838.51/3073: Telegram

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

117. I have just had a long talk with the Foreign Minister in which I asked him to tell me fully and precisely the attitude of and the exact steps taken by his Government in connection with the Debachy contract and the 1910 loan claims down to date. I told him that I had noted that on November 29 the Minister had said he would inv mediately recommend to the President that no negotiation should be entered into with respect to the 1910 loan without full communication and discussion with the American Government (see Legation’s 109, Nov. 28, 7 p.m.83) but that on December 2 he had stated that the President had instructed Mayard not to discuss further settlement of the 1910 loan claims except on certain conditions (Legation’s 112, Dec. 2, 2 p.m.83) which seemed tantamount to authorizing him to negotiate with respect to these claims.

I had also noted that the Foreign Minister had stated that the Haitian Government was inclined if the first Debachy installment were really available, to make a compromise payment on the 1910 loan, but that both he and the President realized that something ought to be done to reconcile such action with the commitments repeatedly [Page 699] made to us concerning the maintenance of the Haitian position upon this point. (Legation’s 110, Nov. 29, 9 a.m. and despatch No. 83 of Nov. 29, page 4.)85 I asked the Foreign Minister to explain to me how he thought action of this kind could be so reconciled.

To my surprise the Foreign Minister began his reply by stating that for the first time he now felt that the money might really be available; cables received by him in the last 3 days had named certain institutions (Brown Bouverie and Company and a name which although not named is probably the Societe Francaise des Mines de Saint Etienne) as being behind Debachy. While he had asked de la Rue to investigate the standing of these firms the Foreign Minister professed to be even more impressed with the continued insistence on the part of Mayard and Jeannot that the money was actually ready and available if the suggested settlement of the 1910 claims were effected. Accordingly the Haitian Government being, as he said, in desperate need of this money (the desperate need as the Department is aware would seem to be chiefly political) had already instructed Mayard to negotiate with the holders of the French 1910 loan along the lines reported in the Legation’s 112, it being expressly understood that no commitments should accrue unless and until the first installments were actually paid over.

I expressed my surprise particularly in view of the Minister’s recommendation above referred to (which in answer to an earlier question he had told me the President fully agreed to) that no negotiations should be entered into without full communication and discussion with the American Government. He replied that he had not used the word “discussion” but had said that negotiations would not be undertaken without notifying our Government; that he had informed the Chargé d’Affaires of the Government’s attitude and that his statements to me today were a further notification of the steps which the Haitian Government had felt obliged to take.

I said that in view of the assurances he and the President had given me as late as October, which only constituted a confirmation of many similar prior assurances, such a change of attitude on the part of the Haitian Government was necessarily unwelcome news. He replied that new elements had entered into the situation since October but upon my pressing as to what these were, they boiled down to his contention that the new and repeated threats of the French Government to denounce the Commercial Treaty86 if the 1910 claims were not settled constituted a new element. I replied that this had been inherent in the situation ever since last July at least and that furthermore it seemed to me that if the French were really thinking of denouncing the Treaty it would probably be chiefly motivated by their [Page 700] resentment at the recent retail trade law and that I felt that he was in error in asserting that the position taken by the French in this respect was only a pretext.

In conclusion I said that I wished to tell him frankly that he could hardly expect my Government to be pleased at the action already taken by the Haitian Government which it proposed to crystallize in the event that the first Debachy installment were actually paid over; that from my point of view this could only be considered an abandonment of the principle for which my Government had vigorously and consistently contended on behalf of the Haitian Government for the last 16 years at least, and that however the Haitian Government might seek to characterize any payment—i. e. to call it only a compromise payment and to state that the Haitian Government in no wise abandoned the principle that the 1910 loan was not payable in gold—it would in reality constitute a definite abandonment of the principle in question.

I think that in this conversation I went as far as I could go without instructions and perhaps as far as the Department would wish to instruct me to go. I am reaching the point where I am not at all sure that I would not prefer to see the Debachy contract go through rather than to have it blow up. I will amplify this latter point in writing.

  1. Telegram in two sections.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Neither printed.
  5. See pp. 650 ff.