« PreviousContinue »
situation was most critical if the revolutionary leaders should act. On this same date the Associated Press in Washington received a bulletin stating that a revolutionary outbreak had occurred. When this was brought to the attention of the Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Loomis, he prepared the following cablegram to the consul-general at Panama and the consul at Colon:
Uprising on Isthmus reported. Keep Department promptly and fully informed. Before this telegram was sent, however, one was received from Consul Malmros at Colon, running as follows:
Revolution imminent. Government force on the Isthmus about 500 men. Their official promised support revolution. Fire department, Panama, 441, are well organized and favor revolution. Government vessel, Cartagena, with about 400 men, arrived early to-day with new commander in chief, Tobar. Was not expected until November 10. Tobar's arrival is not probable to stop revolution.
This cablegram was received at 2.35 p. m., and at 3.40 p. m. Mr. Loomis sent the telegram which he had already prepared to both Panama and Colon. Apparently, however, the consul-general at Panama had not received the information embodied in the Associated Press bulletin, upon which the Assistant Secretary of State based his dispatch, for his answer was that there was no uprising, although the situation was critical, this answer being received at 8.15 p. m. Immediately afterwards he sent another dispatch, which was received at 9.50 p. m., saying that the uprising had occurred, and had been successful, with no bloodshed. The Colombian gunboat Bogotá next day began to shell the city of Panama, with the result of killing one Chinaman. The consul-general was directed to notify her to stop firing. Meanwhile, on November 4, Commander Hubbard notified the Department that he had landed a force to protect the lives and property of American citizens against the threats of the Colombian soldiery.
Before any step whatever had been taken by the United States troops to restore order, the commander of the newly landed Colombian troops had indulged in wanton and violent threats against American citizens, which created serious apprehension. As Commander Hubbard reported in his letter of November 5, this officer and his troops practically began war against the United States, and only the forbearance and coolness of our officers and men prevented bloodshed. The letter of Commander Hubbard is of such interest that it deserves quotation in full, and runs as follows:
U. S. S. NASHVILLE, THIRD RATE, Colon, U. S. Colombia, November 5, 1908.
SIR: Pending a complete report of the occurrences of the last three days in Colon, Colombia, I most respectfully invite the Department's attention to those of the date of Wednesday, November 4, which amounted to practically the making of war against the United States by the officer in command of the Colombian troops in Colon. At 1 o'clock p. m. on that date I was summoned on shore by a preconcerted signal, and on landing met the United States consul, vice-consul, and Colonel Shaler, the general superintendent of the Panama Railroad. The consul informed me that he had received notice from the officer commanding the Colombian troops, Colonel Torres, through the prefect of Colon, to the effect that if the Colombian officers, Generals Tobal and Amaya, who had been seized in Panama on the evening of the 3d of November by the Independents and held as prisoners, were not released by 2 o'clock p. m. he, Torres, would open fire on the town of Colon and kill every United States citizen in the place, and my advice and action were requested. I advised that all the United States citizens should take refuge in the shed of the Panama Railroad Company, a stone building susceptible of being put into good state for defense, and that I would immediately land such body
of men, with extra arms for arming the citizens, as the complement of the ship would permit. This was agreed to and I immediately returned on board, arriving at 1.15 p. m. The order for landing was immediately given, and at 1.30 p. m. the boats left the ship with a party of 42 men under the command of Lieut. Commander H. M. Witzel, with Midshipman J. P. Jackson as second in command. Time being pressing, I gave verbal orders to Mr. Witzel to take the building above referred to, to put it into the best state of defense possible, and protect the lives of the citizens assembled there-not firing unless fired upon. The women and children took refuge on the German steamer Marcomania and Panama Railroad steamer City of Washington, both ready to haul out from dock if necessary. The Nashville I got under way and patrolled with her along the water front close in and ready to use either smallarm or shrapnel fire. The Colombians surrounded the building of the railroad company almost immediately after we had taken possession, and for about one and a half hours their attitude was most threatening, it being seemingly their purpose to provoke an attack. Happily our men were cool and steady, and while the tension was very great no shot was fired. At about 3.15 p. m. Colonel Torres came into the building for an interview and expressed himself as most friendly to Americans, claiming that the whole affair was a misapprehension and that he would like to send the alcalde of Colon to Panama to see General Tobal and have him direct the discontinuance of the show of force. A special train was furnished and safe conduct guaranteed. At about 5.30 p. m. Colonel Torres made the proposition of withdrawing his troops to Monkey Hill if I would withdraw the Nashville's force and leave the town in possession of the police until the return of the alcalde on the morning of the 5th. After an interview with the United States consul and Colonel Shaler as to the probability of good faith in the matter, I decided to accept the proposition and brought my men on board, the disparity in numbers between my force and that of the Colombians, nearly ten to one, making me desirous of avoiding a conflict so long as the object in view, the protection of American citizens, was not imperiled.
