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NO one would have confidence in an aviator who maintained that to fly across the ocean to Paris all he needed to do was to start in that direction with a sincere desire to attain his goal. Everyone knows that, in the actual flying, he must reckon upon meeting cross-winds which may imperceptibly carry him far off his course. The man who started any important flight without an indicator to detect drift, so that he might correct for it constantly, might be called almost anything except a hypocrite.
In the conflict over American intervention before, at, and since the Sixth Pan America Conference at Havana, this lesson seems to have been entirely lost. Our spokesmen continually emphasize that our goal in intervention is never imperialism, but duty tinctured with benevolence. Strong in the knowledge (which every detached observer must admit), that the people of the United States have no imperialistic aims, they conclude, as Mr. Hughes did recently, that suspicion of our motives in intervention is "fantastic." Our Latin American and other critics are equally strong in the knowledge (which every detached observer must also admit) that our intervention, in practice, does show a strong tendency toward economic and even political imperialism. And they conclude that if we are bearing toward that goal it is because we are really aiming at it, and that our assertions to the contrary merely compound our sins with hypocrisy.
Apparently it has occurred to neither side to make allowances for drift. Specifically, we have not realized that our machinery ought to be provided with an indicator to reveal at once any tendency to deviate from the allotted course, nor have we studied what sort of instrument it should be. Such a study seems the more necessary since Mr. Hughes, in stating that the right of intervention was one that the United States could not sacrifice, made it plain that we must at any rate be prepared for further intervention flights in Latin America.
Intervention as it is practised may be examined most profitably in Haiti, since that negro republic has now been under such a régime for more than twelve years. Moreover, Haiti is fairly representative of the type of Latin American states in which we are most likely to intervene. It is a small, weak country, with an area of 9,242 square miles and a population estimated at 2,000,000. The basic composition of its population is similar to that of most Caribbean countries. About 90 percent are illiterate, inarticulate peasants, the remainder being educated town-dwellers who form the governing minority. In this situation, and with the historical background what it is, elections are a farce and the country is a constant prey to revolutions and dictatorships. It is backward economically, too; most of its great tropical riches are quite undeveloped. Political instability retards economic development, and poverty keeps the citizen in the morass of illiteracy and disease.
There is one distinctive characteristic of Haiti which needs mention but which does not make it less suitable as an example. Whereas the peasants in Central America are pure Indian and the educated minority either a mixture of Spanish and Indian or else pure Spanish, there is no Indian and very little Spanish blood in Haiti. The Haitian peasants are nearly all pure negro and the governing minority, save for a black fraction, is mulatto, the mixture being chiefly French and negro.
As race prejudice may lead to some unjustified assumptions regarding the Haitians in comparison with other inhabitants of the Caribbean, a word may be added about their achievements. Slaves under the particularly cruel system of slavery which made Haiti the richest French colony in the eighteenth century, the Haitians are the only negroes who ever won their own freedom. They established in 1804 the first negro republic in history and the first Latin American republic. They had a much harder fight for independence than we. They had to fight unaided not only the French but the Spanish and the English, and in the end the veterans of Napoleon. The war of slave against master, of black against white, went on for thirteen years. From Haiti have sprung such men as Alexandre Dumas, whose ancestors were French and Haitian negro; Toussaint l'Ouverture, who was pure negro; and the black emperor, Christophe, that extraordinary builder of a hundred years ago whose famous citadel, by its tremendous proportions and massive solidity, reminds one of the works of ancient Rome. In the upper class in Haiti may be found highly intelligent and widely travelled men of the world, and the peasantry compares favorably with the Indians of Central America. Moreover, the successful slave revolt has given the peasants a certain self-respect that those Indians seem to lack.
We did not intervene in Haiti because Americans or Europeans had been killed there. The Haitians, indeed, are noted for the respect shown even in their revolutions to the persons of foreigners. We intervened in Haiti in 1915 when General Vilbrun Sam, the seventh president the republic had had in four years, summarily slaughtered 167 political prisoners. Their infuriated relatives seized and killed him, but in so doing they violated the French Legation where he had sought refuge. Our intervention at that time appears to have been generally welcomed by the Haitians, as putting an end to intolerable conditions of chaos.
