Minister Powell to the Secretary of State.

No. 1691.]

Sir: I have the honor to state that the government on March 18 published a proclamation in the streets of the city that on March 31 all Syrians must close their stores and leave the Republic April 1. On that date a steamer will leave here.

The official promulgation of the proclamation has caused considable alarm in the Syrian colony and uneasiness on the part of others who are engaged in business who are not Syrians, especially those who are by naturalization citizens of other countries. The great danger lies in this: If these people refuse to go (some of them have stated that they will not, and will resist if the government attempts to use force) a conflict will surely take place in which not the government alone but the lower class will take an active part, as their passions have been inflamed by many incendiary articles that have recently appeared in all the papers. * * *

These articles have done and are doing a vast amount of harm and causing an intense feeling against these people. I have called the attention of the minister and also the President to these articles and the grave danger in which it placed all foreigners, not the Syrians alone, and have requested of the President to be informed what steps the government proposed to take if an outbreak should occur. Both have assured me that all foreigners, even those to be expelled, would be fully protected.

The government may feel safe in making this statement and may virtually believe that it will control the situation. I fear, though, that it is overconfident. All foreigners are looking forward with considerable feeling of alarm to next week, from March 29 to April 2, especially those in business.

* * * * * * *

When this proclamation was read in the streets it excited great enthusiasm and cheers from the people, while the Syrians are correspondingly depressed.

I have informed those who have become American citizens at the first sign of danger to close their stores and keep them closed until such danger is passed and not go in the streets about this time any more than is necessary, and if fire should occur to endeavor to save their books and bring them here, and if they felt that their lives were in danger to come to the legation. * * *

As to the government’s side of the case: They charge the Syrians (1) with favoring the overthrow of the present government and being in communication with its enemies to that end; (2) with being responsible for the present scarcity of the small divisionary metallic currency, securing a large amount of it and endeavoring to send it from the country whenever opportunity offers; (3) with being largely engaged in smuggling goods in and out of the country and causing the government to lose large sums of money by these acts; (4) that some of these people have been engaged in an effort to counterfeit the present paper circulation; (5) that those who have become Haitians through naturalization have, on leaving the country, given or sold their certificates to others not naturalized, who had claimed to be citizens of the Republic through such papers; (6) that these people are of [Page 535] no benefit to the country—they spend but little in it and as soon as they secure a certain sum they leave the country and others come in to take their places; (7) that the great numbers of these people coming into the country is a serious menace to it and that it is the duty of the government in safeguarding its future to arrest or stop such immigration, as other countries have done. * * *

Since they have become strong enough to import their own goods they have to that extent become the commercial rivals of the larger houses, and for this reason caused their commercial enmity, and they have been one of the factors in urging the government to compel them to leave. The habits of these people are such that for the small houses they will pay a higher rent than will be paid by others, and from four to five families, averaging four persons to a family, will be found in the same house. They eat in common and by this means are able to accumulate large sums of money, which they send from the country until such time as they leave themselves. It is also true that up to a year ago there was a constant increase of this class of people.

In an interview with the President he informed me that he was at first opposed to the law compelling them to leave and had refused to sign it; but when evidence was produced of the injury they were doing to the country, to those in business, and that they were opposed to his government and in favor of his enemies he signed the present law ordering their expulsion. Even after this he was about to relent, when the smuggling and later the counterfeiting matters were called to his attention. He decided to enforce the law.

There is no doubt that some of these people have been guilty of some of these things, but I do not believe all have. It is a case where the innocent will suffer with the guilty.

In an interview with the minister in regard to this people I called to his attention an order of the government that refused to allow these people to take their goods from the custom-house, nor would they allow them to be returned. As many of these goods were from American firms, I stated that the action of the government was rather arbitrary and amounted to a virtual confiscation; that if the government refused to allow these goods to be returned the American creditors of these people would hold the government responsible, and cited to him the claim of Messrs. Scheel & Matlage, and suggested to him to allow these people to return these goods.

One, whose papers we have arrested, called at the legation to request of us to secure for him an extension of time from the government to sell his goods. (I had already on a personal request to the President secured an extension until May 18’for him to close his business.) I informed him that it was impossible for me to secure an extension of this time. He then informed me that what goods remained unsold he would send to our legation. I informed him that we could not receive them, and suggested to him that if he could not sell them within this time to place the same in the hands of some responsible merchant to sell for him.

Sixty of these people left by last steamer, and I learn about the same number will leave on the steamer March 31.

I have in this dispatch endeavored to give to the Department full information on all phases of this subject. I do not wish the Department to think that I am an alarmist, but I believe it is my duty to have the Department fully acquainted with the present situation, so [Page 536] that it may know how to grasp this condition of affairs. All the present rumors may amount to nothing as to an uprising in the event of trouble, yet they may be true. No two persons aside from the Syrians seem to agree as to what will occur.

I have, etc.,

W. F. Powell.