United States occupation of Haiti
The United States occupation of Haiti began on July 28, 1915, when 330 United States Marines landed at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on the authority of President of the United States Woodrow Wilson to establish control of Haiti's political and financial interests. The invasion and subsequent occupation was promoted by growing American business interests in Haiti. The July intervention took place following years of socioeconomic instability within Haiti that culminated with the murder of President of Haiti Vilbrun Guillaume Sam by insurgents angered by his ordered executions of elite opposition. The occupation ended on August 1, 1934, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt reaffirmed an August 1933 disengagement agreement. The last contingent of marines departed on August 15, 1934, after a formal transfer of authority to the American-created Gendarmerie of Haiti.
|United States occupation of Haiti|
|Part of the Banana Wars|
Top to bottom, left to right: United States Marines in 1915 defending entrance gate in Cap-Haïtien, Marines and a Haitian guide patrolling the jungle during the Battle of Fort Dipitie, U.S. Navy Curtiss HS-2Ls and other airplanes in Haiti circa 1919
|Commanders and leaders|
Warren G. Harding
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Gerald C. Thomas
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Philippe Sudré Dartiguenave
Louis Eugène Roy
1,500 American soldiers
2,700 Haitian Gendarmes
First Caco War:|
|Casualties and losses|
28 Americans killed
70 Gendarmes killed
|History of Haiti|
|Pre-Columbian Haiti (before 1492)|
|Captaincy General of Santo Domingo (1492–1625)|
|First Empire of Haiti (1804–1806)|
|North Haiti (1806–1820)|
|South Haiti (1806–1820)|
|Republic of Haiti (1820–1849)|
|Second Empire of Haiti (1849–1859)|
|Republic of Haiti (1859–1957)|
|Duvalier dynasty (1957–1986)|
|Anti-Duvalier protest movement|
|Republic of Haiti (1986–present)|
During the occupation, Haiti had three new presidents, though the United States ruled as a military regime led by Marines and the US-created Haitian gendarmerie through martial law. Two major rebellions occurred during this period, resulting in several thousand Haitians killed and numerous human rights violations – including torture and summary executions – by Marines and the gendarmerie. Corvée labor was utilized for massive infrastructure projects that resulted in hundreds to thousands of deaths. Under the occupation, most Haitians continued to live impoverished lives while the United States re-established power into the hands of a select minority of Haitians, the wealthy French-cultured mulatto Haitians.
A slave revolt beginning in 1791 that led to the successful Haitian Revolution in 1804 frightened those living in the Southern United States who supported slavery, raising fears that it would inspire other slaves. Such sentiments among wealthy slaveholding Americans strained relations between the United States and Haiti, with the United States initially refusing to recognize Haitian independence while slaveholders advocated for a trade embargo with the newly created Caribbean nation. The Haiti indemnity controversy – which France forced upon Haiti through gunboat diplomacy in 1825 due to France's financial loss following Haiti's independence – had resulted in an unstable Haiti as the nation was using eighty percent of its wealth to pay debt to foreign nations by the late-1800s.
The United States had been interested in controlling Haiti in the decades following its independence from France. As a way "to secure a U.S. defensive and economic stake in the West Indies", according to the United States Department of State, President Andrew Johnson of the United States began the pursuit of annexing Hispaniola, including Haiti, in 1868. In 1890, the Môle Saint-Nicolas affair occurred when President Benjamin Harrison, on the advice of Secretary of State James G. Blaine, ordered Rear-Admiral Bancroft Gherardi to persuade newly assumed President of Haiti Florvil Hyppolite to lease the port to the United States. Enforcing gunboat diplomacy upon Haiti, Gherardi aboard USS Philadelphia along with his fleet arrived in the capital city of Port-au-Prince to demand the acquisition of Môle Saint-Nicolas. President Hyppolite refused any agreement as Haitians grew angered by the presence of the fleet, with The New York Times writing that the Haitians' "semi-barbaric minds saw in it a threat of violence". Upon returning to the United States in 1891, Gherardi said in an interview with The New York Times that in a short time Haiti would experience further instability, suggesting that future governments in Haiti would abide by the demands of the United States.
