The Hollow Order
Rebuilding an International System That Works
HAITI appeared in the news in September with the State Department's announcement of a "Treaty of Friendship" negotiated on behalf of their respective governments by United States Minister Dana Munro and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Albert Blanchet. The new treaty, signed September 3, apparently provided for the termination of the occupation by the United States at an even earlier date than stipulated in the existing treaty (May 3, 1936). The State Department hailed the new treaty as providing the solution of a difficult problem. Newspaper commentators saw in it evidence of execution of the Hoover policy of withdrawal and of the administration's desire to improve relations with Latin America. To the casual reader it must therefore have come as a surprise to learn on September 15 that the Haitian National Assembly had unanimously voted to reject the treaty. Why did the President of Haiti -- chosen by the same National Assembly in November 1930, and exemplifying the same intense nationalist feeling -- approve a treaty which his legislative associates so emphatically repudiated?
To answer this question we must briefly review the history of the intervention by the United States in Haiti and trace the events which led us into the present impasse. Now nothing in recent American history is more controversial than the Haitian question. Certain facts stand out starkly. But the interpretation of the underlying causes and motives gives those facts conflicting connotations.
The United States intervened vi et armis in Haiti on July 28, 1915. Our official viewpoint may be summed up approximately as follows: Government had broken down in Haiti. In the four years preceding intervention there had been six presidents, none of whom completed his term and the majority of whom had been driven from office by revolution. The disintegration had culminated in President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam's seizure of some seventy supposed potential rebels, their slaughter in prison when revolution against his régime gathered headway, and his own death at the hands of an infuriated mob of friends and relatives of his victims, who dragged him from the French Legation whither he had fled. Thus the United States had to intervene to protect life and property, especially as foreign legations had been violated. Moreover, Haitian finances were in a tangle and defaults on foreign loans were imminent. To these arguments, former Secretary of State Lansing, writing to the Chairman of a Senate investigating committee in 1922, added that the United States feared Germany might secure a coaling station on the island.
The Haitians refute these allegations vigorously. No American life had ever been lost, they point out, in over a hundred years of Haitian independence, nor had the lives or the possessions of foreigners been imperilled in the political overturns. The lives or property of foreigners were not in danger in July 1915. Granted that American marines were landed in an hour of national distress in order to guard against possible danger to foreign residents, the permanent occupation and conquest of Haiti was in no wise justified. As for the bogey of European designs on Haiti, the Haitians point out that the European Powers were engrossed at the time (July 1915) in a life and death struggle, and that Germany in particular had been swept off the high seas. Their statements about finances are also categorical. They point out that while Haiti was in arrears on the amortization of loans to France, she had scrupulously paid the interest, this despite the fact that the outbreak of the World War had crippled trade with France, her chief customer. Haiti's financial difficulties, moreover, as well as her later revolutionary disorders, are ascribed in part to conflict with the foreign interests controlling the National Bank. On June 9, 1914, the American Minister, Madison R. Smith, wrote the State Department that the bank was seeking to paralyze the government in the belief "that the government, when confronted by such a crisis, would be forced to ask the assistance of the United States in adjusting its financial tangle and that American supervision of the customs would result."
This leads to the Haitian counter-charge that the United States, utilizing the disorders of July 27 and 28 as a pretext, really intervened on behalf of private interests -- the interests of American investors in the National Bank and a railroad concession, the Compagnie Nationale de Chemins de Fer d'Haiti.[i] The published diplomatic correspondence of the United States goes far to justify this belief. In July 1914 Secretary of State Bryan sought to get Haiti to yield control over customs to the United States. On October 7 he urged the Bank's view on the Haitian Government, and on November 12 demanded, inter alia, settlement of the claims of the Bank and the railroad against Haiti. On October 28 he wrote President Wilson of "the urgent need of increasing our force" in Haitian waters "for the purpose of protecting foreign interests" and "at this time when a renewal of negotiations seems probable." On December 4 he notified the Haitian Government that Davilmar Theodore would be recognized as President only on the signing of "satisfactory protocols " to settle the claims of the railroad and the Bank, and other claims. After objecting to an issue of paper money, which the Haitian Government contemplated, Mr. Bryan informed it on December 7 that the United States would "refuse to regard as legal any such issue," which he deemed violated the Haitian Government's contract with the bank. The Haitian Government maintained its sovereign right to make the issue and stated that the Bank had violated its contract with the government. On December 10 Secretary Bryan authorized the use of the U. S. S. Machias for the transfer from the Bank to Hallgarten and Company, in New York, of half a million dollars in gold, the ownership of which was in dispute between the government and the Bank. The government protested emphatically but without effect. The dispute over other funds remaining in the Bank continued. Secretary Bryan, on January 15, 1915, gave warning through the Navy Department "that any attempt to remove the funds of the Bank will compel you (Admiral Caperton) to take into consideration means to prevent such violation of foreign stockholders' rights."
