838.00Commission of Investigation/127

Report of the President’s Commission for the Study and Review of Conditions in the Republic of Haiti

Appointment of the Commission

On February 7, 1930, the President named the following members of the Commission for the Study and Review of Conditions in Haiti:

  • W. Cameron Forbes, of Massachusetts, Chairman.
  • Henry P. Fletcher, of Pennsylvania.
  • Elie Vezina, of Rhode Island.
  • James Kerney, of New Jersey.
  • William Allen White, of Kansas.

On February 4 the President had set forth the purpose and powers of this special Commission as follows:

The primary question which is to be investigated is when and how we are to withdraw from Haiti. The second question is what we shall do in the meantime. Certainly we shall withdraw our Marines and officials sometime. There are some people who wish for us to scuttle overnight. I am informed that every group in Haiti considers that such action would result in disaster to the Haitian people. On the other hand, our treaty of 1915, under which our forces are present in that country, in the main expires in 1936, or six years hence. We have no mandate to continue the present relationship after that date.

We have an obligation to the people of Haiti, and we need to plan how we will discharge that obligation. There is need to build up a certainty of efficient and stable government, in order that life and property may be protected after we withdraw. We need to know, therefore, what sequent steps should be taken in cooperation with the Haitian people to bring about this result.

The answers to these questions must be worked out in broad vision after careful investigation of the entire subject by men of unbiased minds. It is for this reason that I have proposed to send a commission to Haiti to determine the facts, to study and survey the whole problem in the light of our experience in the past 15 years and the social and political background of the Haitian people, to confer with all sides, to recommend the sequent and positive steps which will lead to the liquidation of our responsibilities and at the same time assure stable government in Haiti.

As I have stated before, I have no desire for representation of the American Government abroad through our military forces. We entered [Page 218] Haiti in 1915 for reasons arising from chaotic and distressing conditions, the consequence of a long period of civil war and disorganization. We assumed by treaty the obligation to assist the Republic of Haiti in the restoration of order; the organization of an efficient police force; the rehabilitation of its finances; and the development of its natural resources. We have the implied obligation of assisting in building up of a stable self-government. Peace and order have been restored, finances have been largely rehabilitated, a police force is functioning under the leadership of Marine officers. The economic development of Haiti has shown extraordinary improvement under this régime. It is marked by highway systems, vocational schools, and public-health measures. General Russell deserves great credit for these accomplishments.

We need now a new and definite policy looking forward to the expiration of our treaties.

The President announced on February 7 that after consultation with the chairman of the commission, he had requested Dr. R. E. Moton, president of the Tuskegee institute, on behalf of the Institute and such other educational affiliations as he might suggest, to undertake an exhaustive investigation into the educational system of Haiti with a view to recommendations for the future.24 Doctor Moton selected the following members of his committee:

  • Dr. Mordecai Johnson, President of Howard University.
  • Prof. Leo M. Favrot, Field Secretary of the General Education Board.
  • Prof. Benjamin F. Hubert, President of Georgia State Industrial College.
  • Dr. W. T. B. Williams, Dean of the College, Tuskegee Institute, and Field Agent of the Jeanes and Slater Funds.

The commission extended an invitation to Doctor Moton to accompany them on the U.S.S. Rochester, but in view of the fact that Doctor Moton had not had time to complete his plans, it was announced that he would proceed at a later date. Pending the receipt of Doctor Moton’s report the commission has dealt only incidentally with educational matters.

The President’s commission assembled at Palm Beach, Fla., February 20–24, 1930, preparatory to its departure for Haiti.

On February 25, 1930, the commission embarked at Key West, Fla., on the U.S.S. Rochester, which had been placed at its disposal. It arrived at Port au Prince on February 28 at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and immediately called upon the American High Commissioner, General John H. Russell, and His Excellency Louis Borno, the President of the Republic. The commission then issued the following statement: [Page 219]

In order to be readily accessible the commission will reside at the Excelsior Hotel, where the offices of the commission are likewise to be located. Beginning to-morrow (Saturday) morning, the commission will hold open sessions every day, except Sunday, from 9 a.m. until 12 o’clock noon, to which all citizens are invited. The offices of the commission will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for receiving information and for the making of appointments with those who care to appear in person before the commission. It is the desire of the commission that all elements of the Haitian people shall be heard freely and frankly. Citizens who for any reason may desire to have private interviews will be welcome, and their communications will be treated as confidential. Following our meetings in Port au Prince the commission will visit other important points in the Republic and pursue the same course as to hearings and interviews. The purpose of our mission is to gather as completely as is humanly possible all facts concerning the situation.

The commission took up its residence in the Excelsior Hotel, where it established offices the following day and was in session daily from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. It gave public or private audience, as desired by those who appeared before it. Briefs were also filed. No one was deprived of the opportunity of presenting his views.

