Mr. Alexander W. Kent, an American attorney practicing in this city.
In this letter Mr. Kent expresses serious doubts as to the possibility of punishing those responsible for the libels in question; he withdrew to a large extent from the position taken in his letter to the Department of September 7, 1912,1 written in regard to the newspaper attacks on Mr. Gibson at the time of the Maza assault2, wherein he was optimistic as to the facility with which the guilty parties might be brought to justice.[Page 411]
In the last paragraph of his letter Mr. Kent states that the courts are free to arrest and indict Soto as soon as Congress adjourns, but expresses the belief that no Cuban judge would hazard such a step. The right of the courts to take such action is based on a provision of Article LIII of the Cuban Constitution which reads as follows:
Senators and representatives shall be inviolable as regards their expression of opinion or their votes given in the exercise of their duties. Senators or representatives may be arrested or indicted only by authorization of the body to which they belong, if Congress should be in session, except in the event of being caught in the act of committing some crime. In this case and in that of being arrested or indicted when Congress is not in session, report shall be made to the body to which they belong for such decision as it shall make.
In the event that Congress adjourns without taking action in this matter, as now seems highly probable, I venture to submit that we might with entire propriety insist that Soto be arrested, and indicted during the recess in accordance with the clear provisions of the Constitution.
The strong anti-American elements in Cuba are now momentarily refraining from open personal attacks upon members of this Legation while awaiting with interest an indication as to whether the Department is inclined further to press this case. By vigorous action we can probably end once for all the vicious practice of using Congressional immunity as a cloak for common crimes, and thereby not only serve our own immediate purpose but also render an important and much needed service to individuals and business interests in Cuba which have, by the ridiculous scope accorded to Congressional immunity, been subjected to every form of extortion, blackmail and libel. On the other hand, any failure earnestly to press the matter at this time will mean a relapse into conditions worse than those from which we have hitherto suffered; for those elements now held in check by a wholesome fear of being brought to justice will construe any wavering in our announced purpose to prosecute as a license to indulge in unlimited abuse of American representatives here, secure in the belief that they can do so with impunity.
While by no means as positive as a few weeks ago, there is still a general hope and belief among those most interested that the new administration in Washington plans to let the lawless elements here run riot unrestricted, and the slightest encouraging sign would be taken as confirmation of this belief.
From my own careful observation (as stated in my telegram of March 14) I am convinced that it is the intention of those in authority to evade, by every possible means, the responsibility of bringing the Soto question to a direct issue. The reason for this determination may perhaps be found in the fact that there are now pending before Congress thirty-five or more requests to prosecute members of Congress for crimes committed in Habana Province alone. In spite of repeated assurances from the Speaker of the House of Representatives and from other high officials of the Cuban Government, I fully expect that the matter will purposely be delayed so that it may not reach a vote before the end of this session of Congress, which may be looked for not later than the 27th instant.
I have [etc.]