The Acting Secretary of the Navy (Coontz) to the Secretary of State


Sir: There is transmitted herewith for the information and files of the Department of State a quarterly report of the Military Governor of Santo Domingo for the quarter ending 31 March, 1920.

Very truly yours,

R. E. Coontz

Quarterly Report of the Military Governor of Santo Domingo (Snowden)

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The conditions in the republic do not warrant at this time the withdrawal of American control. Matters have greatly improved, but a strong and honest government is still and will be necessary for at least ten years and perhaps more. Important measures for the vital benefit of this country are in process of working out. The public education is being spread over the entire country and has not yet entirely covered it; there are about 200,000 children in the country of school age, but we have so far provided for about 130,000 up to the end of this year and in the next few years as rapidly as money and suitable teachers become available we desire to get all the children into schools.

The chaotic condition of land titles in Santo Domingo has long been notorious. Dating back to the time when surveys were rare and herds of cattle roamed at large throughout the island, ownership [Page 112]of land in common rather than individual ownership of definite parcels became a plague in the country. This condition was aggravated by the disorder attendant upon Haitian invasions, and periodic revolutions. The loss and destruction of authentic records created opportunities for fraud on a wholesale scale. Veritable title factories were put in operation in several parts of the Republic and produced fraudulent documents that kept titles clouded and land insecure. This uncertainty of property rights has done much to handicap the development of the country and to destroy the confidence which is essential in fostering a spirit of thrift and enterprise.

The situation was so disastrous to the public interests and so disturbing to the tranquillity of the country that relief was necessary not only to protect property but as a police measure helping to preserve public order.

Previous attempts of the Dominican Government to remedy this condition were half-hearted, and had little result. The Military Government has determined upon a vigorous measure at once cleaning up the debris of the old system and erecting a new system under which previous conditions would be impossible. A law has been drafted establishing adequate machinery to adjudicate all titles in the Republic and compel their registration under the “Torrens System” with guaranteed validity. All doubts as to titles will thus be laid forever at rest. The system projected has been tried out with success in many parts of the world where similar unsettled conditions deprived the ownership of land of any significance. The only unusual feature of the remedy which will be adopted here is that the adjudication and registration are compulsory. A Central Land Court will be established which will indicate for first attention the areas of the Republic where the situation is most acute. Comprehensive cadastral surveys will be made of these areas and entire districts cleaned up at once. It is thought that in this way the cadastral surveys can proceed in harmony with the Topographical Survey which is now in course and the Court can effect scientific results without being hampered or distracted by voluntary petition for the registration of isolated tracts. The law is now in process of translation and will probably be published in the month of June. Organization of the Court is proceeding in anticipation of its promulgation. Two American judges and one Dominican, learned in the law governing the question and knowing the Spanish language, have been appointed. It is expected it will take about five years to complete the settlement of titles.

The settlement of the land question is particularly important to the Government in that it will determine the extent of the public [Page 113]lands and clear the way for a liberal Homestead Law by which the development of small land holdings can be fostered.

In pursuance of the beginning of the efforts for the settlement of the Haitian-Santo Domingo boundary question opened with the President of Haiti during my periodical visit to Haiti July 5th last, agreement has been made to submit the matter to the arbitration of His Holiness, The Pope, in accordance with the vote of a plebiscite of the Dominican people made in 1895. A protocol has been drawn up between the Department of Foreign Relations of this country and the Haitian Minister at this Capital to this effect, but it has not yet been signed.

Harbor improvements, road building, etc., are being proceeded with as rapidly as funds and the supply of labor will permit, but this is a continuous work of years to come.

Now to continue the public works for the next five years, it will be necessary to contract a new loan at the end of this year for about $7,000,000. This is now in contemplation and the project will be laid before the Department of State as soon as perfected. There are enough reserve funds now in the Public Treasury to carry through the present year without borrowing and to pursue all public works for that period.

4. The Customs collections for the three months ending March 31 were $1,661,000.00 as against $976,067.71 for the corresponding period of 1919—a gain of $684,932.29 and this in spite of the fact that the new tariff became effective January 1, 1920 and carries an average reduction of twenty-five per cent on the rates in effect 1910 to 1919. This increase might be thought to have been due to importations delayed until 1920 to take advantage of the new tariff were it not for the fact that the importations during the months of October, November, and December of 1919 were normal and indeed $235,678.77 greater than for the corresponding period of 1918. It is apparent that the new tariff has helped to stimulate importations to this increasingly prosperous little Republic.

The increase in trade, larger number of vessels visiting Dominican ports during the past quarter, has strongly brought out the need for immediate increase and improvement in the port facilities to care for the natural increase in trade, and the Government program for port improvements and roads will be carried through to completion as rapidly as possible.

The policy of replacing old worn out and insanitary paper currency with new currency has proceeded. Some difficulty was experienced by the Government depositary in securing new currency for the Government’s account, but arrangements have been made with [Page 114]the Treasurer of the United States to furnish the new currency and permit its shipment to Santo Domingo.

From the shipment of $85,000.00 of old Dominican silver coins sold at their metal value a profit of approximately $54,000.00 over all expenses was realized and deposited to the credit of the National Treasury. A shipment of about $30,000.00 of the same coins will go forward in April.

In an effort to help the poor people of the country meet the High Cost of Living a trial store in Santo Domingo has been established for the sale of the essential and staple articles of provisions. While the store has not been established long enough to permit of a definite decision as to its value, the indications are that it will be successful and a considerable help in keeping provisions at a reasonable price.

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As required by Executive Order #272,3 the sum of $388, 176.95 or 30% of the customs collections in excess of $3,000,000.00 for 1920 was devoted to the purchase of bonds of the 1918 issue due 1938 on February 1, March 1, and April 1. It is estimated that the bonds of this loan are placed as follows:

In the United States $1,000,000.
Redeemed 900,000.
In Dominican Republic 1,100,000.
Still to be issued 1,000,000.

It is hardly likely that the total issue will be more than $4,000,000. but the exact total will not be known until the commission finishes its work about May 31.

The agreement with the Fletcher American Company for the resale in the United States of such bonds as were purchased in Santo Domingo by the Department of Hacienda y Comercio expired January 31, 1920, and they declined to renew in view of the condition of the investment market and the low quotations of the bonds of the first loan and prior lien.

The market in Santo Domingo has thus far been maintained at a fair figure by a number of government purchases. It does not at the present time look as if it would be possible to continue the purchases and any further effort to stabilize these bonds will depend upon the conditions of the New York investment market. At present an effort is being made to have government depositories deposit bonds of this issue as security for deposits instead of other securities authorized.

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22. The relations between the Military Government and the representatives of the State Department and of the Receiver General of Customs have continued to be cordial and pleasant. The hearty cooperation of these representatives is greatly appreciated.

Thomas Snowden