Page images
PDF
EPUB

vention when signed should be ratified according to the laws of the respective countries,' and it is said that the course taken in Washington was not different from that at Bogotá. In a narrow, technical sense this is true, but in a broader sense no supposition could be more misleading. The convention was submitted to the Senate of the United States on the day following its signature. From first to last it was cordially supported by the Administration, and on the 17th of March it was approved without amendment.

“The course taken at Bogotá affords a complete antithesis. The Department is not disposed to controvert the principle that treaties are not definitively binding till they are ratified; but it is also a familiar rule that treaties, except where they operate on private rights, are, unless it is otherwise provided, binding on the contracting parties from the date of their signature, and that in such case the exchange of ratifications confirms the treaty from that date. This rule necessarily implies that the two Governments, in agreeing to the treaty through their duly authorized representatives, bind themselves, pending its ratification, not only not to oppose its consummation, but also to do nothing in contravention of its terms.

“We have seen that by the Spooner Act, with reference to which the convention was negotiated, the President was authorized to acquire, at a cost not to exceed $40,000,000, the rights, privileges, franchises, concessions,' and other property of the New Panama Canal Company. It was, of course, well known to both Governments that the company under the terms of the concession of 1878 could not transfer to the United States 'its rights, privileges, franchises, and concessions' without the consent of Colombia. Therefore the Government of the United States before entering upon any dealings with the New Panama Canal Company negotiated and concluded the convention with Colombia. The first article of this convention provides:

“The Government of Colombia authorizes the New Panama Canal Company to sell and transfer to the United States its rights, privileges, properties, and concessions, as well as the Panama Railroad and all the shares or part of the shares of that company.

" The authorization thus given, in clear and unequivocal terms, covers expressly the ‘rights, privileges,

and concessions' of the company, as well as its other property.

“Some time after the convention was signed the Government of the United States learned, to its utter surprise, that the Government of Colombia was taking with the canal company the position that a further permission, in addition to that contained in the convention, was necessary to the transfer of its concessions and those of the Panama Railroad Company, respectively, to the United States, and that, as a preliminary to this permission, the companies must enter into agreements with Colombia for the cancellation of all her obligations

in

to either of them under the concession. This proceeding seemed all the more singular in the light of the negotiations between the two Governments. The terms in which the convention authorized the New Panama Canal Company to sell and transfer its ‘rights, privileges, properties, and concessions' to the United States were the same as those embodied in the original draft of a treaty presented to this Government by the Colombian minister on March 31, 1902.

“No change in this particular was ever suggested by Colombia, all the discussions that followed, until November 11, 1902. On that day the Colombian minister presented a memorandum in which it was proposed that the authorization should be so modified that 'the permission accorded by Colombia to the canal and the railroad companies to transfer their rights to the United States' should be regulated by a previous special arrangement entered into by Colombia.' To this proposal this Department answered that 'the United States considers this suggestion wholly inadmissible. The proposition was then abandoned by Colombia, and the convention was nearly three months later signed without any modification of the absolute authorization to sell.

“The notices actually sent to the companies went, however, even further than the rejected and abandoned proposal presented by the Colombian minister, since thay required the companies to cancel all obligations of Colombia to them, and thus to destroy the rights, privileges, and concessions which she had by the convention solemnly authorized the canal company to sell and transfer to the United States. The whole superstructure so laboriously reared was thus threatened with destruction by the removal of one of its foundation stones.

“It was against this act of the Colombian Government itself that the remonstrance made by the American minister, Mr. Beaupré, by instruction of his Government, on the 24th of April last, was presented. Great stress is laid upon this remonstrance in Colombia's 'statement of grievances,' as the first of a series of three diplomatic representations which, by assuming to deny to the Colombian Congress the exercise of its constitutional functions, affronted that body and led the Colombian Senate to reject the convention. Unfortunately for this supposition, the Colombian Congress was not in session. It had not then been convoked; nor did it meet until the 20th of June. The representation was made solely with a view to recall to the Colombian Government the terms of the agreement which it had itself concluded, but of which it seemed to have become oblivious. The second representation was made, as you state, on the 18th of June, two days before Congress met, but the cabled instruction under which it was made was sent by this Government on the 9th of June,

H. Doc. 551--vol 3-7

1

The third was made on the 5th of August, while the Congress was in session. Its obvious purpose was, if possible, to exhibit the situation in its true light.

"The Department would here gladly end its recital of the course of the Colombian Government with what has already been exhibited, but the circumstances do not permit it to do so. As the 'statement of grievances' presented on behalf of Colombia is founded upon the tacit assumption that her present plight is due solely to wrongs committed by this Government, it is necessary that the facts should be disclosed.

“The violation by the Colombian Government, long before the Congress assembled, of its agreement to the sale and transfer to the United States of the rights and concessions of the canal and railway companies was not the only act by which it manifested its purpose to repudiate its own engagements. For some time after the convention was signed, its terms appeared to be as satisfactory to the people of Colombia as they seemingly had been to the Colombian Government.

