The Secretary of the Navy (Denby) to the Secretary of State

P.D. 159–7

Sir: There is forwarded herewith for the information of the Department of State a confidential report from the Military Governor of Santo Domingo dated 3 August, 1921, on conditions in Santo Domingo.


Edwin Denby
[Page 844]

The Military Governor of Santo Domingo (Robison) to the Secretary of the Navy (Denby)

2334–21 L–AMc
The last Quarterly Report of the Military Governor, dated July 12, 1921,22 contained a statement of general conditions in Santo Domingo with particular reference to the carrying out of the plan of withdrawal of United States forces from this Republic as announced in the Proclamation of June 14, 1921. Since the date of that Report the Department has been informed of the Dominican situation by despatch in references (a)23 and (b)24 and this letter is submitted in confirmation of these Despatches.
As reported in reference (a) the Military Governor with the American Minister held two conferences with the Chiefs of the four Dominican Political Parties. Their names and parties are as follows: Horacio Vasquez, of the Horacista Party; Federico Velasquez, of the Progresista Party; Ramon Baez, of the Jiminista Party; and L. F. Vidal of the Legalista Party. Upon assembling for the first conference they were informed that under the existing Election Law they were recognized as having an official status in the matter of the announced Elections and that it was in this status that they had been called together in order that they might express their views and make any requests regarding the Elections as the Military Governor desired to obtain their cooperation and participation which was absolutely necessary to assure the success of the Elections. They were requested, however, to confine themselves to matters relating to the Elections as in no other matters could they act as representatives of the Dominican people.
The Party Leaders showed some desire to cooperate but stated that their participation in the Elections under the terms of the Proclamation was impossible in view of the fact that the terms were not acceptable to themselves and in view of the general protests of Dominicans against these terms. The Military Governor then carefully explained to them the following points:
The responsibility of the United States Government, under the Convention of 1907, for the payment by the Dominican Republic of the Public Debt and also for the payment of debts contracted subsequent to the Convention made it absolutely necessary, that, prior to the disoccupation, provisions to insure the payment of these debts be made, and that one necessary provision, in addition to the [Page 845] authority vested in the General Receiver of Dominican Customs, was to insure good order and peaceful conditions in the Dominican Republic until the completion of the payment of the debts.
The Proclamation expressed certain general principles consistent with and essential to the proper discharge by the United States Government of its responsibilities in connection with the Dominican Debt and the United States Government must insist that these principles be included in the convention of Evacuation. The principles are fair and can be accepted by Dominicans with all honor. The details of the terms of Evacuation would be discussed and settled by the Plenipotentiaries, United States and Dominican, and of course during these negotiations the points which are now apparently not acceptable due to some misinterpretation of the meaning and purpose of the provisions of the Proclamation would be cleared up.
It would be impossible to negotiate the necessary treaty of Evacuation without Dominican Plenipotentiaries duly appointed by a Dominican Congress elected in accordance with the existing Constitution and Laws. Participation in Elections would not bind the Dominican people to carry out in full the entire procedure of the Proclamation should they find some of the terms of the Convention of Evacuation still not acceptable after negotiations. With a legally elected Congress the Dominican people would be in a far better position in the eyes of the world and for obtaining the return of their Sovereignty, as they would then have representatives to express their desires and to deal with the United States Government, while now there exists no legal body to express the will of the Dominican people.
The result[s] of the conferences were very satisfactory in that the majority of the objections of the Party Leaders of the three principal Political Parties were dispelled. However, they still objected to the provision concerning the Mission of American Officers to organize and train the National Police Force on the ground that the authority to be invested in the American Officers and the duration of their mission were not definitely stated and that if these officers were to be in absolute control of the Police Force they would actually be dictators of the Republic and the President would be without full authority. The Military Governor again explained that the details of this provision, authority and time necessary for organization and training of the Police Force, etc., would be settled by the negotiators, and that it was considered, with the proper cooperation of the Dominican people, an efficient Police Force could be organized and trained by the time that the Public Debt, including the last loan of two and one half millions, was paid and in this case the American Military Mission might properly end at that time with the Receivership. In this connection they were informed that the time of completion of payment of the public debt would depend on the Government Income, but that the estimated time of completion of payments were [was] being prepared by the Military [Page 846] Government and this information would be communicated to them. The Chiefs of Parties also expressed their desire to have the President of the Republic elected simultaneously with the National Congress but it was explained to them that as the Constitution made it mandatory for the President to take office within 30 days (at the longest) after his election a situation of embarrassment would be created by having two Chief Executives, the Military Governor and the President, in Office at the same time and that it would be far better not to have the President take office until the actual time of the departure of the Forces of Occupation.
The second conference ended at this stage with arrangements for another conference in three days at which time the Party Leaders were to submit their views and decision after conference among themselves. In the meantime the Military Government would give them detailed information as to dates on which debts would probably be paid and Receivership ended. However, they stated that should they find it possible to participate in the Elections that of course the time for organization and preparation for the Elections by the Political Parties was insufficient and the Military Governor informed them that a request for postponement of Elections would receive favorable consideration.
At the end of the second conference some hope of securing participation in the Elections was entertained and the American Minister concurred in this opinion. However, the third conference did not materialize as on the day after the second conference the Chiefs of Political Parties addressed a letter to the Military Governor expressing their refusal to confer further about the Elections and giving as their reasons the intention shown by the Military Governor to adhere to the terms of the Proclamation. It is believed that their action in terminating further conferences was due in part to a despatch from Dr. Federico [Francisco?] Henriquez y Carvajal in Washington, to the effect that he had demanded from the State Department of the United States, the suspension of the Proclamation and such suspension would probably be made (this despatch was published in the Local Newspapers), and partly due to increasing clamor of the Press and Agitators in protest against Elections.
The Military Governor then made a report on the situation in reference (b) and also recommended that no further change be made in the terms of the Proclamation and that this fact be announced to the Dominican people. This recommendation was made on the ground that the principles of the Proclamation are absolutely essential to the successful discharge of the responsibility of the United States in this Republic and the sooner the Dominican people realize that there can be no change in these terms the sooner can their cooperation be obtained in effecting the disoccupation.
In reference (c)25 the Department approved the recommendation of the Military Governor and directed that he issue a Proclamation along lines indicated in reference (c). In accordance therewith a Proclamation was issued on July 27, 1921, a copy of which is enclosed for the information of the Department.26
Insufficient time has elapsed since the issue of the last Proclamation to judge the manner of its reception, and note its effect on the Dominican people, but it would appear that the Agitators had been lead to believe by their representatives in the United States that if they continued to protest a change in the Proclamation would result and now they appear astounded that their hopes are not to be realized. Business men and the better class of Dominican citizens appear rather unmoved and to date express neither favorable or unfavorable comment. It is hoped that now the Dominican people will realize that as there is to be no change in the plan of Evacuation it is to their best interest to lend their cooperation, in effecting a speedy withdrawal of the United States Forces from the Dominican Republic and that they will begin to organize for Elections. However, no predictions can be made at this time.
The Military Governor is acting in this matter in daily cooperation with the American Minister and will keep the Department informed of all developments of importance. It is his opinion that the Government now occupies a strong position having made a bona fide offer to the Dominican people to assist them in establishing a duly Elected Government and to withdraw U.S. forces when that Government makes reasonable provision for the payment of the Dominican Foreign Debt and the maintenance of internal order.
It can well afford to give the people ample time to consider this offer and when a treaty is negotiated can, I believe, so word the terms relative to the Military Mission as to secure what the United States desires without wounding the amour propre of the Dominicans, a most vital thing with them. To this end the treaty (with suitable provisions) should set a definite date for the termination of the Military Mission (this was the principle objection to the Proclamation of June 14, 1921).
With reference to the Commissioners or Plenipotentiaries for the negotiation of the convention of evacuation the following suggestions are offered:—(a) The Commission should be composed of three (3) representatives of each country; (b)The present American Minister in Santo Domingo should be the senior United States Commissioner, and the other Commissioners should be Civilians. If it is desired that the majority of the Commissioners be thoroughly [Page 848] familiar with the Dominican situation, Judge James A. Ostrand, at present President of the Dominican Land Court, is suggested as a member or his services can be secured by naming him as technical adviser to the Commission; (c) The treaty should be negotiated in this city. The Dominican Commissioners would be in a freer atmosphere in Washington but they would be subject to charge of intimidation and would be out of touch with the leaders of the Dominican Congress by which the treaty must be ratified; (d) The American Minister should be ordered to Washington in the near future, for personal consultation and to receive his instructions; (e) The State Department should let it be known that he has been selected to head the American Mission and that the State Department is ready to appoint the other members as soon as the Dominican people take the necessary steps (Elections) toward selecting their representatives, and will suggest Santo Domingo City as the place for the negotiations.
It is deemed proper to state here that the above recommendations relating to the personnel of the Commission are made without consulting either the American Minister or Judge Ostrand, and without their knowledge. They are recommended because it is believed that they know more about the situation here and about the Dominican people, their passions, prejudices, or beliefs than any other men who can be selected, and moreover are as nearly in the confidence of the leaders here as any one can be.
In this connection it is deemed pertinent to quote the following from the report of the United States Commission of 1914 to indicate the extreme difficulty of reaching any agreement with this very suspicious people:

