The Minister in Haiti (Munro) to the Secretary of State
[Received May 12.]
Sir: I have the honor to report that the Collector of Customs at Glore, who was the subject of this Legation’s despatch No. 169 of July 11, 1931, and the Department’s Instruction No. 116 of September 14, 1931,42 was arrested on March 3rd by order of the Juge de Paix at Thomazeau and sentenced to twenty-four hours in jail for contempt of court. It appears that a Dominican had presented himself to Mr. Innocent on the previous day with twenty-one head of cattle. As the man had no money with which to pay import duties, Mr. Innocent took technical possession of the cattle by taking over the documents covering them, but permitted the owner to proceed to Thomazeau in order to obtain pasturage, which was not available at Glore. Upon arrival at Thomazeau, the Dominican was arrested by order of the Magistrat, although he informed the latter that the papers covering the cattle were in the hands of the Customs Collector. On the following day the Juge de Paix summoned Mr. Innocent to appear before him and demanded that he give up the papers. This Mr. Innocent very properly refused to do. He was then sentenced to twenty-four hours imprisonment for contempt of court.
When I was informed of these events late in the afternoon of the day on which sentence was pronounced, I instructed the Acting Commandant of the Garde to release Mr. Innocent from custody. Under other circumstances I should have demanded that this instruction be given by the Haitian Government rather than by this Legation, but it appeared certain owing to the lateness of the hour and the probability of deliberate delay, that Mr. Innocent’s release would not be effected by this procedure before the expiration of his twenty-four hour sentence. I considered it inadvisable as a matter of principle to permit the sentence of the Juge de Paix to be carried out in full and I also felt that we could not permit the suspension of the entire work of the Customs Service at a frontier post while the matter was under discussion.
When I discussed the matter subsequently with the Haitian Government, the Minister of Foreign Affairs made no formal protest against the Legation’s action, although it was evident that the other [Page 701] Haitian Officials concerned, including especially those of the Department of Justice, were somewhat agitated over the release of Mr. Innocent against whom they apparently had a rather bitter personal feeling. I pointed out to the Minister of Foreign Affairs that the Government of the United States could not permit Haitian local authorities to interfere with actions performed by Customs Collectors in the discharge of their official duties and that attempts so to interfere would inevitably cause disagreeable incidents between this Legation and the Foreign Office. In order to prevent further incidents of the same nature, I proposed to the Minister that the Haitian Government issue instructions to all authorities, including the Garde, to the effect that orders of arrest should not be issued or executed against Customs Collectors without prior reference to the higher authorities at Port-au-Prince, to give the interested Haitian Officials and the Financial Adviser-General Receiver an opportunity to investigate each case which arose. The Minister replied that the Haitian Government could not recognize the immunity from Haitian jurisdiction of any Haitian citizen and that it would be severely criticized if it placed Haitians in the Customs Service in a privileged position. I pointed out that we were not demanding immunity from the jurisdiction of the courts in any case where there were good grounds for proceedings but that the United States Government under the Treaty had a right to demand that the Customs Service receive assistance and protection from all other branches of the Haitian Government. I suggested that the Government might make its instructions very general in their scope, stating for example that no Government employee should be arrested except in urgent cases until after the matter had been referred to Port-au-Prince for instructions. Mr. Leger repeatedly promised to discuss the question with the President and the Cabinet, but he evaded for several weeks giving any definite reply. He finally informed me that the Government could not issue any instructions which would detract from the prestige and authority of the Haitian courts, and that it would be compelled to make a formal protest if the Legation issued instructions to the Garde not to execute warrants of arrest against Customs Collectors. At our last conversation on the subject, however, when I informed him that I should feel compelled to issue such instructions if the Government failed to take action, he said that he would prefer not to know of any step of this kind which I might take.
On May 3rd I addressed a letter to the Acting Commandant of the Garde, a copy of which is transmitted herewith, requesting him to instruct Garde officials in places where there were Customs Collectors not to execute orders of arrest against such collectors without prior [Page 702] consultation with Garde Headquarters at Port-au-Prince. This reestablishes the rule which had governed in such matters until last September, when the Commandant of the Garde issued a general instruction that warrants of arrest should be served on all Haitian Officials when received. This order was apparently issued through a misunderstanding, as Mr. McGurk, who was Chargé d’Affaires at the time, had informed the Commandant of the Garde orally that no such instructions should be given.
I did not consider it advisable for the time being to extend the instructions above mentioned to include all aids and employees of the Financial Adviser-General Receiver. In view of the different position of the Internal Revenue Service and the very large number of minor Internal Revenue Officials serving in the interior, I felt that it was advisable for the time being to leave matters in status quo so far as this service is concerned.