In short, there had been a constantly growing pressure from the United States, with the implied threat of compulsion, when the disturbances of July 27 and 28 led to the landing of marines. The United States then proceeded to enforce its demands. After permitting the election of a President who appeared likely to be docile, the United States presented the draft of a treaty containing all the clauses which in previous negotiations the Haitians had rejected, besides additional more stringent ones. It was to be adopted "without modification." When the Haitian authorities balked at signing this treaty, which would give the United States complete military and financial control, the American naval commander seized the custom houses and withheld funds until compliance was forthcoming. In his own words, progress in the "successful negotiation of treaty . . . has been effected by the exercising of military pressure at propitious moments in negotiations."
The treaty proving insufficient to accomplish the aims deemed essential at the time, Washington drafted a new constitution for Haiti. It gave foreigners the right to acquire land (which all Haitian constitutions had forbidden), enthroned the courts-martial as the highest judicial authority in matters affecting execution of the treaty, and ratified all acts of the military occupation. When the Haitian legislature proposed to adopt the constitution without the land and court-martial clauses, General Eli K. Cole of the Marine Corps dissolved it (June 18, 1917). In the absence of a legislature there was no legal method of adopting a new constitution. However, a plebiscite was held May 8, 1918, under the direction of the marines, and this achieved the desired result.
The next step was to sign a protocol on October 3, 1919, which recognized as binding on Haiti the claims of the Bank and railroad, and obligated Haiti to float within two years a national loan of $40,000,000 to pay the above claims, the foreign debt, and other claims to be passed upon by a claims commission. Although Article I stated "it is clearly understood that this protocol does not in fact or by implication extend the provisions of the Treaty of September 16, 1915," Article VIII provides "that the control by an officer or officers" named by the President of the United States "of the collection and allocation of the hypothecated revenues will be provided for during the life of the loan after the expiration of the aforesaid treaty so as to make certain that adequate provision be made for the amortization and interest of the loan."
In this clause the Haitians sensed a possible prolongation of the twenty-year period of American control. President Dartiguenave and his Council of State -- the only existing Haitian authorities -- were opposed to the loan. After the financial adviser, Mr. John A. McIlhenny, had spent over two years in fruitless negotiation with the American bankers, the Haitian Government sought to invoke the two-year clause and declare the protocol extinct. The United States Government, however, refused to agree. An impasse over this and other financial matters led to the suspension by the financial adviser of the salaries of President and Councillors. A similar procedure had previously been used to make Haitian officials conform to the wishes of American officials. The loan was, however, staved off by the Haitian Government until the succeeding presidential régime of the more compliant Borno.
