The High Commissioner in Haiti (Russell) to the Secretary of State

No. 1375

Sir: I have the honor to make the following report on the question of holding elections in January 1930 for senators and deputies:

. . . . . . .

In 1928, President Borno, in his message to the Council of State, clearly indicated that elections would be held before the expiration of his term of office. He did not, however, in that message, make a definite statement.

In connection with the above, I desire to invite the Department’s attention to my telegram No. 32 of April 13th, 11.00 A.M., 1928, and to the Department’s No. 17, April 17th, 11.00 A.M. 1928.1

President Borno agreed with me, at that time, to hold elections in 1930. Such agreement is not known, however, except to the Department, President Borno, and myself. His message to the Council of State is not definite. Nor had he or I, at the time, realized that the first act of the legislative body would be to elect a president.

The next even year in which elections could be held will be January 10, 1930. Some statement should be issued by President Borno prior to October 10, 1929. The year 1930 is also the year for holding the presidential election and therefore, if elections for the legislative body are held next year, the very first act of that body, when it meets on the first Monday in April 1930, will be to elect a new president. This is pointed out by some Haitians as a very strong reason why elections for senators, and for deputies should not be held at that time. Two tremendous political upheavals in the same year would be decidedly dangerous.

Effect of Elections—The Haitian Government is now operating smoothly with all its machinery running except that part representing the normal legislative body. Many believe that this part of the machinery of government should now be put in place, and point out [Page 167]that only six years remain before the expiration of the Treaty of 1915.1a They claim that the legislative body must be placed under tutelage in the same manner as other branches of the government and that six years is but a short time for such work. Furthermore, that if it is impossible for it to function properly, this fact should be determined prior to the expiration of the Treaty, and steps taken to replace it by some body that will function in cooperation with the other government branches. On the other side, it is pointed out that once the normal legislative body is established, there is no legal way of dissolving it, changing it, or even guiding it. That it is entirely independent, and that its powers and functions are such that it might operate in a way to interfere seriously with, if not destroy, the development and progress which have been the result of so many years of hard work on the part of both Americans and Haitians in Haiti. This is indeed a serious thought and makes one approach a recommendation in a most sober frame of mind. If the legislative body should revoke the many laws, or even some of the many laws that have been enacted during the past seven years, or modify them in a way to make them impracticable of operation, such action would strike a dangerous blow at our policy in Haiti. For example, the Service of Contributions, or Internal Revenue System, is founded on a Haitian law. The same is true of the Service Technique of Agriculture,2 and if these laws were revoked, or if they were modified in such a way as to eliminate the control that is now given to treaty officials, the result would be disastrous. I am fully aware that agreements have been entered into between the Government of the United States and the Government of Haiti regarding the heads of these two services, but it would be a simple matter so to modify the laws as to make the successful operation of the services impossible.

Courses of Action—Keeping the above thoughts in view, what are the possible courses of action? They would appear to be as follows:

That the United States Government will reach an understanding with the Haitian Government on one of the following plans:—

President Borno to hold elections for the legislative body on [Page 168]January 10, 1930, and election for the president by that body on the first Monday of April 1930.
Prior to October 10, 1929, for President Borno to issue a decree to the effect that, in view of the year being the year for the presidential election, and for other reasons which he could enumerate, that there will be no national election for senators and deputies on January 10, 1930;


That the United States Government will openly inform the Haitian Government that the question is one that rests solely in the hands of the President of Haiti.
That no elections for the legislative body be held next year. That the Council of State when it meets as the National Assembly, on the first Monday of April 1930, to elect a president, consider Article 72 of the Constitution3 with the view to so interpreting it as to extend the term of the present incumbent of the Presidential Office for an additional two years.

Referring to “a” the “pros” and “cons” for this course of action have been fully discussed above, but it would seem to be desirable again to emphasize the fact that once elections are held, and the normal legislative body installed, it will be impossible to return to the present condition. The policy of the United States in Haiti is being watched, not only by people in the United States, but more particularly by foreign European Governments. This policy is, at present, being successfully conducted, and the question naturally arises whether or not at this time, its success can be jeopardized.