The opposition to the Borno administration had manifested itself in the formation of eight groups or political leagues, the names of which were:

  • L’Union Patriotique
  • La Ligue des Droits de I’Homme et du Citoyen
  • La Ligue d’Action Sociale Haitienne
  • La Ligue Nationale d’Action Constitutionnelle
  • La Ligue de Defense Nationale
  • La Ligue de la Jeunesse Patriote
  • Le Parti National Travailliste
  • L’Union Nationaliste

The presidents of these leagues had set up a committee which they called “The Federated Committee of the Associated Groups of the Opposition.” This committee was the central organization directing the movement against the American Occupation and the Borno administration, and took charge of the presentation of the opposition case before the commission. The Federated Committee had selected George N. Leger, a prominent Haitian, to assist in the presentation of their case. Mr. Leger attended all of the public sessions held by the commission at Port au Prince and acted as counsel for all those who appeared before the commission for the purpose of presenting the claims of the opposition.

Many plans were submitted both verbally and in writing, most of which related to the withdrawal of the American Occupation, the reestablishment of a representative government by the election of the Legislative Assembly and the abolition of the Council of State. [Page 220] Various courses were suggested, some very extreme and one going so far as to advocate that the affairs of the Republic of Haiti should be managed by the President’s commission until such time as the legislative body could convene. Another plan would replace the Council of State with a legislative body composed of 51 members, of which 26 members were to be appointed by the President of the Republic.

After holding sessions at Port au Prince from the 1st of March until Saturday evening, the 8th of March, the commission left on March 9, by automobile, for a trip through the northern half of the Republic, stopping at Pont Beudet, Mirebelais, Las Cohobas, and Thomonde and spending that night at Hinche. At each of these towns gatherings of citizens met the commission to present complaints and petitions.

On Monday the 10th the commission proceeded to Cape Haitien by motor, stopping at Maissade, St. Michel, Ennery, Plaisance, and Limbe. Large crowds greeted the commission, and speeches were made by the opposition leaders. At Cape Haitien the town had turned out in very large numbers, and throngs of people lined the road, displaying signs and banners. That night the commission attended a reception given by the members of the Union Club, a Haitian social organization.

The following morning hearings were held by the commission at the American Consulate and briefs were presented. A visit was also made to the sisal plantation of the Haitian Corporation of America.

The commission embarked that night on the Rochester for Gonaïves, which they reached the following morning at 8 o’clock. A large crowd with banners met them at the dock and followed them to the Hotel de Ville, where hearings were held.

The commission left Gonaives on the Rochester at noon and arrived at Port au Prince that evening. Hearings were resumed there on the 13th and continued until the evening of Saturday the 15th. The commission sailed on the Rochester the morning of the 16th, arriving at Miami Thursday, March 20.

Political Agitation

Announcement that President Hoover had appointed a commission of inquiry and review to proceed to Haiti was enough to excite a volatile population. When President Borno, a few days before the arrival of the commission, removed four members of the Council of State, agitators spread the rumor that this was done to afford President Borno a pliable majority in the council through which he might execute a coup d’état, electing a new president for a six-year term. [Page 221] The night before the commission arrived in Port au Prince, crowds thronged the streets and masses gathered in the “Champ de Mars,” which might easily have become a dangerous mob. The Haitian Garde used their clubs in breaking up the crowd. The entrance of the commissioners to Port au Prince the next day was dramatic. People thronged the streets from the wharf to the hotel and remained cheering while the commission made its ceremonial calls. The crowd paraded before the hotel of the commission and displayed flags and banners calling for legislative elections and the end of the American Occupation. They were variously worded but all of one tenor: Opposition to the Borno government and the Occupation.

These banners and the crowds were clearly the work of organization. In a country with a low rate of literacy the mob is a form of political expression, and revolution, which is the mob in action, seems to be a part of the evolutionary process. Wherever the commission went in Haiti, evidence of this technique was conspicuous. The same banners—scarcely varying a word from Port au Prince to Cape Haitien—waved everywhere. Women, singing the same songs, thronged the rural highways. The same paper flags, darkened with black paper bars to indicate a state of mourning for lost liberties, greeted the commission in a dozen widely separated parts of the Republic. The same agitators were often seen in the crowds in distant parts of the Republic. Having said this, it is only just to say that the politicians of the opposition did their work so thoroughly that no counter demonstration was attempted by citizens favorable to the Borno government. It is fair to assume that public sentiment in Haiti was more responsive to the opposition than to the government.

The Electoral Crisis

The commission found the situation in regard to the election of a new president critical. The evidence submitted to it, not only by the witnesses who appeared in the public and private hearings, but also in the reports of American officers charged with the maintenance of order, was so complete that the commission was convinced that the election of a new president by the means practiced in the last two elections, namely, by the Council of State, would not be accepted quietly by the populace. Conditions became so tense that, after discussing the matter with General Russell, the commission called in the leaders of the opposition, representing the so-called patriotic groups. After persuading these leaders to issue a note asking the public to be calm and await with patience its report, the commission suggested the possibility of the selection of some neutral, nonpolitical candidate for the presidency who would be acceptable both to President Borno and his party and also to the opposition. Serious objection [Page 222] was raised by the opposition leaders to any election by the Council of State which, they declared, would not be acceptable to the people. They finally assented to a compromise by which delegates elected by the patriotic groups should select a neutral candidate who would later be elected President by the Council of State.