The specific aims of our intervention in Haiti are contained in the preamble to the ensuing treaty, which went into effect May 3, 1916. It reads:
The United States and the Republic of Haiti desiring to confirm and strengthen the amity existing between them by the most cordial coöperation in measures for their common advantage, and the Republic of Haiti desiring to remedy the present condition of its revenues and finances, to maintain the tranquillity of the Republic, to carry out the plan for the economic development and prosperity of the Republic and its people, and the United States being in full sympathy with all these aims and objects and desiring to contribute in all proper ways to their accomplishment [the two Powers conclude this convention]."
The treaty then goes on to provide for the appointment by the President of Haiti, on nomination by the President of the United States, of a Financial Adviser and Receiver General, a chief of the gendarmerie, and engineers to supervise sanitation, public improvements, and agricultural development. These officials are known as the "treaty officers." The last article stipulates that the treaty shall remain in force for ten years and may be extended for a further period of ten years, if its "purpose has not been fully accomplished." This extension was made in 1917, the reason being that it was held necessary to the flotation of the consolidated loan to Haiti at that time.
From these, and from all other parts of the treaty, it is plain that the object of our intervention is to help Haiti along certain definite lines for a period limited to twenty years.
At first view it seems evident that we have succeeded admirably in achieving the aim of the treaty. We have helped Haiti. Anarchy has been replaced by order, smoothly maintained. The eye is not shocked by evidences of brutality or a heavy hand. Even the penitentiary under the supervision of our Marines has become a sunny workshop, impressively superior to many prisons in the United States.
The finances have not only been put on a stable basis and the public debt reduced, but funds have been found for a surprising amount of sanitary, educational and economic improvements. There is no brighter chapter in our record in Haiti, nor one more generally appreciated even by our critics there, than the manifold works of our doctors against the diseases which have done so much to retard the progress of the island. Our rural clinics gave free treatment last year to 500,000 Haitians, a quarter of the population.
On the educational side, we have centered our attention on helping the Haitians to rescue themselves from poverty. We have established an agricultural service which seeks to do this in two ways. On one side it carries on research work toward remedying Haiti's dangerous dependence on one crop alone -- coffee -- by developing other products for which the country is eminently adapted, such as cotton, sisal, sugar, pineapples, etc., and by improving the livestock and providing veterinary clinics. On the other side, it teaches the present generation better farming methods and reaches the children through a system of rural, agricultural and arts and crafts schools.
The public works built since our intervention began are everywhere apparent: roads, telephone and telegraph lines, drainage systems, governmental buildings, hospitals, rural dispensaries, schools, irrigation works reclaiming thousands of acres; and the list is not ended.
The structure we have erected in twelve years in Haiti is, indeed, likely to dazzle the eyes of the visitor, especially the American one, and cause him to forget to compare it to the original plan in order to see how closely it really fits the ends for which it was intended. Obviously, the goal of our intervention in Haiti is not merely to aid the Haitians but to aid them in such a way that, when our treaty expires in 1936, they can carry on without us or, at least, with less likelihood of the recurrence of the conditions which had caused our intervention twenty years earlier. When we examine our work from this angle we find that it has been done with next to no regard for this, its basic purpose.
We have built an airplane for a man accustomed to riding a donkey. What is more, we have been so occupied in building and operating it that we have not trained the man for whom it is intended. The machine runs beautifully now while we are at the controls, but how will it run when we step out in 1936 and the man who all the time has been on the donkey steps in to fly alone? Then will come the real test of everything we have done and of everything we have left undone.
Let me now set down some of the economic, administrative and political facts epitomized in the foregoing figure of speech.
On the economic side we have sought to develop the riches of Haiti on a scale admittedly beyond the capacity of the Haitians to handle themselves. Finding a backward country without capital of its own, our officials, impatient with the slow progress to be realized through the peasant landholders, decided that the salvation of Haiti lay in calling in outside capital to establish big plantations. This is no doubt the quickest way to exploit the riches of the country and, properly limited and safeguarded, it may be very beneficial to Haiti. But the dangers inherent in any such policy are plain, especially when, as in this case, the outside capital comes almost entirely from the country conducting the intervention.
