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

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Limits of Haiti—Area—Mountains and rivers—Adjacent islands—Population—Government Divisions of the territory into Departments, arrondissements, communes, and rural section—Financial organization; the national debt—Academic organization; public instruction—Judiciary organization—Religious organization.

Haiti is bounded on the east by the Dominican Republic, on the north and west by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the south by the Caribbean Sea. She derives from her position at the entrance of the Gulf of Mexico and almost in the centre of the Antillean archipelago exceptional facilities for communications with foreign countries. Cuba is at a distance of 50 miles to the northwest, Jamaica 100 miles to the southwest, and New York but 1,400 miles away.[1]

The length of the island from east to west is over 400 miles, the breadth from north to south, ranging from 160 to 17 miles, and its perimeter about 900 miles.

According to B. Ardouin's Geography, its area, including the adjacent islets, is 52,000 square leagues,[2] of which a third constitutes the Republic of Haiti; the remaining portion forming the Dominican Republic.

Fourteen mountain ranges lie across the country, which is watered by forty-four rivers and streams, thus rendering the soil exceedingly fertile. Among the rivers the most important are the Artibonite, 60 leagues long,[3] which rises in the Cibao Mountain and flows into the Gulf of Gonave, near Grande-Saline; the yearly rising of its waters and its consequent benefit to crops has caused it to be compared with the Nile; it is navigable and greatly facilitates the traffic of the plain which bears its name.

As to the mountains which give to Haiti so picturesque an aspect, they literally ridge the country. The peak of La Hotte in the South is about 2,470 metres and the peak of La Selle in the West 2,950 metres[4] above the sea level.

The adjacent islands belonging to Haiti are:

1st. La Gonave in the bay of Port-au-Prince is 14 leagues long by 3 wide.[5] The air is pure and the climate healthy; there is a lake on this island, and there are many mahogany and other valuable trees for cabinetwork and building purposes.

2nd. La Tortue (Tortuga Island), opposite Port-de-Paix, was the cradle of the French domination in Saint-Domingue, having been occupied by the freebooters in 1630; it is 9 leagues long. The climate of the island is so healthy that in the older times the French were in the habit of going there to escape from or recuperate after yellow fever. Here also are to be found mahogany and building timber, and land crabs much sought after as food.

3rd. L'Ile-à-Vaches, at about three leagues from Cayes, is four leagues long; it is very fertile and furnishes the town with all kinds of victuals; at certain times wood-pigeons are plentiful there.

4th. Les Caimites, opposite Corail and Pestel, are a series of islets the largest of which has an area of only two square leagues; they furnish timber for building.

5th. La Navase, which has been taken possession of by the United States in spite of Haiti's protests.

The population of Haiti numbers about 2,000,000. Under the Constitution the following persons are considered Haitian citizens: 1st. Those who are born in Haiti or any other country of a Haitian father; 2nd. Those born in Haiti or any other country of a Haitian mother and not acknowledged by their father; 3rd. Those born in Haiti of foreign parents provided that they be of African descent.

A foreign woman upon marrying a Haitian citizen becomes a Haitian, whilst a Haitian woman who marries a foreigner loses her nationality.

Any foreigner can be naturalized a Haitian by declaring his intention of settling in Haiti before a justice of the peace and by taking the oath of allegiance; the naturalization papers being delivered afterward by the President of the Republic.[6] (Article 14 of the Civil Code.)

Haitians alone are allowed to own real estate.

At the age of twenty-one years a Haitian-born citizen attains his majority and the exercise of his political rights; but foreigners who have been naturalized must reside in Haiti for five years before being allowed to enjoy political rights.

The supreme power is in the hands of the people, who are represented by three independent powers: the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judiciary Powers.

The Legislative power is exercised by a House of Representatives (Chambre des Communes) and by a Senate. The House of Representatives is elected for three years by the direct vote of the people. There is one Representative (Député) for each commune, with the exception of Port-au-Prince, which elects three, and Jacmel, Jérémie, Saint-Marc, Cayes, Gonaives, Port-de-Paix, and Cap-Haitien, each of which elects two Representatives, making up the number of 95 Representatives or Deputies.

