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

No. 1391

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the Department’s Instructions No. 406 of March 14, 1929.

A careful examination of those instructions led me to believe that there were certain features contained therein which the Department might desire to change, if more fully informed of the existing situation. Accordingly, I sent my telegram No. 25 [24] of March 25, 1929.

The three features of the Department’s Instruction under acknowledgment to which I wish to invite the Department’s attention, and of which I request a reconsideration are as follows:

“The Department feels that the best results can be obtained in the matter of finances, for instance, if the High Commissioner will make no commitments or promises to the President of Haiti or other Haitian officials without first consulting and reaching an accord with the Financial Adviser-General Receiver”.
“It is thought that a great deal can be done to increase his prestige with the Haitian authorities, and hence facilitate his work, if after the High Commissioner and the Financial Adviser have themselves agreed upon a course of action to pursue, the High Commissioner will have the Financial Adviser accompany him to the President or any other Haitian official concerned to explain the technical matters in person”.
“If the High Commissioner and the Financial Adviser are unable to agree on the course of action to be recommended to the Haitian Government, the Department desires the same procedure to be followed as is set forth in its Instructions of February 11, 1922 regarding the approval of the yearly budget, namely, that the matter in dispute be referred to the Department for final adjustment”.

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Referring to (a). The financial control now existing in Haiti has been one of gradual growth. It goes far beyond the provisions of the Treaty. The Department is fully aware that the American-Haitian Treaty of 1915 was based upon the American-Dominican Treaty of 1907,32 and Article V of the 1915 Treaty might well be interpreted to be applied in the same manner as a similar article in the Dominican Treaty is applied in the Dominican Republic. The present system of financial control has been built up by the High Commissioner largely through a spirit of cooperation, intelligence, and good judgment on the part of President Borno. It does not rest on the provisions of the Treaty but is beyond the Treaty, an extension brought about through the honest desire of President Borno to rehabilitate and develop Haiti. If this cooperative spirit should cease to exist and be replaced by an antagonistic spirit on the part of the Haitian Government such as was evinced by President Dartiguenave during the latter part of his term of office, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a financial control other than that authorized by the Treaty. The result would be a tremendous blow to the development work now being systematically and progressively carried on.

The Department is fully aware of the above and has clearly shown its approval not only by giving the High Commissioner the necessary authority in my original instructions of February 11, 1922, but also in reiterating this point in the second paragraph, page 3, of its Instruction No. 406 of the 14th of March 1929 which reads, in part, as follows:

“It is necessary to have one guiding authority over the treaty officials in Haiti. The High Commissioner has been commissioned by the President for that purpose …”.

Article 14 of the Treaty of 1915 gives to the President ample authority for the appointment of a High Commissioner with the power to supervise the work of the Treaty Official

As the Department points out in the continuation of the above quoted paragraph, the corollary of such authority is great responsibility. If the High Commissioner errs in judgment or fails to inform himself properly and adequately, he must answer to the Department and to the President.

My interpretation of the Instructions contained in (a) is that I must, in the future, not only consult, but must reach an agreement with the Financial Adviser-General Receiver before any action can be taken. If I am unable to reach an agreement, no matter how unimportant the question may be, it would have to be referred to the Department. It would appear that this necessity not only materially lowers the prestige of the High Commissioner, but also is contrary to the instructions [Page 213]of the Department making the High Commissioner the one guiding authority.

It is, therefore, recommended that the words “and reaching an accord with” be deleted from (a).

Referring to (b). It has been my endeavor, in accordance with my instructions from the Department to have the various treaty officials maintain the closest contact with their respective ministers.

