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History of Hispaniola

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ON his first voyage to the American Indies, shimmering on the western horizon, Christopher Columbus discovered a Caribbean island which he called Hispaniola, meaning "Little Spain." He set foot on what is now Haiti on December 6, 1492, shortly after his first landfall at Watling Island in the Bahamas. Hispaniola was -- and is -- an exceptionally curious place, and it has had as curious a history as any area in the Western Hemisphere. Today it is divided into two independent states strikingly different from each other, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Haiti occupies the western third, and the Dominican Republic (often called Santo Domingo) the rest.

On the poinsettia-fringed shores of Hispaniola, Columbus -- the most imaginative, the vainest, the luckiest, and the most persistent sailor the world has ever known -- pitched his first camp and built his first fortress, La Navidad. It was in Hispaniola that he lost his caravel, the Santa Maria; here that he picked up his first naked Indians and screaming parrots for delivery to Seville; here that his men grumbled and almost mutinied as he lay sick for five months. In Hispaniola Spain created its first colony in the new world -- which Columbus still thought to be the kingdom of Cathay -- founded its first university, and erected its first cathedral, which still stands. In this cathedral Columbus still lies buried, after exhumation from his first burial in Spain. Columbus crossed the Atlantic after, as well as before, his death.

When Columbus first arrived in Hispaniola it was inhabited by mild-mannered, friendly Indians whom his men promptly butchered. Hardly an Indian survived fifty years after his coming. As early as 1506 sugar cane was introduced, and by 1512 the Spaniards were bringing in Negro slaves to work the new plantations. These slaves proliferated as did the crops they grew -- spices, indigo, tobacco, as well as sugar. The island became rich, and the slaves survived the violently hard labor to which they were subjected. As a result Haiti today is 90 percent pure Negro and 10 percent mulatto (there are no whites except foreigners). It is the only Negro republic in the world, Liberia excepted. The Dominican Republic next door has, in contrast, a considerable white population -- perhaps 20 percent. The rest is mulatto, with some Indian admixture. Haiti speaks French and a bastard patois called Creole. Santo Domingo is Spanish-speaking.

The history of Hispaniola until modern times is a complex record of murder, romantic madness, nationalism, greed, ignorance, foreign intervention and black magic. The basic trend is perhaps rivalry between French-speaking Haiti and Spanish-speaking Santo Domingo. At first the Spaniards concentrated on Santo Domingo because it had some gold, though not much. Meantime French and British buccaneers and traders got into Haiti and found a better bargain. It turned out to be the richest colony in the new world, and they began to loot it. The French grip on the island grew, and presently Spain was forced to give up the Dominican end. All of Hispaniola -- then called Saint Domingue -- formally became French in 1795.

Observe the date. The distant winds of the great French Revolution began to reach Haiti. Fanning the dark fires already smoldering there they soon produced one of the most exceptional events in history, the revolt of the Haitian negroes against their French masters. A black chieftain whose name is legend, Toussaint L'Ouverture, beat the French and established a free republic in 1801. Napoleon sent troops under his brother-in-law, General Leclerc, to conquer Toussaint and his fighting blacks. It was the only instance of attempted Napoleonic penetration of the Western Hemisphere. Toussaint was captured. But the revolt went on, blindly, blackly, savagely. Two formidable Negro chieftains, Dessalines (who had all the whites on the island exterminated) and Christophe (who built the citadel near Cap Haitian which stuns tourists to this day), continued the struggle until independence was confirmed. Dessalines was "Emperor" from 1804 to 1806, and Christophe became "King," as Henri I, in 1811. But Christophe, a man of fantastic quality, killed himself in 1820. Haiti has been a republic ever since.