The qualifications for the election of a Deputy are that the candidate be not less than 25 years old, enjoy civil and political rights, be owner of real estate or practise some profession or trade. A Deputy receives a salary of $300 a month during the legislative session, and may not hold any other office paid by the Republic. The Senate consists of 39 members elected for six years by the House of Representatives from a double list presented by the electoral assemblies and by the President of Haiti. There are 11 Senators from the Western Department; 9 from the Northern; 9 from the Southern; 6 from the Artibonite, and 4 from the Northwest.

To be elected Senator one must be not less than 30 years of age, the other necessary qualifications being the same as those required from a member of the House of Representatives. The Senate is divided into three series of 13 members each; new elections taking place every two years. The salary of each Senator is $150 a month.

The Senate and the House of Representatives meet in National Assembly at the opening and close of each session; for the election of the President of Haiti and the administration of the oath of office; to declare war; to examine and approve of treaties of peace and to amend the Constitution should the necessity arise.

The legislative body meets every year on the first Monday in April; its session of three months being sometimes prolonged to four. In very urgent cases the Executive Power is authorized to call an extraordinary session.

The legislative body enacts all laws concerning public welfare; the initiative of such measures belonging to the two Houses as well as to the President of Haiti since 1843. The House of Representatives, however, must first pass all laws concerning taxes or the expenses of the State.

All Deputies and Senators are privileged from arrest from the day of their election to the end of their functions. In criminal, correctional, or police matters they cannot be arrested or prosecuted without the formal authorization of the Chamber to which they belong, save in case of flagrant crimes and for crimes of an atrocious nature.

The Executive Power is exercised by a President elected for seven years by the House of Representatives and Senate assembled in National Assembly. He enters upon the duties of his office on the 15th of May and at the expiration of his term cannot be reelected before seven years have elapsed. In case of death, resignation, or dismissal of a President his successor must relinquish the office on the 15th of May, even if he have not served a full term of seven years. During a vacancy of the Presidency or whenever the President is unable to perform the duties of his office the Council of Secretaries of State acts in his place.

The requirements of a candidate for election to the Presidency are that he be born of a Haitian father, and have never forfeited Haitian nationality; that he must be not less than 40 years of age, enjoy civil and political rights, own real estate in Haiti and have his residence in the same country.

The President promulgates all laws enacted by the legislative body and issues the decrees necessary to their fulfilment; commands all the forces of the Republic; appoints and dismisses all public functionaries; makes treaties and conventions, which must be submitted for approval to the Legislative Power; and has the right to grant amnesty and pardon as well as to commute penalties.

In case of abuse of authority, the President is indicted by the House of Representatives and tried by the Senate sitting as the High Court of Justice. The President appoints and dismisses the members of his Cabinet. He cannot execute any valid measure without the countersign of the Secretary under whose sphere of authority it comes and who becomes responsible therefor. The President's salary amounts to $24,000 a year, besides $15,000 for traveling expenses. His Cabinet consists of six Secretaries of State. The Departments are those of the Interior, Agriculture, Public Works, Justice, Public Instruction, Finance, Commerce, Exterior Relations, War and Navy.

A Secretary of State must have attained the age of 30 years, enjoy civil and political rights, and own real estate in Haiti. All important measures are examined by the Council of the Secretaries of State, who are responsible not only for their own acts but also for the acts of the President, which they countersign; the verbal order of the President cannot shield them. They participate in the labor both of the House of Representatives and of the Senate, where they have the right to introduce, uphold, or oppose the projects in debate. Both Houses can interpellate them on all matters relative to their administration, and upon receiving a vote of want of confidence they usually resign at once. In the event of any crime being committed in the exercise of their functions they are impeached by the House of Representatives and tried by the High Court of Justice (the Senate). The salary of a Secretary of State is $6,000 a year.

