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

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Boisrond Canal (July 17, 1876–July 17, 1879)—Misunderstanding with France caused by the Domingue loan—The Autran incident: difficulties with Spain about Cuba—The Maunder claim—The Lazare and Pelletier claims—Attitude of the Legislative Power—The President's resignation.

After Domingue's departure the Constitution of 1867 once more came in force. According to this Constitution Boisrond Canal was elected President of Haiti for four years on the 17th of July, 1876. The new ruler was beset with innumerable difficulties resulting from the financial measures taken by his predecessor. He was principally exposed to the ill-will of France, which, with a view of imposing a settlement of the loan known as the Domingue or the 1875 loan, went so far as to refuse to recognize his Government officially. Yet at Paris it was a well-known fact that Haiti had not received the amount of money the responsibility for which France was trying to force upon her. In Europe and in the United States people clamor unceasingly as to the alleged corruption and unscrupulousness of Haitian statesmen, declaring that without the assistance of foreign Powers they are incapable of honestly managing their finances. However, whenever a financial scandal occurs in Haiti, among the guilty parties there will always be found, either as the inspirers or the accomplices of the misdeed, those very foreigners who loudly denounce Haitian corruption whilst claiming for themselves the monopoly of virtue and integrity.

As it was, the Haitian people, who have never repudiated a legitimate debt, flatly refused to accept the responsibility for the frauds which had been committed in the floating of the Domingue loan, and the National Assembly undertook to investigate the matter. This important inquiry proved that there could not exist the least doubt as to the well-founded attitude assumed by Haiti; it was found out that she owed neither the 58,000,000 of francs which were originally claimed, nor the 40,000,000 which France wanted her to acknowledge as the amount due. By Decree of July 11, 1877, the National Assembly admitted, in the name of the country, a debt of 21,000,000 francs, bearing interest at 6 per cent per annum. In this manner the Haitian Republic incontestably proved her desire to safeguard her interests without sacrificing those of her legitimate creditors.

Consequently, France, which had in the mean time been brought to a clear understanding as to the true facts of the case, resumed her official relations with Haiti by sending in December, 1878, a Minister Plenipotentiary to Port-au-Prince. The cordial intercourse which formerly existed between the two nations was restored and the Haitians were enabled to come to a just and reasonable agreement with the bond-holders.

Whilst Boisrond Canal's government was in the midst of its difficulties with France it was suddenly threatened with graver complications with Spain, which, being unable to subdue the Cuban insurrection, seemed bent on making Haiti her scapegoat. On the 3d of December, 1877, the man-of-war Sanchez Barcaiztegui anchored in the harbor of Port-au-Prince; her Commander, Antonio Ferry y Rival, was commissioned to make an inquiry as to the legality of the sentence passed on one Jose Santisi by the Haitian criminal court. She left the port without having caused any trouble. But a few days later, on the 14th of December, Commandant Jose Maria Autran arrived on the man-of-war Jorge Juan, and at once gave rise to a situation fraught with much danger. On the 17th he sent an ultimatum to the Secretary of Exterior Relations of Haiti allowing seventy-two hours for the settlement of the alleged grievances of Spain. The sentence imposed on Jose Santisi[1] was made a pretext for this haughtily aggressive attitude; but what in reality annoyed Spain was that the unfortunate Cuban refugees found a safe asylum on Haitian territory.[2] In his ultimatum[3] Captain Autran affected to see an insult to his country in the fact that the sentence inflicted on Jose Santisi, a Spaniard, having, on account of a technicality, been annulled by the Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation), the prisoner had not at once been set free. He at the same time, however, declared that Haiti had offended Spain in not having enforced a sentence passed upon a Cuban, Manuel Fernandez, which had also been declared void by the Supreme Court. Jose Santisi and Manuel Fernandez were both Spanish subjects, Cuba at that time not being an independent State; they were therefore entitled to the same protection from Spain. The judgments severally rendered against them having been reversed, they had, according to Haitian laws, to be tried again. Nevertheless, Captain Autran did his utmost to compel Haiti to discriminate; for, whilst demanding that Santisi be immediately set free, he insisted on the rigorous execution of the sentence against Fernandez. This contradictory demand did not prevent him from affirming in his letter to the British Consul at Prince[4] that his country was "the faithful depositary and jealous guardian of justice and right."

Captain Autran also requested the arraignment of those persons who were charged with crying aloud, "Down with Spain!" and "Vive Cuba libre!" whilst passing before the Spanish Consulate at night; other grievances mentioned in the ultimatum were that the Spanish flag had been trampled on by unknown persons and had also been insulted by one Despeaux.

Haiti refused to admit the contention of Spain concerning Santisi and Fernandez and insisted on applying the same treatment to both; she denied also all responsibility for the alleged cries of defiance heard at night before the Spanish Consulate by unknown parties and for the non-specified insult to the Spanish flag.