Socially, the present economic policy is liable to result in an independent peasantry being gradually transformed into a landless proletariat. On the financial side, the greatest part of the riches thus developed is liable to go to the foreign developer, not to the inhabitants of the country. The condition of the native workers on big American plantations elsewhere in Latin America has not impressed me as appreciably better than that of the small landholding peasants of Haiti. Politically, these big American-owned plantations in a weak country tend to build up a power within it which may be stronger than its government and which certainly increases the chances of intervention to "protect American lives and property."
Three things formerly protected the Haitian peasant in holding the bit of land which to him symbolizes his dignity as a free man -- for the Haitian cannot forget that he holds that land by virtue of his slave ancestors having dispossessed their masters. The three things were the instability and disorder in Haiti, a clause in its Constitution which forbade foreigners to own land, and the chaotic condition of land titles.
Our officials have not regarded these factors so much as safeguards for the peasant as obstacles to the development of the country's resources, which they naturally are. Our intervention eliminated the first safeguard by establishing order under auspices most attractive to American capital. The second was removed in 1918 by a clause in the new Constitution, adopted under our supervision, allowing foreigners to own land. Since then thousands of acres in Haiti have come under American sugar, sisal and pineapple plantations. This acreage, it is true, is still a trifling fraction of the area of Haiti; most of it is land previously uncultivated and more is held by long-term lease than by purchase.
The underlying tendencies of this policy, however, may be seen in high relief in the Artibonite irrigation project. The valley of the Artibonite is the richest and, despite its need of irrigation, the most thickly settled rural area in Haiti. When Dr. Arthur C. Millspaugh, who last December became the sixth Financial Adviser we have sent to Haiti in twelve years, saw the efforts of the peasants to irrigate the land adjoining the river, he asked if we had tried to help them by installing water wheels, such as he had seen peasants operate while he was Financial Administrator in Persia. This idea of starting with cheap and primitive devices which the peasant could run himself had never occurred to our officials. It was heresy, indeed, to the general American doctrine of doing things "in a big way." Moreover, the suggestion came too late. We had already espoused the policy of getting an American company to irrigate at one stroke "not less than 10,000 hectares" (about 25,000 acres) in this valley and, last year, a 60-year concession for this purpose was let to ex-Congressman W. A. Rodenberg.
Dr. Elwood Mead, Commissioner of Reclamation of the United States, in a report to Mr. Rodenberg on Sept. 30, 1926, told of the cheapness with which the valley could be irrigated and of its richness, saying that even the "primitive farming" of the peasants there "enables these people to live and enjoy an independent, free and easy existence." Then he added:
To investors in reclamation works these natural advantages are rendered more attractive by the stable, efficient and enlightened character of the Government. Irrigation development must be based on the idea of permanence . . . For such a task a stable government and its sympathetic coöperation is indispensable. It is fortunate that this is assured. I have returned from Haiti realizing as I had not before . . . the genius for administering free institutions which is manifested by the administrative officials sent there from this country.
The tendency of the investor, thus, is to start with the assumption, not that our intervention will, or even may, end in 1936, but that it will go on indefinitely.
Dr. Mead, however, was fearful for the fate of the valley's peasant population of 200,000, -- a population whose density, he points out, "equals if not exceeds that of Belgium." He suggested that a sociological survey be made before disturbing the lives of so many people and a law be passed preventing the peasants from selling their land and allowing them only to lease it for reasonable periods. The survey was not held and the contract, as signed, provides for the concessionaire acquiring, either by purchase or lease, an unlimited area for cultivation himself, although it also obligates him to supply water to other landholders who pay him for it.
Dr. Mead also emphasized that the "chief obstacle" to this project was the "chaotic condition of land titles," although he believed, from the experience of other American plantations in Haiti, that, even so, the land might be acquired. This obstacle, however, has undoubtedly retarded the plantation system. The Artibonite contract requires the Haitian Government to determine the land titles in the valley. Moreover, our officials, almost coincident with the letting of this contract, began preparing a Cadastral Bill to end this chaos by settling and registering titles not only in the Artibonite but everywhere in Haiti. By the time this article appears it may already have become a law. The advantages of such registration need no emphasis; what does need emphasis is that it removes the last of the three safeguards to the peasant.
