File No. 817.812/269

Minister Jefferson to the Secretary of State

No. 319

Sir: I have the honor to enclose herewith for the information and files of the Department a Spanish copy and translation of a telegram from the Secretary of the Central American Court of Justice, San José, Costa Rica, to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Managua, relative to the refusal of the Nicaraguan Government to abide by the sentence issued by the Court in the suit maintained by Costa Rica against Nicaragua, and also a Spanish copy and translation of a telegraphic reply thereto by the Nicaraguan Minister for Foreign Affairs.

I have [etc.]

Benjamin L. Jefferson
[Page 888]


(From El Heraldo, Managua, Tuesday, October 24, 1916)

From San José, Costa Rica, October 17, 1916, 4.50 p.m.

Received at the Palace, 8.40 p.m. of the 19th idem.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs.

I have brought to the knowledge of the Central American Court of Justice your excellency’s telegraphic despatch purporting to protest against the sentence issued in the suit initiated and maintained by the Costa Rican Government against that of Nicaragua; a despatch in which it is also stated that your excellency’s Government refuses to abide by that sentence, basing such attitude on the assertion that the tribunal was lacking in all competence and jurisdiction for the definite trial of the case; that it is contrary to the provisions of its constitutional law, to the interests of the Republic and an offense to the dignity and sovereignty of the nation. The tribunal confers on me the authority to forward to your excellency, on the grounds of so unwonted a declaration, the following observations framed in obedience to the precept contained in aritcle 14 of its regulations. The Central American Court possesses unrestricted power to take cognizance of all differences which may arise among the signatory States of the Washington Convention, whatever may be their origin and nature, and it has the exclusive right to determine its own competence. In the case under discussion that competence and jurisdiction were amply considered and determined by the tribunal after hearing and judging the allegations of the Government sued, and the sentence issued is binding on the high litigant parties in respect due to the treaties. The Central American Court expects to guarantee with its authority, based on the honor of the States, the rights of each one of them in their reciprocal relations, and this high prerogative would become null, were it possible to protest against its sentences and disavow the moral and legal efficacy that they have. The tribunal is confident that these brief considerations will suffice in order that your excellency’s Government, aware of the transcendency and gravity that its attitude involves, will respect the sentence issued, as an homage due to honor and good faith pledged in the Washington International Pacts and due to the prestige of the noble institutions of Central America. As to the vehement tone of the language in which the protest is framed, it is not lawful for the tribunal to take it into consideration, unless it be to deplore that one of the litigant parties should claim for itself the privilege to censure, in the form it does, the sentences of the tribunal.

With all consideration, I remain sincerely yours,

Manuel Echeverría


Managua October 22, 1916.

Secretary of the Central American Court of Justice. San José Costa Rica.

I acknowledge the receipt of your telegraphic message of the 17th instant, in which you are pleased to express that with authority from the Central American Court of Justice you answer my despatch of the 14th.

The surprise, which you state has come to that tribunal because my Government refuses to abide by the sentence of the Court, is inexplicable, for from the beginning and in a clear and definite form I said that this Department could not admit, even conditionally, the competence of the said tribunal to judge and to decide on the suit maintained by Costa Rica, having myself set forth in a despatch of August 1 last the incompetency and total lack of jurisdiction of the Central American Court of Justice, as all that in the final sentence that should have been determined, and besides having declared that in case of an adverse decision Nicaragua could not abide by it.

My Government does not admit nor could it admit the pretended unrestricted power of the Court to judge all differences arising between the Central American States. The Treaty of Peace and Amity of 1907 as well as the convention which created the same Court determine the true nature and the limit of the functions of this last, when it declares that its object is to establish the basis which should fix the general relations of the five countries and insure among them unalterable peace and harmony, there efficiently guaranteeing their rights.