The Roosevelt Corollary also affected Haiti's relationship with the United States. By 1910, President William Howard Taft had granted a large loan to Haiti to pay off foreign debts, though this proved to be fruitless due to the size of the debt.
The United States was not concerned by France's influence, though German influence in Haiti raised concern. Germany had intervened in Haiti, including the Lüders affair in 1897, and had been influencing other Caribbean nations during the previous few decades. Germany had also become increasingly hostile to United States domination of the region under the Monroe Doctrine.
The United States' concern over Germany's ambitions was mirrored by apprehension and rivalry between American businessmen and the small German community in Haiti, which although numbering only about 200 in 1910 wielded a disproportionate amount of economic power. German nationals controlled about eighty percent of the country's international commerce. They owned and operated utilities in Cap-Haïten and Port-au-Prince, including the main wharf and a tramway in the capital, and also had built the railway serving the Plain of the Cul-de-Sac.
The German community was more willing to integrate into Haitian society than any other group of Caucasian foreigners, including the more numerous French. Some Germans had married into Haiti's most prominent mixed-race families of African-French descent. This enabled them to bypass the constitutional prohibition against foreigners owning land. The German residents retained strong ties to their homeland and sometimes aided the German military and intelligence networks in Haiti. They also served as the principal financiers of the nation's numerous revolutions, floating loans at high interest rates to the competing political factions.
In the first decades of the 20th century, Haiti experienced great political instability and was heavily in debt to France, Germany and the United States. Much of this instability was caused by foreign interference from American, British, French and German interests. Political tensions were often between two groups; wealthy French-speaking mulatto Haitians who represented the minority of the population and poor Afro-Haitians who spoke Haitian Creole. Various revolutionary armies carried out the coups. Each was formed by cacos, peasant militias from the mountains of the north, who stayed along the porous Dominican border and were often funded by foreign governments to stage revolts.
In 1902, a civil war was fought between the government of Pierre Théoma Boisrond-Canal and General Pierre Nord Alexis against rebels of Anténor Firmin, which led to Pierre Nord Alexis becoming president. In 1908, he was forced from power and a series of short lived presidencies came and went: his successor François C. Antoine Simon in 1911; President Cincinnatus Leconte (1911–12) was killed in a (possibly deliberate) explosion at the National Palace; Michel Oreste (1913–14) was ousted in a coup, as was his successor Oreste Zamor in 1914. Between 1911 and 1915, Haiti had seven presidents because of political assassinations, coups and forced exiles.
American financial interests
Haiti's large debt – which was 80 percent of its annual revenue– was held by three nations; France, followed by Germany, then the United States. However, the United States had become Haiti's largest trade partner at the time, replacing France, with American businesses expanding their presence in Haiti. Due to the influence of Germans within Haiti, they were regarded as a threat to American financial interests, with businesses ultimately advocating for policies of invading Haiti. In an effort to reduce German influence, the United States Department of State State between 1910 and 1911 backed a consortium of American investors, headed by the National City Bank of New York, to acquire investor control of the Banque Nationale de la République d’Haïti (BNRH). This was the country's sole commercial bank and served as the Haitian government's treasury.
In 1914, National City Bank and BNRH began to plan the destabilization of Haiti to pressure the United States to intervene. John H. Allen of BNRH stated that if the United States permanently occupied Haiti, he supported National City Bank acquiring all shares of BNRH, believing that it would "pay 20% or better". Officials of the Wilson administration were not knowledgeable of Haiti and often relied on information from American businessmen. United States Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan relied on an executive and lobbyist of National City Bank, Roger Farnham, for information regarding Haiti. Farnham persuaded Secretary Bryan to have the United States invade Haiti during a telephone call on January 22, 1914. Farnham argued that Haiti was not improving due to continuous internal conflict, that Haitians were not interested in the revolts occurring and that American troops would be welcomed in Haiti. Farnham even convinced Secretary Bryan that France and Germany – two nations then at war with each other – were plotting in cooperation to obtain the harbor of Môle Saint-Nicholas in northern Haiti. The businessman concluded that Haiti would not improve "until such time as some stronger outside power steps in".
