851D.00/102

The Consul at Cayenne (LaMont) to the Secretary of State

No. 93

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my telegrams No. 15 March 17, 11 [10] A.M.48 and those which followed regarding the change in the allegiance of the local Government from Admiral Robert and Vichy to General Giraud and the fighting French, and to give below a brief résumé of events during the past few days.

The movement which culminated in the events of the past few days appears to have started with the funeral for the victims of the airplane [Page 265]crash of February 27, 1943 (my despatch No. 86 of March 4, 194349). That was the first opportunity the local population had had to show their sympathy towards the United States and the allies and they turned out en masse for the funeral. On March 11 I had a requiem mass for the deceased at the cathedral, a local custom, and again large numbers of the local population were present despite a torrential rain that morning. It was upon leaving the cathedral after this mass that I first heard discussions of local women for a demonstration. Later that day I was told by one of the participants, that it was planned to hold a demonstration in front of this Consulate Sunday morning, March 14 in connection with the local lack of food. I pointed out to her that I could see no reason for demonstrating in front of this office as insofar as I knew my government had never refused to sell food to this Colony, that she should appreciate that my country was at war, had a shortage of vessels and had a right to expect the regime in these French colonies to send vessels for whatever they obtained in the United States. I afterwards ascertained that a group of local women had a meeting that evening and decided in favor of a demonstration in front of the “Palais du Gouvernement” (residence of Governor and government offices) instead of this office and that it had been decided to postpone the demonstration for two weeks or until all reserve supplies of food had become completely exhausted and the government could do nothing to alleviate the situation.

I subsequently ascertained that on Saturday, March 13, Dr. Romaine Parfaite (my telegram No. 13 March 14, 6 P.M.49) endeavored to organize a movement to seize the government in the early morning of March 14 but late that evening abandoned this plan because certain native leaders would not give him their support due to the hasty and incomplete preparations. This plan was what induced my Brazilian colleague to report to his government that there would be a revolution here the 14th (Rio de Janeiro telegram No. 1268 March 14, 4 P.M.49).

It should be noted that during the entire week starting March 8 the local regime and that of Admiral Robert were under attack each evening in the special radio program from the United States directed toward these colonies. These broadcasts were widely listened to and discussed by the local population.

On Tuesday March 16th I was informed that a demonstration was planned in front of this Consulate that evening because of the shortage of food. I was informed of this by two young natives who called on me at noon that day accompanied by Mr. Albert Darnal (my A–26 February 12, 10 A.M.49). They asked me if I would agree to the demonstration and I said I could neither agree nor disagree. I [Page 266]pointed out however that I could see no point in demonstrating before this office, giving the same reasons as I had previously given regarding the proposed demonstration of women. I further stated that if they held the demonstration I would report the facts to my government but that I would not be at home. When they left I was not sure whether the demonstration would be held or if it would be called off.

That evening (March 16th) a crowd gathered in front of my office at about 7 P.M. They were led by Mr. Vermont Polycarpe, a local lawyer. After waiting some time in front of this office and after pro-American cries there were cries of “Au Gouvernement” and the mob moved off to the “Governor’s residence, where they shouted demands for food, “Vive De Gaulle, Vive Giraud, Vive L’Amerique and à bas Pétain”. That morning the government had started the distribution of ration cards for the very small remaining quantities of rice, margarine, edible oil, and salted beef. The Governor flanked by Messrs. Gaston Marchesseau51 and Frederic Balland52 (my A–56 December 22 [27], 6 P.M.53) asked if they would be satisfied if the food under these ration cards should be made available the 18th they shouted “no”. He then suggested the 17th and they again shouted “no”. Hence, it turned into a purely political demonstration against the regime.

The morning of the 17th I ascertained that a meeting of the most important native professional and businessmen was to be held that morning at 11 A.M. with the Mayor of Cayenne, Mr. Ulrich Sophie, to draft a demand to be made of the Governor that day to join the fighting French movements. At that time, early in the morning, I believe the majority would have been satisfied to permit the Governor to remain in power if he acceded to their demands but the temper of the population against the existing regime mounted rapidly during the morning.

I was in the process of coding a telegram to the Department regarding the events of the previous evening and the existing situation when I received, at about 11 A.M. a telephone call from Mr. Marchesseau saying that the Governor wished to see me urgently. Upon arrival the Governor announced to me that he was placing his government at the disposition of General Giraud and asking me for my assistance in preventing further disturbances. With regard to the latter I told him I would be glad to do anything possible and appropriate for a foreign representative.

At about noon I discussed the situation with several local businessmen and Dr. Parfaite who seemed to be the leader of the French [Page 267]officials. The meeting with the Mayor previously mentioned had then been in session for about an hour and they informed me it was the consensus of opinion that the Governor and his entourage would have to go, not only because they were persona non grata but because their lives were actually in danger as long as they remained.