The affairs of Santo Domingo next door were inextricably entangled with this bloody record. Part of the time it was united to Haiti, despite the difference in language; part of the time it reverted to Spain or had a semi-independence of its own. The Spanish upper classes furiously resented subjection by Negro kings, and they joined the French to fight Toussaint and Dessalines. Then the Spanish revolted against the French, and Santo Domingo went back to Spain in 1809. Later, two more remarkable mulatto adventurers -- Pétion and Boyer -- entered the scene. The Haitians reconquered the Dominican regions and reunited the island under Haitian rule till 1844. After a revolution, Santo Domingo re-annexed itself to Spain in 1861, the only country in Latin America that has ever done so. It is curious that the United States did not invoke the Monroe Doctrine. In 1865 the Dominicans pulled loose from Spain again, and in 1869 the forlorn little country asked to be incorporated into the United States. A treaty annexing it was negotiated and drawn up; it failed ratification in the United States Senate by one vote. Had this vote gone otherwise, the Dominican Republic might be part of the United States today.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, now independent states, were tormented by the most vicious kind of civil disorder and revolution. By 1915 Haiti in particular had succumbed to complete political chaos. There had been six presidents in four years, and three of them were murdered. One president, named Guillaume Sam, was torn to pieces by a mob that dragged him from the French Legation after he had slaughtered a batch of political opponents. The United States intervened, and our marines took over protection of public order. We had been contemplating intervention for a considerable time.

This was one of the earliest and is probably the most celebrated case of what came to be known later as "Yankee Imperialism." Beyond doubt Americans entered Haiti for mixed motives, some of them dubious. We wanted to save lives and protect foreign property. But also we wanted to protect private American investors who had an important stake in the country -- and what counted more -- important friends in Washington. Bloodshed in Haiti was to some extent a pretext for intervention, not the real reason. American interests were largely concentrated in the National Bank of Haiti and a railroad concession controlled by the National City Bank of New York. The whole is an unsavory story. The best summary is that of Ernest Gruening in FOREIGN AFFAIRS for January 1933. Once established in Haiti the American Administration took control of the government, wrote a new constitution;

i. Ruled through puppet politicians, and forced the country to float a large loan on exorbitant terms.

But (it is important to state) the American occupation was probably a very good thing for Haiti on the whole. We never intended permanent settlement or conquest; we had no idea of making Haiti a colony in the orthodox imperial way. The American occupation lasted for 19 years -- until 1934 when the Good Neighbor policy was getting fairly under way -- and it ended a year ahead of schedule. Too long, certainly. But American guidance and control grew wiser and more lenient as the years went by. We ended a period of appalling violence and we restored political stability and public order. We contributed to education and public works. The cost to Haitian civil liberties was negligible. After all, there had been no "civil liberties" there before!

American intervention also took place in the Dominican Republic. Our marines went there in 1916, a year after our entrance into Haiti, but they stayed only until 1924. Intervention in the Dominican Republic never aroused as bitter resentment, either locally or among liberals in the United States, as did our prolonged Haitian adventure. Anyway the chapter is closed, or closing. No armed forces are maintained in either country by the United States today. Nor do we maintain any direct political control. In the Dominican Republic we have gradually unloosed financial strings, though we maintain a lien on Dominican revenues until the debt is liquidated. In Haiti we still maintain a Fiscal Representative who superintends local finance and controls the customs in collaboration with Haitian authorities.

ii. We now turn to contemporary personal and political issues in the Dominican Republic. It has an area less than that of West Virginia and a population less than that of Los Angeles. In many ways it strikingly resembles Guatemala, although there are few Indians. A ruthless and highly efficient dictator, Generalissimo Trujillo, rules it with a steam roller, as General Ubico rules Guatemala. He exploits it, too.

Like Guatemala, the Dominican Republic pays somewhat appealing attention to the surface amenities. No beggars are allowed; it is forbidden to walk barefoot; children are permitted in the public parks only if they are decently dressed. The Dominican Republic carefully asks if you are a journalist before giving you a visa (again like Guatemala), and pays close attention to any visitors. And Dominicans are formidably sensitive.