Referring to “b”. Having solely the welfare of Haiti in mind, the logical conclusion is that the course of action outlined in “b” is correct. There must, however, be considered the opinion toward elections in Haiti that has been developed in the United States. The strength of this sentiment is far better known to the Department than it is to me. Whether it is of such importance as to outweigh the logical conclusion, and to demand the holding of elections regardless of consequences, I do not know. I have, however, been inclined to believe that such was the case, and I have, consequently, placed myself before the Department in favor of holding elections. On the other hand, there is a possibility which must be recognized, and which we must be prepared to meet. That is, that it may be very difficult to obtain President Borno’s consent to carry out “a”.

Referring to “c”. This course of action might be dangerous in as much as the President might not desire to hold elections for many years. On the other hand, as an articulate middle class is developed in Haiti, the pressure from this class would eventually become so strong as to force action on his part.

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In this connection the thought arises if it would not be to the advantage of Haiti to have a government with a less cumbersome elected legislative body. In short, by constitutional amendment to eliminate one of its branches. For example, to cut out the house of deputies and have only the fifteen (15) senators. This body would act as a balance wheel to the Executive branch. It would be an elected Council of State. The elections could be more easily supervised … In addition, there is the very important question of expense. Fifteen men could be given good salaries while, on the other hand, the maintenance of a legislative body more than twice as large as the Council of State, together with the holding of properly supervised elections every two years means a considerable budgetary increase for a non-productive purpose and burdens a budget that is already carrying a heavy load.

Referring to “d”. It is highly probable that sound legal opinions could be given for interpreting Article 72 along the lines indicated and it is also probable that the Council of State would readily carry out any suggestion along this line. Such action, however, would have the effect of only delaying this important question of elections, for, in two years, there would be a presidential election and the pressure for legislative elections probably would be even stronger than it is today. Consequently, we would be faced again with the proposition of having the first elections for the legislative body and the presidential election occur in the same year.

In view of the above, and after the most careful consideration, I have to recommend that the Department instruct me to inform President Borno as follows:

In view of the year 1930 being a year for presidential election the Department is reluctantly forced to the belief that elections for the legislative body should not be held that year and so advises the Haitian Government.
That in giving this advice the Department wishes it understood that it is of the unqualified opinion that legislative elections should be held on January 10, 1932.
That the Department will carefully consider the question of eliminating one branch of the bi-cameral legislative body as outlined in (d) with a view to simplification and reduction of expense. The constitution could be amended in January 1930.
That the above is with the distinct and clear understanding that President Borno will not be a candidate for the Presidency in 1930. Nor will he accept any interpretation by the Council of State (National Assembly) of the Constitution with a view to his retention in office after May 15, 1930.

I have [etc.]

John H. Russell
  1. Neither printed.
  2. For text of treaty signed September 16, 1915, and supplementary agreements and protocols signed in 1916, see Foreign Relations, 1916, pp. 328 ff.; for text of additional act signed march 28, 1917, extending the duration of treaty, see ibid., 1917, p. 807.
  3. Department of State, Latin American Series No. 5: Report of the United States Commission on Education in Haiti, October 1, 1930 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1931), p. 30, states:

    “The Service Technique is one of the five activities inaugurated by the American Occupation in pursuance of the treaty arrangements with the Government of Haiti under date of 1915, and known respectively as the Travaux Publics, the Garde d’Haiti, the Service d’Hygiène, the Service Financier, and the Service Technique.

    “The warrant for the organization of the Service Technique is contained in the following articles [i. e. articles 1 and 13] of the treaty.”

  4. See Foreign Relations, 1918, p. 487; and section entitled “Amendments to the Haitian Constitution of 1918”, ibid., 1927, vol. iii, p. 48.