The Secretary of State to the Chargé in Mexico (Summerlin)
Sir: The Department acknowledges the receipt of your despatch No. 2406 dated September 17, 1919,61 with which you forwarded [Page 237] the official text and translation of the Presidential Decree of August 30, 1919,62 modifying the Presidential Decree of November 24, 1917,63 which created a Commission to pass upon claims for damages to persons and property growing out of the Mexican revolutions. You are directed to address the Mexican Foreign Office substantially as follows:
Careful consideration has been given by the Government of the United States to the provisions of the Presidential Decree of August 30, 1919 on claims for damages arising from the revolutions in Mexico, with the confident expectation that this Government’s continued hope and desire for an earnest endeavor on the part of the Mexican Government to adjust the claims of foreigners would be realized. It is, therefore, with satisfaction that the Department notes the broad and just purposes expressed in the preamble of the Decree of August 30, 1919 to increase the sphere of the functions of the Claims Commission established by the Decree of November 24, 1917, and in general to remove all obstacles which might lead to doubt as to the sincerity of the intentions of the Mexican Government to indemnify all who may have suffered damages by reason of revolutionary movements.
In seeming execution of the aims referred to, it is observed that the Decree provides in Article 1, that the Claims Commission shall handle claims for damages to persons or property in consequence of revolutionary movements that have occurred since 1910 and in consequence of the subsequent state of revolt which continues to exist in some regions of the country, further and specific provision being made in Article 3, Paragraph IV, for the inclusion of claims based on damages caused by outlaws or rebels.
The qualification expressed in Article 3, that “there shall be no indemnification in the event that the person suffering the damage committed any voluntary act signifying an express recognition of the authority of the rebels or outlaws, or any intention to assist them against the legitimate authorities charged with affording protection”, it is presumed, is not meant to negative or qualify in any way the application of the generally accepted rule of international law that foreigners residing or owning property in a country are entitled to deal with persons exercising de facto authority, with respect to matters within the apparent scope of such authority; especially since foreigners in Mexico were and are subjected to measures of compulsion from time to time adopted by such persons in authority. The same observation may be made, in passing, concerning Article 4, which apparently corresponds to Article 6 of the Decree of November 24, 1917. In regard to said Article 6, it is fitting to recall the statement in the communication of the Mexican Foreign Office to the American Ambassador dated November 29, 1918,64 that “Americans who may only have recognized the authority of the usurping administrations and who may have submitted to [Page 238] their compulsory measures shall enjoy the benefits of the law, and shall have the right to present claims for damages suffered by them.”
In further relation to Article 4 of the decree of August 30, 1919, it may be observed that the Government of the United States would be pleased to receive from the Mexican Government further light on the scope of the phrase “enemies of the Revolutions of 1910 and 1913 and of the new constitutional order”, as used in the second sentence thereof.
Paragraph I of Article 3 of the Decree of August 30, 1919 seems to be identical in substance with the corresponding paragraph of Article 5 of the Decree of November 24, 1917 and in previous communications to the Foreign Office of the Mexican Government, dealing with the Decree of 1917,65 it was pointed out that such language seemed possibly susceptible of the construction that it was intended to cover only damages caused by revolutionary forces operating against the authorities which are regarded by the present Government as usurpers, and therefore as excluding claims for damages caused by those forces revolting against authorities regarded by the present Government of Mexico as legitimate. It seems probable, however, that the Mexican Government considers that claims based on damages caused by the “outlaws or rebels” (Article 3, Paragraph IV) include those arising from the action of the revolutionary forces in opposition to authorities regarded by the present Government of Mexico as legitimate and that it was the intention of the Mexican Government, in the use of the broad terms “outlaws and rebels” to clarify the ambiguity present in the Decree of 1917. A contrary construction is not believed to have been contemplated by the Mexican Government, especially as the Government of the United States has before called attention to the fact that it is alleged by certain American claimants that damages were inflicted upon them by unsuccessful revolutionists, which damages the existing authorities failed to avert, although having the power to do so.