One peculiar danger must be cited in this connection. Haitian law does not recognize squatters' rights. An unknown number of Haitian peasants either have been simply squatting on state land or have lost their legal papers and have no means of proving that they are not squatters. They may be dispossessed in favor of the State, which, for instance, claims most of the land in the populous Artibonite valley. Unless the Cadastral Bill has been changed recently, it contains no provision protecting the peasant by recognizing his long possession and cultivation of the land as sufficient title.
Of course our officials have not deliberately aimed at converting a peasantry into a proletariat. The trouble is that they have not sufficiently realized this danger and, in removing obstacles to the development of the country, have not provided other and adequate substitutes for the safeguards which they were eliminating. They have concentrated on increasing Haiti's wealth so that they might have more funds to aid the peasant through sanitary, educational and other work, without thinking of 1936 or of the far-reaching forces which their development methods were meanwhile setting loose. They are now becoming more and more aware of the dangers in their basic policy, but the only check they have so far devised is the inadequate one of morally encouraging American plantations to lease instead of buying land and to develop, preferably, uncultivated areas.
One more illustration will show how complete has been our oblivion, on the economic side, to the central purpose of our being in Haiti as stated in our treaty. To demonstrate the many material improvements we have wrought in Haiti, our officials have arranged numerous "before and after" pictures and charts. But even this has never suggested to them the need of instruments for checking as closely as possible the effects that our help is having on the Haitians. There are no before and after charts, for instance, which trace its effect on the cost of living and the wage scale. When I asked for such information I could get only conflicting guesses from our officials. Similarly, no attempt has been made to keep tab on so essential a point as the relative benefits accruing from our intervention to the United States and to Haiti. There are not even statistics available as to how much Haitian land has passed under American ownership or lease since our intervention.
Even had our economic policy kept the treaty in mind and restricted itself to building a machine only somewhat in advance of the present capacities of the Haitians, we would need, at the same time, to train them to run it alone in 1936. But we have neither thus restricted our work nor made provision for its continued operation when we withdraw. On the administrative side, our services, it is true, have trained many Haitians for subordinate positions. But we have not been actively preparing any Haitians to take over the all-important directive work of our higher officials. The arches are being built not only without regard to their foundations but also without the keystones.
The upper layer of American officials in the departments which we control formulate important measures without consulting the Haitians on their staff, who merely help to execute them. Our treaty officers explain that there is "so much to do" that they have "no time to waste in debating or explaining matters to the Haitians," -- especially as an "interpreter would usually be necessary," since few even of our highest officials can speak fluent French, the language of Haiti.
Until this year no Haitian on the staff of one of our departments ever participated even in the elaboration of its budget. Then Dr. Kent Melhorn, the Sanitary Engineer, made the one exception by calling in the Dean of the Haitian Medical School. Dr. Melhorn says the Dean's eyes "fairly bugged out," for, "engrossed in his own work, he had not realized all the other elements entering into the Sanitary budget." Only eight years remain for giving some Haitians a comprehensive grasp and understanding of the inner workings of our machine.
But even if Haitian administrators are prepared, their usefulness must depend largely on the kind of government the country has when we withdraw. Our policy has not been one of training the Haitians in self-government and strengthening the representative institutions upon which both their republic and ours are founded. Nor has it even been calculated to leave Haiti with any sort of government strong enough to maintain itself without us.
What we have established in Haiti is a "benevolent despotism," to use the words of one of our treaty officers who defends it. It is, moreover, a despotism resting on the presence of our Marines. Although the treaty puts the power of the United States behind the intervention régime, and although the sole armed Haitian force, the gendarmerie, is under Marine officers, our officials say it is still necessary to keep a skeleton brigade of some 700 Marines quartered in the country "as a moral force." The Haitian Government fostered by us is, in fact, one which many Americans in Haiti, including some of our high officials, openly admit is much more liable to crash than to continue in power once we withdraw.
