The Ambassador in Cuba ( Crowder ) to the Secretary of State

No. 2017

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the Department’s instruction No. 960 of April 30, 1927,10 enclosing a copy of a memorandum of conversations between the Chief of the Division of Latin American Affairs and the President of Cuba, held on the train from Key West to Washington April 20–22.10 Any comment which I might care to make in regard thereto is requested.

In reply I have the honor to state that in view of the scope of the discussions and the tactful and thorough manner in which the Chief of the Latin American Division has covered the principal points at issue, only brief observations are pertinent. It seems to me that the opportunity has been exceedingly well availed of to place before General Machado in a friendly and informal manner the Department’s views upon questions of present utmost concern.

In particular I believe that nearly all that may properly be said in regard to the proposed constitutional amendments has been voiced. It is to be hoped that as a result of that discussion the President may cause the more objectionable features of the Bill to be eliminated. Nevertheless I am not thoroughly convinced that such will be the case nor that he will cause revision of the Bill to include certain important provisions.

In the first place, it is to be regretted that General Machado’s commendable frankness did not extend to discussing with the Chief of the Latin American Division the provision carried in the Constitutional Amendment Bill (4th Section of the Transitory Provisions) that the constitutional delegates to be elected subsequent to the passage of the Bill shall be elected under the Electoral Census of the last elections, that is the Census for the year 1919 revised to 1926, when it is known that many complaints and numerous electoral contests based upon the falsification of revisions of the Electoral Census have been made, and also because if the Bill passes in its present form many people who have acquired franchise since the last revision of the Electoral Census will be deprived of voting for the constitutional delegates and many others who have lost the electoral franchise will be permitted to vote.

Secondly, there is the important point of control of the size of the Cuban House of Representatives. It will be recalled that Article 48 of the Cuban Constitution provides for representation from each [Page 520] Province of the Republic on the basis of one Representative for each 25,000 inhabitants or fraction thereof over 12,500. Since obviously the maintenance of that fixed ratio would lead to impracticable growth in the House as the population of the country increases there was inserted in the original Constitution as the Fourth Transitory Provision a ruling which reads in effect as follows: The basis of population which is established in relation to election of Representatives in Article 48 may be changed by law whenever in the judgment of Congress it should become necessary through the increase of the inhabitants as may be shown by the census which may be periodically taken. Despite this authority the membership of the Lower Chamber has been permitted to grow from 63 in 1902 to 128 in 1927, with the result that the House has become an unwieldy body. During the 25 years elapsed the Congress of Cuba has never made use of the authority possessed under the Fourth Transitory Provision of the Constitution and I am of the opinion will of its own accord never reduce its proportionate number. Upon the other hand, the Congress of the United States upon the somewhat similar authority granted it in Article 3 of the Constitution of the United States providing for revision every ten years has revised its proportionate representation with each census. In fact the original basis of one Representative to each 30,000 inhabitants, as it stood in the year 1790, was periodically altered until in 1910 the basis was one to each 211,877 inhabitants, so that the Lower House of the Congress of the United States has maintained its membership in a certain proportionate relation to that of the Senate, i. e.; 106 Representatives to 26 Senators in 1790 and 435 Representatives to 96 Senators in 1910. It would appear that in Cuba the only practicable means of altering the basis of representation established in Article 48 of the Constitution is by a transitory constitutional amendment fixing a new unit ratio upon which representation of the Provinces in the Lower House may be computed.

Further, as regards the Constitutional Amendments, it is most important that a clause more clearly defining and restricting the immunity which shall be granted to members of both Houses of Congress shall find place in the present Bill. In this connection I invite attention to recommendation (b) in the messages of President Zayas of May 21 and November 7, 1921, proposing at my initiative an amendment to the Constitution which it is believed would have very thoroughly defined the question of congressional immunity.

Finally, it seems to me equally important to include an amendment to the Constitution providing for compulsory process to obtain the attendance of members of Congress at the Sessions of their respective Chambers, thus preventing for the future the disgraceful “legislative [Page 521] strikes” which have occurred from time to time throughout the history of the Republic. This amendment, if incorporated, might well extend in its effect to the provincial and municipal councils. I believe that the Department will appreciate the urgency of such a clause if it will advert to my despatch No. 208 of July 17, 1923,11 transmitting a historical memorandum relative to the work of the Cuban Congress, upon pages 5 to 8 of which memorandum a discussion is entered into relative to the difficulties encountered in maintaining quorums in the House and Senate. It will be therein observed that Governor Magoon12 was thoroughly convinced of the seriousness of the situation and to counteract it promulgated a Decree, No. 7, of January 2, 1909, providing for compulsory process against absent Congressmen. However, this Decree remained a dead-letter during the majority of the ensuing administration of President Gomez and in the latter part of that administration it was repealed by Congress. There consequently remains no present means of enforcing attendance and it is not likely that Congress will itself take the initiative in passing the necessary remediatory legislation. It would therefore seem advisable to avail of this opportunity to add to the proposed Constitutional Amendments a provision directed towards the ends under immediate discussion.

As to the proposed revision of the Reciprocity Treaty, treated of in the Department’s memorandum of discussions, the burden of proof of justification therefore would appear to rest with the Cuban Government. While it is true that the Government of the United States has not submitted its final response to the representations of the Foreign Office of last year in the matter,13 the memorandum prepared by the United States Tariff Commission11 carries a presumption against revision which must be overcome by data furnished by Cuban sources. The modification or cancellation of the Piatt Amendment and its constitutional parallel would seem properly to have been left to the initiative of the United States. This further defines, as the logical course for Cuba to pursue, the conduct of its affairs upon such plane that the Government of the United States may ultimately voluntarily consider action in regard to the Piatt Amendment. The remarks quoted concerning the national lottery, labor matters, the Sixth Pan American Conference et cetera, were also most helpful to this Chancery.

Prior to concluding this despatch it may not be inappropriate to cite the conversations as another very tangible evidence of the disposition [Page 522] of the present administration in Cuba to cooperate with the United States and to seek in America its closest political and economic rapprochement. Such tendency, if it is to be indefinitely maintained, must eventually be reciprocated in some material fashion. While the Department’s disinterested and helpful policy in regard to purely Cuban affairs is and always has been above intelligent question, the United States has acquired with or without cause the reputation of a somewhat hard bargainer where the interests of the two nations conflict. I therefore hope that at some future date the opportunity may occur to afford proof of American altruism through some concession upon which Cuban desire is centered. This may be possible in part by modification of the United States Statutes so as to permit the introduction of tobacco in small quantities with the corollary result of facilitating parcel post relations. I do not necessarily suggest as advisable, or even practicable, eventual compromise in regard to the Piatt Amendment, the Reciprocity Treaty or the tariff on sugar, but some considerable concession at a future date to Cuban aspirations would surely go far towards assuring that Cuba will for long remain an affirmative entering wedge into the good will of this hemisphere.

I have [etc.]

E. H. Crowder
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Charles E. Magoon, Provisional Governor of Cuba, 1906–1909; see Foreign Relations, 1906, pt. i, p. 494.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1926, vol. ii, pp. 10 ff.
  6. Not printed.