339.115 General Motors Export Co./1551
The Department of State to the Dominican Legation
The Government of the United States has been caused serious concern by the nature of the treatment accorded certain American nationals and certain American interests in recent months by the authorities of the Dominican Republic.
Examples of such instances may be cited as follows:
The retroactive application of Article 89 of the Dominican Constitution as amended in June, 1934, has deprived various American enterprises operating in the Dominican Republic of the enjoyment of rights to which they were legally entitled under contracts previously entered into. The aspects of the retroactive application of Article 89 of the Constitution as amended, to which this Government takes exception, are:
- Its simple application to contracts previously made so that exemptions from certain taxation would not be accorded after the constitutional amendment of June 1934; and
- The action of the Dominican Government in collecting certain taxes where exemption in individual instances have been specifically granted in accordance with contract stipulations.
The Dominican Government is informed of the American companies affected by the above cited aspects of the retroactive application of Article 89 of the Dominican Constitution as amended. Despite oral assurances given by the Dominican Minister in Washington that no unilateral interpretation would be enforced on the American companies so as to injure their interests, nevertheless the Dominican authorities are in fact enforcing such unilateral interpretation on certain American companies so as to oblige them to pay, although under protest, taxes as to which their contracts provide exemption.
The Dominican authorities have recently, in thoroughly inconsiderate and arbitrary procedure, deported from the territory of the Republic two American citizens, Mr. Felix Emilio Tavard and Mr. Hans Schnabel.
Mr. Felix Emilio Tavard was arrested by the Dominican military authorities and detained in prison from March 22 to March 26, 1935; he was called before the Commanding Officer of the Dominican Army on April 3, and instructed to be prepared to leave the country within two or three days, being advised at the same time that the Dominican immigration authorities would take charge of his deportation. He left the country with his wife on April 9. On March 23 the American Minister addressed a note to the Dominican Foreign Office in this case asking to be informed of the charges against Mr. Tavard, as well [Page 495] as against his son, who was also being detained, expressing at the same time the hope that a prompt investigation would be made concerning the arrest and detention of these two persons with a view to assuring to them the guarantees of the Constitution and laws of the Dominican Republic and of the pertinent rules of the law of nations. The only reply received from the Foreign Office was that incorporated in a note of March 28, 1935, stating that Mr. Felix Emilio Tavard, as well as his son, were being submitted to justice under the accusation of having taken part in a frustrated attempt against the security of the State. There were apparently no judicial proceedings of any character; nor has any evidence been furnished by the Dominican Government which would lead the American Government to alter its belief that the expulsion of Mr. Tavard was not authorized by any existing Dominican legislation.
Mr. Hans Schnabel was summoned to the headquarters of the Commanding Officer of the Dominican Army on March 28, 1935, and summarily instructed that he must depart from the Dominican Republic within twenty-four hours, no reason for the expulsion order being advanced. Mr. Schnabel left the country on April 2, the time limit for departing having been extended following an informal request by the American Minister to the Dominican Minister for Foreign Affairs. There were apparently no judicial proceedings of any character; nor has any evidence been furnished by the Dominican Government which would lead the American Government to alter its belief that the expulsion of Mr. Schnabel was not authorized by any existing Dominican legislation.
On April 4, 1935, the Dominican authorities arrested Mr. Amadeo Barletta, the Italian Consul in Santo Domingo, and held him incommunicado until May 11. While Mr. Barletta is an Italian subject, he is also the President of the Dominican Tobacco Company, the controlling interest of which is held by American citizens; he is as well the President of the Santo Domingo Motors Company, the Dominican agent for the General Motors Export Corporation, an American company. Shortly after the arrest of Mr. Barletta the United States Government communicated to the Dominican Government that the American interests in the Dominican Tobacco Company were apprehensive that measures being taken against this company by the Dominican authorities might prejudice the American interests involved. Assurances were given the American Minister by the Dominican Minister for Foreign Affairs that no action prejudicial to the American interests in the Dominican Tobacco Company would be taken, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs denied that any action detrimental to the latter company had been taken. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the assurances and denials mentioned, the American stockholders in the Dominican [Page 496] Tobacco Company are advised that the attitude of the Dominican authorities has been such as to prevent the handling by dealers in the Dominican Republic of cigarettes manufactured by the Dominican Tobacco Company. This has compelled the factory to suspend operations and has caused losses to the American interests involved.
