United States occupation of Haiti: Wikis


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The United States occupation of Haiti began on July 28, 1915 and ended August 1, 1934.



From 1911 to 1915 there were six different Presidents of Haiti, each of whom was killed or forced into exile.[1] The various revolutionary armies that carried out this series of coups were formed by cacos, or peasant brigands from the mountains of the north, along the porous Dominican border, who were enlisted by rival political factions with promises of money to be paid after a successful revolution and an opportunity to plunder.

The United States was particularly apprehensive about the role of the small German community in Haiti (approximately 200 in 1910), who wielded a disproportionate amount of economic power.[2] German nationals controlled about 80 percent of the country's international commerce. They also owned and operated utilities in Cap Port-au-Prince, the main wharf and a tramway in the capital, and a railroad serving the Plaine de Cul-du-Sac.[3]

The German community proved more willing to integrate into Haitian society than any other group of white foreigners, including the more numerous French. Some Germans married into the nation's most prominent mulatto families, thus bypassing the constitutional prohibition against foreign land-ownership. They also served as the principal financiers of the nation's innumerable revolutions, floating loans-at high interest rates-to competing political factions.[4]

In an effort to limit German influence, in 1910-11 the State Department backed a consortium of American investors, assembled by the National City Bank of New York, in acquiring control of the Banque National d'Haïti, the nation's only commercial bank and the government treasury.[5]

In February 1915 Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam established a dictatorship, but in July, facing a new revolt, he massacred 167 political prisoners, all of whom were from elite families. Sam was then lynched by a mob in Port-au-Prince.[6]

It is alleged that a popular uprising against Sam threatened American business interests in the country (such as HASCO). Because of these competing interests and the possibility of the cacos-supported anti-American Rosalvo Bobo emerging as the next President of Haiti, the American government decided to act quickly to preserve their economic dominance over Haiti.[7]

American President Woodrow Wilson sent 330 U.S. Marines to Port-au-Prince on July 28, 1915. The specific order from the Secretary of the Navy to the invasion commander, Admiral William Deville Bundy, was to "protect American and foreign" interests. However, to avoid public criticism the occupation was labeled as a mission to “re-establish peace and order...[and] has nothing to do with any diplomatic negotiations of the past or the future” as disclosed by Rear Admiral Caperton.[8]

On November 17, 1915, U.S. Marines captured Fort Riviere, a stronghold of the Cacos rebels.

The Haitian government had been receiving large loans from both American and French banks over the past few decades and was growing increasingly incapable in fulfilling their debt repayment. If an anti-American government prevailed under the leadership of Rosalvo Bobo, there would be no promise of any debt repayment, and the refusal of American investments would have been assured. Within six weeks of the occupation, representatives from the United States controlled Haitian customs houses and administrative institutions such as banks and the national treasury. Through American manipulation, 40% of the national income was used to alleviate the debt repayment to both American and French banks.[9]Despite the large sums due to overseas banks, this economic decision ignored the interests of the majority of the Haitian population and froze the economic growth the country needed. For the next nineteen years, advisers of the United States governed the country, enforced by the United States Marine Corps.[2]

Government and opposition

In the U.S., Haiti is portrayed as a world apart: the "poorest country in the western hemisphere"-a place of inexplicable violence and instability, horrible poverty, and scant resources.[citation needed] Seldom are we reminded that this was the first nation in America after the U.S. to achieve independence, and was the first Black republic-that this is a country with a history not only of repression and violence but also of heroism, resistance, immense human and cultural vitality. Far from being "a world apart," Haiti has from its inception been all too firmly locked into a world system that has exploited, battered, and abused its natural and human resources.[citation needed] Perhaps the starkest omission is that the U.S. has played a long and devastating role in Haiti, including a brutal nineteen-year military occupation, from 1915 to 1934.[citation needed] Writes Historian Mary Renda: While in Haiti, marines installed a puppet president, dissolved the legislature at gunpoint, denied freedom of speech, and forced a new constitution on the Caribbean nation-one more favorable to foreign investment. With the help of the marines, U.S. officials seized customs houses, took control of Haitian finances.... Meanwhile, marines waged war against insurgents (called cacos) who for several years maintained an armed resistance in the countryside, and imposed a brutal system of forced labor that engendered even more fierce Haitian resistance. By official U.S. estimates, more than 3,000 Haitians were killed during this period; a more thorough accounting reveals that the death toll may have reached 11,500. Renda continues: "This extended breach of Haitian sovereignty constitutes an infamous but crucial chapter in Haitian history." Yet, "the occupation has earned little more than a footnote in standard accounts of U.S. history." This occupation was in fact a crucial moment in the development of American imperialism, and the brutality and betrayal of the long occupation is consistent with the treatment meted out to Haiti by the U.S. throughout its history to the present day. Template:Neutrality of this paragraph challenged

