General Enoch H. Crowder to the Acting Secretary of State
[Received May 16.]
My Dear Mr. Secretary: The sessions of the joint parliamentary committee referred to in my communications of April 26th and 29th have continued almost daily, with slow but gratifying progress. In my letter of April 29th I stated that we had covered the essentials of (1) population census with an electoral census based thereon; (2) inclusion of municipal judges in the judicial category, thus securing ex-officio presidents of municipal electoral boards by selection from judges of career; (3) other personnel of both permanent and temporary electoral boards; (4) the essentials of the registration and scrutiny; and that a drafting committee was engaged in writing the amendatory act in accordance with these more essential bases.
The progress of this drafting committee has been slow. There is always a great deal of discussion of the sufficiency of language to express an idea, but thus far we have proceeded with unanimous agreement.
In my letter of April 29th I gave you warning that a test of the attitude of the joint committee toward real electoral reform would come when I submitted for its consideration the project of the law for the judicial review of contested election cases. The complaint made by Dr. Alfredo Zayas, the unsuccessful candidate of the Liberal party for President in 1916, which complaint was presented for your consideration in his lengthy memorandum of March, 1917,15 to the effect that Cuban courts were extremely technical in their consideration of electoral cases, manifested usually in the rejection of petitions for defects of form and in the narrow rules of evidence applied by them at the hearings,—was a just complaint. In the project drafted and submitted by me for the consideration of the joint committee, an effort was made to avoid this criticism, by provisions outlining the procedure to be followed, the rules of evidence to be applied, and the specific grounds on account of which the nullity of elections held in any particular college should be decreed by the courts. I am gratified to report that the project had been, during our recent sessions, most intelligently discussed by the members of the joint committee. Their amendments have been of a nature to make the statute more effective; and at a meeting held on the night of May 6th the project was unanimously approved.
Another matter which must be considered is the recommendation submitted on April 1st by the Committee of the Camara, that the [Page 23] new electoral law provide for a statutory organization and regulation of political parties. This subject has already been tentatively considered by our joint committee. During the discussion I suggested for the consideration of the committee, the advisability of providing by law that no nomination by a political party for the office of President or Vice President should be admitted to the official ballot unless made within the calendar year in which the election was to be held, and by assemblies or conventions newly constituted in their entirety within the same year for that purpose.—I argued that it was a necessary step to avoid prolonged electoral periods and the incidental disturbance to the economic life of the country; and further argued that it would be a most effective way to meet the public criticism here against what is called dictation of the two principal political parties in Cuba.
The assemblies of neither the Conservative nor Liberal parties have been renewed since 1914, and the partial renewal which they underwent in prior years did not introduce into the party management any new element of control. It thus happens that the men in each of these parties who were making nominations for national, provincial and municipal office in the 1908 elections have been making them in each succeeding electoral period and are in a position to make them today. I know of no measure that could be adopted that would go so far towards composing the political life of the country, than this one measure that I have suggested.
There can be no question but that the joint committee is with me on the proposition almost to a man. The trouble lies in the fact that both the Conservative and Liberal parties have called their conventions for this month and propose to make their nominations this month for the Presidential elections of 1920.
On Monday May 5th I talked over matters very fully with the President at his summer residence “El Chico”. He went over with me the work of the joint committee and expressed himself as greatly pleased not only with the conclusions reached but the amount of work that we had succeeded in accomplishing. In the course of our conversation I spoke of the necessity for enacting a party statute, and outlined to him the bases of such a statute. He gave very hearty approval to the plan, saying that nothing of greater value in composing the political life of the country could be accomplished.
On the day following this interview La Prensa, an independent newspaper, carried the article herewith enclosed16 and I am reliably informed that they obtained the information direct from President Menocal. On the same day a correspondent of the New York Times appears to have sent a despatch to his paper on the same subject, [Page 24] which despatch appeared in the issue of the Nero York Times of May 7th, and was telegraphed back to Cuba by Orestes Ferrara in the form of the enclosure herewith marked “B”.17 In the last few days the papers of Cuba have given a great deal of space to this item of news.
My belief is that the Liberal Convention, attended only by delegates favoring the nomination of General José Miguel Gómez, will meet as planned, Saturday next (May 10th) and nominate the General for President. The Zayas delegates will probably refrain from attending. It is my belief also that on May 23rd the Conservative Convention will meet and nominate General Montalvo for President.
It is reasonably certain that the joint committee working with me on the electoral law will formally approve a party statute which will invalidate these two nominations; in which case a situation will arise upon which you may desire to give me further instructions. There can be no question in my mind of the great desirability of postponing these nominations until 1920.—The reasons for such postponement are too obvious to require statement. There is little doubt in my mind that the Congress of Cuba will ultimately enact such a statute if I recommend it and they are convinced that the Government of the United States is back of the recommendation.
The press discussion of this issue has been helpful and in no sense embarrassing to my work here. The people accept the issue raised as to these untimely nominations as convincing proof that we are working disinterestedly and are striking a blow at the dictation of party bosses about which there is so much complaint. If criticism comes it will be confined to the partisans of General Jose Miguel Gomez and General Montalvo who as I have said will be the nominees of the two conventions scheduled for this month. President Menocal shares with me the belief that a statute invalidating these early nominations can be enacted.
Very respectfully yours,