The Dominican Republic is run, bossed, awed, bullied, frightened, stimulated, made to work, and in general dominated by one of the toughest men in Latin America, General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina. I did not meet General Trujillo. He was in New York when I visited his country. I regret this very much. He is the archetype of old-Fashioned Latin American despot -- though he has some modern ideas -- and I wanted to see and study his face. General Trujillo, who was born in 1891, calls himself Generalissimo of the Armed Forces, Founder and Supreme Chief of the Partido Dominicana, Benefactor of the Fatherland, Restorer of Financial Independence, and First Journalist of the Republic. (This last because he owns the newspaper La Nacion.) Some of these titles were given him by the Dominican Congress, unanimously. Foreigners refer to him (when he is not present) as "Mr. Jones" or "Mr. Jackson."

This puissant general, who is of mixed racial ancestry, came of humble stock, like his friend Batista in Cuba. He started life as an errand boy and cattle hand, and then entered the Guardia Nacional, after graduating from the National Military School. After eight years of service he rose to Colonel. This was in the period of American occupation. The United States marines liked Trujillo, who was a doughty officer, and he built his career largely on their favor. They said, "He thinks just like a marine!" One American officer, a Major Watson, gave him his first chance. Watson "created" Trujillo much as the British General Ironside "created" the present Shah of Persia.

Trujillo rose rapidly and in 1930 performed the coup d'état that gave him power. The marines were gone, though the United States continued to control local finance and customs. The President in 1930 was Horacio Vasquez; Trujillo was chief of staff of the army. He made his "revolution" by telling Vasquez that army "reservists" were marching on the capital. The frightened Vasquez promptly resigned, though actually the Trujillo troops were still far away. But Trujillo did not at once make himself president. He appointed someone else to the job (a man who is now in jail), and then, a stickler for proper form, superintended "elections" whereby he became "legal" president. He remained president till 1938, serving two terms; then he decided to resign and rule from behind the scenes. In 1939 he visited Europe briefly and saw the United States (for the first time) en route. He went to the United States again in 1940.

General Trujillo's domination of the Dominican Republic is complete and rigorous, but occasionally he must take drastic steps to retain his comprehensive position. Early in 1940 a group of dissident army officers disappeared; one is said to have been poisoned while in jail, the others shot. Later in the same year, when reports were current that Trujillo was ill, a group of former comrades determined to seize control in the event of his death. One of these was General José Estrella, formerly Trujillo's closest friend. The center of the plot was the Santiago region. But an officer in the capital betrayed the conspirators, and Estrella and the others were arrested. Estrella was sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment for complicity in a murder case ten years old. Estrella admitted the murder, but said he performed it on Trujillo's orders.

Late in 1940 the Partido Dominicana, the only political organization in the country, was purged and a new group -- inside the Partido Dominicana -- was formed called the Partido Trujillista, composed exclusively of intimate adherents of the dictator. Its leader is Dr. José Enrique Aybar, a professor of medicine, one of Trujillo's best friends and his private dentist.

The worst blot on the Trujillo record is the massacre of Haitians in the autumn of 1937. By the most conservative estimate, at least 7,000 Haitians were slaughtered in cold blood, cut to pieces by machetes, and left out in the fields to rot. These Haitians were absolutely innocent of any political ideas. They were itinerant farmers and laborers who drifted into Dominican territory each year to get work cutting sugar cane. What apparently happened was that Trujillo, with ambitions to control the whole island if not the whole Caribbean area, had sent agents to Haiti to foment revolution there. These were caught by the Haitian authorities and shot. Trujillo ordered reprisals. Then Dominican troops got out of hand and went berserk at the opportunity for wholesale slaughter.

This affair made the Generalissimo extremely unpopular in Washington; it was, indeed, one of the most unpleasant episodes in many years of Latin American history. Trujillo, alarmed, has behaved well ever since. He needs American good will, and he has enough political sense to know how important the United States is in Caribbean affairs. Besides he is very pro-American. This is partly because of his training with the marines, partly because of natural instinct. Trujillo would be delighted if we actually established bases in the Dominican Republic. He is one of the rare Latin American leaders who take this point of view. He knows, of course, that United States army and navy garrisons and aircraft on his territory would serve to stabilize his régime.