Representatives from the United States wielded veto power over all governmental decisions in Haiti, and Marine Corps commanders served as administrators in the provinces. Local institutions, however, continued to be run by Haitians, as was required under policies put in place during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson.[citation needed]

Opposition to the Occupation began immediately after the Marines entered Haiti in 1915. The rebels (called "cacos" by the U.S. Marines) vehemently tried to resist American control of Haiti. In response, the Haitian and American governments began a vigorous campaign to disband the rebel armies. Perhaps the best-known account of this skirmishing came from Marine Major Smedley Butler, awarded a Medal of Honor for his exploits, and went on to serve as commanding officer of the Haitian Gendarmerie. (He later expressed his disapproval of the U.S. intervention in his book War Is a Racket.)

Philippe Sudré Dartiguenave, the mulatto president of the Senate, (who agreed to accept the presidency of Haiti after several other candidates had refused on principle. In 1917, President Dartiguenave dissolved the legislature after its members refused to approve a constitution written by Franklin D. Roosevelt (then Assistant Secretary of the Navy)[10] However, a referendum subsequently approved the new constitution in 1918 (by a vote of 98,225 to 768). It was a generally a liberal document. The constitution allowed foreigners to purchase land. Jean-Jacques Dessalines had forbidden land ownership by foreigners, and since 1804, some Haitians had viewed foreign ownership as anathema.[11]

The occupation of Haiti continued after World War I, despite the embarrassment that it caused Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and the scrutiny of a congressional inquiry in 1922.

In 1922, Dartiguenave was replaced by Louis Borno, who ruled without a legislature until 1930. That same year, General John H. Russell, Jr. was appointed High Commissioner. The Borno-Russel dictatorship oversaw the expansion of the economy, building over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of road, establishing an automatic telephone exchange, modernizing the nation's port facilities, and establishing a public health service. Sisal was introduced to Haiti, and sugar and cotton became significant exports.[12]

However, efforts to develop commercial agriculture met with limited success, in part because much of Haiti's labor force was employed as seasonal workers in the more-established sugar industries of Cuba and the Dominican Republic. An estimated 30,000-40,000 Haitian laborers, known as braceros, went annually to the Oriente Province of Cuba between 1913 and 1931.[13] Most Haitians continued to resent the loss of sovereignty. At the forefront of opposition among the educated elite was L'Union Patriotique, which established ties with opponents of the occupation in the U.S. itself, in particular the NAACP.[14]

The Great Depression decimated the prices of Haiti's exports, and destroyed the tenuous gains of the previous decade. In December 1929, Marines in Les Cayes killed ten Haitian peasants during a march to protest local economic conditions.[11] This led Herbert Hoover to appoint two commissions, including one headed by a former U.S. governor of the Philippines William Cameron Forbes, which criticized the exclusion of Haitians from positions of authority in the government and constabulary, now known as the Garde d'Haïti.

Transition to fully Haitian government

In 1930, Sténio Vincent, a long-time critic of the occupation, was elected President.

By 1930, President Herbert Hoover had become concerned about the effects of the occupation, particularly after the December 1929 incident in Les Cayes. Hoover appointed two commissions to study the situation. A former governor general of the Philippines, William Cameron Forbes, headed the more prominent of the two.

The Forbes Commission praised the material improvements that the U.S. administration had wrought, but it criticized the exclusion of Haitians from positions of real authority in the government and the constabulary, which had come to be known as the Garde d'Haïti. In more general terms, the commission further asserted that "the social forces that created [instability] still remain — poverty, ignorance, and the lack of a tradition or desire for orderly free government."[15]

The Hoover administration did not fully implement the recommendations of the Forbes Commission; but United States withdrawal was under way by 1932, when Hoover lost the presidency to Franklin Roosevelt, the presumed author of the most recent Haitian constitution and the proponent of "Good Neighbor policy". On a visit to Cap-Haïtien in July 1934, Roosevelt reaffirmed an August 1933 disengagement agreement. The last contingent of U.S. Marines departed on August 15, 1934 after a formal transfer of authority to the Garde. [16] The U.S. retained influence on Haiti's external finances until 1947.[17]

Effects of the occupation on Haiti

The occupation by the United States had several significant effects on Haiti. An early period of unrest culminated in a 1918 rebellion by up to 40,000 former cacos and other disgruntled people. The scale of the uprising overwhelmed the Gendarmerie, but Marine reinforcements helped put down the revolt at an estimated cost of 2,000 Haitian lives.[11]