On January 27, 1914, Haitian President Michel Oreste was deposed in a coup. Two generals, Charles and Oreste Zamor, seized control. In response, the USS Montana sent a marine detachment on January 29 into Port-au Prince to protect American interests. On February 5, 1914, military forces from the French cruiser Conde and British HMS Lancaster also landed troops. These units agreed to leave the city and boarded their ships on February 9, 1914.
BNRH's Allen telegrammed the State Department on April 8, 1914 requesting that the U.S. Navy sail to Port-au-Prince to deter possible rebellions. In the summer of 1914, the BNRH began to threaten the Haitian government that it would no longer provide payments. Simultaneously, Secretary Bryan telegrammed the United States consul in Cap-Haïtien, writing that the State Department agreed with invading Haiti, telling the consul that the United States "earnestly desires successfully carrying out of Farnham's plan".
American bankers raised fears that Haiti would default on debt payments despite consistent compliance by Haiti with loan conditions, calling for the seizure of Haiti's national bank. National City Bank officials – acting on behalf of Farnham – demanded the State Department to provide military support to acquire Haiti's national reserves, with the bank arguing that Haiti had become too unstable to safeguard the assets. Urged by the National City Bank and the BNRH, with the latter of the two already under direction of American business interests, the United States Marines took custody of Haiti's gold reserve of about US$50,000 – about $13 million as of 2020 – on December 17, 1914. The Marines transported the gold onto the USS Machias and transferred it to the National City Bank's New York City vault on 55 Wall Street. The confiscation of the gold provided the United States with a large amount of control over the Haitian government, though American businesses demanded further intervention.
In February 1915, Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, son of a former Haitian president, took power as President of Haiti. The culmination of his repressive measures came on 27 July 1915, when he ordered the execution of 167 political prisoners, including former president Zamor, who was being held in a Port-au-Prince jail. This infuriated the population, which rose up against Sam's government as soon as news of the executions reached them. Sam, who had taken refuge in the French embassy, was lynched by an enraged mob in Port-au-Prince as soon as they learned of the executions.
The United States regarded the anti-American revolt against Sam as a threat to American business interests in the country, especially the Haitian American Sugar Company (HASCO). When the caco-supported anti-American Rosalvo Bobo emerged as the next president of Haiti, the United States government decided to act quickly to preserve its economic dominance.
On July 28, 1915, United States President Woodrow Wilson ordered 330 United States Marines to occupy Port-au-Prince. The Secretary of the Navy instructed the invasion commander, Rear Admiral William Banks Caperton, to "protect American and foreign" interests. Wilson also wanted to rewrite the Haitian constitution, which banned foreign ownership of land, to replace it with one that guaranteed American financial control. To avoid public criticism, Wilson claimed the occupation was 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. Only one Haitian soldier, Pierre Sully, tried to resist the invasion, and he was shot dead by the Marines.
U.S. installs Dartiguenave as president
Haitian presidents were not elected by universal suffrage but rather chosen by the Senate. The American occupying authorities therefore looked to find a presidential candidate ready to cooperate with them. Philippe Sudré Dartiguenave, president of the Senate and among the mulatto Haitian elite who supported the United States, agreed to accept the presidency of Haiti in August 1915 after several other candidates had refused. The United States would later go on to establish more wealthy mulatto Haitians into positions of power.
U.S. takeover of Haitian institutions
For several decades, the Haitian government had been receiving large loans from both American and French banks, and with the political chaos was growing increasingly incapable of repaying their debts. If the anti-American government of Rosalvo Bobo prevailed, there was no guarantee of debt repayment, and American businesses refused to continue investing there. Within six weeks of the occupation, U.S. government representatives seized control of Haiti's customs houses and administrative institutions, including the banks and the national treasury. Under U.S. government control, 40% of Haiti's national income was designated to repay debts to American and French banks.
In September 1915, the United States Senate ratified the Haitian-American Convention, a treaty granting the United States security and economic oversight of Haiti for a 10-year period. The treaty gave the President of the United States the power to appoint a customs receiver general, economic advisors, public works engineers; and to assign American military officers to oversee a Haitian gendarmerie. Haiti's economic functions were overseen by the United States Department of State, while the United States Navy was tasked with infrastructure and healthcare works, though the Navy ultimately held more authority. Officials from the United States then wielded veto power over all governmental decisions in Haiti, and Marine Corps commanders served as administrators in the departments. The original treaty was to be in effect for ten years, though an additional agreement in 1917 expanded the United States' power for twenty years. For the next nineteen years, U.S. State Department advisers ruled Haiti, their authority enforced by the United States Marine Corps.