The basic fact about the Dominican Republic may be expressed in one sentence: Trujillo in effect owns and runs it, except for the American sugar properties, virtually as his private estate. He controls the salt and shipping monopolies; he dominates the match monopoly; his dummies have their hands on practically all business enterprises. Trujillo manages this "estate" with considerable efficiency. The budget is balanced, and administration is well handled. But he makes vast sums out of it, while the peasants come near to starving. They do forced labor on the roads; they are lucky if they earn 20 cents a day.

About 60 percent of Dominican economy depends on sugar. Trujillo, with an eye to approval in the United States, leaves sugar severely alone. Even during the Haitian massacre, the miserable fleeing Haitians who took refuge on American-owned sugar estates were not molested. Trujillo, it seems, is content to let Americans control 60 percent of the country's business, provided he is free to do what he likes with the remainder.

But hard times are coming to Santo Domingo now. About 60 percent of the sugar crop was customarily exported to Great Britain and Canada. In 1940 British purchases sank to zero. The British simply stopped buying because of wartime exigencies, and this threatened to bring complete economic collapse. The United States has stepped into the breach in several ways. First, the Export-Import Bank lent the Dominican Republic $3,000,000 late in 1940. In theory this was to build a Hotel in the capital city (which, uniquely among world capitals, does not possess one) and for road development. Second, American experts are working on a scheme whereby Dominican sugar is transformed into "invert molasses," which in turn becomes alcohol. By importing this molasses the United States hopes to take about 12 percent of the Dominican sugar crop.

Meantime, as a natural development of the Good Neighbor policy, the United States early in 1941 gave up its control of the Dominican customs which had been American-run since 1905. This agreement followed years of complex negotiations. Our customs control was originally established to provide security for Dominican bonds sold in the United States. Private American bondholders protested against the 1941 agreement, which was effected without consultation with them, but met with no success. The State Department took the view that the United States no longer collects debts by such mechanisms as direct control of customs. On the other hand, American rights continue to be safeguarded. For instance, we retain a lien on all Dominican revenues, not just customs, for gradual debt repayment, ending in 1969. But no one knows what is going to be happening in 1969.

At the age of 50 Generalissimo Trujillo is a perfect picture of the successful Latin American dictator. He has millions in the bank; all the gaudy comforts of life; complete political authority; an army to back him up; a peasantry to exploit. He has cleaned up Santo Domingo physically; he has established political stability and ensured friendly relations with the United States; all his opponents are under the sod, in prison, or in exile.

A word about Trujillo personally. Like politicians in other lands he likes comfort and display. He maintains five houses, one of them converted out of a nightclub called the San Souci. He is ambitious, cool and forceful. An excellent horseman, he likes to ride. He likes to eat, to drink (especially a kind of brandy called Carlos Primera), to smoke, to dance. His yacht, the Ranfis, purchased from the Fleischmann family (it was formerly known as the Camargo) is the most splendid in the Caribbean; it has an American skipper, an American engineer, an American chief steward. One of Trujillo's characteristics is a fondness for clothes. He keeps absolutely complete wardrobes, even a full set of uniforms, in all of his five houses. The present Madame Trujillo, whose name was Doña Maria de los Angeles Martinez Alba, is of pure Spanish descent. He has several children. His family sense is very strong; like so many public men in Latin America, he clings close to his own kind. He has four sisters and a number of brothers, and all of them play a rôle. One brother, Hector, is chief of staff. One, Virgilio, is minister to Belgium and Switzerland. One of his sons, aged ten, has recently been promoted to brigadier general in the national army. At five he had become a colonel.