The Judiciary Power is exercised by a Tribunal de Cassation (Supreme Court) sitting at Port-au-Prince, by civil and commercial tribunals, and by justices of the peace.

The territory of the Republic is divided into Departments, the Departments into arrondissements, the arrondissements into communes, and the communes into rural sections.[7] There are five departments: the
Departments of Exterior Relations, Public Instruction, Etc. Port-au-Prince - Haiti, her history and her detractors.jpg

Departments of Exterior Relations, Public Instruction, Etc., Port-au-Prince

Western, capital Port-au-Prince, which is also the capital of the Republic; the Artibonite, capital Gonaives; the Northwestern, capital Port-de-Paix; the Northern, capital Cap-Haitien, and the Southern, capital Cayes. A Delegate appointed by the President is at the head of each Department. The arrondissements and communes are under the rule of officers appointed by the President and respectively called Commandants of arrondissements and Commandants of "places" and communes.

The Commandant of an arrondissement exercises both civil and military power. As the representative of the Executive Power he has all the armed force of his territory under his authority, and is responsible for the maintaining of peace and order. He has about the same prerogatives as those conferred upon the prefects in France. In all military matters he is in direct communication with the President and the Secretary of War, whilst in administrative business he is dependent upon the Secretary of the Interior.

The Commandant of a commune has the special care of the mending of roads, the control of agriculture and the police.

The civil and financial interests of each commune are managed by an independent body elected for three years by the people and called the Communal Council. Out of its members this council elects a chairman who assumes the title of Communal Magistrate and whose powers resemble those of a mayor.

Apart from the foregoing territorial divisions Haiti is subdivided into financial administrations, academic circumscriptions, jurisdictions, and dioceses.

For the whole country there are eleven ports open to commerce with foreign countries;[8] there are eleven financial administrations, at the head of which is a functionary called the Administrator of Finance. In each of the eleven ports is a custom-house, where all goods or products imported or exported are controlled.

The Administrator of Finance signs all documents relative to the collection of duties or to the expenditure in that part of the territory under his authority; the duties are afterward collected and all expenses paid by the National Bank of Haiti, which has charge of the Service of the Treasury.[9] He is in relations with the Secretary of the Treasury and Commerce as well as with the Court of Accounts.

The members of this Court of Accounts are elected by the Senate from a list of candidates presented by the House of Representatives. The property of the Secretaries of State and of all those who are accountable for the management of the public funds remains mortgaged until a favorable report is made by the Court of Accounts concerning their administration.

The financial situation of Haiti is in a better condition than that of many other countries. The external debt amounted on the 31st of December, 1904, to $12,123,105; it consists of two loans floated in France in 1875 and in 1896. The balance due on the loan of 1875 is 19,252,560 francs or $3,609,855, and yields an interest of 5 per cent. Haiti pays an annuity of 1,557,492 francs. In 1922 this loan will be entirely redeemed.

The loan of 1896, amounting to a total of 50,000,000 francs, pays 6 per cent interest. Owing to the regular payment of the annuities the balance of this loan in December, 1904, was 45,404,000 francs, or $8,513,250. It will be entirely paid in 1932.

On the 31st of December, 1904, the home or internal debt amounted to $14,181,870, not including the paper money, which is being gradually redeemed by means of special taxes.

There are usually as many academic circumscriptions as arrondissements, although an academic circumscription may, according to circumstances, include two or
Primary School of the Brothers of Christian Instruction - Port-au-Prince - Haiti, her history and her detractors.jpg

Primary School of the Brothers of Christian Instruction - Port-au-Prince

more arrondissements; at present there exist fifteen of them. At the head of each academic circumscription is an inspector of schools, who is in direct relations with the Secretary of Public Instruction. All public and private schools located in his circumscription are under his control and authority.

Teaching is free in Haiti; natives as well as foreigners can practise this profession, provided that they fulfil the conditions required by the law on public instruction. One must of course be in possession of a diploma testifying his ability to teach, and in the case of a foreigner he must be able to present good testimonials, indicating at the same time the place of his residence and the profession practised before his arrival in Haiti.

