838.51/3003: Telegram

The Minister in Haiti (Gordon) to the Secretary of State

90. Department’s 48, September 19, 3 p.m. and 49, September 20, 11 a.m. I went to Kenscoff yesterday and delivered to the President the message contained in those two telegrams.

I regret to say that the President without hesitation stated that he did not see how he could take step requested of him. His point of view may be summarized as follows:

The contract between the Haitian Government and Debachy is one with which the French Government has no concern; the Haitian Government was careful to see to it that such should be the case, and considers it an important question of policy that the French Government should not now or later be in a position to make representations to the Haitian Government concerning this contract. If under the present circumstances (that is to say, on the basis alone of the information conveyed by the Department’s instructions) the Haitian Government should communicate with the French Government in the sense suggested, the latter the President thought could not only officially reply that it knew nothing of the matter but also and worse still would be put in a position eventually to make representations above referred to a possibility which he strongly wished to avoid. In this connection he states that his latest information was only that Debachy and Jeannot landed in France a few days ago and that he had not yet had any reports as to their activities.

The President said that as long as the requisite amount from the first proceeds of loan would be devoted to the refunding of the 1922 loan (which we knew was guaranteed not only by Debachy’s letter to him—referred to in the communication enclosed in my despatch No. 6 of September 1069—but also by article 2 of the law of sanction of the contract—see first section of my 80, September 7, 2 p.m.) he did not see how our Government could be caused embarrassment if French contractors should participate in backing Debachy under misapprehension as to the true meaning of the contract; he thought that it was only the Haitian Government that might be caused embarrassment by any such misapprehension.

I pointed out that if French contractors should participate in supplying funds for Debachy to make payments on his contract and should subsequently claim that these had in part been diverted to the benefit of American bondholders in a manner not justified by the [Page 690] terms of the contract the embarrassment to ourselves would be obvious, and that the materialization of any such eventuality would be calculated to bring about just that intervention on the part of the French Government which he so wished to avoid. I then referred to that passage in the communication above referred to (enclosed in my despatch number 6) which stated that “for reasons which it was not judged opportune to make public the contract is silent on this subject” (i.e. the redemption of the 1922 loan), and asked him just what these reasons had been. He replied that the Haitian Government had no reason of its own for omitting this from the terms of the contract but that upon Debachy’s request it had done so upon his agreeing by a separate letter to apply from the first proceeds of the new loan the amount necessary to refund the 1922 loan. I observed that I was glad to hear that the Haitian Government had no other [intention?] in the premises but that Debachy’s request seemed singular and that the omitting as a result thereof of this cardinal point from the terms of the contract had already given rise to the potentially awkward situation which my Government was bringing to his attention. It seemed then that the sooner this equivocal situation could be dispelled—and the method suggested by my Government would appear to be the most direct way of doing so—the better all around.

The President, however, fell back on his original arguments and maintained that from the point of view of both procedure and of policy he could not take the step suggested.

After further discussion the following emerged: he was expecting in the near future to receive reports from Paris as to what Debachy was accomplishing towards lining up his financial backing; he agreed to keep me informed as to the nature of these reports. (I do not pretend to be entirely unskeptical as to how fully he will keep me informed in this respect); if these reports did not run counter to the information which the Department had received, that is to say, did not affirmatively make it appear that the misapprehension referred to had been cleared away, the President would then be prepared to inform Debachy that the American Government had received reports as to the existence of this misapprehension on the part of French contractors and to insist upon Debachy clearing up such erroneous impressions and furnishing the President with some evidence that he had done so.

Needless to say I was not well satisfied with this and I pointed out again that I felt that a commitment of this limited nature would by no means necessarily obviate the disagreeable eventualities which we had previously discussed. The President said, however, that he could not for the reasons already advanced see his way to taking the action requested by us.

In conclusion I stated that under the circumstances we should of course have to inform our Embassy in Paris of the exact situation [Page 691] in order that it may make precise replies to all inquiries addressed to it in the premises. To this the President assented. If I may be permitted a suggestion it occurs to me that our Embassy by discreet statements in the proper quarters might largely clear up such misapprehensions as may exist and make the real basis of the new loan contract a matter of at least semi-official record without contravening our fundamental policy in the premises set forth in penultimate paragraph of Department’s 38, September 5, 4 p.m. I should be glad to have Department’s reaction to this suggestion.

I am lunching with the President at Kenscoff next Tuesday noon; unless the Department wishes to send me instructions embodying a further statement to be made immediately to the President (which should reach the Legation Monday afternoon) it might be well to let the matter rest at this end until the President returns to Port-au-Prince the end of next week by which time also he may have had some further report from Debachy or concerning his activities.

  1. Telegram in three sections.
  2. Not printed.