“This state of affairs continued until General Fernandez, in charge of the ministry of finance, issued more than a month before the Congress was convoked and more than two months before it met, a circular to the Bogotá press, which, as Mr. Beaupré reported, ‘had suddenly sprung into existence,' inviting discussion of the convention. The circular in substance stated, according to Mr. Beaupré's report, that the Government ‘had no preconceived wishes for or against the measure;' that it was ‘for Congress to decide,' and that Congress would be largely guided by 'public opinion. In view of what the Government had already done, it is not strange that this invitation to discussion was followed by violent attacks upon the convention, accompanied by the most extravagant speculations as to the gains which Colombia might possibly derive from its rejection. No thought whatever seems to have been taken of the incalculable benefits that would accrue to Colombia as the direct and necessary result of the construction of the canal. Only the immediate possibilities, which the resources of this Government and the situation of the canal company served to suggest, seem to have been taken into account.

It is entirely impossible (said Mr. Beaupré, writing on May 4, 1903] to convince these people that the Nicaragua route was ever seriously considered by the United States; that the negotiations concerning it had any other motive than the squeezing of an advantageous bargain out of Colombia; nor that any other than the Panama route will be selected.

.. Therefore, it is contended, and generally believed, that there is no immediate necessity of confirming the Hay-Herran convention; that the negotiations can be safely prolonged, in the end securing very much better terms for Colombia. The public discussion is largely along the lines of the loss of national honor by the surrender of sovereignty;

private discussion, which perhaps more clearly reflects the real situation, is to the effect that the price is inadequate.

"That Mr. Beaupré's summary of the situation-a situation which seems logically to have followed from the Government's own measures-was correct is amply demonstrated in the sequel. The Department deems it unnecessary to enter into any argument upon the question raised at Bogotá as to Colombia's 'sovereignty. The convention speaks for itself, and its provisions for the acknowledgment and assurance of Colombia's sovereignty have already been set forth. The explanations put forward in Colombia's statement of grievances' merely repeat the pleas devised at the Colombian capital. The sudden discovery that the terms of the convention, as proposed and signed by the Colombian Government, involved a violation of the Colombian constitution, because it required a cession to the United States of the “sovereignty' which it expressly recognized and confirmed, could be received by this Government only with the utmost surprise. Nevertheless, the Colombian Senate unanimously rejected the convention.

"This fact was communicated to the Department by Doctor Herran on the 22d of August last, by means of a copy of a cablegram from his Government. In that telegram the ‘impairment of Colombian ‘sovereignty' was mentioned as one of the reasons advanced in debate' for the Senate's action; but joined with it there was another reason, with which the Department had long been familiar, namely, the absence of a 'previous agreement of the companies with the Colombian Government for the transfer of their privileges. To these reasons there was added a reference to the representations made by Mr. Beaupré; but it was said to be 'probable that the Colombian Congress would 'provide bases' for 'reopening negotiations.

"No such action, however, was taken by the Colombian Congress. On the contrary, by a report of the majority of the Panama canal committee, read in the Colombian Senate on the 14th of October last, it was recommended that a bill which had been introduced to authorize the Government to enter upon new negotiations should be indefinitely postponed. The reason for this recommendation is disclosed in the same report. By a treaty concluded April 4, 1893, the original concession granted to the Panama Canal Company was extended until December 31, 1904.

“By a legislative act in 1900 a new extension was made till October 31, 1910; but the report, adopting a suggestion which had been put forward in the press, raises a question as to whether this legislative extension was valid, and adds that if it was not valid the aspect of the question would be entirely changed in consequence of the fact that when a year later the Colombian Congress should meet in ordinary session the extension of 1893 would have 'expired and every privilege with it. In that case, the report goes on to say, the Republic would become the 'possessor and owner, without any need of a previous judicial decision and without any indemnity, of the canal itself and of the adjuncts that belong to it,' and would not only be able to 'contract without any impediments,' but would be in more clear, more definite, and more advantageous possession, both legally and materially.

This programme, if not expressly, was at least tactily adopted by the Colombian Congress, which adjourned on the 31st of October without providing any bases for the reopening of negotiations. It was a scheme to which this Government could not possibly have become a party. Of this fact the Colombian Government was duly notified when the first intimation of its purpose was, long anterior to the assembling of the Congress, first disclosed. The Colombian Government was expressly informed that such action on its part, or on that of the companies, would be inconsistent with the agreements already made between the United States and the canal company, with the act of June 28, 1902, under the authority of which the convention was made, and with the express terms of the convention itself. It was, under the circumstances, equivalent to a refusal of all negotiation with this Government.

"Under these circumstances it was the intention of the President before further action to submit the matter to Congress, which was

to assemble. The situation, however, was presently changed. If the Government at Bogotá, as the 'statement of grievances' assures us, “fell into error' in supposing that the only consequence of its rejection of the convention would be the abandonment of the Panama route by this Government, its blindness to a situation at home that was attracting the attention of the world can only be imputed to itself. Reports of impending trouble, as the result of what was going on at Bogotá, were rife.

“Advices came to this Government, not only through the press but also through its own officials, of the existence of dangerous conditions on the Isthmus, as well as in the adjacent States whose interests were menaced. Disorders in that quarter were not new.

In the summer of 1902, as well as in that of 1901, this Government had been obliged by its forces to maintain order on the transit route, and it took steps, as it had done on previous occasions, to perform a similar duty should the necessity arise. The form the trouble might take could not be foreseen, but it was important to guard against any destructive effects.

“The reasonableness of these precautions soon became evident. The people of Panama rose against an act of the Government at Bogotá that threatened their most vital interests with destruction and the interests of the whole world with grave injury. The movement assumed the form of a declaration of independence. The

« PreviousContinue »