The diplomatic corps at Port-au-Prince tendered its good offices, and on the 19th of December the matter was satisfactorily ended by an exchange of salutes between the Jose Juan and the Haitian man-of-war "1804."

In his letter of December 17, 1877, to the diplomatic corps at Port-au-Prince, Captain Autran had stated that the Cuban insurgents enjoyed also great sympathy in Jamaica, Nassau, etc. It is worthy of notice that Spain refrained not only from sending any ultimatum to Great Britain, but did not even venture to make any remonstrance to this Power, whilst toward Haiti her manner was most offensively overbearing.

It would seem as though there were an agreement among the European Powers to harass the government of Boisrond Canal; for Great Britain now made a claim for $682,000 on behalf of Madame Maunder.[5] This woman, a Haitian by birth, had been granted the concession of Tortuga Island. But she failed to pay the rent due from 1870 to 1875; and the Haitian Government, in order to safeguard the interests of the treasury, seized the products of the island, and brought suit against the grantee with the object of obtaining from the courts the cancellation of the contract, this proceeding being the usual one taken by all creditors against their debtors. Great Britain affected to consider this as a grave attack upon the interests of one of her subjects, which caused her in due time to resort to threats to extort an indemnity from Haiti.

Even the United States, whose relations with Haiti were at that time most cordial, introduced unjust claims against the country, those concerning Lazare and Pelletier being among the most unreasonable.[6]

In September, 1874, the Government of Domingue had granted to A. H. Lazare, an American citizen, the privilege of establishing a bank in Haiti. Of the metallic reserve to the value of $1,500,000, one-third, viz., $500,000, was to be furnished by the Haitian Government, and the balance, $1,000,000, by the grantee. It was agreed that in case the bank should not be in operation a year after the signature of the contract, which occurred on the 1st of September, 1874, the concession was to be held null and void. On the 1st of September, 1875, A. H. Lazare was unable to make the deposit of the $1,000,000; the Haitian Government agreed to wait until the 15th of October, notifying him, at the same time, that they would consider the concession cancelled if on that day he was not ready to fulfil his part of the contract. On the 15th of October the Haitian Government deposited in the bank the $500,000, its share in the transaction; but neither Lazare nor his million were forthcoming. The concession consequently was declared void. Lazare, knowing full well that he had no money with which to establish a bank, accepted the accomplished fact. The Haitian Government, with its usual benevolence, had the extreme kindness to give him $10,000 to cover his traveling expenses and the cost of advertisement; besides which, he was appointed Haitian Consul-General in New York. Nevertheless, as soon as he heard of the overthrow of Domingue he began intriguing, until the United States Legation at Port-au-Prince finally introduced in his behalf a claim for $500,000, under the pretext that his concession had been arbitrarily cancelled.

Another claim of still more extraordinary nature was presented by the same legation. This was founded on events that had taken place over eighteen years before. One Antonio Pelletier,[7] a Frenchman by birth, who became a citizen of the United States by naturalization in 1852, was well known as a slave-trader. In April, 1859, his ship, The Ardennes, had been captured at the mouth of the Congo River by Cap. Thomas W. Brent of the United States man-of-war Marion. This much was known of Pelletier when he arrived at Port-au-Prince in January, 1861, on the schooner Williams flying the flag of the United States. A member of the crew informed the Haitian authorities that the ship was a slaver and that the Captain had come with the intention of kidnapping about 150 people on the coast of Haiti, with the object of selling them in Cuba. A few days before Pelletier had tried to engage 50 men and some women at Port-au-Prince, under the pretext of taking on a cargo of guano at Navassa Island. The Haitian police at once proceeded to make a thorough search on board the Williams, where arms, ammunition, many handcuffs, and barrels of water were found. These articles at that time were the necessary accompaniment of the slave-trade. The ship, however, was not seized; she was allowed to sail for New Orleans, the Haitian Government causing her to be convoyed for a while by the man-of-war Le Geffrard. As soon as the Williams was left alone she changed her course, and returning to Haiti cruised for five days along the north coast, and finally entered Fort-Liberté, a small port closed to foreign commerce, on the 31st of March, 1861. This time she was flying the French flag. Her name was no longer Williams, but Guillaume Tell, and Pelletier also had changed his name to Jules Letellier. His plan was to get a sufficient number of the inhabitants on board and carry them off to be sold. Under the pretext that his ship needed some repairs he entered into relations with the authorities of the town for engaging some workmen, and then announced that there would be a dance given on board the Guillaume Tell. Alarmed by the audacity of his captain, a member of the crew, one Miranda, deserted the ship and denounced the whole plot to the Haitian authorities. The French Consul at Cap-Haitien proceeded forthwith to Fort-Liberté, and at once found out that Jules Letellier was no other than Antonio Pelletier, and that the ship was not the Guillaume Tell from Havre, as her captain had reported, but the same Williams which some time previous had set sail from Port-au-Prince for New Orleans; and that she had no right to fly the French flag. The Haitian authorities caused the ship to be seized, and Antonio Pelletier with his accomplices was delivered up to justice. On the 30th of August, 1861, he was sentenced to death by the Criminal Court of Port-au-Prince, but the sentence was reversed by the Supreme Court on the 14th of October; Pelletier was again tried by the Criminal Court of Cap-Haitien, which sentenced him to imprisonment for five years. Pelletier was serving his term of imprisonment in the jail at Port-au-Prince when he became ill in 1863. Out of humanity the Haitian Government authorized his transfer to a hospital. He profited by this opportunity to make his escape and flee to Jamaica.