The occupation greatly improved some of Haiti's infrastructure[2] and centralized power in Port-au-Prince. Infrastructure improvements were particularly impressive: 1700 km of roads were made usable, 189 bridges were built, many irrigation canals were rehabilitated, hospitals, schools, and public buildings were constructed, and drinking water was brought to the main cities. Port au-Prince became the first city of Latin America to have phone service available with automatic dialing. Agricultural education was organized with a central school of agriculture and 69 farms in the country.[18]

When it came to living conditions, the Americans inhabited the neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince in houses that the majority of Haitians would only dream of. Consequently the neighborhood in which the Americans lived was called the “millionaire's row.”[19] Hans Schmidt accounted an officer's opinion on the matter of segregation: “I can't see why they wouldn't have a better time with their crowd, just as I do with mine."[20]American intolerance provoked indignation and resentment — and eventually a racial pride that was reflected in the work of a new generation of Haitian historians, ethnologists, writers, artists, and others, many of whom later became active in politics and government. The mulatto elite managed to dominate the country's bureaucracy and to strengthen its role in national affairs.

The education system was re-designed from the ground up; however, this involved the destruction of the existing system of "liberal arts" education inherited (and adapted) from the French. Due to its emphasis on vocational training, the American system that replaced the French was despised by the elite.[21]

All three rulers during the occupation came from the country's small mulatto minority. At the same time, many in the growing black professional classes departed from the traditional veneration of Haiti's French cultural heritage and emphasized the nation's African roots.[22] Among these were ethnologist Jean Price-Mars and the journal Les Griots, edited by Dr. François Duvalier.

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ Robert Heinl, Pg. 791
  2. ^ a b c of Haiti, 1915-34
  3. ^ Schmidt, 35.
  4. ^ Schmidt, 35.
  5. ^ Douglas, Paul H. from Occupied Haiti, ed. Emily Greene Balch (New York, 1972), 15-52 reprinted in: Money Doctors, Foreign Debts, and Economic Reforms in Latin America. Wilmington, Delaware: Edited by Paul W. Drake, 1994.
  6. ^ Millett, Allan Reed. Semper fidelis: the history of the United States Marine Corps, pg. 185.
  7. ^ Weinstein, Segal 1984, p.28.
  8. ^ Weston 1972, p.217.
  9. ^ Weinstein, Segal 1984, p.29.
  10. ^ Roosevelt assereted his authorship of the Haitian Constitution in several speeches during his 1920 campaign for Vice President - which was at best a politically awkward overstatement and caused some controversy in the campaign. (Arthur Schlesinger, The Crisis of the Old Order, 364, citing 1920 Roosevelt Papers for speeches in Spokane, San Francisco, and Centralia.)
  11. ^ a b c U.S. Haiti Rebellion 1918
  12. ^ Heinl, Pg. 454-455
  13. ^ Bridget Woodling, Richard Moseley-Williams Needed but unwanted: Haitian Immigrants and their Descendants in the Dominican Republict (Catholic Institute for International Relations: London, 2004) Pg. 24
  14. ^ Haiti, Haitians hi, and Black America
  15. ^ Occupation of Haiti 1915-34 Globalsecurity.org.
  16. ^ p 223 - Benjamin Beede (in ENGLISH). The War of 1898 and U.S. Interventions, 1898-1934: An Encyclopedia (May 1, 1994 ed.). Routledge; 1 edition. pp. 784. ISBN 0824056248. 
    The Haitian and U.S. governments reached a mutually satisfactory agreement in the Executive Accord of 7 Aug 1933, and on 15 August, the last marines departed.
  17. ^ Schmidt, Hans. The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934 New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995. (232)
  18. ^ Heinl, Pg. 454-455
  19. ^ Schmidt 1995, p.152.
  20. ^ Schmidt 1995, p.137-38.
  21. ^ Schmidt, p. 183.
  22. ^ Schmidt, p. 23.


  • Heinl, Robert, Written in Blood: The History of the Haitian People (University Press of America: Lantham, Md., 1996.
  • Schmidt, Hans. The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1995.
  • Weinstein, Brian and Aaron Segal (in ENGLISH). Haiti; Political Failures. Cultural Successes (February 15, 1984 ed.). Praeger Publishers. pp. 175. ISBN 0275912914. 
  • Weston, Rubin Francis. Racism in U.S. Imperialism: The Influence of Racial Assumptions on American Foreign Policy, 1893-1946. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press. 1972


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