The other Dominican political personalities are, to put it mildly, somewhat overshadowed by the Generalissimo. The President of the Republic, however, is a personage of considerable dignity and charm. He is Dr. Manuel Troncoso de la Concha, aged about 60, a lawyer by profession, a scholar of distinction, and a former rector of the university. The foreign minister, Dr. Arturo Despradel, is a fluent professional diplomat who knows procedure well. An attractive character is Vaino Pichardo, the head of the Partido Dominicana, who is very close to the Generalissimo.

As to matters of defense in the Dominican Republic, there is virtually no Fifth Column problem, because no local Fascist party could exist and Germans are almost unknown. American military and naval planes use Dominican airfields practically at will. We could probably make formal arrangements for bases any time we wanted them, but at the moment they are unnecessary. The minuscule country is, from a military point of view, dependent on the United States.

I have mentioned points in General Trujillo's career that may pain the tender-minded. But one accomplishment to his credit should recommend him to their thanks -- the colony for European refugees at Sosua, in the northern part of the island, near Puerto Plata.

Here is a tract of some 50,000 acres, the personal property of the Generalissimo, which he recently donated to the Dominican Republic Settlement Association. Originally, becoming interested in the refugee problem, Trujillo contributed a 26,000-acre estate worth $100,000 which had formerly belonged to the United Fruit Company. Later he donated additional lands, including a mountain area.

The Sosua colony derives originally from the conference to deal with the plight of Jewish refugees called by President Roosevelt at Evian, Switzerland, in 1938. The conference talked piously and accomplished little. But out of it did come a permanent Intergovernmental Committee to deal with refugee problems. Since 1938 this committee has had an actual offer of land from only one nation -- and of all nations in the world it happened to be the Dominican Republic. General Trujillo said that he would be glad to donate 25,000 acres, and that his country would give haven to 100,000 refugees.

Trujillo's motive was, one can imagine, double. First, he was eager to get favorable mention in the United States -- particularly after the Haitian massacre mentioned above. Second, he had the long-range idea of improving the quality of Dominican stock by a deliberate importation of healthy white blood. Third, he wanted to stimulate and diversify the local economy.

A group of American philanthropists led by James N. Rosenberg of New York followed Trujillo's lead by creating the Dominican Republic Settlement Association. This, working in close conjunction with the American Department of State and the Dominican Republic, organizes the emigration of refugees from Europe and their settlement on Dominican soil. The Administration is financed largely by private contributions. Officially the movement is nonsectarian. Most of the refugees who have arrived are Jewish. The work has been in progress only a year, and only about 300 refugees are so far at work on the 750 acres that have been brought under cultivation. One thousand more settlers are expected during 1941. Buildings are going up; activity is lively; Mr. Rosenberg and his associates are highly confident. Various agencies in the United States, including the Brookings Foundation, are sending experts in such fields as rural electrification, tropical forestry, and sanitation, to lend technical assistance.

The Sosua experiment may give answers to several questions of great potential interest. First, can white Europeans settle satisfactorily in a tropical Latin American republic? Second, can they grow crops to provide more than mere subsistence? A third point will be the future social and political relations between the refugees and the Dominican natives. Something at least remotely akin to the Zionist experiment has moved into the Western Hemisphere. Luckily Dominicans are not Arabs -- at least not yet.

iii. Turn now to Haiti. Here the picturesque almost obliterates the practical. This is the country of papalois and mamanlois (witches), of muffled drum beats from hillside thickets, and of zombis, whom the superstitious natives believe to be folk who have been drugged, raised from the "dead," and made to work as slaves.

