811.20 Defense (M)/15662: Airgram

The Chargé in Haiti (Chapin) to the Secretary of State

A–209. Embassy’s despatch No. 2727 of April 13, 1944;1 President Lescot’s attitude regarding discontinuance of Cryptostegia program.2 Following the procedure suggested in despatch No. 2727 under reference, President Lescot received me yesterday afternoon, together with the following:—Ministers Dartigue3 and Lacroix,4 Messrs. Allen,5 Bicknell,6 Knapp7 and Fennell.8

The President’s attitude showed a marked change in the 24 hours since I had last seen him. He stressed time and again the political difficulties with which he would be confronted on the discontinuance of the Cryptostegia program; he pointed to the fact that he had himself gone out into the country and had addressed large meetings to gain support and enthusiasm for the program; and that, with its discontinuance before the end of the war, it would make him lose prestige in the eyes of his people so much had he placed the weight of his office behind this experiment. He asked with considerable emphasis time and again that every effort be made not to give the impression that the whole project had collapsed completely and that no announcement be made of its discontinuance until some opportunity had been given to see either what could be salvaged or how the land could otherwise be profitably cultivated.

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He stated his position so strongly, in fact, that it appeared calculated to impress his listeners and perhaps to establish a bargaining point at a level more favorable to the Haitian Government than merely on the basis of the contract. This I believe to be borne out by the position taken by Minister Dartigue. Both he and President Lescot made repeated references to the moral obligations involved and to the necessity for compensation. At one point the Minister for Agriculture mentioned the exaggerated sum of $1,000,000 as the amount to defray the costs of putting the lands back into cultivation, arguing that, if the program were to be continued, upwards of $5,000,000 would have been spent on it this year; with its discontinuance the Rubber Development, he said, surely could spend one-fifth in compensation.

The President and his Ministers were assured time and again that their position would receive every consideration, if and when the RDC9 Board decided to act upon the recommendations for discontinuance of the program. In this connection, in order that the Haitian Government might have an opportunity to set out its views fully and to suggest practical and equitable methods of discontinuance, it was agreed that Ministers Dartigue and Lacroix, together with Messrs. Bicknell, Knapp and Fennell, would undertake to draw up a memorandum containing such suggestions. In the meantime, the President urged that the matter be kept strictly confidential and made one final request that, in so far as possible, the emphasis be placed on a reduced program rather than upon a total discontinuance.

There is no question but that the President was less at ease than the day before, but it is quite possible that some of his anxiety in respect to the Cryptostegia situation was somewhat mixed with a concern over the reaction to his calling of the Constitutional Assembly (Embassy’s A–206, April 13, 11:00 a.m., 194410), which has not been as favorable in some quarters as he might have hoped and he consequently awaits the decisions to be taken on Monday with some impatience. It can also be argued that his reference to loss of prestige with the peasants is over-stressed. As their understanding of external affairs is limited and their knowledge of war issues restricted, it may be assumed that, if their lands are returned to them to cultivate in food crops, they would be as contented as in cultivating the hitherto unknown Cryptostegia.

  1. Not printed.
  2. In October 1942, SHADA (Société Haitienne Américaine de Développement Agricole, a corporate agency of the Haitian Government) signed a contract with the Rubber Reserve Company (a United States war agency later known as the Rubber Development Corporation) for the planting of 100,000 acres of Cryptostegia, a gourd vine whose tendrils could be tapped to extract latex. For a brief summary of the terms of this contract, see bracketed note, Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. vi, p. 460.
  3. Maurice Dartigue, Minister of Agriculture and Education.
  4. Abel Lacroix, Minister of Finance.
  5. Douglas Allen, Rubber Development Corporation.
  6. J. W. Bicknell, Vice President, Rubber Development Corporation.
  7. M. D. Knapp, Chief, Plantations Section and Assistant Vice President, Rubber Development Corporation.
  8. Thomas A. Fennell, President and General Manager, SHADA.
  9. Rubber Development Corporation.
  10. Not printed.