I am positive that the determined attitude of our men, their coolness and evident intention of standing their ground, had a most salutary and decisive effect on the immediate situation and was the initial step in the ultimate abandoning of Colon by these troops and their return to Cartagena the following day. Lieutenant-Commander Witzel is entitled to much praise for his admirable work in command on the spot.
I feel that I can not sufficiently strongly represent to the Department the grossness of this outrage and the insult to our dignity, even apart from the savagery of the threat. JOHN HUBBARD, Commander, U. S. Navy, Commanding.
The SECRETARY OF THE NAVY,
Nary Department, Washington, D. C.
In his letter of November 8 Commander Hubbard sets forth the facts more in detail:
U. S. S. NASHVILLE, THIRD RATE, Porto Bello, U. S. Colombia, November 8, 1903.
SIR: 1. I have the honor to make the following report of the occurrences which took place at Colon and Panama in the interval between the arrival of the Nashville at Colon on the evening of November 2, 1903, and the evening of November 5, 1903, when, by the arrival of the U. S. S. Dixie at Colon, I was relieved as senior officer by Commander F. H. Delano, U. S. Navy.
2. At the time of the arrival of the Nashville at Colon at 5.30 p. m. on November 2 everything on the Isthmus was quiet. There was talk of proclaiming the independence of Panama, but no definite action had been taken, and there had been no disturbance of peace and order. At daylight on the morning of November 3 it was found that a vessel which had come in during the night was the Colombian gunboat Cartagena, carrying between 400 and 500 troops. I had her boarded, and learned that these troops were for the garrison at Panama. Inasmuch as the Independent party had not acted and the Government of Colombia was at the time in undisputed control of the province of Panama, I did not feel, in the absence of any instructions, that I was justified in preventing the landing of these troops, and at 8.30 o'clock they were disembarked. The commanding officers, Generals Amaya and Tobal, with four others, immediately went over to Panama to make arrangements for receiving and quartering their troops, leaving the command in charge of an officer whom I later learned to be Colonel Torres. The Department's message addressed to the care of the United States consul I received at 10.30 a. m. It was delivered to one of the ship's boats while I was at the consul's, and not to the consul, as addressed. The
message was said to have been received at the cable office at 9.30 a. m. Immediately on deciphering the message I went on shore to see what arrangements the railroad company had made for the transportation of these troops to Panama, and learned that the company would not transport them except on request of the governor of Panama, and that the prefect at Colon and the officer left in command of the troops had been so notified by the general superintendent of the Panama Railroad Company. I remained at the company's office until it was sure that no action on my part would be needed to prevent the transportation of the troops that afternoon, when I returned on board and cabled the Department the situation of affairs. At about 5.30 p. m. I again went on shore, and received notice from the general superintendent of the railroad that he had received the request for the transportation of the troops and that they would leave on the 8 a. m. train on the following day. I immediately went to see the general superintendent, and learned that it had just been announced that a provisional government had been established at Panama; that Generals Amaya and Tobal, the governor of Panama, and four officers who had gone to Panama in the morning had been seized and were held as prisoners; that they had an organized force of 1,500 troops, and wished the Government troops in Colon to be sent over. This I declined to permit, and verbally prohibited the general superintendent from giving transportation to the troops of either party.
