Haiti: Her History and Her Detractors/Part I: Chapter XXIV

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CHAPTER XXIV


Legislative elections—Affray at Cap-Haitien—A. Firmin at Gonaives—The Markomania incident—The blowing up of the Crête-à-Pierrot by Killick—Nord Alexis elected President on the 21st of December, 1902—The "Consolidation" scandal.


The Provisional Government ordered the election of the Deputies who, together with the Senators, were to elect General Sam's successor. The Presidency was aspired to by three candidates: Sénèque M. Pierre, Senator and former Secretary of War; A. Firmin, Minister Plenipotentiary in Prance and former Secretary of the Treasury and of Exterior Relations; C. Fouchard, former Secretary of the Treasury. Whilst Pierre and Fouchard contented themselves with directing their electoral campaign, Firmin took a more active part in the struggle by trying to be elected Deputy for Cap-Haitien, his native town. The contest in this part of the country grew daily more intense. Firmin exerted every power in order to secure his election, whilst his opponents, who knew that a failure would be detrimental to his chances of attaining the Presidency, neglected none of the means which might cause his defeat. Affrays had already occurred at Cap-Haitien, when General Nord Alexis, who was Secretary of War and a member of the Provisional Government, was sent there with the purpose of maintaining order. At the opening of the primary Assembly, on the 28th of June, 1902, the followers and the opponents of Firmin came to blows. Killick, who at that time was at Cap-Haitien with the flotilla, espoused the latter's cause. Upon his being compelled to give up the fight,
Northern Station, Port-au-Prince.jpg

Northern Station, Port-au-Prince

Firmin embarked on the Crête-à-Pierrot on the 30th of June, and went to Gonaives, where he had been elected Deputy. On his arrival he protested against the Provisional Government, declaring that the elections had not been rightly conducted. Killick, who had followed Firmin to Gonaives, boarded the German steamship Markomania on the 2d of September and forcibly took possession of the arms and ammunition which had been shipped from Port-au-Prince to General Nord Alexis at Cap-Haitien. At Berlin this act was considered as piratical; and on the 6th of September the German man-of-war Panther arrived at Gonaives where the Crête-à-Pierrot was anchored. Her captain demanded that within five minutes the Haitian ship be delivered to him. Killick, thoroughly taken by surprise, was incapable of offering any resistance; he requested to be allowed fifteen minutes. Sending his crew ashore he lighted a fuse connecting with the powder magazine; having done this, he seated himself on deck, lit a cigar, and quietly awaited the explosion, which was not long in taking place. Rather than give her up to the Germans, he preferred to sacrifice his life in the destruction of his ship. The tragic death of Killick and the loss of the Crête-à-Pierrot left no chance of success to Firmin's cause. In consequence the latter sailed from Gonaives on the 15th of October and went to Inagua.

In the mean time, the electoral campaign was going on; and it looked as if the contest for the election of the President would be very protracted. Tiring of a seemingly endless struggle, the population of Port-au-Prince put aside the three candidates who were striving for the Presidency and, on the night of December 17, 1902, declared in favor of General Nord Alexis, whom the National Assembly elected President of Haiti on the 21st of December for a term of seven years. According to article 93[1] of the Haitian Constitution he will retire from office on the 15th of May, 1909.

As soon as he had been elected, General Nord Alexis asserted his determination to enforce a strict respect of the public funds. There were rumors of frauds having been perpetrated in the consolidation of the floating debt which had taken place under President Sam's administration. On the 22d of March, 1903, President Nord Alexis instructed a Commission to investigate the matter; and it was found that the Haitian people had been defrauded of over $1,257,993. The case was referred to the courts; and after a legal inquiry which lasted more than ten months the Chamber of Council (grand jury) of Port-au-Prince indicted Joseph de la Myre, a Frenchman, and late director of the National Bank of Haiti; Georges Oelrich, Rodolph Tippenhauer, Poute de Puybaudet,—the two former Germans and the latter a Frenchman,—all three employed in the National Bank; Vilbrun Guillaume, former Secretary of War; G. Gédéon, former Attorney-General; B. Saint-Victor, former Secretary of Exterior Relations; Hérard Roy, former Secretary of the Treasury; Démosthènes Sam, Lycurgue Sam, J. C. Arteaud, and Auguste Léon. The "consolidation" scandal caused a considerable amount of agitation. The indicted parties were influential and well-known men. Their friends did all in their power to prevent their being tried. The National Bank of Haiti went so far as to publicly declare that it would no longer give any help to the Haitian Government if its former employés implicated in the frauds were not set free and allowed to leave the country without any further trouble. In spite of his personal sympathy for many of the offenders and in spite of the pressure brought to bear on him, President Nord Alexis remained firm in his determination not to interfere in the matter, whilst the Haitian people turned a deaf ear to all threats and entreaties; they calmly awaited the conclusion of the case. On the 28th of November, 1904, the indicted parties appeared before the Criminal Tribunal (Cour d'Assises) of Port-au-Prince. The proceedings, which lasted nearly a month, were all public. The Ministers of France and Germany personally attended the sittings of the court; Mr. Allen, a barrister of the Paris Court of Appeals, was sent from France for the purpose of watching all the aspects of this famous criminal suit. The impartiality and the correctness of Haitian justice were such that our worst detractors had nothing to say. The evidence against the parties was overwhelming. The jury was given eighty-five questions to answer; which answer was rendered on the 24th of December, being in the negative for Hérard Roy alone, who was acquitted and at once set free. The following punishment was inflicted on the others, who were found guilty as indicted: J. de la Myre Mory, Georges Oelrich, R. Tippenhauer, de Puybaudet were sentenced to four years of hard labor; Vilbrun Guillaume to penal servitude for life; Gédéon, Démosthènes and Lycurgue Simon-Sam to three years of hard labor; Brutus Saint-Victor to three years of imprisonment.

Thus ended the scandal, which for a while was fraught with danger, threatening to involve Haiti in grave complications. President Nord Alexis proved himself to be a man of energy, all the more remarkable in consideration of his age, being over eighty. All public works are given his personal attention. The Lycée of Port-au-Prince will soon be entirely rebuilt; the new Court of Justice is almost completed. In the beginning of 1905 he laid the corner-stone of the monumental Cathedral, which is being erected at Port-au-Prince and will be completed within four years. Desirous of facilitating the means of transportation for the numerous products of the country the President has caused the building of the railroad of Cap-Haitien, which enterprise has been abandoned by the grantees, to be continued at the expense of the Government. Another railroad is also under construction at Gonaives, the concession of which has been granted to a Haitian citizen.

* * *

Peace, the advantage of which is daily gaining in the appreciation of the Haitians, in procuring security will facilitate the exploitation of the many natural resources of the country with the help of foreign capital. It is the usual thing for outsiders to misrepresent and slander Haiti; in so doing these critics show a lack of knowledge of the history of the country, and of discernment in their failure to appreciate the difficulties which have from the beginning stood in the way of Haitian progress.

The history of Haiti's struggle for liberty and freedom, of her constant efforts toward social and political betterment, of all that she has achieved unaided and in spite of the ill-will of many of the great Powers, clearly shows how unjust and undeserved are the calumnies heaped upon her by her detractors.

Haiti asks no favors; neither has she ever received any; all she desires is to be judged with impartiality and in good faith.

Cathedral of Port-au-Prince.jpg

Cathedral of Port-au-Prince

  1. See page 251.