While observing with gratification the apparent desire of the Mexican Government to remove the restricted nature of the Decree of November 24, 1917 so as to enable the Commission to make a complete and sweeping disposition of the claims in question, as evidenced by the provisions above reviewed, the Government of the United States is not cognizant of what may be the meaning and significance intended to be given by the Mexican Government to the limitation in Article 6, that damages “may be cause for indemnification, in case the same shall not have been brought about by imprudence or provocation chargeable to the victim”, and therefore would be pleased to have the Mexican Government make a comprehensive statement as to the scope and effect of this limitation.
Referring further to Article 6, it is presumed that the word “injury” as used in the first sentence of that Article relates only to an injury to the person and not to property losses. In this connection, the Government of the United States would appreciate being supplied with a copy of the “Laws of the Federal District Penal Code” referred to in the article under consideration.[Page 239]
The first paragraph of Article 16 follows the Decree of November 24, 191766 and reads:
“Claims arising from the Revolution of 1910 which may have been submitted to the Consultive Commission created by virtue of the Law of May 31, 1911, shall be considered as having been presented in due time, and shall be handled by the new Commission, taking the files in the state in which they may be at this time, and continuing the handling thereof in conformity with this Law and its Regulations.”
This article appears to make provision for consideration by the Commission of claims arising from the Revolution of 1910, which were submitted to the Claims Commission constituted by President Madero67 and which claims are to be considered as presented within the time limited by the Decree under consideration. Regarding these provisions, it may be observed that the Government of the United States presumes that it was not the intention of the Government of Mexico to exclude from the cognizance of the proposed Commission, claims arising from the Revolution of 1910 which were not presented to the Commission created by President Madero, but in order to clear up all possible ambiguity on this point, would be pleased to have an authoritative statement in the matter.
The Mexican Government will recall having replied68 to similar representations by the Government of the United States regarding the corresponding provision in the Decree of November 24, 1917 that “The sufferers who may have not presented their claims to the Commission created in 1911 may do so now to the new Commission within a period of three years, beginning from November 24, 1917, in the manner indicated by the Law and its Regulations.”
Articles 12 and 13, which deal with the composition of the
tribunal to hear appeals from the Claims Commission, read as
In connection with Article 12, it may be observed that it is similar to Article 14 of the Decree of November 24, 1917, and therefore the possibility still exists of the appointment by the Mexican Government of two out of the three members of the Arbitration Tribunal. However, the Government of the United States is pleased to note that this feature need no longer constitute an insuperable obstacle to this Government in its desire to render assistance to the [Page 240] Mexican Government in the prompt disposition of claims, since Article 13 of the Decree of August 30, 1919, the subject matter of which was not contained in the Decree of November 24, 1917, was apparently intended to give the Executive the requisite power to enter into an international agreement, committing the Mexican Government to an Arbitration Tribunal of undoubted international standing, the desirability of which has been strongly urged by this Government in its communications dealing with the Decree of November 24, 1917. Article 13 of the Decree of 1919 specifically refers to the possibility of the Executive entering into international agreements for the formation of “Mixed Permanent Committees to handle all the claims of the nationals of any given country.” In conclusion, therefore, I beg to inquire, and under instructions from my government, whether the President of the Republic is now prepared to enter into an arrangement for the consideration by a Mixed Commission of the claims of American citizens.
I am [etc.]
- Not printed.↩
- See Foreign Relations, 1919, vol. ii, p. 640.↩
- Ibid., 1918, p. 793.↩
- Ibid., p. 815.↩
- See instructions of Mar. 8, 1918, to the Ambassador in Mexico, Foreign Relations, 1918, p. 801; and July 25, 1919, to the Chargé in Mexico, ibid., 1919, vol. ii, p. 637.↩
- Article 7.↩
- Established July 1, 1911; see Foreign Relations, 1912, pp. 934 ff.↩
- Note of Nov. 29, 1918, from the Mexican Acting Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to the American Ambassador, Foreign Relations, 1918, p. 815.↩