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

No. 214

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my despatch No. 206 of June 20, 1938, concerning the proposed Franco-Haitian Commercial Convention, and to report that the local press this morning states that the Convention was signed yesterday at Paris.44

The Legation has no indication that the Convention is other than that which has already received the Department’s approval. M. Leger has repeatedly informed Mr. Pixley and me that neither the convention nor the accompanying exchange of notes will mention the 1910 question. There can be no doubt but that M. Leger’s undertaking on this point is quite clear, and has been thoroughly understood by him.

On the other hand, the Legation already perceives that there is considerable confusion—if not mystery—surrounding the contents of the accompanying notes which are to be exchanged. According to M. Leger, the text of these notes has not yet been drafted. He has informed Mr. Pixley that M. Chatelain, the Haitian Minister to Paris, has been most uncommunicative regarding the notes, and that in spite of repeated requests for information as to the course of the negotiations, neither M. Leger nor President Vincent has been able to obtain satisfaction. M. Leger has informed Mr. Pixley that he expects to recall M. Chatelain in the near future as a result of this ambiguity.

However, the Legation observes out of the cloud which appears to surround this matter two facts which are not entirely reassuring. First, M. Leger has appeared to Mr. Pixley as somewhat embarrassed over the Department’s approval of the convention and the notes “providing no mention of the 1910 matter is made”. Leger has informed Mr. Pixley that he may have to write him with a view to having the wording of this approval slightly changed. M. Leger contends, however, that he has taken no obligation with respect to the 1910 question.

On the other hand, and second, M. Leger has informed Pixley that among the subjects which have been under negotiation is the transfer to the Union Parisienne of the Frs. 23,000,000 now deposited in the National City Bank of New York (as Fiscal Agents for the 1922 loan) for the redemption of the 1910 bonds as they are presented for payment. Leger, it appears, has agreed to pay the 1910 bondholders 500 paper francs per bond, and the French have contended [Page 614] that in view of this commitment, the Frs. 23,000,000 should at once be transferred to Paris for the purpose.

From what the Legation learns, Leger was not at first opposed to this scheme. When Pixley discussed the plan with the Legation, however, various objections seemed evident. The deposit in Paris of this fund would at once subject it to the jurisdiction of French courts who might well pronounce the 1910 bonds payable in gold. The fund would serve to pay off, in such a case, about one tenth of the bonds that are outstanding, and the balance would be obligations of the Haitian Government for which no redemption funds would be available. Only the fact that this fund has always been in the United States, and not in France, has prevented this procedure thus far. Leger has now seen this point, according to Pixley, and is now in favor of transferring the fund only if suitable guarantees can be given that the fund will remain sacred. Leger has also expressed doubt to Chatelain that the National City Bank will transfer this fund inasmuch as they may contend that they are acting as trustees in the premises. If the interest of the French Government in this transfer is bona fide, and no attempt will be made to utilize the funds for the payment of bonds in gold, they still have the additional interest that not all of the outstanding bonds may be presented—a fact which would leave a small but considerable balance of the fund on hand after all the bonds that were presented had been redeemed at Frs. 500 each.

The above are the only points in dispute concerning which the Legation has information at present. Going on what has been our experience in the past, we have no hope that these are all the points in dispute between the two Governments, nor have we as yet any indication of what exactly will be contained in the exchange of notes. It is possible that M. Leger is also in the dark, but one is tempted rather to ascribe the confusion once again to the Foreign Secretary’s francophile tendencies and the ineptitudes which have almost invariably accompanied his and Chatelain’s dealings with the Quai d’Orsay.

Leger has informed me this morning, however, that he will not further consider the transfer of the redemption fund to France unless he can obtain the assurance of the French Government that it will not be attached by the bondholders. I remarked at the same time that I hoped the Haitian Government would take no action with respect to the rehabilitation of the 1910 gold controversy which would prevent the conclusion of the new public works project or later result in the project’s cancellation.

My feeling is that our position has been made entirely clear. On the other hand, and to insure Haiti’s fulfillment of its commitment not to mention the 1910 matter—and now that the convention has been [Page 615] signed—I venture to suggest the possibility that the American Ambassador at Paris might be instructed to inform the French Foreign Office that we have approved the convention and the exchange of notes solely on the ground that the 1910 matter shall not be mentioned. I have no ground for hope that Leger or Chatelain have made this clear to the French.

Respectfully yours,

Ferdinand L. Mayer

P. S. Referring to the suggested action at Paris, at the top of this page, I would not of course wish to have this action taken until I have first had the opportunity of discussing the matter with the Haitian Government here. The suggestion is made, always having this previous discussion in view.

  1. For text signed June 24, 1938, see Le Moniteur, Journal Officiel de la République d’Haiti, July 11, 1938.