The Minister in Haiti (Armour) to the Acting Secretary of State
[Received December 2.]
Sir: I have the honor to submit herewith a memorandum on the general subject of the disposition of United States Government property in Haiti,1 in connection with the withdrawal of the United States Marine forces in October 1934, as provided by the Accord of August 7, 1933.2
There are a great many aspects of this question which, I feel, should receive the early attention of the Department. During the eighteen years [in] which United States military forces have been present in Haiti, large stocks of military and nonmilitary material have accumulated and numerous buildings, both temporary and permanent, have been erected on Government or privately owned land. It is believed that these structures and a part of the stock of supplies on hand are not of sufficient value to justify the expense of transportation to the United States, either for sale or for use by the American Government there. It would seem that in the disposition of this property our Government is offered an excellent opportunity to make a generous gesture to the Haitian Government which, properly handled, would have an excellent effect both here and throughout Latin-America. Conversely, I feel that if our Government should pursue a commercial dollars and cents policy, in disposing of this property, the amount of money actually to be saved to the Treasury could in no way compensate for the good will which might otherwise be obtained. If existing statutes conflict with such a course, the Department may wish to consider the advisability of having appropriate legislation introduced at the next session of the United States Congress.
The Garde d’Haiti, which has been built up to its present state of efficiency through the efforts of American Marine Corps officers, is now to be placed on its own resources with the sole assistance of a small American Military Mission. The Garde d’Haiti has never owned its [Page 294] own rifles and the enclosed letter4 from General Clayton B. Vogel, Commandant of the Garde, shows that the Marine Corps proposes to sell the rifles, bayonets and scabbards now used by it for the total amount of $36.645.00. While it is not questioned that this is a reasonable price, if account be taken of the use they have had of them, it is suggested that the interested departments of our Government might be consulted with the object of materially reducing this figure. It would of course be made clear to the Haitian Government that this action was being taken as an expression of our good will. In addition to these articles, the Garde d’Haiti is undoubtedly in need of other equipment now carried by the First Brigade in Haiti which could be transferred to it at a small, if not nominal, cost.
It is brought out in the attached memorandum that the Haitian Government has, at various times, advanced the claim that American military forces seized arms and equipment of the Haitian army at the time of the original occupation and, furthermore, that buildings of the Haitian Government, notably the barracks occupied by the Second Regiment, have not been adequately paid for. While it was clearly brought out in the letter of the Navy Department, dated February 6, 1933, to the Department of State, a copy of which was forwarded to this Legation with Instruction No. 28 of February 21, 1933,4 that this claim is without any serious foundation, it occurs to me that an arrangement might advantageously be made with the Haitian Government by which the latter would agree to withdraw any claim for damages which it might have against the United States in return for such generous treatment as we might be able to accord to it in connection with the disposition of Government property.
The enclosed memorandum also raises the question of claims of private citizens against the American Government for both official and unofficial acts of the Marine forces in Haiti. It is my opinion that this question is one which should receive very careful consideration at this time. If we disregard it, we shall undoubtedly be plagued for a long time after the withdrawal of our forces with many claims for damages suffered by individual Haitians at our hands, claims which, regardless of their frivolous nature, will be a source of constant embarrassment. It would appear that this would be an advantageous moment to work out, together with the Haitian Government if need be, some program which will forestall future difficulties.
In connection with the settlement of claims, the services of a competent Haitian lawyer will be required and I particularly invite the Department’s attention to the recommendation in the enclosed memorandum that an appropriation be made available to the Legation to employ such services.[Page 295]
While I realize that many of the question[s] raised in this despatch and the enclosed memorandum will have to be settled by the people here on the ground, nevertheless I consider that before any final decisions can be made here it will be necessary to have a general statement of policy from the interested departments in Washington, together with precise information as to the legal position which will be taken by the Comptroller General in connection with the disposal of Government property.
It is believed that the Department will have available information concerning the manner of withdrawal of our forces from Santo Domingo and Nicaragua which will be of assistance in determining the best course of action in the present case. It is probable that the Comptroller General has, in the past, rendered decisions concerning the sale of Government property to foreign governments under similar circumstances. It is requested that any of this information which might be of use to the Legation be forwarded to Port-au-Prince.
Despite the fact that almost a year remains before the withdrawal of the Marine forces from Haiti, it is urgently recommended that the questions raised herein, concerning the sale of rifles and other equipment to the Garde d’Haiti, and the disposal of Marine Corps property, be given the Department’s early consideration.