The Gendarmerie of Haiti, now known as the Garde d'Haïti, was also created and controlled by U.S. Marines throughout the occupation. Rear Admiral Caperton ordered his 2,500 Marines to occupy all of Haiti's districts, equipping them with airplanes, cars and trucks. Five airfields were constructed and at least three airplanes were present in Haiti. Marines were tasked with multiple duties for their districts; law enforcement, tax collection, medicine distribution and overseeing arbitration.
Economically and politically, the Haitian government relied on American approval for most projects. The 1915 treaty with the United States proved expensive; the Government of Haiti had such a limited income that it was difficult to hire public workers and officials. Before utilizing any money, the Haitian government had to obtain approval from an American financial advisor and by 1918, would rely on American officials for approval of any laws due to fears of violating the treaty.
First Caco War
Opposition to the U.S. occupation began immediately after the Marines entered Haiti and installed a president without the consent of Haitians in 1915. The rebels (called "cacos," after a local bird sharing their ambush tactics) strongly resisted American control of Haiti. The U.S. and Haitian governments began a vigorous campaign to destroy 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. He was appointed to serve as commanding officer of the Haitian Gendarmerie. He later expressed his disapproval of the U.S. intervention in his 1935 book War Is a Racket.
On November 17, 1915, the Marines captured Fort Rivière, a stronghold of the Cacos rebels, which marked the end of the First Caco War.:201 The United States military issued two Haitian Campaign Medals to U.S. Marine and Naval personnel for service in the country during the periods 1915 and 1919–20.
U.S. forces new Haitian constitution
Shortly after installing Dartiguenave as president of Haiti, President Wilson pursued the rewriting of the Constitution of Haiti. One of the main concerns for the United States was the ban of foreigners from owning Haitian land. Early leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines had forbidden land ownership by foreigners when Haiti became independent to deter foreign influence, and since 1804, some Haitians had viewed foreign ownership as anathema.
The legislature of Haiti immediately rejected the constitution proposed by the United States. Instead, the legislative body began drafting a new constitution of its own that was in contrast to the interests of the United States. Under orders from the United States, President Dartiguenave dissolved the legislature in 1917 after its members refused to approve the proposed constitution.
Haiti's new constitution was drafted under the supervision of Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. A referendum in Haiti subsequently approved the new constitution in 1918 (by a vote of 98,225 to 768). In Roosevelt's new constitution, Haiti explicitly allowed foreigners to purchase land. As a result of opposing the United States' effort of rewriting its constitution, Haiti would remain without a legislative branch until 1929.
Second Caco War
The end of the First World War in 1918 deprived the Haitians of their main ally in the guerrilla struggle. Germany's defeat meant its end as a menace to the U.S. in the Caribbean, as it lost control of Tortuga. Nevertheless, the U.S. continued its occupation of Haiti after the war, despite President Woodrow Wilson's claims at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 that he supported self-determination among other peoples.
At one time, at least twenty percent of Haitians had been involved in the rebellion against occupation according to africanologist Patrick Bellegarde-Smith. The strongest period of unrest culminated in a 1918 rebellion by up to 40,000 former cacos and other members of the opposition led by Charlemagne Péralte, a former officer of the dissolved Haitian army. The scale of the uprising overwhelmed the Gendarmerie, but U.S. Marine reinforcements helped put down the revolt. For their part, the Haitians resorted to non-conventional tactics, being severely outmatched by their occupiers. Prior to his death,Péralte launched an attack on Port-au-Prince. The assassination of Péralte in 1919 solidified US Marine power over the Cacos.:211–218[page needed] The Second Caco War ended with the death of Benoît Batraville in 1920,:223 who had commanded an assault on the Haitian capital that year. An estimated 2,004 cacos were killed in the fighting, as well as 28 American marines and 70 Haitian gendarmes.
