Minister Furniss to the Secretary of State.
Port au Prince, August 24, 1906.
Sir: I inclose herewith copy and translation, in duplicate, of the tariff law which was promulgated on yesterday, and relative to which on that date I cabled the department.
This law passed the chamber of deputies on the 17th, and the opposition of the public, as well as that of some of the cabinet, was so [Page 879] great that it was thought that it would be withdrawn, at least I was so informed by the secretary of foreign relations. It seems, however, that the influence of the secretary of finance prevailed, and the law was hurriedly and unexpectedly passed by the Senate upon the close of business on the 21st and was signed by the President on the same day, though the following day confirmation of this fact could not be obtained at the palace.
It was published in the official paper on the 23d, and in accord with the civil code all laws become effective twenty-four hours after publication.
At the request of several of our merchants who had cargo on the boats arriving yesterday and to-day, as well as other boats at sea bound here, I yesterday called upon the secretary of foreign relations to ascertain the Government’s intention as to the date when the law would become effective and to suggest that goods on ships bound here on the date of the law’s promulgation should be allowed to enter at the old rates. I stated that this seemed no more than fair in view of the fact that many of our merchants had ordered goods which at the time of the promulgation of the law were afloat and had been ordered without any idea that there was to be an increase in duty. If they had known it in time, they would have countermanded their orders, as they feel that they will not be able for some time to sell goods imported under the new tariff, nor will they be able to arrange the cash to pay the extra duties which will now be collected. I have since learned that the British and German representatives made like statements.
The secretary stated that the Government would allow goods on the boats to arrive yesterday and to-day—the latter because the boat had already touched a Haitian port—to be entered on the old tariff, but all subsequent goods on boats, whenever and wherever loaded, would have to enter under the new tariff.
He stated that while he was not in sympathy with the law, yet he thought it well to try it, as the condition of the country is such that there is need for more revenue, that the Haitian minister at Washington had used every endeavor to float in the United States a loan for the Government and without success, so recourse had to be had to the law enacted. He further stated that the Government desired to get on a gold basis, if possible. With the new law it is thought that four or five million gourdes in paper would be retired in a year, and two years would wipe out the paper.
No thought seems to have been taken of the drop in value in imports which will follow increased duty, to say nothing of the still greater drop which will be entailed as the paper currency increases in value, while the farmers will be getting less and less in paper for their products and have correspondingly less money to spend.
There is one article in the law, article 5, which seems to give too great discretion to the executive power. In its present form it is possible for the Government at any time to change back and forth the laws under which the duties are to be collected. This, if done, could not help but demoralize business.
My attention has been called by an American merchant to the fact that, as he claims, in reality the law is unconstitutional, and he has [Page 880] lodged complaint with the legation. I inclose herewith copy of his letter, together with my reply to same, for the department’s information and such instruction as may be deemed necessary.
I have, etc.,