I had three other conferences with the Governor that day, one alone when I informed him of the conversations noted done [sic], one in the presence of my Brazilian colleague and one in the presence of the latter and the Mayor who was then acting as the chairman of the temporary committee which had been formed. The one in the presence of the Brazilian Consul, Mr. de Oliveira was in connection with plans for the safety of the Governor and his party. The question of moving them to the airport construction camp at Gallion for the night was discussed as well as our remaining with them at the Governor’s residence that evening. Mr. de Oliveira and myself then went to the committee and asked them for their opinion regarding the Governor’s safety and they assured us that he was in no danger whatever provided he agreed to leave. As the Governor by this time was thoroughly frightened and as he had assured my Brazilian colleague and myself that he would leave, we accompanied Mr. Sophie, the Mayor and Chairman of the Committee, on a call on the Governor to obtain his formal consent to departure, which he readily gave.

A mass meeting was held that evening in a dance hall at the opposite end of the city from the Governor’s residence led by members of the committee. The crowd was informed that they could afterwards salute myself and the Brazilian Consul at our respective Consulates, which they did, and were then to disperse, which they also did. Later that evening I found the city quiet.

The committee chosen in the mass meeting at the Mayor’s office that morning consisted of Ulrich Sophie, the Mayor as chairman; Major (medical corps) Romaine Parfaite; Captain François Freuchet; Albert Darnal, a lawyer; Philippe Saccharin, a lawyer; Vermont Polycarpe, a lawyer; and Ernest Prevot, a notary. The stability of this committee seems questionable as Messrs. Darnal and Saccharin are long standing political enemies, never speaking to each other if they can avoid it.

In some of our actions during the day the Brazilian Consul and myself may have exceeded our duties and rights as consuls but the question of the safety of the Governor seemed to be so urgent and we enjoyed so much prestige with the natives as the only local representatives of allied governments that we considered it advisable to assist in any way we could to bring about a swift and acceptable settlement. We were frequently asked for advice by the Governor and we avoided committing ourselves insofar as possible although we informed him of our observations and what we had heard, we being the [Page 268]most “neutral” outside contacts he had. On one occasion Governor Veber asked me if I considered it advisable for him to turn over the administration to the committee and I told him that in my opinion the situation was such that the question of advisability was no longer important. I wish to also add that Mr. de Oliveira and myself were in almost constant conference throughout the afternoon and all of our actions were in concert.

The morning of March 18th I received a call from Lt. Colonel Vanegue, the chief of the local army, who said that he would like to receive immediately an American military mission. This occasioned my urgent telegram to Paramaribo that morning on this subject which was repeated to the Department.54 However, this request was anticipated by the military establishment in Paramaribo and late that morning a group of officers arrived by plane, much to the pleasure of Colonel Vanegue.

Colonel John Singer, in charge of the American troops in Surinam, accompanied by Colonel Jon Meijer, head of the Dutch forces in Surinam came to Cayenne Friday, March 19, and conferred with Colonel Vanegue. Colonel Singer carefully explained that the United States had no intention of interfering in any way whatsoever with the local government. He quickly obtained temporary permission (subject to confirmation by and a formal arrangement with the new governor) for military use of the airfield especially for anti-submarine patrol, and for army radio communication facilities at the airfield and in Cayenne. He subsequently obtained permission for enlarging the airfield.

One of the first requests of Colonel Vanegue was for a military mission composed of at least one army and one navy officer, and when Colonel Singer returned from Paramaribo March 20 he had with him Commander J. Marvin Krause who with himself, he said, would constitute the military mission requested, that Commander Krause would remain in Cayenne and that he would visit Cayenne frequently.

When Colonel Singer returned to Cayenne March 22 bringing with him acting Governor Colonel Albert Le Bel, he also brought Captain Hubert Mouwen of the Netherlands army in Surinam who has since remained in Cayenne representing the Dutch authorities and acting as subordinate to and special aide to Colonel Singer. Governor Le Bel has stated that if further allied military representatives arrive (a Brazilian Mission is believed en route), he will consider them as subordinate to Colonel Singer who he would consider as chief of any allied mission or missions.

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In conclusion I wish to add for whatever my opinion may be worth that the charming personality of Colonel Singer, and his tactful and diplomatic handling of relations with the local authorities has greatly enhanced the prestige of the United States vis-à-vis the local French authorities.

Summary

During the week ending March 13, 1943 there was some talk of a demonstration because of lack of food and plans were made for seizing the government by force to have it join the fighting French movements. A demonstration of the local population took place the evening of March 16 and the local government was so frightened that Governor Veber put the colony at the disposition of General Giraud the morning of March 17. This action came so late and the temper of the local population had so risen against the Governor and his entourage during the morning and the previous evening that it was impossible for them to remain in Cayenne.

Colonel John Singer, chief of the American forces in Surinam, arrived in Cayenne the morning of March 19 and quickly obtained temporary permission for the military use of the airfield at Gallion and for the lengthening of the runway.

Respectfully yours,

George D. LaMont
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  6. Chief of Governor Veber’s cabinet.
  7. Chief of the Judiciary of French Guiana.
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