This despotic system (for which, it must be said, the background of dictatorships in Haiti prepared the way) was brought about to some extent by our gradual encroachment on powers that were not ours by the spirit, if not by the letter of the treaty. The treaty provides for advisers, but it is everybody's secret in Haiti that these "advisers" really run their departments. Above them is our High Commissioner, Brig. Gen. John H. Russell, U. S. Marine Corps, now a civilian official with whom the five treaty officers meet weekly as a sort of cabinet. No one in Haiti doubts that this body is the real governing force of the country. It not only administers but, in the last analysis, it makes the law, subject only to the veto of our State Department.
Two important departments of the Haitian Government, Public Instruction and Justice, were not provided with advisers by the treaty. Treaty officers who say this was a "sad mistake" blame President Wilson for having deliberately kept these offices outside the scope of intervention. Our control of finances, however, puts us in a position of power where we can either show our attachment to the treaty, by dealing with these departments as fairly and as generously as with those under us, or exert a strong influence over and even encroach on them despite the treaty. We have done the latter.
We have so increased the salaries of Haitians employed in our departments that, for instance, the janitor of the General Hospital now gets the $15 a month that its highest paid doctor received when we intervened. But the teachers still get miserable salaries. The Haitian school system aims at giving a classical education. We decided that the crying need in Haiti was "practical" education and have carried that idea out by creating such schools under our agricultural service. When one speaks of our educational work in Haiti (and the work itself merits praise) it is to the schools under our control, rather than to the Haitian Department of Public Instruction, that reference is made.
As for the Justice Department, our treaty officers while openly denouncing the "maladministration" of justice (which, from most accounts leaves much to be desired), did not take steps, until a few years ago, to lessen the liability of corruption by increasing the pitiful salaries of the judges. And even after that increase in pay, a Haitian judge in the Court of Appeals gets only $140 a month while a Haitian gendarmerie captain under us gets $150.
The fact is that the independent Haitian courts have proved one of the few effective checks on our power and, through their juries, have provided an outlet for Haitian feeling against us. We have made an insistent demand for "judicial reform." This has now been realized in some amendments to the Constitution, approved by us and adopted on January 10 in a plebiscite that European observers in Haiti say was one of the most farcical elections they ever saw. These amendments ended the life terms which had been enjoyed by lower judges as well as by the members of the Supreme Court, a Bench which several Europeans and American business men in Haiti commended to me. The "reforms" gave the President of Haiti power, within a year, to reappoint them or otherwise fill their places, not, however, for life. Instead, the Supreme Justices are to hold office for ten years and the other judges for seven.
Other amendments passed at the same time eliminate the constitution's prohibition of a censorship as well as its guarantees of jury trial for all criminal, political and press offenses. Freedom of the press and the right to jury trial are now to be provided "under conditions determined by law."
This brings us to a consideration of the power that we have over the President and that he in turn has over the law-making body. Its development may be briefly traced. After the Haitian Legislative Assembly which we found in office in 1915 had elected Senator Dartiguenave as President, and had ratified the treaty of intervention, it was dissolved. A Constituent Assembly was then elected under our supervision. Among the provisions which we suggested the new Constitution should contain was one allowing foreigners to own land. It was overwhelmingly rejected by the Assembly. When the Assembly was about ready to adopt a Constitution, it was dissolved, our Marines entering the hall and forcibly carrying out the order, according to members. That was in 1917.
In 1918 the present constitution, which Haitians say was written in Washington and which at any rate was not the product of a Haitian Assembly, was placed before an electorate 90 percent illiterate and adopted by plebiscite. Three points in it are noteworthy: 1. It allows foreigners to own land. 2. It contains a special article which reads: "All the acts of the Government of the United States during its military occupation in Haiti are ratified and validated." 3. It ends with a "transitory" article which provides that "the first elections for the members of the Legislative Corps, after the adoption of the present Constitution, shall take place on January 10 of an even year." It adds that "until the constitution of the Legislative Corps," legislative power will be vested in a Council of State, composed of twenty-one Haitians named by the President of Haiti.
Since 1918 there have been five even years but, by virtue of that indefinite article, "an" even year, no elections for the Legislature have yet been called. The provisional system which still obtains obviously puts full power, on the Haitian side, in the hands of the President. Measures to become law need merely be passed by the Council which he himself appoints. Moreover, as the election of the President is a prerogative of the Haitian Legislature, the Council, as its successor, is not only named by the President but names him in turn.
