Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 3, 1888, Part II
to Mr. Bayard.
Carácas, July 31, 1888. (Received August 15.)
Sir: In compliance with instructions contained in your No. 166, dated Washington, June 5, 1888, in relation to the depositing of the ship’s papers of United States vessels with the custom-house authorities of Venezuela instead of the United States consuls, I addressed note No. 148, embraced in inclosure No. 1, hereto attached, to Dr. Isturiz, minister of foreign relations. Hoping that note No. 148 will meet with your approval, I have, etc.,
Mr. Scott to Dr. Isturiz.
Carácas, July 21, 1888.
Sir: I desire to inform your excellency that I have recently received instructions from my Government to renew the protest against the law of Venezuela requiring masters of vessels coming from foreign ports to deliver all the ship’s papers to the custom-house authorities (the papers being then retained by the custom-house until the clearance of the vessel) and to ask that certain changes be made by the Venezuelan Government in said law that will place your Republic on the same basis and footing that other Governments and countries occupy in this matter.
I desire to call your excellency’s attention to section 41 of the law of Venezuela requiring masters of foreign vessels to deliver up all and every one of the ship’s papers to be kept by the administrator of the custom-house until the vessel leaves the port, and it is the earnest desire and wish of my Government that this law be so changed or amended that the ship’s papers shall be delivered to the consul at the port of entry instead of the custom-house authorities as now provided by law.
This is not the first time that the right and justice of permitting the United States consul to retain the ship’s papers instead of the custom-house authorities when a vessel enters a port of Venezuela has been presented to the consideration of your excellency’s Government, for on the 10th of May, 1883, my predecessor, Mr. Baker, in a memorandum respecting the matter of the custody of foreign ship’s papers while in the ports of Venezuela elaborately argued this question and submitted his views representing the sentiments and wishes of my Government, and which are embraced in said memorandum dated May 10,1883, and ought to be on file in the foreign office of Venezuela, and to which I now respectfully call the attention of your excellency, making it a part of the argument of this legation in favor of the repeal or alterations of the law referred to. If your excellency is unable to find the memorandum of Mr. Baker among the files of your office it will afford this legation pleasure to furnish you a copy from its records.
This question, whether the ship’s papers of a foreign vessel shall be placed into the hands of the custom-house authorities or those of the United States consul, has been the occasion of repeated discussions and remonstrance with various nations of South America for more than fifty years, and the United States Government has ever maintained that it is in strict consonance with the practice of tuitions and commercial interests that consular instead of custom-house am henries should have charge of the ship’s papers of their respective countries, and I call the attention of your excellency [Page 1647] to the action of your sister Republic, Colombia, in 1876, on the subject. In 1876 a general movement of the foreign representatives at Bogota was made to secure the abrogation of a law which required the delivery of the papers of foreign vessels to the local port authorities. An arrangement thus concluded diplomatically set the matter at rest by recognizing the right of the consul of the ship’s nationality to have the custody of the ship’s papers of their national vessels, and the law has since been repealed.
As it has been stated by an American authority who stands most high in questions of international law, “the existing rule in Venezuela is deemed to be in contravention of the spirit of perfect equality and reciprocity of commerce and navigation between the two countries as stipulated in the abrogated treaty of 1836, and as pervading the existing treaty of 1860.”
I would further state to your excellency that the law of the United States, following the usages of the most civilized countries, “provides that the custody of the papers of foreign ships shall rest with the consuls of their nations, and this because such custody is deemed essential to that consular control over national vessels which is stipulated in all our treaties.”
Again, Venezuela ought not to expect or to ask the United States to yield to the authorities of a foreign state the control of our vessels whilst in her ports, for if this legation is not misinformed Venezuela has a law requiring her consuls to take charge of her ships’ papers whilst in foreign ports, and if this be the case, your Government is strangely inconsistent in requiring Venezuelan consuls abroad to take charge of the papers of the vessels of their nation whilst denying a reciprocal right to foreign consuls in Venezuela. This fact alone should induce Venezuela to repeal the present existing law, for I am satisfied that your Government is in favor of the golden rule of “doing unto others as it would be done by.” And besides this, your excellency, how can a United States consul exhibit the register and crew roll of an American vessel, under the twenty-sixth article of the treaty of 1860, in proceedings for the arrest of deserters, when he is not permitted under the law of Venezuela to have possession of those papers?
It has been well said that “a vessel under a civilized flag, on the high seas or in a foreign port, possesses a national life, of which its papers are the strongest evidence. They are to all intent a part of the vessel itself. To assume that by the act of entering a friendly port a vessel is to be stripped of that which is in a large measure essential to the proof of its nationality, and to await the pleasure of a local foreign officer before such part of its life can be restored to it, is inconsistent with international principle and usage,” and violates the comity between nations by inciting a painful feeling and spirit of suspicion and distrust.
In addition to the foregoing reasons why Venezuela should repeal this obnoxious law, so hurtful to the commercial interest of my country, is the fact that its operations and workings are not only annoying and vexatious, but productive of harm and injury by the loss of important ships’ papers whilst in the custody of the custom-house authorities of Venezuela, for I am informed that at the port of Maracaibo “ships’ papers of several American vessels have been lost by the custom-house officials; the vessels have been compelled to leave without them,” provided with a certificate from the United States consul at that port. And the United States consul at that port represents to his Government that “if the law is not changed it will be impossible for consular officers to do their duty strictly, and serious inconvenience may happen to vessels in case the ship’s register should be lost, which would not happen if the ship’s papers were duly deposited at the consulate.”
In view of the foregoing presentation of this matter to your excellency, I would respectfully ask that the present administration of the Government of Venezuela take under consideration and advisement this renewal of the protest on the part of my Government in its application to have this law giving your custom-house authorities charge of United States ships’ papers repealed, and pass a law, as its substitute, in conformity to the law, custom, and usage of other nations on the subject.
Assuring your excellency that such an act on the part of Venezuela would be very gratifying to my Government as an evidence of her desire to expedite and facilitate commercial relations between our two countries, I am, your excellency, with renewed assurance, etc.,