After protracted negotiations carried on by members of the commission with the opposition, and, through General Russell, with President Borno, a definite plan was drawn up which was approved by President Hoover.

This plan provided that as soon as possible after assuming office, on May 15, the temporary president would call an election of the Legislative Assembly consisting of two chambers which, when convened, would proceed to elect a permanent president of the Republic for a full term of six years, the temporary president having agreed to present his resignation at that time and not to be a candidate for election.

Five names were submitted by the opposition, of which that of Eugene Roy was accepted by President Borno. On the day preceding the departure of the commission from Port au Prince it had the satisfaction of announcing to the public and, by wireless, to Washington, that the plan providing for the election of Mr. Roy as temporary president had been accepted by both sides.

American Intervention

The reasons which impelled the United States to enter Haiti in 191525 are so well known that they need not be set forth in this report.

Conditions were chaotic; means of communication were largely nonexistent; the peasant class was impoverished; disease was general; property was menaced; and the debt of the government, indeterminate in amount, had risen—at least on paper—to staggering proportions.

Having landed a force of Marines, thus restoring public order and protecting the citizens of the United States and other countries from violence, the United States by treaty obtained control of a variety of governmental agencies with a view to assisting in the reestablishment of a stable government. There was not and there never has been on the part of the United States any desire to impair Haitian sovereignty.

There is no room for doubt that Haiti, under the control of the American Occupation, has made great material progress in the past fifteen years.

Indeed, the greater part of what has been done has been accomplished in the past eight years, because it was not until the disastrous and involved financial situation could be straightened out by the [Page 223] flotation of the loan of 192226 that a constructive policy could be carried out.

Peace and order were restored by the Marines by 1920 and road building was begun under Marine auspices. The essential primary steps for the reform of the administration were taken as soon as peace was restored by the elimination of banditry, but the American officials were working at cross purposes and progress was hampered. It was therefore decided to entrust General Russell, of the United States Marine Corps, who had served in Haiti almost from the beginning of the Occupation, with the duty of coordinating and directing the efforts of the treaty officials. In order that he might also have the highest civilian rank it was decided not to appoint an American Minister, and he was given the title of High Commissioner.27 As such he is the representative of the United States near the Haitian Government.

The commission desires to record its high praise of General Russell’s whole-hearted and single-minded devotion to the interests of Haiti as he conceived them, his unremitting labor, and his patient and painstaking efforts to bring order out of chaos and to reconstruct a governmental machine which had been largely destroyed by years of abuse, incapacity, and anarchy. Since the Occupation the Haitian Government, especially under President Borno, with the guidance and assistance of the American officials in its service, has a fine record of accomplishment. Eight hundred miles of highways have been built. Before the intervention the road between Port au Prince and Cape Haitien, the two principal ports and cities of the Republic, was practically impassable except on horseback. The journey of 180 miles took three days. Now it is done in six hours by automobile. A most involved financial situation has been liquidated and the entire fiscal system renovated and modernized. In a word, order has been created where there was only disorder in the collection and disbursement of the Government funds. An efficient constabulary has been organized and trained and has maintained peace and order. Few are the instances where the assistance of the United States Marines had to be called upon in the past eight years. A Public Health and Sanitary Service, which is a model of devotion and efficiency, has been organized and maintained.

Under the treaty of 1915 the assistance of the United States was not provided for in the matter of education, and it has been only recently and indirectly that the American Occupation has interested itself in this field. Since the Occupation an efficient Coast Guard has been organized, lighthouses have been built and navigation [Page 224] rendered much safer, agriculture has been encouraged, and hospitals, public buildings, and parks have been constructed.

Figures indicative of progress have been submitted showing an increase in the registration of automobiles in seven years from 400 to 2,800. The number of linear feet of bridges built has been multiplied by three. There has been a notable increase in the number of permits issued for private building construction and a wholesome increase in the gross trade as measured by the value of exports and imports. The automatic lighthouses have been increased from 4 to 15; telephone subscribers have increased from about 400 to nearly 1,200 and the number of telephone calls a year from about 1,000,000 to over 5,000,000.

There is attached to this report as an appendix, a series of graphs which makes it easy to visualize the notable material progress achieved.28

The commission was disappointed at the evidence it received of the lack of appreciation on the part of the educated and cultured Haitians of the services rendered them by the Occupation and their own Government. Out of many dozen witnesses only one or two made favorable mention of the achievements of their administration.

It is to be hoped that the Haitian people will come in the course of the next six years to realize that an enlightened self-interest will require that this rate of progress be maintained, particularly in the matter of public health and public works, especially roads.

Political Aspects

Under the American Occupation—and with its consent—the legislative chambers were dissolved in 1918, and by an interpretation of a new constitution, adopted under its egis,29 they have not since been reassembled. The country has been ruled by a President and a Council of State exercising, under the direction of American officials, the legislative authority. Local self-government has also largely disappeared. The important municipalities and communes are ruled by commissioners appointed by the President. The members of the Council of State itself have been appointed and removed by him. The Council of State under the legislative authority vested in it by the 1918 constitution has exercised the powers of a National Assembly in electing the President.30

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The people of Haiti, since the dissolution of the National Assembly by President Dartignave, have had no popularly elected representatives in control of their Government. The American Occupation has accepted—if not indeed encouraged—this state of affairs. Certainly reforms could be instituted and governmental measures carried through more easily in these circumstances, and were.