Voodoo -- about which much nonsense is customarily talked -- is a kind of animistic cult based on secret ritual and magic. As one friend in Port-au-Prince said to me, it is a religion of propitiation, fear and hate. The voodoo worshipper seeks to exorcise the forces of nature -- mountain torrents, snakes, the parching sun, hurricanes, poisonous weeds in the jungle -- so that they may not destroy him. Similarly he seeks protection from his enemies. The technique is aggressive. You put a curse on your enemy before he can put a curse on you. The witchdoctor or priest prescribes the particular charm that will do the job, and makes a certain profit thereon. The prospective victim then buys off trouble by procuring a counter-charm. So at least the procedure was described to me by Haitians. Anyone, not merely the voodoo priest, may utilize wangas or charms. Anyone can "put the eye," as I heard it colloquially expressed, on anybody else. The priests sometimes are very powerful. If they say to their followers that a certain person is to be removed, that person will have an uncomfortable time. He may not be murdered, but he will be shunned by other Haitians, thoroughly terrorized, and probably forced to leave the community.

Voodoo is thus of considerable political importance. No Haitian government would dare to stamp it out, though one recent president, Louis Borno, a devout Roman Catholic, attempted to discourage it. His successor, Sténio Vincent, gained great popularity and thus helped to entrench himself in power, by leaning the other way. Legally, voodoo has approximately the status that alcohol had during prohibition in the United States. It is imbibed, so to speak, behind closed doors, and the police often slip in to take a drink.

Haitians are much milder folk than the Dominicans next door. Gentle, rather timid, 90 percent illiterate, ruminative, with small national sense despite their heroic past, speaking their strange mixture of French and Creole, they are an attractive and picturesque community. There are about 3,000,000 Haitians, living on 10,204 square miles, the area of Maryland. They occupy only one-third of the island, but their population is about that of the Dominican Republic. Most of them are peasants, and most are very poor. The annual budget is only about $5,000,000. The amount of currency in circulation is about 50 cents per head.

Haitian economy depends largely on coffee, and the fall of coffee prices has impoverished the country. The average coffee crop -- say 27,000,000 kilograms -- was worth around $16,000,000 in 1929; today the same amount brings perhaps $6,000,000. The United States took 56 percent of Haiti's coffee crop in 1939-40; Haiti was the first country in 1941 to sell its coffee quota. This shows remarkable foresight among the Haitians and their advisers, like the American fiscal representative, Sidney de la Rue. Until 1934 the United States bought no Haitian coffee at all. But obviously the American market would be of tremendous importance if Europe should be lost. So the Haitians adjusted their coffee blends to American standards of quality and taste. Similarly there has been great development in the sale of bananas to the United States. In the early 30's Haiti had no banana industry. But by 1940 it was producing 3,000,000 stems, all raised by small peasant landowners, and marketed by the Standard Fruit Company, an American concern.

The chief political issue in Haiti since the restoration of political order and the evacuation of the United States marines has been the struggle for power between the mulattoes, who comprise about 10 percent of the population, and the pure blacks. Though greatly outnumbered, the educated mulattoes hold practically all political power. The blacks resent this, and dislike the mulattoes much more than they dislike whites. But there is very little they can do about it. The situation derives from a law passed early in the nineteenth century which established that pure Negroes must go into farming and trade, while mulattoes were permitted to enter the professions. Thus the mulatto class -- doctors, lawyers, engineers -- became intellectually and socially dominant, and economic and political dominance naturally followed.

The grand old man of Haiti is Sténio Joseph Vincent, who became president of the republic in 1930, and who served as such until 1941. Robust, vigorous, jovial, he does not look or act his 67 years. He was a poor boy, but he managed to scrape his way through school; a brilliant and ambitious student, he got his degree in law at 18. Vincent is a man of deep culture, an intellectual. He is the author of numerous Books; he can converse with vivid clarity on almost any subject; his indispensable hobby is reading; he talks French with the purity and grace of a member of the French Academy.

I saw him in his modest private villa in the oddly named village of Kenscoff, 4,500 feet above Port-au-Prince, the harbor capital. Walking along the roads were marvelous straight-limbed, firm-breasted peasant women, with trays and bowls balanced on their heads; they march gracefully mile after hilly mile, with their hands swinging, never touching the burdens their heads carry. The road is winding, jagged and lined with jungle; the valleys dip steeply to the sea, flowering with blazing red poinsettia, bougainvillaea and wild nasturtium.