The educated elite in Haiti was L'Union Patriotique, which established ties with opponents of the occupation in the U.S. They found allies in the NAACP and among both white and African-American leaders. The NAACP sent civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson, its field secretary, to investigate conditions in Haiti. He published his account in 1920, decrying "the economic corruption, forced labor, press censorship, racial segregation, and wanton violence introduced to Haiti by the U.S. occupation encouraged numerous African Americans to flood the State Department and the offices of Republican Party officials with letters" calling for an end to the abuses and to remove troops. Academic W. E. B. Du Bois, who had Haitian ancestry, demanded a response for the Wilson administration's actions and wrote that U.S. troops "have no designs on the political independence of the island and no desire to exploit it ruthlessly for the take of selfish business interests".
Based on Johnson's investigation, NAACP executive secretary Herbert J. Seligman wrote in the July 10, 1920, The Nation:
"Military camps have been built throughout the island. The property of natives has been taken for military use. Haitians carrying a gun were for a time shot on sight. Machine guns have been turned on crowds of unarmed natives, and United States Marines have, by accounts which several of them gave me in casual conversation, not troubled to investigate how many were killed or wounded."
"[T]o understand why the United States landed and has for five years maintained military forces in that country, why some three thousand Haitian men, women, and children have been shot down by American rifles and machine guns, it is necessary, among other things, to know that the National City Bank of New York is very much interested in Haiti. It is necessary to know that the National City Bank controls the National Bank of Haiti and is the depository for all of the Haitian national funds that are being collected by American officials, and that Mr. R. L. Farnham, vice-president of the National City Bank, is virtually the representative of the State Department in matters relating to the island republic."
Two years after Johnson published his findings, a congressional investigation began in the United States in 1922. The report from Congress did not include testimony from Haitians and ignored allegations involving National City Bank of New York and U.S. Marines. Congress concluded the report by defending a continued occupation of Haiti, arguing that "chronic revolution, anarchy, barbarism, and ruin" would befall upon Haiti if the United States withdrew. Johnson described the congressional investigation as "on the whole, a whitewash".
In 1922, Dartiguenave was replaced by Louis Borno, with the US-appointed General John H. Russell, Jr. serving as High Commissioner. At this time the BNRH was completely acquired by National City Bank and its headquarters was moved to New York City. General Russell worked on the behalf of the United States Department of State and was authorized as the representative to carry out treaty works.
The Borno-Russell government oversaw the use of forced labor to expand the economy and to complete infrastructure projects. Sisal was introduced to Haiti as a commodity crop, and sugar and cotton became significant exports. 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 in Cuba as braceros, went annually to the Oriente Province between 1913 and 1931. The Great Depression disastrously affected the prices of Haiti's exports and destroyed the tenuous gains of the previous decade. Under press laws, Borno frequently imprisoned newspaper press that criticized his government.
Les Cayes massacre
President Herbert Hoover had become increasingly pressured about the effects of occupying Haiti at the time and began inquiring about a withdrawal strategy. By 1929, Haitians had grown angered with the Borno-Russell government and American occupation, with demands for direct elections increasing. In early December 1929, protests against the American occupation began at the Service Technique de l’Agriculture et de l’Enseignement Professionnel's main school. On December 6, 1929, about 1,500 Haitians peacefully protesting local economic conditions in Les Cayes were fired upon by U.S. Marines, with the massacre resulting in 12 to 22 Haitians dead and 51 injured. The massacre resulted in international outrage, with President Hoover calling on Congress to investigate conditions in Haiti the following day.
Forbes Commission, Borno's resignation
President Hoover would later appoint two commissions, including one headed by a former U.S. governor of the Philippines William Cameron Forbes.:232–233 The commission arrived in Haiti on 28 February 1930, with President Hoover demanding the commission to determine "when and how we are to withdraw from Haiti" and "what we shall do in the meantime". The Forbes Commission praised the material improvements that the U.S. administration had achieved, but it criticized the continued exclusion of Haitian nationals from positions of real authority in the government and the gendarmerie. In more general terms, the commission asserted that "the social forces that created [instability] still remain – poverty, ignorance, and the lack of a tradition or desire for orderly free government." The commission concluded that occupation of Haiti was a failure and that the United States did not "understand the social problems of Haiti".