Nothing that touches on the sovereignty and local integrity of the five Republics enters in the purposes of the agreement. By agreement they keep their full autonomy and equality, coming together only to maintain and insure [Page 889] their internal and pacific relations. And it could not be otherwise, for no nation in the world could possibly submit for the decision of a foreign nation its security and preservation and leave to the approbation of another country its own progress and development.

Neither is it admitted by Nicaragua that the power granted to the Court should extend to controversies prior to the treaty, and much less that it can revise an arbitration award wholly accepted by the parties, thereby trying to bring anew for discussion questions definitely decided long ago. Such is the case with the Court, which in its last sentence has proposed to renew the old boundary question between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, interpreting at will President Cleveland’s Award, in order to establish against the plain text of the same award a common or joint ownership of the two countries in Salinas Bay and in San Juan del Norte, something which has never existed and which has been openly claimed notwithstanding that many years ago the boundary line between both Republics was determined in a definite manner by authorized representatives of Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Neither is it accepted by Nicaragua that the Court has by full right the power to judge controversies or questions which may arise between the Central American States. All of its power comes from the convention which gave life to it and which in its first article provides in a precise and definite manner that that jurisdiction can be acquired only in the case that there should arise a controversy or dispute among the Republics of Central America and that the respective Foreign Offices had not been able to come to an agreement.

Therefore, in the case under discussion the Court could not have declared its competency, since Article I of the convention excludes it in an express and categorical manner; and in the other cases, not included in the said Article I, in which the Court could have the right to decide on its competency it would not be in a manner arbitrary or wilful, but it would have to be strictly adjusted to the principles of justice and equity, and those established in the convention which gave origin to the same tribunal.

Notwithstanding this, the court under pretext of that pretended unrestricted power has not hesitated to make two interpretations, diametrically opposite, of the same Article I of the convention already mentioned, in order to give judgment always against Nicaragua in matters of equal nature. Thus, in the sentence issued on May 2 last in favor of Costa Rica, it is declared that the reservation contained in Article I of the convention has not for its object “to establish the inviolable condition of making and exhausting all efforts in such sense” (that of the convention), and in the sentence issued on September 6th following in favor of Salvador, it declares that “when the nations signatory to the convention creating the Central American Court of Justice contracted the obligation to submit to the judgment of the tribunal all the controversies which might arise among them, they fixed in the first clause of the said pact the jurisdiction and competency of the court, without other limitation than that of the Foreign Offices of the Governments, which have a disagreement, not being able to arrive at an understanding.” To this contradiction in judgments I solemnly called the attention of the tribunal in a telegram of September 9 last.

In the face of these facts which have resulted in the violation, on the part of the Court, of the Washington Convention and President Cleveland’s Award, notwithstanding the representations which from the beginning have made Nicaragua to comply completely with the stipulations thereof, the same tribunal may pass judgment, if such anomalous and contradictory proceedings, as those which have just been exposed, are the most adequate to inspire confidence in the justice and impartiality of its judgments and to give it that prestige with the same Court claims for the noble institutions of Central America. With such precedents even more excessive and irritating is the pretension of that Court that the Nicaraguan Government should obey a sentence issued in violation of the international pacts in compliance with which the honor and good faith of the Republic are pledged.

Aside from this, the vehemence of the language for which the Court blames this office scarcely approaches the magnitude of the offense committed against this country by that tribunal, by declaring against all truth, against all reason and against all justice that Nicaragua has violated the Jerez-Canas Treaty, the Cleveland Award and the Washington Conventions. Quite beyond that, my Government, which has remained faithful in all circumstances to those international obligations and which in vain has demanded the compliance therewith from the same Court, has invariably kept in its relations with all [Page 890] the countries and especially with those of Central America within the limits of right and of the most absolute respect to the pledged good faith, without interfering in the internal troubles of the neighboring States, but rather making an end once for all of the piratical incursions which recently afflicted some peoples in Central America, although in exchange for this honest conduct and neighborly kindness it had received only their ill will, even though there were no undue aggressions and interferences on the part of the same which have been the most benefited by that policy of justice.

Diego M. Chamorro