Dr. Vincent has spent his whole life in political service. While he was still a law student he worked as a school inspector. Then he went abroad, to both Paris and Berlin, as a diplomatic attaché. Returning to Haiti he became in turn a government commissioner, a judge, a senator, and eventually president of the Senate. He spent ten years, 1920-30, in the poverty-stricken political wilderness. In 1930, though he started as a bad third, he managed to win the presidential election by some very complex political strategy. Early in his career -- when the marines were in Haiti -- he was hotly anti-American; he was Haiti's severest critic of United States intervention. Later he came to acknowledge Haiti's absolute dependence on the United States politically, economically and geographically, and he changed his mood and policy. As things stand today he is one of the staunchest pro-Americans in the hemisphere.

There are no political parties in Haiti, and Vincent ruled for ten years by keeping close control of the armed forces (the first duty of every Latin American statesman), and by astute political chess play. A lone wolf himself, he balanced various groups against one another. His passion and joy was, and is, political manoeuvre. He sought to build schools, and to organize relief work for the poor. His idea was to make use of individual largess if necessary, and out of his healthy salary of $25,000 a year he maintained a semi-private charity called the Caisse l'Assistance. He likes to go out into the country and distribute coins himself. He is a bachelor, and his sister is his all-watching hostess. He likes to sip Haitian rum in which peaches have been soaked, and a very delicious drink it is. He is a chain smoker of Philip Morris cigarettes. His English -- as he put it to me -- is good enough so that he can read the Times, but not the magazine Time. He doesn't like to be called a dictator, and he is very proud that in Haiti -- in considerable contrast to the Dominican Republic hard-by -- there has been no political execution in 17 years.

Early in 1941, his friends said, Vincent was flirting with the idea of following Roosevelt and getting himself elected for a third term. Unfortunately, it had already been necessary in 1935 to amend the constitution in order to let him run a second time, and a third term was forbidden unless approved by special plebiscite. Vincent could have "arranged" to win this plebiscite, no doubt. For a long interval he refused to disclose his ultimate intentions. On March 10 the Chamber of Deputies went on record voting to extend his term. Then Vincent suddenly changed his mind, or was prevailed upon to change it. On April 4 he announced that he would not run again, and on April 15 the Haitian Minister to Washington, Dr. Elie Lescot, was chosen President as his successor.

Lescot, born in 1883, is a lawyer, administrator and diplomat of much experience. For some years he was a judge, like Vincent, and he served in various cabinets as Minister of Agriculture, Education, Justice and Interior. It was Lescot, astute and dignified, who arranged the settlement with the Dominican Republic after the 1937 massacres. Many Haitians thought he behaved too softly on this occasion. But he had little choice. School children in Haiti have sung for years a ditty called Merci Papa Vincent. The song became a kind of national anthem in diminutive. Now, perhaps, it will be Merci Papa Lescot.

As regards Fifth Columnism and national defense, the position of Haiti is much like that of the Dominican Republic. German commercial influence is stronger in Haiti, but political expression is mute. Like its neighbor, Haiti will almost certainly give the United States any facilities we wish. But since our acquisition of British bases neither Haiti nor the Dominican Republic is so important as she used to be as a site for full-fledged bases. Haitian landing fields may be useful, however, as fueling stops for fast fighter planes whose range is too short for direct flights from regular base to base.

a. President Franklin D. Roosevelt has been quoted in the New York Times (August 19, 1920) as saying, "The facts are that I wrote Haiti's constitution myself, and if I do say it, I think it is a pretty good constitution." See Gruening, cited above. Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time.

b. A unique cabinet post exists in the Dominican Republic, that of Secretary of State for the Presidency. Presumably this is to give Trujillo direct access to the head of state if he needs it. The post is held by one of Trujillo's uncles.

Culled from Hispaniola Foreign Affairs

Read 1185 times Last modified on Tuesday, 06 October 2015 16:11

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