With increased calls for direct elections, American officials feared violence if demands were not met. An agreement was made that resulted with President Borno's resignation and the establishment of Haitian banker Louis Eugène Roy as an interim president. In the agreement proposed by the Forbes Commission, Roy would be elected by Congress to serve as president until a direct election for Congress was held, which is when Roy would resign. American officials said that if Congress were to refuse, Roy would be installed as president forcibly.
Under orders to not interfere with elections, the United States observed elections on October 14, 1930 that resulted with Haitian nationalist candidates being elected. Sténio Vincent was elected President of Haiti by the Congress of Haiti in November 1930. The new nationalist government had a tense relationship with American officials. By the end of 1930, Haitians were being trained by Americans for administration roles of their own nation. When additional American commissions began to arrive in Haiti, popular unrest broke out and President Vincent reached a secret agreement to ease tensions with the United States in exchange to grant more power to American officials to enact their "Haitianization" policies.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, who as Assistant Secretary of the Navy said he was responsible for drafting the 1918 constitution, was a proponent of the "Good Neighbor policy" for the US role in the Caribbean and Latin America. The United States and Haiti agreed on August 7, 1933 to end the occupation. On a visit to Cap-Haïtien in July 1934, Roosevelt reaffirmed the August 1933 disengagement agreement. The last contingent of US Marines departed on August 15, 1934, after a formal transfer of authority to the Garde. The U.S. retained influence on Haiti's external finances until 1947, as per the 1919 treaty that required an American financial advisor through the life of Haiti's acquired loan.
The occupation was costly for the Haitian government as the 1915 treaty with the United States limited Haiti's income. Numerous agricultural changes included the introduction of sisal. Sugarcane and cotton became significant exports, boosting prosperity, however, efforts to develop commercial agriculture produced limited results.
Haitian traditionalists, based in rural areas, were highly resistant to U.S.-backed changes, while the urban elites, typically mixed-race, welcomed the growing economy, but wanted more political control. Following the end of the occupation in 1934, under the Presidency of Sténio Vincent (1930–41), debts were still outstanding and the U.S. financial advisor-general receiver handled the budget until 1941 when three American and three Haitian directors headed by an American manager assumed the role. Haiti's loan debt to the United States was about twenty percent of the nation's annual revenue. American influence on Haiti's economy would conclude in 1947.
The occupation improved some of Haiti's infrastructure and centralized power in Port-au-Prince. Corvée forced labor of Haitians, that was enforced by the US-operated gendarmerie, was used for infrastructure projects, particularly for road building. Forced labor would ultimately result in the deaths of hundreds to thousands of Haitians. Infrastructure improvements included 1,700 kilometres (1,100 mi) of roads being made usable, 189 bridges built, the rehabilitation of irrigation canals, the construction of hospitals, schools, and public buildings, and drinking water was brought to the main cities. Port-au-Prince became the first Caribbean city to have a phone service with automatic dialing. Agricultural education was organized, with a central school of agriculture and 69 farms in the country. The majority of Haitians believed that the public works projects enforced by the US Marines were unsatisfactory.
The United States redesigned the education system. It dismantled the liberal arts education which the Haitians had inherited (and adapted) from the French system. With the Service Technique de l’Agriculture et de l’Enseignement Professionnel, Americans emphasized agricultural and vocational training, similar to its industrial education for minorities and immigrants in the United States. Dr. Robert Russa Moton was tasked with assessing the Service Technique, concluding that though the objectives were admirable, performance was not satisfactory and criticized the large amount of funding it received compared to average Haitian public schools, which were in poor condition.
Elite Haitians despised the system believing it was discriminatory against their people. The mulatto elite also feared the creation of an educated middle class that would potentially lead to the loss of their influence.
Human rights abuses
The United States Marines ruled Haiti as a military regime using a constant state of martial law, operating the newly created Haitian gendarmerie to suppress Haitians who opposed occupation. Between 1915 and 1930, Haitians represented only about 35–40% of gendarmes. During the occupation of Haiti by the United States, human rights abuses were committed against the native Haitian population. Such actions involved censorship, concentration camps, forced labor, racial segregation, religious persecution of Haitian Vodou practitioners and torture.
