Mr. Powell to Mr. Hay.
Port au Prince , August 14, 1899 .
Sir: The right of asylum as understood here may differ from what the Department may understand the term. This or any previous Government does not desire to take away the right of asylum or of granting protection to political refugees assumed by all the legations and consulates. This is the only safeguard in this land of sudden [Page 385] revolutions that the Government itself has—to-day it may be in hot pursuit after a political opponent, to-morrow it may be seeking protection for itself. No one knows when he retires at night that he will not be awakened before dawn by a volley of musketry, find the Government overthrown and the members thereof seeking protection at the several legations or at the consulates. For another reason they do not seek to disturb this right—they then know where the disaffected ones are to be found, and they can more conveniently send them out of the country.
Under my predecessors two of the Presidents have sought asylums at our legation. The present President at one time was compelled to seek safety by going to one of the consulates. The general that led the detachment of soldiers that entered our legation was but a few years ago a refugee therein. If the present Government was overthrown each member thereof would have to seek asylum or protection at some legation. The Department can thus see the members of the Government are not eager to close the avenue that means life to them. If such an event should occur during the present administration we would have more than we could well accommodate, as our quarters are limited.
None of the legations care for this extra responsibility. As long as the refugee is in the legation he must be provided with food and bed; the former of course must come from the purse of the minister. This extra expense he is compelled to bear without a murmur for humanity’s sake.
Instructions as to course to be pursued in such events have seldom been given. The first was by Mr. Fish to Mr. Bassett, who had given shelter to General Conal, afterwards President of the Republic. Mr. Fish stated to Mr. Bassett that General Canal should be delivered to the existing Government. Mr. Bassett failed to follow this instruction and was censured. A few months thereafter the Canal party was successful and Canal became President.
The present instruction conveyed in dispatch No. 613, of August 2, 1899, is such that it will greatly simplify the action of our representatives at this post when such cases arise as that which lately occurred at our legation. These instructions are all that one needs and give all needed authority to act in the premises. I am glad the Department has taken this view.
I have, etc.,