Our adjacent islands

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Louis-Joseph Janvier, excerpt from Haïti aux Haïtiens (1884), “Nos îles adjacentes” (pp. 39-43) 


When you live surrounded by enemies and all kinds of pitfalls, you cannot guard against surprises too carefully. 

It is not generally known that there is a law in the United States, dating from August 12, 1856, whereby any abandoned island becomes the property of that citizen of the American union who discovers or takes possession of it. 

If that island is rich in guano deposits, instead of being the property of one or several citizens, it can be declared federal property, a Union territory. 

This bill was passed at a time when islands rich in guano started to attract the attention of Americans, who needed that dung to manure and fertilize their lands. 

All sovereign States that have traditions have always refused to accept the legitimacy of the cavalier claims expressed by the United States. We Haitians do not pay enough mind to the past and not enough to the future. Two errors. And very serious ones at that. 

The example of la Navase should have put us on guard, should have woken us up. 

Alta-Véla, la Béate, la Tortue, and la Gonâve are guano islands. 

Even supposing that, for the moment, immense quantities cannot be exploited, it would be good for the purposes of a protective policy for these islands to be heavily and diligently occupied.

It is said, without sufficient reason, that la Béate and Alta-Véla do not belong to us at all. That is wrong. Long ago those islands were French dependencies rather than Spanish ones, whereas the latter ruled Santo Domingo. From 1844 to this day we have not relinquished them. They are almost situated in our territorial waters, too close to our coasts, too close to Jacmel for us to let any flag fly there other than the one flown in Port-au-Prince. 

It would be a wise measure to establish penal colonies [on them] or colonies of political convicts tasked with exploiting them. They would cultivate them, or at least would fish in their waters, so that it would be well demonstrated that we consider them to be ours. 

La Gonâve hides the entrance to Port-au-Prince’s harbor, guards and defends it. La Tortue looks upon Port-de-Paix, controls the path out of the straits and of the Wind Canal.

Let us not forget that when the buccaneers settled on that island, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, they only did so because it had been abandoned by the Spanish, the only ones who could have claimed legitimate ownership at the time.

The Americans did not hesitate to occupy la Navase, have no shame about refusing to return it, even though they can only extract guano. Now that they are looking to have all the means of access, all the keys to the future Panama Canal in their possession at any price, they would perhaps not back down from the idea of getting their hands on la Tortue.

The Americans have singular ways of understanding things. With a diplomatic dispatch dated June 24, 1881 addressed to the London office, Mr. Blaine, then Secretary, had already made it known that the government of the United States reserved for itself alone the right to protect the interoceanic canal. Based on the thesis he was advancing, the White House’s future occupant invoked a treaty made in 1846 between New Granada and the Confederated Republic of the north.

England having responded that it was relying on the stipulations of a treaty signed in 1850 by Clayton and Bulwer, which assured the neutrality of the canal at all times, the Americans made it clearly under-stood that they would not take the Clayton-Bulwer treaty into account at all, and that the canal would be considered to belong to the coastal territory of the United States. 

A Significant fact! A Lesson to be learned. 

It would be desirable for Haitians to be the sole concessionaries of la Tortue and la Gonâve; for pastoral or agricultural logging to begin immediately on these islands so that no one can use their relative abandonment to come and seize them. 

The future belongs only to those individuals or nations who know how to anticipate, prevent, and act. 

June 15, 1884

Dr. Louis-Joseph JANVIER

English translation, Nadève Médard

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