Instruction is compulsory and absolutely free of cost from the primary to the highest schools. A thorough education can be had by all Haitians simply by defraying the expenses of their maintenance. All have thus equal chances. The Republic goes so far as to assist children who, owing to the embarrassed circumstances of their parents, would be unable to remain long at schools. Free scholarships amounting to $15,300 a year are granted to 85 pupils, boys and girls. Teachers are exempted from military service. Knowledge is diffused through primary schools both in the towns and in the country, through Lycées and colleges, professional and high schools. There are now 278 primary schools, 39 schools under the management of the Brothers of Christian Instruction, 6 schools for classical education, 6 Lycées, and one professional school, for boys. For girls there are 102 primary schools, 6 schools for classical education, 40 schools under the management of the Sisters of Saint-Joseph de Cluny, and about 20 schools under the management of the "Filles de la Sagesse." Besides there are schools for the study of medicine, pharmacy, law, drawing and painting, arts, trades, and electrical sciences. All these schools are maintained at the expense of the Republic.

Apart from these there are also many private schools where the teaching is conducted on the lines of the curriculum adopted by the Secretary of Public Instruction. Among the most important of these establishments at Port-au Prince are the College Louverture, the Petit Séminaire Collège, under the management of the Fathers of the Holy Ghost; the Institution Saint Louis de Gonzague, the Pensionnat Sainte Rose de Lima; an orphanage where the girls are taught manual trades; a school for practical sciences, a Wesleyan school for boys and girls, a maternity which furnishes competent midwives, and the Clinique Péan, where the students receive practical and technical instruction in medicine. At Cayes and at Cap-Haitien there are private law schools.

The Republic of Haiti, ever anxious to encourage the diffusion of public instruction, subsidizes all these private schools, without mentioning the bursaries she maintains in France and elsewhere. Whilst being most liberal in a financial way, she reserves the right of conferring degrees. No students of the private schools of medicine, law, etc., can be graduated without passing an examination of the Board of National Schools and having their diplomas signed by the Secretary of Public Instruction.

From a budget amounting to $7,000,000 Haiti's yearly expenditure for public instruction is $800,000. When one considers that in 1844 there were but four national schools in the whole arrondissement of Port-au-Prince,[10] it is easy to form an idea of the marvellous progress which has been made since in that line; for at the present day, not including the Lycée and other high schools, there are in the city of Port-au-Prince alone ten public schools under the management of the Brothers of Christian Instruction, one Lancasterian school, five lay schools, one school for classical education for boys, whilst for girls there are eight primary schools and one school for classical education, to say nothing of the numerous private schools.

Seminaire College St. Martial, Pout-au-Prince - Haiti, her history and her detractors.jpg

Seminaire College St. Martial, Port-au-Prince

In the primary schools in the country there is a three years' course consisting of religious instruction, reading, writing, the first elements of French grammar, Haitian geography and history, elementary arithmetic; the rudiments of agriculture for the boys, and sewing for the girls.[11]

In the primary schools of the city there is a four years' course of the same subjects as taught in the country schools, with the addition of the outlines of general history and geography and elementary physics and natural history.

In the three years' course the following subjects are taught in the classical schools: French language and literature; Spanish and English; arithmetic; rudimentary algebra and geometry; cosmography and bookkeeping; physics and natural history and their relation to agriculture, industry and hygiene; drawing, elementary political economy; Haitian history and geography; general history and geography.

In the girls' schools most of the same subjects are taught, the subjects omitted being replaced by ornamental drawing, music, sewing, and embroidery.

The complete course in the Lycées and colleges takes seven years and comprises moral and religious instruction, French, English and Spanish grammar and literature; Latin; Greek; general history and geography; philosophy; political economy; mathematics; physics; chemistry; natural history; elocution; mechanical drawing; vocal and instrumental music.