But the President, to hold office, must have our "recognition," so that all power in the Haitian Government is really dependent on us. It might seem that there was a loophole, since a President, once recognized, might not conform to our wishes. President Dartiguenave, in fact, did once block a measure we desired. His salary was stopped by the American Financial Adviser and the measure was adopted. Our present officials, it is true, deplore such tactics and say there has been no further example of them. But one such example is often enough. Certainly this particular one has not been forgotten by the present President, Louis Borno. In talking with me he called it "outrageous."
Mr. Borno, who succeeded President Dartiguenave in 1922, is, however, a firm supporter of all our general policies. He avers that the situation calls for a dictatorship under us and him, and quite openly defends it. He impressed me as being a highly cultured, vindictive, patriotic, personally ambitious, shrewd and dictatorial man, lacking in balance.
Any President who supports us as Mr. Borno has done is bound to be criticized sharply by Haitians, and to this criticism Mr. Borno has proved very sensitive. He replied to it by repressive measures which increased his unpopularity. Since then, to repress the more and more bitter personal attacks against him, he has been driven to stronger and stronger support of our policies, not only to justify his original belief in them but because his sole weapon against his enemies is the force we control.
Our officials, able to execute their policies more easily through President Borno's support, and rather sensitive themselves to criticism, have been content to give him a fairly free hand for repression, even to his forbidding Senator King to enter Haiti. This has ended in identifying our officials and President Borno as one and the same. It has put both in a position where each may be condemned, in specific matters, for the sins of the other, but where neither can afford to disown the other. All of which constitutes a vicious circle of centrifugal force, ever widening the gap between most of the articulate Haitians, on the one side, and the Haitian Government and our intervention officials, on the other.
The system is one in which far-reaching measures may be put through with little or no public discussion. It is one in which every outlet of Haitian opinion is either suppressed or repressed -- no opposition in the Council, the right of public assembly extremely limited, social clubs closed for the most trivial of "political manifestations," and editors frequently imprisoned without ever being tried. (This was true even before the recent amendments were passed.) It is a system which works largely through "yes men" and leaves much available Haitian talent unused. It is a system, finally, which, instead of trying to win to it as many as possible of the articulate minority, contrives not only to estrange the class that is almost certain to govern when we withdraw, but to make it very bitter both against the government we have set up, and against us and all our works. Even so able and normally moderate a Haitian as George Leger, the attorney for the most important American private interests in Haiti, said to me: "It is a strong thing to say, but I would prefer even a return to the disorders of 1914, when we were at least independent, to a continuance of the present régime. Our country is backward, but it is all we have. We fought for it and it is our own. We feel that now it is slipping away from us, into the hands of Americans."
Until a few weeks ago there was every indication that not only this system, but President Borno's very important personal rôle in it, would be continued until our treaty expired. One of the recent amendments made the Presidential term six instead of four years and (according to the impression President Borno gave me of his interpretation of it) removed his ineligibility to succeed himself again when his term ends in 1930. He also told me voluntarily that he "could say right now that no legislative elections would be called in 1930," -- although other amendments, incidentally, increased his influence over the choice of the legislators, if and when elected. His statement meant that the 1930 election of the President who holds office until 1936 would be in the hands of his own Council, making his reëlection practically certain. There was no indication that our officials meant to oppose it. This would have put all our eggs in one basket by extending the only government we had developed -- the Borno personal régime -- to the very end of our intervention, and at the same time would have made certain its crash at the very moment we withdrew, since Mr. Borno, by the same amendment, would not be eligible for reëlection in 1936.
After attention had been called in the New York press to the danger in this situation, however, an Associated Press despatch from Haiti on April 18 announced that President Borno had "created a profound sensation" there by proclaiming that he would call legislative elections in 1930 and would then retire from office. That constitutes the first important move toward remedying a situation which makes either for the prolongation of our intervention or its renewal after a brief interval, and toward preparing the Haitians to govern themselves alone. But there are still plenty of dangers left.