“The people were intensely desirous of reforms and there were individuals having little or no conception of the significance of proposed innovations who had excited each other into a popular conviction that the local Government would never grant them (and were ready to believe that the United States was also indifferent in its attention [altitude] toward reforms and even insincere in its repeated professions)”.

“These (conferences) were consumed with alternating advances toward the desired end and useless speculative discussions of remote and inconsequential possibilities, and refinements, such as the typical Dominican loves to indulge in, and in which he is at his best. They were not useless however in that they permitted the Commission to carry out a definite policy which was that of a general acquiescence in the drift of things listening always courteously and interestedly and then putting forward a desired concession, (sometimes only temporarily to advance it again upon occasion) until finally after uneven intervals the points arrived at were won. …27 In other [Page 849] words the Commission was able to lead indefinitely but did not try to drive and does not believe it can be done successfully with these people in such cases

As intimated elsewhere the absence of an overflowing Treasury and the necessity for strict economy makes the assumption of Government here more difficult (less attractions [attractive?] to a Dominican Regime) and the people, with business already bad, are not as keen for a change as might otherwise be the case. The demand for unconditional withdrawal has not much real support.
The most violent and persistent of the protestors have already injured themselves in the eyes of the majority by the intemperence of their language and demands, and are repudiated by the sensible people.
Patient adherence by the United States to the terms and principles set forth in the Proclamation of June 14, 1921, is recommended as the surest means of reaching an agreement, and this idea is indicated in the Proclamation of July 27, 1921, copy of which is enclosed.27a
S. S. Robison
  1. Not printed.
  2. Despatch no. 1015–1745, July 1921, from the Military Governor to the Secretary of the Navy; not printed.
  3. Despatch no. 1018–1315, July 1921, from the Military Governor to the Secretary of the Navy; not printed.
  4. Instruction no. 1321–1030, July 1921, from the Secretary of the Navy to the Military Governor; not printed.
  5. Ante, p. 842.
  6. Omission indicated in Admiral Robison’s despatch.
  7. Ante, p. 842.