Of the $40,000,000 authorized, bonds to the extent of $23,660,000 were actually issued. The National City Company floated $16,000,000 of six-percent bonds, due October 1, 1952. The net proceeds to Haiti were $15,039,945. The government needed $6,037,650 for refunding the French loans, interest and amortization of which had been suspended by the occupation in 1915. The bondholders of the railroad were given $2,160,856 cash for arrears of interest, plus new Haitian government bonds to the extent of 75 percent of the par value of the defaulted railroad bonds. $2,660,000 of the new bonds were specifically floated for this transaction. Considering that for the previous eight years the road's revenues had scarcely equalled operating expenses (allowing nothing for depreciation), the railroad's bondholders fared very well. The majority bondholder was the National City Bank. In exchange for each thousand-dollar railroad bond the holder was given $352.50 in cash, plus $750 of the Haitian bonds, which to all intents and purposes were guaranteed by the United States. The receiver, the former president of the road, was awarded $100,000 for his past services, and his counsel was given $80,000. Most interesting of all, the claim of the railroad thus settled was not submitted to the Claims Commission but validated arbitrarily, despite the fact that it had been the subject of controversy prior to the American occupation. The National City Bank's claim was similarly disposed of. As for the Claims Commission, it settled a great variety of less preferential claims for $3,526,170 -- less than 9 percent of the amounts claimed. An additional $5,000,000 worth of bonds were floated to refund the internal debt, leaving Haiti $2,411,736 for public works.
Since the dissolution of the National Assembly in 1917 for failing to vote the new constitution, no legislature had been permitted to assemble in Haiti. One of the "transitory articles" of that constitution had provided that a Council of State appointed by the President would "exercise the legislative power until the election of a legislative body, at which time the Council would cease to exist." The same article provided that such legislative elections would take place on the tenth of January of an even year, the year to be established by the President. The President of Haiti did not choose to establish any such year from 1917 to 1929. Under the constitution the legislature elects the President. But as there was no legislature the Council appointed by the President elected him! In 1922 it elected Louis Borno president. In vain did Haitians protest that as he was the son of a French citizen, and not (as provided in the Constitution of 1918) the son of a Haitian father, Borno was ineligible. Borno was apparently deemed indispensable. For the next eight years Haiti existed under what has been termed by an American official "dictatorship by collusion" -- the dictators being the United States High Commissioner, Brigadier-General John H. Russell, and President Borno. When his term expired in 1926, President Borno's appointed Council of State reëlected him. In 1928 it passed a constitutional amendment lengthening the presidential term to six years, and this was ratified by another superintended "plebiscite." Other amendments further concentrated power in the executive's hands, largely destroying what remained of the independence of the judiciary.
Long seething discontent and bitterness finally culminated in strikes and bloodshed. On December 7, 1929, the situation burst onto the front pages of American newspapers. The situation had become so menacing that General Russell had sent a hurry call to the United States for more marines. Then President Hoover took cognizance of the situation (which, as he pointed out in a message to Congress, he had inherited) and sent the Forbes Commission to investigate. The purpose of this commission was set forth in the following words: "The primary question which is to be investigated is when and how we are to withdraw from Haiti. The second question is what we shall do in the meantime. . . . Our treaty of 1915, under which our forces are present in that country, in the main expires in 1936, or six years hence. We have no mandate to continue the present relationship after that date."
The Commission, however, found Haitian public opinion in such an inflamed state that it deemed it advisable to supplement inquiry with action. It requested more ample powers and laid the basis for the reconstitution of Haitian independence. President Borno was persuaded, much against his will, to resign; an interim president was agreed upon; legislative and presidential elections were held (resulting in a clean sweep for the most consistent opponents of the occupation); the post of High Commissioner was abolished; and ministers were sent by each nation to represent it at the capital of the other. This accomplished, the work of "disoccupation" in education, public works and hygiene began. This consisted in turning over to Haitians the functions which had gradually been assumed by Americans, as well as the military and fiscal services, so that Haitian autonomy might be reëstablished by May 3, 1936, the date of the expiration of the treaty.
In the process considerable friction developed between the United States Minister and the Haitian authorities. The task had been rendered much more difficult by the evident belief of the American officials in Haiti -- recorded by the Forbes Commission -- that the occupation would last indefinitely. After fifteen years only two Haitians had been promoted in the constabulary provided for in the treaty to a rank as high as captain. The other higher officers -- 29 captains, 9 majors, 5 colonels, and 2 generals -- were still Marine Corps officers. A regular schedule of substitution, however, was adopted by mutual agreement on August 5, 1931. This schedule provided for the transfer of all posts to Haitians by 1936, except in the financial departments of the government.