According to the Department’s Instructions, all matters of moment must be taken up with the Haitian Government through the High Commissioner. The usual routine that has been carried out by me in the past is as follows: At the Friday Conferences of Treaty Officials at my office, or at other times during the week, certain points are brought to my attention by treaty officials, and I am informed that they can get no action from their ministers on an important matter or fail to reach an accord with them; that a court of justice is not supporting the collector of customs at some remote port of Haiti; and other similar questions that are constantly arising. I obtain all available information from the treaty official. On urgent matters I make an appointment to see President Borno at once. Otherwise, I make a note and an appointment for the following morning on my way to the office. During the sessions of the Council of State when President Borno is always in residence at Port au Prince, I stop at the palace on my way to the office practically every morning. I have my notes and discuss the various matters that have been brought to my attention by the treaty officials. When I have finished, President Borno usually produces his notes on matters that he wishes to discuss with me. If I have not been informed regarding these matters, I invariably tell him that I will consult the treaty official concerned and give him my opinion thereon. This course of action I always follow. At times, when the subject is important, and in order to have it a matter of record, I embody it in a note to President Borno. Whenever the question of a law or a matter of finances is concerned, I always request that President Borno, before submitting the matter to the Council of State, have his Minister of Finance take it up with the Financial Adviser. The Financial Adviser and I then discuss the matter and in the very unusual case where we are unable to agree and the question is of sufficient importance to warrant such action, I issue appropriate written instructions to him for his guidance. If the Financial Adviser disagrees with me he can always, after carrying out my instructions, place his case before the Department through official channels.

In my relations with the treaty officials, I have consequently had them keep me informed of all activities in their organizations, of their relations with their respective ministers and other Haitian officials, and [Page 214]I have directed that all correspondence between treaty officials be forwarded through me.

The organization of treaty officials originated by me in 1922, in accordance with my Instructions as outlined in an organization chart accompanying my Despatch No. 35 of May 20, 1922,33 has been supplemented by instructions issued by me to the treaty officials.

My relations with President Borno are, naturally, very close. I could not have built up the present governmental structure, financial as well as otherwise, without first having obtained his absolute confidence. It has been my custom to see him frequently. He will see me at any time, night or day. On occasions when the matter to be discussed is technical and I do not feel that I can properly present it to him, and that it would in any way assist me or the treaty official concerned by having the treaty official present, I have always taken him with me. The treaty officials are, however, by Treaty agreement, advisers to their respective ministers and on several occasions President Borno has pointed this fact out to me and informed me that he desired to consult only with me on the subject. When technical advice is necessary he has, however, never refused my request to bring the treaty official concerned with me. But on such occasions, he has almost invariably had his proper cabinet officer present. Naturally, our discussion has been limited.

In view of the above, it is requested that the Department consider the advisability of eliminating paragraph (b).

Referring to (c). The Department will note, from an examination of my Instructions of February 11, 1922, that the High Commissioner now determines, in consultation with the Financial Adviser, the general form which the expenditures should take. It is pertinent to point out that it is not a question of accord, but one of consultation. Furthermore, at the present time, it is only when a discussion arises between the Haitian Government and the High Commissioner that the question is referred to the Department. According to the instructions of the Department as contained in (c) it is my interpretation that the Department now desires to take away from the High Commissioner the authority given him by his Instructions of the 11th of February 1922 and in the event that an agreement is impossible between the High Commissioner and the Financial Adviser that the matter be referred to the Department.

As the Department has stated there must be one guiding authority in Haiti, naturally, such authority will seek the advice of the treaty official involved. In a question of finances, he would have to be very certain of his ground to oppose the desires of the Financial Adviser, and in doing so he would assume grave responsibility. On the other [Page 215]hand, the present system of financial control which the High Commissioner has succeeded in building up gives the Financial Adviser, if there is no controlling head in Haiti, an authority that is believed to be unwise. It practically makes of him a financial dictator, lowers the prestige of the High Commissioner, not only in the eyes of the Haitian Government, but also in those of the treaty officials and tends to make the other treaty officials endeavor to place themselves in the good graces of the Financial Adviser.

In view of the above I have to recommend that the Instructions contained in (c) be cancelled.

The comment of my Legal Adviser, Judge Richard U. Strong is attached hereto.34

I have [etc.]

John H. Russell