The action of the Haitian Government met with the full approval of the representatives of the foreign Powers then accredited at Port-au-Prince. Mr. Lewis, who was the Commercial Agent of the United States in Haiti in 1861, personally requested that Pelletier should not be set free. In his report of the 13th of April, 1861, to Mr. Seward, at that time Secretary of State, Mr. G. Eustis Hubbard, Commercial Agent of the United States at Cap-Haitien, expressed the following opinion: "I have no doubt that the intention of Captain Pelletier was to induce a number of Haitians to go on board of his vessel, under contract or otherwise, and then make his escape with them and sell them into slavery. … Indeed, my own doubts about the legality of the vessel's proceedings were so great that, had she escaped from Fort-Liberté, I should at once have written to Saint-Thomas, Aspinwall and Havana, requesting the American Consuls of those places to lay the facts before the commander of any foreign man-of-war in port, so that the vessel might have been apprehended and her real intention discovered."[8]

Nevertheless, eighteen years later, in February, 1879, Mr. Langston, then United States Minister at Port-au-Prince, introduced a claim on Pelletier's behalf; in the name of this pirate he did his utmost to extort from the Haitian people the trifling amount of $2,466,480.

The foreign Powers seemed bent upon causing embarrassments to the government of Boisrond Canal, which was showing in every way the greatest respect for the law. The two Houses of Congress exercised a rigid control of the finances, and the public expenses were reduced to the strictest necessities. Public works also received much attention. Mr. Borrott, an American citizen, obtained the concession for the building of a railroad and tramway at Port-au-Prince; the construction of canals was undertaken and pipes were laid for supplying water to private houses; contracts for the building of wharves and bridges were also signed. Haitians and foreigners alike enjoyed complete freedom. Yet throughout Boisrond Canal's administration there was continued trouble arising from all kinds of pretensions on the part of the foreign legations at Port-au-Prince, as well as from party strife. The opposition in the legislative body aimed at absorbing the prerogatives of the Executive Power. The rivalry in Congress during 1879 between the National and Liberal parties, both of which were contending for the supremacy, made the situation still more delicate. On the 30th of June, 1879, a disturbance occurred in the House of Representatives, followed by a riot at Port-au-Prince, in which Mr. Boyer Bazelais, the leader of the Liberal party, took the chief part. The Government succeeded in restoring order. But feeling that he had lost the confidence of the Nationals and the Liberals alike after having unsuccessfully tried to play the part of peace-maker between them, President Boisrond Canal[9] resigned on the 17th of July, 1879.

  1. After a trial by jury Jose Santisi was found guilty of arson and sentenced to death. He had set fire to the ice factory of Port-au-Prince, which was under his management, with a view of defrauding the French Insurance Company "Le Globe." This was the man on whose behalf Spain was trying to bully Haiti.
  2. "The conduct pursued by the Haitian Government is inconceivable, and I have the assurance that circumstances would never have arrived at the extreme in which they now are if the Cuban insurrection had not existed. Those separatists of the Greater Antilles who do not find in their breasts sufficient breath to meet the charge of the Spanish bayonets are scattered in the nearest foreign places, with the object of creating at every step international difficulties and to lend aid to those who have risen in arms. … But where those sympathies have cast deep roots and caused the perpetration of unheard-of wrongs, has been without dispute in the Republic of Haiti. … " (Letter of Commandant Autran to the British Consul, December 17, 1877. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1878, p. 424.)
  3. Le Moniteur, December 22, 1877.
  4. Foreign Relations of the United States, p. 425.
  5. See page 240.
  6. See pages 237, 239.
  7. The American and Haitian Claims Commission, Washington, 1885.
  8. The American and Haitian Claims Commission, Claim of Antonio Pelletier (Washington, 1885), p. 1103.
  9. Boisrond Canal died at Port-au-Prince on the 6th of March, 1905, at the age of 73 years.