It is around these latter posts that the latest deadlock has developed. The specific issue concerns the extent to which control may be exercised by the United States under the protocol of 1919. Of the 1922 loan authorized by that protocol, somewhat over $14,000,000 remains to be amortized on or before October 1, 1952. The treaty of September 3 last, consisting of a preamble, two protocols, and a covering letter from the American Minister Dana Munro to the Haitian Secretary of Foreign Affairs, raises the issue sharply. This treaty, which is supposed to supplant the treaty of 1915, provides that until the full amortization of the loan, a fiscal and deputy fiscal representatives named by the United States shall control the finances of the country. They will administer the tariff and collect all import and export duties, retaining such Americans or Haitian personnel as they desire. They will also have final control of the internal revenue service. For the life of the loan Haiti obligates itself to balance its budget (an interesting undertaking to be exacted by a nation whose budget is billions of dollars out of balance), not to authorize any extraordinary or supplemental appropriations in excess of budgetary items unless unobligated funds are available, not to modify its taxes in such a way as to reduce the total yield of internal revenues, etc. The service of the loan is to continue to constitute a first charge on the customs and a second charge on the internal revenue, but the cost of supervision and collection (not to exceed five percent of revenues collected in the case of the customs, and twelve percent in the case of internal revenue) constitutes the next charge on the nation's income. The charge of maintaining the Garde is a next prior obligation, and during the life of the loan no changes may be made in the Garde's regulations. A military mission, appointed by the President of the United States, is to complete the training of the Garde, the powers of this mission to be the subject of a separate agreement. The American Minister's covering letter suggests that the mission will consist of both officers and enlisted men, and indicates "that it might prove impossible to carry out this program at the times fixed if very serious disturbances or other difficulties should arise to prevent its execution."
In Haiti a joint commission of Senators and Representatives, appointed to study the treaty, unanimously recommended that it be not ratified by the Haitian Congress. In an eloquent and impassioned address against ratification, Senator Pierre Hudicourt, Chairman of the Commission, recalled a conversation he had had sixteen years ago with Elihu Root, in which he quoted the American statesman as saying: "If you Haitians had not signed that treaty, what would have happened to you? Nothing worse than has already happened." Georges Léger, distinguished son of a distinguished father, expounding his views in four successive issues of Le Nouvelliste, viewed the new treaty as an attempt to prolong the occupation. He pointed out that the contemplated control of Haitian finances went beyond even the Protocol of 1919, and in effect would continue the existing tutelage. The only advantage to Haiti in the treaty was that it provided the Haitianization of the Garde by December 31, 1934, instead of May 3, 1936, a gain of sixteen months. But this, he urged, was more than offset by the obligation to install a United States military mission at Haiti's expense. "Why should this mission contain privates?" asked M. Léger. "It is the open door to the installation of an armed force even after disoccupation." There was even an opening for extending control beyond 1952, he pointed out, in the possible insistence of the United States upon a further flotation of a new series of bonds -- the balance of the $40,000,000 -- under the authorization of 1919 and 1922. Having analyzed the treaty paragraph by paragraph, he found it, instead of being a "treaty of liquidation, a prolongation and aggravation of certain stipulations of the 1915 treaty." He concluded:
Read either as a whole or in detail this treaty strikes one for its lack of generosity. The loan, the money, those are its great concern. An entire people enthralled, so that the bondholders may be spared the slightest worry about their money; a Fiscal Representative installed like a watch-dog that not a crumb may fall from the table. The same Fiscal Representative takes care of his interests with remarkable foresight; his five percent, the five percent of his inspectors, the twelve percent for the internal revenue collectors -- preferred obligations all. . . . The loan: It is to guarantee that, that the treaty prescribes the maintenance of the discipline of the Haitain Garde, prescribes the possibility of modifying our tariff, our taxes -- forbids even the granting of a subvention of ten gourdes for some national need. . . . What becomes in all this of the interest of the Haitian people?
