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Bank Note Reporter
Banknote Reporter March 2001  

Vincent depicted on one and two gourdes

By Joel Shafer


This month's article features little-known Stenio Vincent from Haiti. Often, leaders of nations are depicted on an entire series or multiple sets of bank notes. It is infrequent that a country will depict its ruler on a single set consisting of two notes. Vincent is portrayed only on the one and two gourdes. One might assert that he was a nondescript leader because of this limited appearance; as will be explained, this is a faulty assumption.  

Events during Stenio Vincent's rule resounded not only in Haiti, but globally. Vincent, the 30th head of state from 1930-1941, was well-educated and cultured. He had tight control of Haitian politics. While he was Haiti's first freely elected president in this century, Vincent "voted himself the privilege to appoint half of the Congress, the other half being 'elected' from a list of suitable candidates he had previously screened." He was a longtime public official who manifested his considerable acumen in two critical areas: involvement with Haitian race relations and diplomatic accomplishments with the United States. Sadly, under his rule, Haiti suffered shockingly in affairs with the neighboring Dominican Republic.

As a simplistic generalization, blacks and mulattos have battled for control of Haiti for decades. This statement belies the multitude of complexities that have contributed to and resulted from this struggle. Although Vincent was mulatto, according to Haitian historian Lyonel Paquin he felt embittered toward some other mulattos. Vincent grew up poor and felt ostracized from his peers. He retaliated by inviting wealthy mulattos into his government to involve them in difficult deals and situations from which they could not completely extricate themselves. However, he simultaneously created an inner circle of loyal mulatto officers. Finally, he provided career assistance to promising young lower income blacks by introducing them to opportunities in the public sector. The only obligation that Vincent required was for them to extol him to the media. Vincent's skill for working with different peoples greatly assisted him in dealing with the Americans.

When Americans turn their attention to today's Haiti, many may think of a nation in turmoil that, by world standards, has been destitute for decades. What may be forgotten is the United States' historical involvement with Haiti, particularly in the era leading to World War II. Generally, the United States treated Haiti like a colonial territory. For example, one source stated that U.S. troops forced Haitians to work in a "public work program called La corvee, which reminded most of them of the bygone days of slavery before Haiti's independence."

Vincent visited the United States on March 22, 1934, to negotiate for the removal of American forces. Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first U.S. president to visit Haiti on July 5, 1934 (and the only U.S. president to ever visit Haiti as president until Bill Clinton). Roosevelt met with Vincent; they signed an agreement that evacuated U.S. Marines by mid-August. A new Haitian constitution was installed that replaced the U.S. occupational constitution. Clearly, this became a pivotal landmark in Haitian history.

Vincent also tried to have Haiti establish good relations with its neighbor, the Dominican Republic. In 1935 and 1936, Dominican President Rafael L. Trujillo and Vincent signed addenda to a treaty ratified in 1929 that supposedly set a delineated border and settled long-time disputes. However, the treaty was primarily for diplomatic expedience; the border situation was basically the same for the area's actual residents. This region had had very limited control from the state. A population of Arrayanos, Haitian-Dominicans who spoke Spanish and Creole and engaged in trade and contraband across the border, ensued. Trujillo became incensed with this lack of authority. In October 1937, Trujillo ordered his military to murder all Haitians in the Dominican Republic. As a result, "thousands of Haitians were killed in a few days using machetes and clubs, so as to give the impression that it was the uncoordinated action of Dominican farmers who had decided to settle old scores." Eventually, this massacre was settled in part through the efforts of the United States; the Dominican Republic agreed to restitution of $750,000 to Haiti. Many Haitians see this small sum as a horrible blight on Vincent's record.

Overall, my research indicated ambivalence with Vincent's tenure. Some Haitian historians see his term as a success with the resolution of two critical challenges: the end of the "occupation" by American marines and a lapse in Haiti's turbulent and bloody relationship with its neighbor, the Dominican Republic. However, others state that Vincent "sold out" his country by agreeing to the paltry settlement of the 1937 murders. What is evident is Vincent was an important world leader of his era.

Numismatically, the Vincent series is plain. As with denominations of this era, the faces and backs of the one and two gourdes are brown and blue, respectively. On the face, he is depicted at the center. The back features the national arms. The notes were printed by American Bank Note Company. Both are scarce, particularly in higher grades. They appear with only one series letter. Like many Haitian notes, they come with a law date of April 12, 1919, although they were issued from 1935-1942. Finally, the notes had a value of five gourdes being equal to one U.S. dollar.-

I would appreciate knowing more information about Stenio Vincent In coming months, I will relate fascinating correspondence regarding my article on the Jeffiies Bank Note Company-printed 10 centavos from the Philippines.

"Written in Blood, The Story of the Haitian People, 1492-1971; Robert Debs Heinl and Nancy Gordon HeinI (ISBN 0-395-26305-0); Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1978
1. Photo: U.S.Marine Corps

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