To remedy this entire situation in the remaining eight years of the treaty will require much better diplomacy, much more consideration for the views, feelings and rights of the Haitians, much more open-mindedness and self-criticism, and a much better realization of the benefits of criticism from others than we have so far shown.
Some argue that it is hopeless to expect to make Haiti able to govern itself in twenty years. Granted that it is easy for us, after intervention, to arrange for the prolongation of the treaty with a government we ourselves created. Or granted that we can reach much the same end by weakening instead of strengthening the abilities of the Haitians for self-government and otherwise preparing a situation liable soon to justify the renewal of our intervention if we do withdraw. But, aside from the bad faith which either of these courses involves, this policy is entirely unsound. Our authorities cannot possibly know who will be President of the United States and who will compose our Senate in 1936. To carry on intervention on a scale requiring generations for success is to court failure, if not disaster, because it is quite conceivable that the United States Senate will insist on keeping its treaty pledge even though its executors have not.
From this examination of the course of our intervention it may seem that our officials in Haiti are imperialistic Machiavellis. That is just what they are not. Our treaty officers indignantly deny having any ulterior aims. Our High Commissioner says that, "When any project is brought before me, the first question I always ask myself is: Is this for the good of Haiti?" Though I do not agree with the wisdom of the policy of our officials, I would not question their utter sincerity. I am convinced that they have been doing their utmost to help Haiti according to their best lights. I would say, moreover, that they are enthusiastically and unselfishly devoted to a task which is likely to be a thankless one at best, and that they constitute, if anything, a better body of men than we can normally expect to engage on tasks of intervention anywhere.
The trouble is not with the men but with the system. It is too often assumed that because men achieve certain results they must have consciously aimed at them. Any observation of politics, or of human endeavor in general, shows that circumstance and drift play a far greater rôle than deliberate, farsighted Machiavellism. Until this is recognized, and the system is corrected accordingly, the tendencies noted in Haiti are almost certain to follow wherever we intervene.
When we feel called upon to intervene it is bound to be in a backward and weak country. Because it is backward, the American official is painfully conscious of how much there is to be done, and, born to a philosophy of speed and efficiency and laying stress on material things, he plunges into the job of making the greatest amount of material improvements in the shortest time. The work of the American, as one of our Haitian critics put it, appeals to the eye, not to the heart. Moreover, the administrator soon becomes so absorbed in the details of his constructive work that he cannot see the forest for the trees.
Again, because the country is backward and weak, it supplies no adequate check on these tendencies of the intervention official, or of his power. Power, left to itself, tends to grow. Its growth is nourished by the fact that the natives are bound to regard the work of the interventionist with a certain amount of suspicion. The American, finding the sincerity of his best efforts questioned, is nettled, and, certain of his own righteousness, concludes that those who cannot see so palpable a fact are influenced by selfish motives and are not worth listening to. The result is that the native, equally certain of his own patriotism, is the more convinced that the American is deliberately imperialistic. And he goes to extremes which make the American the more positive that his critic is merely "sore because he has been ousted from power and can no longer graft."
Not only does the country in which we intervene supply no adequate check on the application of our intervention; we do not supply it ourselves, -- and it is we, the principals, and not our officials, the agents, who are most to blame for any failure to keep to the treaty we have signed. There is no strong and enlightened American public opinion to serve as a constant guide to our agents in the delicate and complicated problems they face every day. They are in a distant and strange country, and the American citizen has quite enough to occupy him in governing himself at home.
As for the American press, our greatest newspapers and news agencies do not keep staff correspondents permanently in countries where we intervene, and they cannot be expected to, since their readers are much more interested in other things. Even in Nicaragua, where there is the drama of warfare, only one paper, the New York Times, has a staff man to report it. Farreaching measures such as the recent Constitutional Amendments in Haiti can be passed without so much as mention in the American press, except perhaps for a few general articles after the event has taken place.
There remains our Government. But intervention is only one small thing in the many problems before it. Congress cannot be expected to follow constantly from Washington the practical development of our policy in Haiti. It may send an investigating committee, but this is done only occasionally and after conditions smell to heaven; and the work of such committees is weakened by their partisan composition. There has been but one such investigation since our intervention in Haiti, and that was to inquire into charges of atrocities against our Marines there during the "Caco revolt" which took us three years to suppress.