The acts and attitude of the treaty officials gave your commission the impression that they had been based upon the assumption that the Occupation would continue indefinitely. In other words, their plans and projects did not seem to take into account that their work should be completed by 1936, and the commission was disappointed to find that the preparation for the political and administrative training of Haitians for the responsibilities of government had been inadequate.

The commission is under no delusions as to what may happen in Haiti after the convocation of the elected legislative assembly and, to a greater extent, after the complete withdrawal of the United States forces. The Government of Haiti before American intervention was, so far as the commission could learn, more democratic and representative in name than in fact. The Deputies and Senators were, the commission was informed, more often chosen by the President than elected by the people.

The commission is not convinced that the foundations for democratic and representative government are now broad enough in Haiti. The educated public opinion and literate minority are so small that any government formed in these circumstances is liable to become an oligarchy. The literate few too often look to public office as a means of livelihood. Until the basis of political structure is broadened by education—a matter of years—the Government must necessarily be more or less unstable and in constant danger of political upheavals.

Treaty Relations

The commission is of the opinion that the progressive steps looking toward the withdrawal of the assistance now being given by the American Occupation should be taken on the theory and understanding that the present treaty will remain in force until 1936, it being understood that such modifications as circumstances require and the two Governments agree upon may be made at any time. It is too early to suggest in what form the American Occupation should be liquidated upon the expiration of the treaty or in what form such further aid and assistance as the Haitian Government might desire from the United States should be provided. This can be more wisely decided in the light of the experience of the next few years.

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The question of the withdrawal of the Marine Brigade, which acts as a stabilizing and supporting force in the preservation of order, is one which the commission has carefully considered. Very little complaint was heard of the presence of the Marines, except as they formed part of the American Occupation. They are not much in evidence. All except about one hundred and fifty are stationed in Port au Prince; the rest are at Cape Haitien. The commission considered the question of removing the Marines from these two centers and putting them in barracks a short distance from these cities, but concluded that this was impracticable and unwise. The commission recommends the gradual reduction of the Marine Brigade if and as, in the judgment of the two Governments, the political situation warrants. No reduction of the Marine Brigade should be made without consultation with the commandant of the Garde. It should also be remembered that in case of riots and uprisings this force might be necessary to protect the lives of American families, both private and official, and of foreigners residing in Port au Prince and other cities.

The money spent in Haiti by the Marine Brigade, consisting, as it now does, of about eight hundred officers and men, is an important factor in the economic life of the country, especially in the present depression of trade. The expense of the Marine Occupation is borne entirely by the United States Government.

Law and Order

By article 10 of the treaty the Haitian Government is obligated to create a constabulary, composed of native Haitians and organized and officered by Americans, for the preservation of domestic peace, the security of individual rights, and the full observance of the treaty.

It is also further provided that these American officers will be replaced by Haitians as they are found qualified by examination conducted by a board to be selected by the senior American officer of the Constabulary (Garde) and in the presence of a representative of the Haitian Government.

These treaty provisions have been supplemented by agreements between the two Governments (known as the Gendarmerie Agreements) fixing salaries, duties, etc. In addition to their police duties, district and subdistrict commanders of the Garde have also been charged with the duty of communal advisers in connection with the collection and disbursing of the communal revenues and have charge of the Coast Guard and lighthouses.

[Page 227]

It is obvious that after the withdrawal of the American forces, the orderly functioning of the Haitian Government will depend in large measure upon the efficiency and discipline of the Garde.

The primary and principal duty of the Garde—the maintenance of law and order—has been well and conscientiously performed. The replacement of American officers of the Garde by Haitians, contemplated by the treaty, has not been carried out, however, as rapidly as, in the opinion of the commission, it should have been done. There is not now and there never has been a Haitian officer of the Garde above the grade of captain. There are now but 2 Haitian captains on duty with troops out of a total of 23, 17 Haitian first lieutenants out of a total of 58, 19 Haitian second lieutenants out of a total of 57, and 28 aspirant officers (cadets), all of whom are Haitians.

At the request of the commission the commandant of the Garde has submitted tables (see Appendix, Tables Nos. 1 and 2) showing the program now proposed by the High Command for the progressive Haitianization of the Garde over the period from 1930 until 1936. It should be noted that these plans have not yet been approved and ordered to be put into operation.

The commission believes that no change in the treaty or the Gendarmerie Agreement nor increase in the funds voted for the Garde, is necessary to effect a more rapid Haitianization. The commandant of the Garde testified that American officers serving with the Garde could be transferred back to the Marine Corps at any time to make room for the promotion of Haitians, and this should be done where vacancies occurring in the ordinary course are not sufficient to give the opportunity for a faster promotion of Haitians.