It being then late in the evening, I sent early in the morning of November 4 written notification to the general superintendent of the Panama Railroad, to the prefect of Colon, and to the officer left in command of the Colombian troops, later ascertained to be Colonel Torres, that I had prohibited the transportation of troops in either direction, in order to preserve the free and uninterrupted transit of the Isthmus. Copies of these letters are hereto appended; also copy of my notification to the consul. Except to a few people, nothing was known in Colon of the proceedings in Panama until the arrival of the train at 10.45 on the morning of the 4th. Some propositions were, I was later told, made to Colonel Torres by the representatives of the new Government at Colon, with a view to inducing him to reembark in the Cartagena and return to the port of Cartagena, and it was in answer to this proposition that Colonel Torres made the threat and took the action reported in my letter No. 96, of November 5, 1903. The Cartagena left the port just after the threat was made, and I did not deem it expedient to attempt to detain her, as such action would certainly, in the then state of affairs, have precipitated a conflict on shore which I was not prepared to meet. It is my understanding that she returned to Cartagena. After the withdrawal of the Colombian troops on the evening of November 4, and the return of the Nashville's force on board, as reported in my letter No. 96, there was no disturbance on shore, and the night passed quietly. On the morning of the 5th I discovered that the commander of the Colombian troops had not withdrawn so far from the town as he had agreed, but was occupying buildings near the outskirts of the town. I immediately inquired into the matter and learned that he had some trivial excuse for not carrying out his agreement, and also that it was his intention to occupy Colon again on the arrival of the alcalde due at 10.45 a. m., unless General Tobal sent word by the alcalde that he, Colonel Torres, should withdraw. That General Tobal had declined to give any instructions I was cognizant of, and the situation at once became quite as serious as on the day previous. I immediately landed an armed force, reoccupied the same building; also landed two 1-pounders and mounted them on platform cars behind protection of cotten bales, and then in company with the United States consul had an interview with Colonel Torres, in the course of which I informed him that I had relanded my men because he had not kept his agreement; that I had no interest in the affairs of either party; that my attitude was strictly neutral; that the troops of neither side should be transported; that my sole purpose in landing was to protect the lives and property of American citizens if threatened, as they had been threatened, and to maintain the free and uninterrupted transit of the Isthmus, and that purpose I should maintain by force if necessary. I also strongly advised that in the interests of peace, and to prevent the possibility of a conflict that could not but be regrettable, he should carry out his agreement of the previous evening and withdraw to Monkey Hill.
Colonel Torres only reply was that it was unhealthy at Monkey Hill, a reiteration of his love of Americans, and persistence in his intention to occupy Colon, should General Tobal not give him directions to the contrary.
On the return of the alcalde at about 11 a. m. the Colombian troops marched into Colon, but did not assume the threatening demeanor of the previous day. The American women and children again went on board the Marcomania and City of Washington, and through the British vice-consul I offered protection to British subjects as directed in the Department's cablegram. A copy of the British vice-consul's acknowledgment is hereto appended. The Nashville I got under way as on the pre
vious day and moved close in to protect the water front. During the afternoon several propositions were made to Colonel Torres by the representatives of the new Government, and he was finally persuaded by them to embark on the Royal Mail steamer Orinoco with all his troops and return to Cartagena. The Orinoco left her dock with the troops-474 all told-at 7.35 p. m. The Dixie arrived and anchored at 7.05 p. m., when I went on board and acquainted the commanding officer with the situation. A portion of the marine battalion was landed and the Nashville's force withdrawn.
3. On the evening of November 4, Maj. William M. Black and Lieut. Mark Brooke, Corps of Engineers, U. S. Army, came to Colon from Culebra and volunteered their services, which were accepted, and they rendered very efficient help on the following day.
4. I beg to assure the Department that I had no part whatever in the negotiations that were carried on between Colonel Torres and the representatives of the provisional government; that I landed an armed force only when the lives of American citizens were threatened, and withdrew this force as soon as there seemed to be no grounds for further apprehension of injury to American lives or property; that I relanded an armed force because of the failure of Colonel Torres to carry out his agreement to withdraw and announced intention of returning, and that my attitude throughout was strictly neutral as between the two parties, my only purpose being to protect the lives and property of American citizens and to preserve the free and uninterrupted transit of the Isthinus. JOHN HUBBARD, Commander, U. S. Navy, Commanding.
The SECRETARY OF THE NAVY,
Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department, Washington, D. C.