My excuse to my readers for giving these details is that this is the best refutation that can be given to the detractors of Haiti. By thus revealing the unceasing efforts made by that country toward the education of her inhabitants, the truth of which statements is amply borne out by facts, I hope to prove the absurdity of the slanders made by people who, for reasons of their own, avail themselves of every opportunity to give to the public the false impression that Haiti is retrograding instead of progressing. Any foreigner by visiting our schools can verify for himself the truth of what is here reported; he can see the sons of our country people who have been brought up in these schools and form an idea of the headway gained from generation to generation. That a State which willingly makes so many sacrifices in order to diffuse public instruction is returning to a condition of barbarism and savagery is an accusation as absurd as it is unjust.

For the administration of justice the territory of Haiti is divided into twelve jurisdictions, at the head of each of which is an official called the Commissary of the Government (Commissaire du Gouvernement), who together with his deputies (substituts), represents the Executive Power. These Commissaries of the Government are appointed by the President. Their duty is to see to the carrying out of the law and of the decisions of the courts; to prosecute all persons accused of crimes or misdemeanors; to appear in all cases concerning the State, as well as in cases concerning persons under age or who are declared non compos mentis, when the interests of those persons are neglected by their guardians.

Justice is administered by the Supreme Court (Tribunal de Cassation), civil and commercial tribunals, and by justices of the peace.

To become a justice of the Tribunal de Cassation one must have reached the age of 30 years, and of 25 years to become a judge of the other tribunals.

The President of Haiti appoints all the members of the judiciary body; but he has not the power to dismiss the justices of the Tribunal de Cassation or of the civil tribunals; they cannot even be appointed from one tribunal to another without their formal consent; to be retired on a pension they must be quite incapacitated by illness to perform their duties.

The Tribunal de Cassation, which is at the summit of the judiciary organization, sits at Port-au-Prince and consists of a President, a Vice-President, twelve Justices, one Commissary of the Government, and two Deputies (substituts). As a rule this tribunal takes no cognizance of the issues between litigants, its special mission being to prevent the other courts from violating the laws or from interpreting them wrongly; consequently, when it annuls a decision the case is referred to the nearest tribunal, the suit beginning anew. However, in order to put as speedy an end as possible to a law-suit, the Tribunal de Cassation, sitting in assembled sections (sections réunies), settles the matter by a decision which is final when the same case between the same parties has been brought before it twice.

The Tribunal de Cassation is divided into two sections: the civil section, which takes cognizance of all civil, commercial, and maritime matters; and the criminal section, which has to do with criminal, correctional, and police decisions. The quorum for each section is five justices including the president; in assembled sections (sections réunies), nine are required to make a quorum.

There are civil tribunals at Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien, Cayes, Gonaives, Jacmel, Jérémie, Anse-à-Veau, Aquin, Port-de-Paix, Saint-Marc, Petit-Goave and Fort-Liberté.

All civil suits on matters exceeding $150 must be submitted to these tribunals, whose quorum is limited to three justices. In places where there are no commercial tribunals they settle commercial and maritime cases as well.

Under the name of criminal or correctional tribunals they try all persons arraigned for crimes or misdemeanors. The decision of these tribunals is directly submitted to the Tribunal de Cassation.

There are commercial tribunals at Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien, Cayes, Gonaives, Jacmel, and Jérémie. The justices of these tribunals, who are elected for two years by a certain class of merchants, must be 25 years of age, besides being merchants paying license. These tribunals take cognizance of all cases between merchants, bankers, etc.; of all issues relative to an act of commerce; of all matters concerning bankruptcy, failures, etc.

In every commune there is at least one justice of the peace. At present there are in the whole Republic 104 justices of the peace with civil, commercial, and police jurisdiction; all civil and commercial law-suits not exceeding $150 must be submitted to them; under the name of police courts they attend to all transgressions (contraventions). An appeal against a decision of a justice of the peace is deferred to the civil or correctional tribunal according to the nature of the case. Justices of the peace are appointed and dismissed by the President of Haiti.