Notwithstanding the fact that there are a number of American noncommissioned officers serving as company officers in the Garde who have rendered fine service for from eight to fourteen and onehalf years, not one of them has ever been promoted above the grade of captain in the Haitian Garde. The commission believes that some of these men are at least as well fitted by training and experience to be promoted to field rank as Marine officers who have not had their experience in Haiti.

The Haitianization program rests with the Navy Department and Marine Corps headquarters in Washington, which can, by recalling the Navy and Marine officers on service with the Haitian Garde, make room for the promotion of Haitians. The selection of the officers recalled and promoted should be left to the commandant of the Garde in Haiti. Even if discipline and efficiency suffer temporarily, the commission feels that they will undoubtedly suffer more by delaying this reform.

[Page 228]

The École Militaire, temporarily closed at the end of last year, is an important factor in the training of Haitian officers, and it should be immediately reopened and should receive support from now through the period of American control.

The commission believes that when the Garde is Haitianized it would be advisable that some provision be made for orderly promotion and retirement and for protection against promotion by political influence.

The Financial Situation

The financial achievement of the American administration is noteworthy. A modern and up-to-date budgetary system has been established with preaudit, which is one of the latest and most effective devices for accurate, economical, and expeditious management of accounts.

Some witnesses who appeared before your commission criticized the financial management of the Government and even went so far as to charge improprieties in connection with it. Many complained that they were kept in ignorance as to how their money was collected and how spent. This shows that they had not read the careful reports issued by the Financial Adviser in both English and French. Nor did any of the witnesses mention the fact that six auditors from the United States Comptroller’s Office had made a thorough analysis of all accounts of the Government, which were found correct except for certain very minor errors and adjustments, since rectified.

The revenues and expenses have been carefully balanced with a conservative margin of revenues in excess of expenditures, resulting in a steadily increasing treasury surplus. (See Appendix.)

The Service of the Public Debt has been cared for and several million dollars of the principal thereof paid off out of revenues in excess of the amount called for by the amortization plan. The wisdom of this course is open to question; it might have been better to have reduced the taxation, especially the export tax, and left the debt to work itself out during its normal term, thus keeping more money in the country where experience has shown it was badly needed.

Little by little the American Occupation has extended its intervention in the financial operation of Haiti, until 60 per cent of the revenues are now expended under American supervision, including the Service of the Public Debt.

The commission believes that the 5 per cent maximum allowed out of the Government revenues to cover the cost of the General Receivership should not be considered a flat allowance, but a limitation within which the receiver must operate. The commission recommends that appropriations disbursed by the treaty services in Haiti [Page 229] should be budgeted with the same detail as are the appropriations for the regular public services of the Haitian Government.

Health and Medical Relief

At the time of the American Occupation in 1915, it has been estimated, fully 70 per cent of the people of Haiti were afflicted with dangerous and incapacitating diseases; yaws and syphilis were prevalent. Except for a little aid in a few of the towns no relief was available. In the country districts the population suffered without knowing that remedies could be had. The doctors of the country showed no willingness to bring relief to remote places. To-day, thanks to an efficient United States [Navy] Medical Service, there are 153 rural clinics to which 1,341,596 visits were made in 1929. The few inefficient hospitals were rebuilt and new ones established so that there are now 11 modern hospitals with a capacity of over a thousand beds, where before there were only a few hundred of the almshouse type.

In Haiti practically the entire burden for medical care falls upon the Government. Private hospitals and volunteer aid are almost entirely lacking.

Lack of Census

It is greatly to be regretted that no census was available in 1915 which would have made possible an accurate measurement of benefits that have been conferred by the American Occupation. There are, however, census figures for small groups made by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1924 which justify the belief that an unquestioned benefit has resulted to the health and well-being of the people of Haiti.


Malaria has sapped the vitality of the population for several centuries and has had an important influence in retarding agricultural development. With the advent of the American Occupation modern measures for the control of the diseases are being invoked as rapidly as the resources permit. Much progress has resulted. Port au Prince and other large towns are now practically free of the disease, and there is little likelihood of contracting it. In many rural areas malaria is being brought under control, but much remains to be done which will probably have to wait until the economic conditions improve.

Other Diseases

There are not sufficient data to judge of the importance of tuberculosis. The records of the Gendarmerie show that the incidence of [Page 230] the disease is very high. In 700 autopsies at the General Hospital of Port au Prince 26 per cent of the deaths were due to tuberculosis. On the other hand, hospital experience in many places shows a small admission rate.

Typhoid fever, which had a high rate in Port au Prince, has been nearly eliminated by chlorinating the water supply. According to recent records there is a remarkable relative freedom from many diseases. The great waves of dysentery that sweep over tropical countries and are responsible for so many deaths have not occurred in Haiti for many years.

Hookworm causes very little serious disability. Diabetes and stones of the gall bladder, kidney, and urinary bladder are rare. Heart disease and pneumonia are relatively unimportant.


No one need go hungry in Haiti. Mangoes, yams, rice, beans’ and other products of the soil occur in abundance and can be had with a minimum of effort.