This plain official account of the occurrences of November 4, shows that, instead of there having been too much prevision by the American Government for the maintenance of order and the protection of life and property on the Isthmus, the orders for the movement of the American war ships had been too long delayed; so long, in fact, that there were but 42 marines and sailors available to land and protect the lives of American men and women. It was only the coolness and gallantry with which this little band of men wearing the American uniform faced ten times their number of armed foes, bent on carrying out the atrocious threat of the Colombian commander, that prevented a murderous catastrophe. At Panama, when the revolution broke out, there was no American man-of-war and no American troops or sailors. At Colon, Commander Hubbard acted with entire impartiality toward both sides, preventing any movement, whether by the Colombians or the Panamans, which would tend to produce bloodshed. On November 9 he prevented a body of the revolutionists from landing at Colon. Throughout he behaved in the most creditable manner. In the New York Evening Post, under date of Panama, December 8, there is an article from a special correspondent, which sets forth in detail the unbearable oppression of the Colombian government in Panama. In this article is an interesting interview with a native Panaman, which runs in part as follows:
* * * We looked upon the building of the canal as a matter of life or death to us. We wanted that because it meant, with the United States in control of it, peace and prosperity for us. President Marroquin appointed an Isthmian to be governor of Panama, and we looked upon that as of happy augury. Soon we heard that the canal treaty was not likely to be approved at Bogotá; next we heard that our Isthmian governor, Obaldía, who had scarcely assumed power, was to be superseded by a soldier from Bogotá. *
Notwithstanding all that Colombia has drained us of in the way of revenues, she did not bridge for us a single river, nor make a single roadway, nor erect a single college where our children could be educated, nor do anything at all to advance our industries. * ** Well, when the new generals came we seized them, arrested them. and the town of Panama was in joy. Not a protest was made, except the shots
fired from the Colombian gunboat Bogotá, which killed one Chinese lying in his bed. We were willing to encounter the Colombian troops at Colon and fight it out, but the commander of the United States cruiser Nashville forbade Superintendent Shaler to allow the railroad to transport troops for either party. That is our story.
I call especial attention to the concluding portion of this interview which states the willingness of the Panama people to fight the Colombian troops and the refusal of Commander Hubbard to permit them to use the railroad and therefore to get into a position where the fight could take place. It thus clearly appears that the fact that there was no bloodshed on the Isthmus was directly due-and only due to the prompt and firm enforcement by the United States of its traditional policy. During the past forty years revolutions and attempts at revolutions have succeeded one another with monotonous regularity on the Isthmus, and again and again United States sailors and marines have been landed as they were landed in this instance and under similar instructions to protect the transit. One of these revolutions resulted in three years of warfare; and the aggregate of bloodshed and misery caused by them has been incalculable.
The fact that in this last revolution not a life was lost, save that of the man killed by the shells of the Colombian gunboat, and no property destroyed, was due to the action which I have described. We, in effect, policed the Isthmus in the interest of its inhabitants and of our own national needs, and for the good of the entire civilized world. Failure to act as the Administration acted would have meant great waste of life, great suffering, great destruction of property; all of which was avoided by the firmness and prudence with which Commander Hubbard carried out his orders and prevented either party from attacking the other. Our action was for the peace both of Colombia and of Panama. It is earnestly to be hoped that there will be no unwise conduct on our part which may encourage Colombia to embark on a war which can not result in her regaining control of the Isthmus, but which may cause much bloodshed and suffering.
I hesitate to refer to the injurious insinuations which have been made of complicity by this Government in the revolutionary movement in Panama. They are as destitute of foundation as of propriety. The only excuse for my mentioning them is the fear lest unthinking persons might mistake for acquiescence the silence of mere self-respect. I think proper to say, therefore, that no one connected with this Government had any part in preparing, inciting, or encouraging the late revolution on the Isthmus of Panama, and that save from the reports of our military and naval officers, given above, no one connected with this Government had any previous knowledge of the revolution except such as was accessible to any person of ordinary intelligence who read the newspapers and kept up a current acquaintance with public affairs. By the unanimous action of its people, without the firing of a shotwith a unanimity hardly before recorded in any similar case-the people of Panama declared themselves an independent republic. Their recognition by this Government was based upon a state of facts in no way dependent for its justification upon our action in ordinary cases. I have not denied, nor do I wish to deny, either the validity or the propriety of the general rule that a new state should not be recognized as independent till it has shown its ability to maintain its independence. This rule is derived from the principle of nonintervention, and as a corollary of that principle has generally been observed by the