The Haitian Assembly by unanimous vote rejected the treaty. The question now naturally arises how it came about that President Sténio Vincent, always an uncompromising opponent of any impairment of Haitian sovereignty, authorized a treaty which his fellow-nationalists in the Congress found so objectionable.
In a proclamation following the legislature's rejection of the treaty, President Vincent detailed the long negotiations by which the treaty draft had been prepared. Of the American military mission, he declared that he had accepted it only because the Haitianization of the Garde had been so belated; and he added that the mission would consist of only five to nine members, and presumably would stay in Haiti not more than two or three years.
As for the much-criticized financial clauses, President Vincent said that the Haitian Government was not given a chance to discuss them. "It was merely a case," he declared, "in the adamant view of the American Government, of working out the details concerning the control of the revenues. . . . Every effort to attenuate the character of that control collided with the single purpose of the other side, to guarantee, by the means which alone it conceived to be certain . . . the regular interest and amortization payments of the loan. . . . Again and again as we insisted . . . upon modifications which seemed proper to us, we were given to understand, and in the most categorical manner, that the American Government had given its moral responsibility to the bondholders up to the time of the complete amortization of the loan and would never consent to less rigid control than had already been agreed in 1919 and 1922. . . . Was it wise to break off these negotiations because the United States was unyielding on the matter of financial control, or was it not better to take advantage of the present disposition of the United States Government to establish, once for all time, the relation of our country toward that government, thus avoiding the risk involved in the change of men, ideas and political control, which might take place in the United States between now and 1936?"
In that last paragraph lies the secret of President Vincent's willingness to approve the treaty. In Haiti there has been great fear of what might happen there when Franklin D. Roosevelt became President. The fear dates back to a remark ascribed to him twelve years ago. Speaking in Butte in favor of the League of Nations, Mr. Roosevelt, who for eight years had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy and was then Vice-Presidential candidate, was quoted by the New York Times (August 19, 1920) as saying: "The facts are that I wrote Haiti's constitution myself, and if I do say it, I think it a pretty good constitution." Mr. Roosevelt may have been misquoted. But certainly the constitution of 1918 was drafted in Washington in the State Department or the Navy Department. That the Haitian fears are justified may well be doubted, but certainly they weighed with President Vincent in deciding him to approve the treaty.
The unanimous rejection of the treaty by the Assembly has apparently crystallized Haiti's firm resolve to sign nothing that may conceivably, by any interpretation, give legal sanction to any extension or prolongation after 1936 of the control now exercised by the United States. If the Haitians seem unduly apprehensive and suspicious they must be excused. Under American control disputed issues and doubtful points have been decided largely according to La Fontaine's epigram: "La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure."
President-elect Roosevelt's present attitude in these matters has not yet been disclosed. At the time he made his much-quoted remarks in Butte he was still in his thirties and fresh from eight years steeping in bureaucracy. However, a more recent view of his is on record. Writing in FOREIGN AFFAIRS in July 1928, he pointed out that despite our good intentions in Haiti our policy there had lost us friendships throughout Latin America. He added: "The time has come when we must accept not only certain facts but many principles of a higher law, a newer and better standard in international relations. We are exceedingly jealous of our sovereignty and it is only right that we should respect a similar feeling among other nations. The peoples of the other Republics of this Western world are just as patriotic, just as proud of their sovereignty. . . . Neither from the argument of financial gain, nor from the sounder reasoning of the Golden Rule, can our policy, or lack of policy, be approved. The time is ripe to start another chapter."
Knowing the Haitian people as I do, and knowing how needlessly we have aroused profound antagonisms, I can affirm that in the application of the Golden Rule lies a complete and attainable solution of the Haitian situation. The true interests of both peoples, fated eternally to be neighbors, would be served as they never have been served in these eighteen years if we would abandon the policy of dictation and really start another chapter, with negotiation as between equals. The conquest of Haiti by a policy of good will and equal dealing remains to be tried. By it we should salvage far more than the really slight material interests that seem to have been so very much the concern of these years of military, civilian and diplomatic activity.
[i] The railroad's securities were held by a group affiliated with the National City Bank which just prior to intervention had acquired control of the Bank of Haiti.