Borland on Borland, Part One

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456 and revisited.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection: parts 1, 2, 3, 4

The Bombardment of Greytown, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, behind the scenes

Seven days of Greytown probably suffices, but it wouldn’t do to leave Solon Borland without a chance to defend himself.  However disagreeable a personality he had, and apparently he ended up in Central America in part because Arkansas had enough of him, he deserves a chance to have his side heard. 

Borland declined to give his own version of events, instead attaching two newspaper accounts. Greeley elected not to print those, s0 to recap: Solon Borland of Arkansas, lately American Minister to Central America interfered in the arrest, by the authorities at the free port of Greytown,  of a captain of the Accessory Transit Company who had killed a black pilot . His involvement included his brief arrest and his brandishing a pistol at the local constabulary. When Borland took it on himself to lecture the Greytowners about how they should not arrest murderers in the future, one threw a broken bottle and hit him on the head.

Why did Borland concern himself with the arrest? Did he just see an angry mob and step in innocently? Not so much:

I deem it proper to remark, that although I was personally cognizant of the conduct of Capt. Smith, for which he was charged with murder, and sought to be arrested by the so called authorities of San Juan or Greytown, and was (as I now am) clearly and decidedly of the opinion that he was justifiable in all he did, the question of his guilt or innocence did not enter into the consideration for which I interposed to protect him. He was a citizen of the United Sates, and the persons who sought to arrest, and claimed the right to punish him, were not recognized by the United States as a Government possessed of the right or invested with the power, to exercise jurisdiction over any portion of Central America, or to determine any question involving the persons or property of our citizens.

So Borland knew that he stepped in to stop a man accused of murder from facing arrest. He thought the man innocent, but didn’t actually care either way at the time. American citizens, to hear Borland tell it, have every right to expect consular protection when they do murder abroad. Furthermore, the United States did not recognize the authority of the men seizing Smith.

But what if they did, in fact, act as a government?

even supposing the so called authorities of San Juan or Greytown to be a government invested with the rights and powers I have denied over the territory embraced within their town limits, they certainly had no jurisdiction over that portion of the territory upon which the obnoxious act of Captain Smith had been done; as that was, although on the north bank, and yet some ten or twelve miles above the mouth of the San Juan River: so of the place where his arrest was attempted, Punta Arenas, on the south bank of the San Juan River, and the opposite side of the bay from San Juan or Greytown.

If Greytown had a legitimate government, that government’s reach simply did not extend to the area in question. If anything, the land in question belonged to Nicaragua. Borland skipped over the part about how Greytown viewed Punta Arenas as within its jurisdiction and had an ongoing dispute with the Accessory Transit Company over that fact. One might forgive him for letting the technicalities slide, but in the same breath as he points out that Greytown’s power did not legally reach to Punta Arenas he declares that Nicaragua and Costa Rica then had a separate dispute over just that land.

This all looks very hair-splitting. Borland doesn’t care if Smith did the murder or not, does not care about the ambiguous situation over Punta Arenas, but does very much care about a  more tangential dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. He brings it up to put jurisdiction in their hands, if anywhere, and then goes on to say

no legal process, civil or criminal, could rightfully be executed there, unless by authority of one or the other of those powers.

Neither country had effective power on the ground in the area and Borland denied the right of the authority that actually did have power on the ground to use it. No wonder he didn’t worry about whether or not Smith really murdered anybody.

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