What applies to Congress applies also to the Department of State and the President, to whom our intervention officials are directly responsible. It is true that out officials submit all important measures to the Secretary of State for approval, and he may lay them before the President. This constitutes a check, but it is obviously an inadequate one, if for no other reason than that the men in the field must have a large amount of discretionary power in applying policies.
And it is in the application of intervention, as in flying, that the cross winds are encountered. Since no instruments exist to aid our officials in constantly detecting drift, they cannot be expected to correct for it. The real problem, then, is to invent a drift indicator for intervention flights, not only in Haiti but elsewhere.
That problem, in my opinion, might be solved in this way: Let Congress establish by law, once and for all, that we will never intervene in a foreign country without a commission being simultaneously appointed for the sole purpose of staying on the spot and seeing to it that, so long as the intervention lasts, we shall keep strictly to the goal we have set for ourselves, by treaty or otherwise, and of making public report of any tendency to drift away from this course. To guard against the natural tendency of citizens, and especially officials, to uphold whatever their country does abroad, the text of this law should strongly emphasize that the duty of the commissioners is not to defend what we do, but to be eternally vigilant in detecting and revealing any tendency, conscious or unconscious, on the part of our intervention officials, to deviate from our pledged course. They are not to be concerned with whether the treaty is wise or unwise, but, like a court, with the spirit and letter of the law as laid down. Coupled with this semi-judicial rôle, however, should be one of active investigation and recommendation to Congress and the President.
It might add to the strength of the commission to separate it distinctly from the powers that inaugurate any intervention or make any treaty under which intervention is carried out. Its members might therefore be named, not by the President or Congress, but by the Supreme Court or its Chief Justice. The commission should have diplomatic status, the right of access to official American documents relating to the intervention case with which they are concerned, and power to subpoena Americans. Its active power would be limited to making recommendations to our officials and public reports (regularly as well as whenever it saw fit) to the President and Congress. If publicity in the hands of such an impartial body does not prove sufficient, it can always be armed with greater powers.
Such a body should be of great service not only to the American public, to Congress, to the President, and to the State Department, in providing them with a permanent source of impartial information and in pricking their consciences when our intervention officials get off the track laid down for them; it would also aid those officials themselves. It would be a bulwark to them against the pressure of powerful American interests seeking only their own profit. Its criticisms and suggestions would be invaluable. Its commendation would be something for our officials to strive for -- their good work now passes as unrecognized as their mistakes.
No mention has been made of many things which have contributed to the present state of affairs in Haiti. I have barely alluded to the fact that few of our officials can speak fluently the language of the country, a knowledge so plainly necessary to an understanding of its people, or to the amazing turnover in all our officials except the High Commissioner. Many of them, no matter how good they are, are regularly transferred from Haiti after three years, when they are just getting acquainted with the country and the job. The detection of and the remedy for such faults would be at hand if the suggested commission were established.
Had such a body been functioning in Haiti, it is inconceivable that we should have floundered into the present position where, on the economic side, we imply that the Haitian peasant is quite capable of dealing on an equal basis with a million-dollar American corporation, while, on the political side, we imply that not only the peasant, but the educated Haitian, is quite incapable of governing himself. Nor is it conceivable that the laudable desire of our officials to build roads, for instance, could ever have been carried out in such a manner as to lead, after three years of peaceful intervention, to the three-year "Caco war" in which some Marines were killed and many Haitians.
The mere existence of a body clothed with such prestige and power would in itself tend to keep many evils from ever arising. The assurance that such a "drift indicator" would accompany any act of intervention would also tend to discourage selfish American interests which seek to have the Government intervene so that they may profit by it. Finally, the spirit which prompted the adoption of such a blanket guarantee should do much to lessen the hostility felt toward us by Latin Americans and destroy their belief in our imperialistic aims. We have much to gain by recognizing that policy, in the course of its application, is constantly liable to imperceptible drift. Surely we have nothing to lose by providing ourselves with the means for detecting this drift and for keeping our action to the course we ourselves have set.