There is, however, much reason to believe that the diet is deficient in proteins. In other words there is a great lack of eggs, milk, meat, and other foods that contain substances that are essential to a balanced ration.

In the past there have been serious outbreaks of disease due to improper nourishment. Owing to the dense ignorance which prevails, public-health education is difficult.

Professional Training

After the Occupation it soon became obvious that if health and medical effort were to be successfully continued by Haitians, means must be provided for adequate training. A nurses’ training school was started at the Port au Prince General Hospital which has produced nearly one hundred graduates, many of whom are already rendering excellent service throughout the country. Practical courses are in operation for training laboratory technicians. Hospital-corps men for the Gendarmerie are trained by its medical officers and the General Hospital.

Upon the recommendation of the Navy Medical Service the antiquated inefficient medical school was transferred to the National Public Health Service and appropriations secured for proper buildings and maintenance of essential services. A philanthropic organization of the United States donated equipment and provided fellowships to train Haitian doctors to become teachers of modern medicine.

In 1929 a modern health center was started in Port au Prince. This not only demonstrates the benefits of health measures but also [Page 231] serves as a training base for health workers. A Haitian graduate nurse is now at Columbia University, N. Y., for special training in public health and is soon to return to open classes for nurses in the same subject at Port au Prince.

The direct and indirect effect of these measures is everywhere apparent. Four of the 10 health districts are now in charge of Haitians, and others are to follow as rapidly as trained personnel becomes available. Briefly, there are 2,225 persons employed in the National Public Health Service, of which 2,120 are Haitians. The balance is made up of 20 Naval medical officers, 14 Navy hospital corps men whose salaries are paid by the United States, 63 French Nuns, 2 French Priests, 4 American Red Cross Nurses, 1 French librarian, and 1 Jamaican plumber. Of the 159 Haitian doctors in the country 40 percent are employed in the Government service.

General Deductions

There is abundant evidence that great improvement has taken place in the health of the people since the Occupation. The National Public Health Service enjoys the confidence and approval of the public to an unusual degree. The streets of the towns are well swept; garbage and refuse are removed; slaughter houses are inspected; and an earnest effort made to control soil pollution and to provide safe drinking-water. The Gendarmerie has a good medical service. The jails are clean and sanitary, and the average health of the prisoners has been greatly improved. The hospitals are well administered, and high-grade medical and surgical skill is provided. Machinery is available for the control of epidemics and to prevent the introduction of disease from abroad. Medical relief through the vast rural clinic system can be had by everyone, even in the most remote sections of the country. Diagnosis based on laboratory findings is available for all necessary cases. The health and medical work has been directed and largely done by the United States Naval medical officers, ably assisted by Haitians and the French nuns.

Steps have been taken to provide training to enable Haitians to take over the entire National Public Health Service. In view of the importance of building up the disease-weakened Haitian people, it is recommended that it be made possible for the Government of Haiti to avail itself of United States Naval medical officers to serve as advisers after the present treaty expires. It might also be desirable to employ a few American medical men other than naval officers to insure longer tenure and continuity of service. In the meantime the assignments of the United States Naval medical officers and hospital corps men should be lengthened, so that the experience gained in [Page 232] language, customs and conditions may be available to the people of Haiti for the greatest possible period.

Unless these steps are taken, it is feared that the Medical Service may deteriorate and that ground will be lost which has been won with so much sacrifice and effort.

The State Church in Haiti

The relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Government of Haiti since 1860 are governed by a concordat. Two additional conventions entered into respectively in 1861 and 1862 and a statute referred to as the “Loi des Fabriques” provide for the carrying out of its terms.31 There is no confusion of civil with ecclesiastical authority; there is no union of church and state, as the term is generally understood. The Government of Haiti, believing that the church and religion are essential to the well-being of the Haitian people, agrees to cooperate with the clergy and makes provisions to subsidize the church; and the church undertakes to establish parishes and missions throughout Haiti and to establish, in the words of the concordat, “those orders and institutions which are approved by the Catholic Church,” including schools, hospitals, asylums, orphanages, etc.

The clergy, which came to Haiti in 1864, consisting of an Archbishop, a band of 40 Priests, and a small group of Brothers and Sisters, found religion in a lamentable condition; everything still had to be done. With but one exception, every church building in Haiti has been constructed since 1860.

Now, at the beginning of 1930, the organization of the church is as follows:

There are one archdiocese and four dioceses corresponding to the five departments which constitute the political subdivisions of Haiti. These dioceses with their respective populations as furnished by the church authorities, are as follows:

Archdiocese of Port au Prince population 942,700
Diocese of Cape Haitien 453,000
Diocese of Aux Cayes 628,000
Diocese of Gonaïves 475,000
Diocese of Port de Paix 153,490

These population statistics are based on the statistics of births covering more than fifty years and are probably the most accurate estimate available.

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At the head of each diocese there is either an Archbishop or a Bishop.

There are in all 205 Priests in Haiti; of these 156 are secular Priests engaged in active mission work, and in charge of parishes. All parishes in the diocese of Port de Paix and two in Port au Prince are in charge of regular clergy. The others are doing educational work or are engaged in other special services connected with the dioceses. Eight of the Priests are Haitians.