Overall, American troops and the Haitian gendarmerie killed several thousands of Haitian civilians during the rebellions between 1915 and 1920, though the exact death toll is unknown. During Senate hearings in 1921, the commandant of the Marine Corps reported that, in the 20 months of active unrest, 2,250 Haitians had been killed. However, in a report to the Secretary of the Navy, he reported the death toll as being 3,250. According to Haitian American academic Michel-Rolph Trouillot, about 5,500 Haitians died in labor camps alone. Haitian historian Roger Gaillard, estimated that in total, including rebel combatants and civilians, at least 15,000 Haitians were killed throughout the occupation. According to Paul Farmer, the higher estimates are not supported by most historians outside Haiti.
American troops also performed union-busting actions, often for American businesses like the Haitian American Sugar Company, the Haitian American Development Corporation and National City Bank of New York.
Executions and killings
During the second Caco war of 1918–1919, many Caco prisoners were summarily executed by Marines and the gendarmerie on orders from their superiors. On June 4, 1916, Marines executed caco General Mizrael Codio and ten others captured in Fonds-Verrettes. In Hinche in January 1919, Captain Ernest Lavoie of the gendarmerie, a former United States Marine, allegedly ordered the killing of nineteen caco rebels according to American officers, though no charges were placed due to no physical evidence being presented.
One controversial event occurred when in an attempt to discourage rebel support from the Haitian population, the US troops took a photograph of Charlemagne Péralte's body tied to a door following his assassination in 1919, and distributed it in the country.:218 However, it had the opposite effect, with the image's resemblance to a crucifixion making it an icon of the resistance and establishing Péralte as a martyr.
Mass killings of civilians were allegedly committed by United States Marines and their Haitian gendarmerie subordinates. According to Haitian historian Roger Gaillard, such killings involved rape, lynchings, summary executions, burning villages and deaths by burning. Internal documents of the United States Army justified the killing of women and children, describing them as "auxiliaries" of rebels. A private memorandum of the Secretary of the Navy criticized “indiscriminate killings against natives”. American officers responsible for acts of violence were given names in Creole such as "Linx" for Commandant Freeman Lang and "Ouiliyanm" for Lieutenant Lee Williams. According to American journalist H.J. Seligman, Marines would practice "bumping off Gooks", describing the shooting of civilians in a similar manner as killing for sport.
Beginning in 1919, American troops began attacking rural villages. In November 1919, villagers in Thomazeau hiding in a nearby forest sent a letter – the only surviving testament of the event – to a French priest asking for protection. In the letter, survivors wrote that at least two American planes bombed and shot at two villages, killing half of the population including men, women, children and the elderly. On 5 December 1919, American planes bombed Les Cayes in a possible act of intimidation. American pilots were investigated for their actions, though none were condemned. These actions were described by anthropologist Jean-Philippe Belleau as possibly "the first ever carried out by air on civilian populations".
A corvée policy of forced labor was enacted upon Haitians, enforced by the U.S.-operated Haitian gendarmerie in the interest of improving economic conditions to fulfill foreign debts – including payments to the United States – and to improve the nation's infrastructure. The corvée resulted in the deaths of hundreds to thousands of Haitians. According to Haitian American academic Michel-Rolph Trouillot, about 5,500 Haitians died in labor camps. In addition, Roger Gaillard writes that some Haitians were killed fleeing the camps or if they did not work satisfactorily. Many of the deaths and killings attributed to forced labor occurred during the extensive construction of roads in Haiti. In some instances, Haitians were forced to work on projects without pay and while shackled to chains. The corvée system's treatment of Haitians has been compared to the system of bondage labor enforced upon black Americans during the Reconstruction era following the American Civil War.
The United States introduced Jim Crow laws to Haiti with racist attitudes towards the Haitian people by the American occupation forces that were blatant and widespread. Many of the Marines chosen to occupy Haiti were from the Southern United States, specifically Alabama and Louisiana, resulting in increased racial tensions. Racism has been recognized as a factor leading to increased violence by American troops against Haitians. One general described Haitians as "niggers who pretend to speak French".
