The Chargé in Liberia (Reber) to the Secretary of State

Diplomatic No. 10

Sir: Supplementing the Legation’s telegrams Nos. 106, 109, 111, and 113, I have the honor to transmit herewith a report covering the latest developments of the sanitation campaign in Liberia.

As explained in the Legation’s despatch No. 79 of July 22, 1930,2 since May 31st the sanitation campaign has been suspended for the Chief Medical Adviser has felt that without the two essential requirements of sufficient funds and ample authority with which to enforce his regulations he was unable to carry on the work provided by the terms of the Memorandum Agreement. Early in August Dr. Smith [Page 425] addressed a letter to the President requesting information as to what steps had been taken to enable these operations to be continued. No reply having been received either to that letter or to the plan presented to the Secretary of the Treasury by the Acting Financial Adviser showing how funds could be released for this purpose, Dr. Smith consulted the Legation in regard to a telegram he proposed to send to the Surgeon General, stating that in view of the absolute lack of cooperation shown him by the Government of Liberia and its officials, he felt further time here would be wasted. It was concluded that should it be brought to the attention of the Liberian Government that, owing to its failure to comply with the terms of the Memorandum Agreement and to provide the funds and ample police assistance specified therein, the Chief Medical Adviser was unable to carry out the duties assigned him, the Liberian Government would then be placed in the position either of proposing a definite program for the continuance of the work or of appearing to nullify the terms of its Agreement with the United States. It was felt that the President, who had on several occasions assured both the Chief Medical Adviser and the Legation of his desire that the work continue, would not permit the latter contingency to arise.

Upon the receipt of the Department’s telegram of August 25th I then called upon President King to explain that I had been instructed to discuss certain aspects of the sanitary campaign with particular reference to its suspension and to inform the President that the Department would regard the failure of Dr. Smith’s mission with the deepest concern.

The President stated in regard to the plan proposed by the Acting Financial Adviser that he would not consent to further transfers of this nature and implied should the Department lend its good offices in the settlement of the pending difficulties with the Fiscal Agents the money for sanitation would immediately be forthcoming. His Government, he said, had understood that funds for this purpose were to be obtained from loan monies. I replied that it was my understanding that these differences were considered quite distinct from the situation in regard to sanitation and mentioned in support of this belief the offer made by the Fiscal Agents of $11,000 to be devoted to sanitation as separate and distinct from the conditions attached to the issue of bonds for the remaining $100,000 of loan funds.

The President promised to discuss with the Secretary of Treasury ways and means of obtaining money for this purpose and on August 28th informed me that the Secretary had been instructed to accept the offer of the Fiscal Agents with the understanding that it not prejudice the Liberian position in regard to the other questions raised. The request for the $11,000 was cabled to the United States on August 29th and it is expected that within a few days the money will be [Page 426] available. Dr. Smith feels, however, that until funds are actually on hand he will not be justified in recommencing operations.

In regard to the lack of authority for the enforcement of sanitary regulations the President gave me his verbal assurance that should the campaign be re-inaugurated sufficient authority and ample police assistance would be provided Dr. Smith. The President stated that the principal difficulty in connection with work of this nature had been the feeling among many Liberians that they were being taxed to provide foreign residents with protection from yellow fever a disease which, he said, was not considered a great menace by his own people. He himself believed, however, that there was real need for general sanitation in Liberia and hoped that the work of yellow fever control could be made the starting point for a widespread sanitary improvement. It was the hope of my Government, I said, that the survey contemplated by the terms of the Memorandum Agreement would serve as a basis for a general improvement in health conditions and that the work begun in connection with yellow fever would be expanded and carried on after the termination of Dr. Smith’s mission. The President assured me it was his intention to do so.

As no competent man can admittedly be found locally for the administration of such work and as the President does not appear to have made any attempts to secure the services of one elsewhere, it is believed that an opportunity may later present itself when with some degree of success the offer to assist in obtaining the services of a man to fill the more or less permanent position of a Medical Adviser may be renewed.

At the time when the offer was made in July, there was a feeling of strong opposition to any further financial commitments or extension of American influence in view of the Fiscal Agent’s letter setting forth their complaints in regard to the loan administration and in view of the increasing uncertainty surrounding the investigations of the International Commission4 and the results of their activities. It is thought that in the event that the former difficulties be settled and money released for public improvements the Government might be induced to reconsider its decision. Dr. Smith has prepared at the President’s request the draft of a bill establishing Public Health Service for Liberia. This bill to be submitted to the Legislature at the October session provides that the Director of Public Health and Sanitation be a competent physician qualified to practice medicine according to the laws of Liberia and with experience in the work of sanitary control. No man with these attributes can be found locally with the exception of the two European doctors in Monrovia, neither of whom it is believed would accept such a position to the detriment of their private practices. [Page 427] The bill is so worded as to permit the appointment of a foreign Medical Adviser as acting Director of Public Health. Dr. Smith is sending by the same mail a complete report concerning the establishment of this Service together with his recommendations for putting it into effect. He considers that a properly qualified physician would be preferable for this post in place of a Sanitary Engineer as the former would be able more effectively to devote himself to measures of general health improvement. Without detriment to the work of yellow fever control this might lessen local opposition which would again arise if it were thought that the men appointed from abroad were working principally with this disease.

Respectfully yours,

Samuel Reber, Jr.
  1. Not printed.
  2. See pp. 336 ff.