There are 105 Brothers of Christian instruction (83 French, 10 French-Canadian, 9 Spanish, and 3 Haitian).

There are three congregations of Sisters as follows:

  • St. Joseph de Cluny, with 146 Sisters
  • Les Filles de la Sagesse, with 198 Sisters
  • Les Filles de Marie, with 22 Sisters

The Priests, and especially the Brothers and Sisters, have devoted themselves, with such inadequate resources as they have had, not only to the spreading of religion, but to the founding of schools, parish churches, and mission chapels. The Brothers at present conduct seventeen boys’ schools in the larger centers and rural districts and the Sisters have an even greater number of girls’ schools and primary schools for both boys and girls.

By a law of 1913 the Priests were authorized to establish rural schools usually referred to as “presbyteral schools.” The Filles de Marie are especially devoted to vocational and industrial education and to the preparation of teachers for the presbyteral schools.

The church institutions in Haiti are as follows:

112 parishes, usually one in each commune and several in the larger centers.
465 mission chapels.
153 presbyteral schools, with 10,623 pupils. These schools are all taught by lay teachers, generally women who receive a salary of about $6 United States currency per month. They are the foundation of the educational system of Haiti and deserve more generous support.
17 Brothers’ schools with 6,731 students; the instructors are about half Brothers and half laymen and receive salaries from the Government, averaging considerably less than $40 per month. The Brother Superintendent, who is responsible for the supervision of these schools, receives a monthly salary of $100.
4 colleges with a total attendance of about 2,500.
36 Sisters’ schools.
1 girls’ industrial school conducted by the Belgian Sisters and under the Service Technique of the Department of Agriculture.

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The Haitian Government subsidizes a seminary in France for the special training of missionaries for Haiti. At Port au Prince there is a seminary for the training of Haitian Priests.

Judicial Procedure

Friction between the Haitian courts and the American treaty officials has arisen at various times because, on the one hand, the courts have refused to enforce or have obstructed the execution of certain administrative measures and because, on the other, the treaty officials have refused to obey the orders of the court on the ground that the treaty is the law of the land and its observance and the agencies set up by it can not be obstructed or interfered with by the judiciary. The question raised is delicate but goes to the heart of our treaty relations with Haiti, and the commission recommends that in case of future conflict of authority on this score the matter be settled by direct and friendly negotiations between the two Governments.

The unsatisfactory administration of Haitian justice and the necessity of reform of the system with more adequate salaries and more modern methods, was pointed out to the commission but as this is a matter for the Haitian people themselves to decide, the commission feels it is without its province to express any opinion. If a stable government is to be assured after the withdrawal of the Occupation, the question of the judiciary should receive careful consideration.


Much complaint was made to the commission of the manner (by plebiscite) in which the present constitution of Haiti was adopted in 1918 and amended in 192832—and especially of the manner in which the present Government of Haiti interpreted its provisions relating to the powers of the Council of State.

One accusation persistently brought against the American intervention concerns the inserting in the constitution of 1918 of an article granting to foreigners the right to take title to Haitian land. It is evident that the change has produced much irritation and suspicion. From the inception of the Republic in 1804, the Haitians had consistently excluded foreigners from owning real property, and in the face of such a tradition it was unfortunate to have had the land policy altered under American auspices. The commission recommends, in case the Haitian people desire to amend this provision, that our Government make no objection thereto, merely limiting itself to seeing that rights and titles acquired under the present constitution—which are comparatively few—be respected. The commission [Page 235] found no instance of undue advantage having been taken by Americans of the clause enabling foreigners, under certain restrictions, to acquire real estate.

Race Prejudice

Race antipathies lie behind many of the difficulties which the United States military and civil forces have met in Haiti. The race situation there is unique; the Negro race after more than a century of freedom has developed a highly cultured, highly sophisticated, raceconscious leadership. This group, which is proud to be known as the “Elite,” forms the governing class. It is an urban group, comprising a very small proportion of the population, probably less than 5 per cent, generally mulatto but shading from octoroon to black, and because it is educated, comparatively wealthy and highly privileged with leadership, this class is as careful in maintaining its caste distinction as any other ruling class. Their language is French. Their Catholicism is French. The masses of Haiti are poor and ignorant. Generally speaking, they are of pure African descent. Illiteracy keeps the peasant masses politically inarticulate, except in case of mobs or bandit gangs, which formerly infested the countryside and often furnished the forces of revolution. These bandit gangs have been broken up and have disappeared under American rule, but the social forces that created them still remain—poverty, ignorance, and the lack of a tradition or desire for orderly free government. It has been the aim of the American Occupation to try to broaden the base of the articulate proletariat and thus make for a sounder democracy and ultimately provide for a more representative government in Haiti. Hence its work in education, in sanitation, in agencies of communication such as roads, telephones, telegraph lines, and regular mail routes. These things naturally are deemed of secondary importance by the Elite, who see in the rise of a middle class a threat to the continuation of their own leadership.