On May 4 the Penal Court of First Instance in Santo Domingo sentenced the Dominican Tobacco Company to $2,000 fine and costs and its President, Mr. Barletta, to two years imprisonment in connection with the alleged violation by the company of certain internal revenue legislation. It appears that no notification of the proceedings was served at the legal domicile of the company so that the latter was not legally apprised of the action; moreover, Mr. Barletta, president of the company, was in prison and incommunicado when the Internal Revenue officials found the alleged violation of the fiscal laws; for the same reason he could not obtain advice of counsel or consult the active managers of the factory; the company was deprived of its right to be represented by counsel or to present any defense; it is Understood that this “trial” lasted about fifteen minutes; and that the court’s decision, consisting of some twenty-four typewritten pages with an elaborate statement of reasons and references to complicated fiscal laws, was at once handed down,—within, as noted, fifteen minutes after the case was called. The American Minister, under instructions from this Government, has made formal reservation in behalf of American interests of all rights growing out of any losses that may have been sustained by the company in connection with any of the aspects of this case, and has requested the prompt remission of the fine imposed upon the company.
Shortly after the arrest of Mr. Barletta, president of the Santo Domingo Motors Company, the American Minister, under instructions from this Government, advised the Dominican Minister for Foreign Affairs, on April 19, 1935, that the General Motors Corporation had advanced large slims to Mr. Barletta as working capital and in order to protect its interests was sending a representative to Santo Domingo to communicate with Mr. Barletta; the American Minister informally requested that opportunity might be afforded to the representative of the Corporation to communicate with Mr. Barletta about the Corporation’s business. This request was denied on April 22 by the Dominican Government, which stated that the case was in the hands of the courts. Subsequently to this reply the American Minister, tinder instructions from this Government, requested formally, on May 4, 1935, that the representatives of the General Motors Export Corporation be given suitable opportunity, in order to protect the Corporation’s interests, to confer with its agent, Mr. Barletta, about the Corporation’s business. This Government while [Page 497] taking note of the statement that Mr. Barletta’s case was in the hands of the court, was unwilling to believe that the Dominican judicial authorities and the Dominican Government desired to continue to prejudice the interests of an American company by depriving it of access to its agent, when it was evident that such access could be arranged under suitable conditions that would in no way defeat or hinder the pursuit of justice by the Dominican authorities. No reply has yet been received from the Dominican Government to this request, although this Government understands that on May 11, over five weeks after Mr. Barletta’s imprisonment, representatives of the General Motors Export Corporation were at last permitted to visit Mr. Barletta.
On April 27, 1935, an official notice was published in the Santo Domingo press by the State’s attorney for the National District that by virtue of Article I of law No. 893, promulgated April 24, he had constituted the State a civil party in the proceedings against certain persons named, including Mr. Barletta, charged with certain specified offenses in violation of the Penal Code as amended. The notice directed any debtor of the accused who wished or was obliged to settle obligations to address himself to the Judge of Instructions in charge of the proceedings, stated that payments should be made through this Magistrate and that all stocks held by the accused were subject to first lien for indemnity and non-transferable from the date of commission of the offenses charged. In view of the fact that the Dominican Tobacco Company, of which Mr. Barletta is President, is controlled by American interests, and that the General Motors Export Corporation is heavily interested in the Santo Domingo Motors Company, of which Mr. Barletta is also President, the American Minister, under instructions from this Government, formally reserved all rights in behalf of American nationals whose interests were or might be adversely affected by the proceedings announced in pursuance of law No. 893.
The Government of the United States deplores the effect upon the relations between the two countries as a result of acts such as those mentioned above. It is the desire of this Government to strengthen in every possible way those close and friendly relations with the Dominican Republic which have happily existed during the past decade. It is also its hope that means may be found whereby the two Governments may cooperate to their mutual advantage in developing commercial relations between them. Neither of these two objectives, however, can be attained unless the citizens of each country can have confidence that neither in their person nor in their property will they be subject to arbitrary or illegal treatment while under the jurisdiction of the other country. Such essential confidence can, of course, not exist [Page 498] so long as acts such as those above described are permitted to continue. The Government of the United States ventures to believe that the Government of the Dominican Republic will take those steps necessary to remove all just grounds for complaint which the nationals of this Government have had, and in particular in those specific instances mentioned, and has confidence that as the result of their removal, the relations between the two countries may once more be of that peculiarly friendly nature which it is the earnest desire of the Government of the United States to preserve.