The Ambassador in Haiti (Wilson) to the Secretary of State

No. 1638

Sir: I have the honor to report that President Dumarsais Estimé18 requested me to call upon him this evening at the National Palace.

After a number of introductory remarks, during which Mr. Estimé referred to his acquaintance with former Chiefs of this Mission, he proceeded to tell me of his great admiration for the United States, which he had visited in 1939 while Minister of Public Instruction, and referred to the immense productivity of the American soil. He also said that he had read with interest some of the works of former Vice President Henry Wallace. The United States, he stated, produces nearly everything it needs, except aluminum. This gave me an opportunity to point out that in this respect the relations between Haiti and the United States could be strengthened, since the former has bauxite deposits which are about to be worked by the Reynolds Mining Company. He appeared to be familiar with this matter.

On the general subject of Haitian-American relations, the President told me that he realized perfectly well that these relations must be close, as American economic and commercial assistance to Haiti was [Page 913] absolutely indispensable to the latter’s existence. He recognized that during the war the United States, by purchasing Haiti’s products, had saved Haiti from economic collapse. He endeavored to point out, not very convincingly, however, that the Haitian peasant benefited relatively little by this trade, as the imports which were received from the United States were distributed by the Lescot19 administration among its favorites, who made scandalous profits on them. This discussion furnished me an opportunity to tell the President that while the United States Government was inspired by the kindliest sentiments towards Haiti and desired to relieve the economic status of the peasant, as exemplified by the presence of the Sanitary Mission20 and the Food Supply Mission, I felt that it could not view with satisfaction such attempts as are apparently being made by means of the proposed new constitution to destroy or injure American business interests legally established in the country. I referred in particular to Article 6, which would appear to occasion severe injury to American capital invested in agricultural enterprises, and Article 13, which forbids the conduct of retail business by foreigners. The President replied that there exists a group of radical minded persons, among whom he mentioned Emile St. Lot, who call themselves Leftists and wish to take drastic action against foreign capital. He then said that although he, too, could be called a revolutionary, he is of the Right, and that although it is his intention to endeavor to free the Haitian peasant from his present condition of misery and squalor, he harbors absolutely no hostile feeling against American capital. The Standard Fruit Company, for instance, is, in his opinion, doing much to relieve the status of the Haitian peasants by means of its contracts with the small fruit growers. I pointed out that nevertheless I felt a distinct anxiety, since Article 6 definitely limits the land holdings of foreigners and that in the case of one company, the Haitian-American Sugar Company, this would appear to occasion immense damage, since the latter’s real property amounted to about 9,000 acres. The President endeavored to reassure me by expressing his confidence that in the legislation which would be enacted to enforce the constitutional provisions, means would be found to avoid injustice. In addition, he doubted whether such legislation could be retroactive or applied to Haitian companies through which American capital is now operating. He then reminded me that in the decree adopted a few days ago putting the Constitution of 1932 temporarily into effect he was forbidden to intervene in the future work of the Constitutional Assembly (see [Page 914] my despatch no. 1633 of August 1421). He felt, however, that he would be able, through discreet conversations, to convey to the legislators sound and appropriate advice.

On the subject of Article 13 (retail trade) he informed me that it was directed against the Syrians, who had enriched themselves through questionable relations with the Lescot Government. I replied that although this might be true, I felt it unfair to make American businessmen suffer for the misdeeds of the Syrians. Again he gave me general assurances that the situation could be worked out satisfactorily, but did not commit himself as to just how this would be done.

Time did not allow me to enter at great length into the financial subjects, such as the Agreement of 1941.22 I told him, however, that the Department was always perfectly willing to discuss any propositions that might be laid before it by the Haitian Government, both with regard to the six percent bonds and the four percent notes held by the Export-Import Bank. I also pointed out to him that insofar as the Department is concerned, the Haitian authorities are at entire liberty to negotiate with the bondholders for a refunding of the six percent issues, which would automatically terminate the special financial relations now existing between the two Governments. He said that he understood quite well that the six percent and the four percent obligations constituted two different problems and then inquired about the Shada debt.23 To this I repeated that the Department would, of course, be glad to receive any suggestions on this subject, although the notes themselves were held by the Export-Import Bank. The conversation terminated with the understanding that I could discuss these matters later with Dr. Price-Mars, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The impression made upon me by the President was not unfavorable. His manner was cordial and he conversed on the subjects at issue considerably more clearly and directly than did his predecessor, not losing himself, as the latter did, in a mass of words, through which the thread of conversation was broken. His principal interest appears to be that of raising the standard of living of the Haitian peasant. He said that it is a shame and a disgrace that at a flying distance of only four hours from the United States a mass of about 4,000,000 persons should be living in rags and misery, barely able to scratch a living from the soil, and he added that these people have nowhere to go, as neither the Dominican Republic nor Cuba wants them. As [Page 915] stated above, I indicated that the United States Government is taking a sincere interest in the welfare of the Haitian peasant through the activities of the Sanitary Mission and the Food Supply Mission, the latter of which has repaired such losses as were occasioned by the Cryptostegia program.24

Respectfully yours,

Orme Wilson
  1. The election of Dumarsais Estimé as President of Haiti by the National Assembly took place on Friday, August 16, 1946.
  2. President Elie Lescot.
  3. For 1944 agreement between the United States and Haiti respecting a health and sanitation program, see Department of State Executive Agreement Series No. 453.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Signed at Port-au-Prince September 13, 1941, by the United States and Haiti; for documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. vii, pp. 322 ff.
  6. For documentation on the contract between the Société Haitians-Américaine de Développement Agricole (SHADA) and the Export-Import Bank of Washington, August 15, 1941, see Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. vii, pp. 366 ff.
  7. For documentation on the termination of a cryptostegia program in Haiti which had been sponsored by the United States, see Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. vii, pp. 1169 ff.