Catholicism being the religion of the country, Haiti is divided into dioceses, and the dioceses into parishes. The dioceses are identical with the Departments and the parishes with the communes; there are consequently five dioceses. At Port-au-Prince there is an Archbishop; there are Bishops at Cayes and Cap-Haitien; a Vicar-General in the diocese of Port-de-Paix as well as in the diocese of Gonaives. At the head of each parish there is a rector (curé) appointed by the Archbishop or the Bishop of the diocese. The Archbishops and Bishops are appointed by the President of Haiti, their canonical investiture being granted by the Holy See; before entering upon the duties of their offices they take the following oath before the President: "I swear to God, upon the Holy Gospel, to be obedient and faithful to the Government of Haiti and to undertake nothing directly or indirectly in opposition to the rights and interests of the Republic." The Vicar-Generals and the rectors (curés) take the same oath before the justice of the peace.

The great majority of the Haitians are Catholics; consequently this religion is specially protected. In conformity with the Concordat signed at Rome in 1860 the Republic provides salaries for the Archbishop, the Bishops, and rectors; and furnishes them with proper
Bishop's House, Cap-Haitien - Haiti, her history and her detractors.jpg

Bishop's House, Cap-Haitien

lodgings. Besides which, Haiti maintains 20 bursaries at the Seminary of Saint-Jacques in France. The most cordial relations exist between Haiti and the Pope, who has a diplomatic agent at Port-au-Prince.

The privileged situation which the Catholic Church enjoys in Haiti does not prevent the Haitians from granting full protection to all other creeds. Religious freedom is proclaimed by the Constitution and has always been respected since the first day of the country's independence. In Haiti are to be found Episcopalians, Wesleyans, Baptists, Methodists, etc. As to tolerance of the Haitians in their liberal views, there can be no question when it is known that the Republic makes annual appropriations toward the support of many of the Protestant sects.

  1. Handbook of Haiti issued by the Bureau of American Republics.
  2. A league is equal to 3.89 kilometres. In his dictionnaire administratif d'Haiti, Mr. S. Rouzier gives the following figures: Length of the island from east to west, 638 kilometres; width, from 264 to 12 kilometres; perimeter, 2,600 kilometres; area, not including the adjacent islets, 75,074 square kilometres, of which 26,000 belong to the Republic of Haiti. The adjacent islets have an area of 2,100 square kilometres.
  3. B. Ardouin, Geography of Haiti, p. 24.
  4. According to Moreau de Saint Méry and G. Tippenhauer, some of the mountains in Haiti have the following altitudes: Morne Belle Fontaine, 2,150 m.; Montagne Noire, 1,780; Plateau de Furcy, 1,540; Morne L'Hopital, 1,029; Morne Commissaire, 1,500; Morne des Crochus, 1,200; Les Matheux, 1,300; Tapion de Petit Goave, 488; Piton du Borgne, 692; Morne du Cap, 580.
  5. B. Ardouin, Geography of Haiti, p. 26.
  6. The only exception to this rule are Syrians, who cannot become Haitian citizens without residing ten years in Haiti. (Art. 7, Law of August 10, 1903.)
  7. Several rural sections form a commune; two or more communes form an arrondissement and two or more arrondissements form a Department. There are now 26 arrondissements and 86 communes.
  8. These ports are Port-au-Prince, Petit-Goave and Jacmel in the West; Miragoane, Jérémie, Cayes, and Aquin in the South; Saint-Marc and Gonaives in the Artibonite; Cap-Haitien in the North, and Port-de-Paix in the Northwest. The port of Môle Saint-Nicolas has been opened lately (1905) but is not yet in operation.
  9. Since the scandal of "La Consolidation" the service of the treasury has been in the hands of Haitian officials appointed by the President of the Republic.
  10. Linstant-Pradine, Lois et Actes, 1843-1845, p. 416.
  11. For further information as to the curriculum of the various schools of Haiti, read the interesting work of Sténio Vincent and C. Lhérisson, La Législation de l'Instruction Publique de la République d'Haiti. Mr. Lhérisson is the founder and Principal of the College Louverture at Port-au-Prince, one of the most important private schools in Haiti.