Initially, officers and the elites intermingled at social gatherings and clubs. Such gatherings were minimized when families of American forces began arriving. Relations degraded rapidly upon departure of officers for World War I. The Haitian elite found the American junior and non-commissioned officers to be ignorant and uneducated. There were numerous reports of remaining Marines drinking to excess, fighting, and sexually assaulting women. The situation was so bad that Marine General John A. Lejeune, based in Washington, D.C., banned the sale of alcohol to any military personnel.
The Americans inhabited neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince in high quality housing. This neighborhood was called the "millionaires' row". Hans Schmidt recounted a navy 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." American racial 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 these later became active in politics and government. The elite Haitians, mostly mixed race with higher levels of education and capital, continued to dominate the country's bureaucracy and to strengthen its role in national affairs.
Colorism, which had existed since French colonization, had also become prevalent once more under American occupation and racial segregation became common . All three rulers during the occupation came from the country's mixed-race elite. 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. Among these were ethnologist Jean Price-Mars and the journal Les Griots (the title referred to traditional African oral historians, the storytellers) edited by Dr. François Duvalier, a future totalitarian president of Haiti. The racism and violence that occurred during the United States occupation of Haiti, inspired black nationalism among Haitians and left a powerful impression on the young Duvalier.
The torture of Haitian rebels or those suspected of rebelling against the United States was common among occupying Marines. Some methods of torture included the use of water cure, hanging prisoners by their genitals and ceps, which involved pushing both sides of the tibia with the butts of two guns.
Loss of German influence
Finally, the political, military, and economic power of both the German-Haitian community and the Imperial German government were utterly broken by the long years of hostile occupation. Germans had been censured for association with anti-American mobilization. German intelligence cells operating on the island were purged or forced to surrender. The US had entered the war against the German Empire in 1917, and in 1918 the latter was defeated in the war and almost immediately collapsed. The remaining German-Haitians were largely left isolated, with many opting to emigrate (usually back to Germany) or to stay on and try to claw their way back.
Haitian writers and public figures also responded to the occupation. For example, a minister of public education, Dantès Bellegarde raised issues with the events in his book, La Résistance Haïtienne (l'Occupation Américaine d'Haïti). Bellegarde outlines the contradictions of the occupation with the realities. He accused President Wilson of writing the new Haitian Constitution to benefit the Americans, and wrote that Wilson's main purpose was to remove the previous Haitian clause that stated foreigners could not own land in the country. The original clause was designed to protect Haiti's independence from foreign powers. With the clause removed, Americans (including whites and other foreigners) could now own land. Furthermore, Bellegarde discusses the powerlessness of Haitian officials in the eyes of the Occupation because nothing could be done without the consent of the Americans. However, the main issue that Bellegarde articulates is that the Americans tried to change the education system of Haiti from one that was French based to that of the Americans. Even though Bellegarde was resistant he had a plan to build a university in Haiti that was based on the American system. He wanted a university with various schools of science, business, art, medicine, law, agriculture, and languages all connected by a common area and library. However, that dream was never realized because of the new direction the Haitian government was forced to take.
Jean Price-Mars associated the reasons behind the Occupation to the division between the Haitian elite and the poorer people of the country. He noted that the groups were divided over the practice of Haitian Vodou, with the implication that the elites did not recognize Vodou because they connected it to an evil practice.
Pezullo writes in his 2006 book Plunging Into Haiti: Clinton, Aristide, and the Defeat of Diplomacy that the racism similar to Jim Crow laws in the United States inspired black nationalism within Haiti and ignited future support for Haitian dictator François Duvalier.
In a 2013 article by Peter James Hudson published in Radical History Review, Hudson wrote:
Ostensibly initiated on humane grounds, the occupation had not fulfilled any of its stated goals of building infrastructure, expanding education, or providing internal or regional stability. Repressive violence emerged as its only purpose and logic.
According to a 2020 study which contrasts the American occupations of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the United States had a longer and more domineering occupation of Haiti because of perceived racial differences between the two populations. Dominican elites articulated a European–Spanish identity – in contrast to Haitian blackness – which led U.S. policymakers to accept leaving the territory in the population's hands.
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