The failure of the Occupation to understand the social problems of Haiti, its brusque attempt to plant democracy there by drill and harrow, its determination to set up a middle class—however wise and necessary it may seem to Americans—all these explain why, in part, the high hopes of our good works in this land have not been realized.


The personnel of some of the services are officers selected from the Navy and the Marine Corps. The commission finds certain inherent difficulties in this connection. Naval officers are detailed for a period of three years; it takes two years to learn the language and to become familiar with conditions, and it is obvious that men subject to such short details could not, in the nature of things, be the most efficient.

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The commission recommends:

That the detail of Naval and Marine officers for all Haitian services be made for a minimum of four years and that an effort be made to secure Americans who will agree to continue employment in these services, so that upon the expiration of the treaty a force of American doctors, engineers, and police officers will be available for continued assistance to the Haitian Government, should it then desire it;
That, if possible, some form of continuing appropriation for roads be urged for expenditure by the Haitian Government, with a policy that will provide enough funds to keep all existing roads in suitable repair before any new construction is undertaken; also, in regard to further construction, that only roads most urgently needed to develop regions now settled and under cultivation be undertaken until the present economic depression has passed;
That the United States interpose no objections to a moderate reduction of the customs duties, internal revenue taxes, especially those imposed upon alcohol and tobacco, or to a reduction or elimination of the export tax on coffee, if the condition of the Treasury so warrants;
That it be suggested to the Haitian Government that it employ one American adviser in each administrative department of the Government to perform such work as the respective Cabinet Minister may delegate to him, these officers to give expert advice and assistance to the Haitian Government, similar to that given by American officers in China, Siam, and Nicaragua, for naval matters in Brazil, and for educational matters in Peru;
That, as an act of graciousness on the part of the United States, a moderate appropriation be made available during the continuance of the treaty to defray the cost of American civil officials in the Haitian Government service;
That an appointment of a military attaché be made to the Legation when the time shall arrive for a Minister to replace the High Commissioner, as the question of the preservation of order is of first importance and the Minister should have the advantage of his advice on military and police matters;
That an adequate Legation building be constructed immediately by the Government of the United States in the city of Port au Prince to provide a suitable residence for the American Minister and appropriate offices.

Sequent Steps

Complying with your instructions to suggest sequent steps to be taken with respect to the Haitian situation your commission offers the following: [Page 237]

That the President declare that the United States will approve a policy, the details of which all the United States officials in Haiti are directed to assist in working out, providing for an increasingly rapid Haitianization of the services, with the object of having Haitians experienced in every department of the Government ready to take over full responsibility at the expiration of the existing treaty;
That in retaining officers now in the Haitian service, or selecting new Americans for employment therein, the utmost care be taken that only those free from strong racial antipathies should be preferred;
That the United States recognize the temporary President when elected, provided the election is in accordance with the agreement reached by your commission with President Borno and the leaders representing the opposition;
That the United States recognize the President elected by the new legislature, acting as a National Assembly, provided that neither force nor fraud have been used in the elections;
That at the expiration of General Russell’s tour of duty in Haiti, and in any such event [not?] before the inauguration of the permanent President, the office of High Commissioner be abolished and a nonmilitary Minister appointed to take over his duties as well as those of diplomatic representative;
That whether or not a certain loss of efficiency is entailed, the new Minister to Haiti be charged with the duty of carrying out the early Haitianization of the services called for in the Declaration of the President of the United States above recommended;
That, as the commission found the immediate withdrawal of the Marines inadvisable, it recommends their gradual withdrawal in accordance with arrangements to be made in future agreement between the two Governments;
That the United States limit its intervention in Haitian affairs definitely to those activities for which provision is made for American assistance by treaty, or by specific agreement between the two Governments;
That the new Minister be charged with the duty of negotiating with the Haitian Government further modifications of the existing treaty and agreements providing for less intervention in Haitian domestic affairs and defining the conditions under which the United States would lend its assistance in the restoration of order or maintenance of credit.

Respectfully submitted,

  • W. Cameron Forbes
  • Henry P. Fletcher
  • Elie Vezina
  • James Kerney
  • W. A. White
  1. See Department of State, Latin American Series No. 5: Report of the United States Commission on Education in Haiti (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1931).
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1915, pp. 461 ff.
  3. See ibid., 1922, vol. ii, pp. 472, 515.
  4. See ibid., pp. 461 ff.
  5. For the appendix, see Department of State, Latin American Series No. 2, Report of the President’s Commission for the Study and Review of Conditions in the Republic of Haiti (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1930).
  6. Constitution of 1918, Foreign Relations, 1918, p. 487; amendments, ibid., 1927, vol. iii, p. 48.
  7. See article D of title VIII, transitory provisions, Constitution of 1918, ibid., 1918, p. 502.
  8. See Hannibal Price, Dictionnaire de Législation Administrative Haitienne, (deuxième édition) (Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Imprimerie Chéraquit, 1923), pp. 441–447 and pp. 152–160.
  9. See Foreign Relations, 1927, vol. iii, pp. 4877, especially footnote 20, p. 77.