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Hati in Crisis:

The U.S. Occupation of Hati 1915-34 and its Effects on Economic and Social Development

Tyson Luneau
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts November 2011 HIST 310: Latin America & The U.S.

Haiti is perhaps one of the most unique nations in the entire span of human history. As the only democratic nation formed as a direct result of a slave revolt in 1804, the nation is unlike any other not only in its formation, but in its history of political, social, and economic turmoil. Haiti, considered today to be the western hemispheres poorest nation, has suffered from a variety of political and economic ailments, derived from both internal and external sources. While problems of both natures have played critical roles in shaping its history, Haitis economic and political downfall is largely the result of foreign actions toward the nation, most notably those of the United States from 1915-1934. The sporadic responses of the United States to certain events in Haiti, as well as its lack of response to other events, have left Haiti at a great disadvantage. Like many other Latin American nations during the twentieth century, Haiti served as a pawn in the United States quest to exert its political and economic influence over the western hemisphere, and is ultimately paying the price today. To understand how these foreign interventions have affected the development of Haiti, or lack thereof, one must obtain a basic understanding of how the nation came to be. Haiti is perhaps the most unique of all of the Latin American nations, both in its culture and its history. Unlike the other various states of Latin American, the Republic of Haiti is the result of a slave revolt that succeeded in 1804 in the French colony of St. Domingue. As the first sovereign nation in the Caribbean region, Haiti was already set apart from the rest of the soon-to-be sovereign nations in Latin America.1 Haitis linguistic and cultural traditions also play a large role in separating it from the rest of Latin America. Unlike its Latin American neighbors, Haiti is not a Spanish-speaking nation; its primary languages are French and Haitian Creole, a language that is essentially compromised
Matthew Smith, An Island Among Islands, Haitis Strange Relationship with the Caribbean Community, Social and Economic Studies 54, no. 3 (September 2005): 176, (accessed November 27, 2011).

of a mixture of French and various indigenous African languages. Also, its inhabitants are primarily the descendents of Africa rather than of Europe or indigenous American societies. There are a great number of factors stemming back to Haitis colonial days that have led to its current status as the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Sidney W. Mintz, in her 1995 article Can Haiti Change?, notes that while the United States began its sovereign career with the highest percentage of college graduates of any country in the world, Haiti began its national life with most people illiterate2 In addition to their intellectual disadvantages, geography also posed a serious problem for the Haitians. Mintz noted the following on that issue: Haiti began its national lifewith nowhere to expand except Spanish Santo Domingo and indeed they tried that and with limited natural resources other than landIn the United States, on the other hand, land resources seemed utterly inexhaustible, as long as there were Indians to pen up. Expansion into new lands was feasible, and large numbers of newcomers were readily attracted from elsewhere.3

Haiti has also been the target of foreign disapproval since the beginning of its sovereign history. Throughout the last 200 years, Haiti has been continually looked down upon by not only its Caribbean neighbors, but from numerous western powers. Mintz summed up this view quite nicely in her article, stating that Haiti has never been forgiven by the West for refusing to tolerate the social and economic structure European intentions had installed in what was at the time a supremely profitable, seventeenth-century French colony.4 In his article entitled Haitis 200-Year Mnage--Trois: Globalization, the State, and Civil Society, historian Mark Schuller explains some of these prejudices in the following passage:

Sidney W. Mintz, Can Haiti Change?, Foreign Affairs 74, no. 1 (January-February 1995): 80, (accessed November 27, 2011). 3 Mintz, 80. 4 Mintz, 74.

Missionaries (Haitians as well as foreigners) promote the idea that the voodoo is the source of all of Haitis evilsIn this characterization by many missionary groups, development workers, or people with experience in hierarchal relationships with them, Haitian people lack a sense of responsibility, a sense of civic consciousness, and are, in short, a backward and fatalistic people whose future is hopeless, expressed by the phrase, se pa ft mwen (its not my fault).5

In addition to prejudice, Haiti has been the target of foreign intervention and aggression throughout most of its sovereign history. The slave revolt led by Toussaint LOverture and JeanJacques Dessalines that ultimately led to Haitian independence from France did not come without consequence. Although France lost military control of the colony, it still maintained various forms of economic control over Haiti. In order to receive official recognition of sovereignty from France, Haiti was required to grant French merchants a 50% reduction of import and export duties.6 Prior to Frances official recognition of Haiti in 1825, the European power had planned, but never carried out, violent military invasions to reclaim Haiti as a colony of France. Another one of its conditions for the recognition was for Haiti to pay France 150,000,000 million francs in indemnities, an economic setback that would cripple newly sovereign Haiti for the next century.7 This hostility did not just come from France. The United States was also very hesitant to recognize the sovereignty of Haiti, and did not formally do so until 1862. The idea of a largescale slave revolt frightened some Americans. In Can Haiti Change?, Mintz identified this sense of uneasiness, stating that in 1825, 21 years after Haitian independence, Senator Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina whispered that Haitis freedom could not even be discussed in the
Mark Schuller, Haitis 200-Year Mnage--Trois: Globalization, the State, and Civil Society, Caribbean Studies 35, no. 1 (January-June 2007): 144, (accessed November 13, 2011). 6 Arthur C. Millspaugh, Haiti Under American Control: 1915-1930 (Boston: World Peace Foundation, 1931), 10. 7 Robert Fatton Jr., Haiti: The Saturnalia of Emapcipation and the Vicissitudes of Predatory Rule, Third World Quarterly 27, no. 1 (2006): 117-18, (accessed November 26, 2011).

United States, so as not to disturb the peace and safety of a large portion of our union.8 The United States at this time contained the worlds largest population of slaves, and feared that recognition of a nation formed from a slave uprising could trigger similar movements in the southern U.S. Formal diplomatic relations did not occur between the United States and Haiti until after slavery was abolished in the U.S. in 1865.9 Unfortunately for the Haitians, diplomatic relations with the United States would only make matters worse. Eighteenth-century Haiti was a place of constant political turmoil. Facing political, economic, and militaristic pressure from nations like France and the United States, as well as from its neighbors in the Caribbean region, Haiti had little choice other than to begin a program of militarization. Historian Robert Fatton Jr., in an article written for Third World Quarterly, had the following to say about Haitis shift toward militarization.

It [militarization] contributed to the development of a predatory system in which those not born into wealth and lacking weapons were systematically repressed into marginalization. For men with limited means, however, military service provided an avenue for social and material advancement; it also provided them status, access to land ownership, and arbitrary authority.10

This predatory system of government could hardly be considered a democracy by American standards. Despite some significant gains in foreign relations made by Haitian president Jean-Pierre Boyer, who served from 1818-1843, Haiti still struggled with outstanding debt, lack of sustainable economic resources, and militaristic turmoil. Boyer managed to pave the way for Haitis international legitimacy, gaining Haiti recognition from nations like France, Spain, Colombia, and the United States. However, Boyers twenty-five year rule was ended in

Mintz, 78. Emily Greene Balch, Something of the Background, Occupied Haiti, ed. Emily Greene Balch (New York: The Writers Publishing Company, 1927), 13. 10 Fatton, 118.

1843. In response to an 1842 earthquake that crippled much of the nation and Boyers inability to handle the situation properly, an uprising led by Major Charles Herard ousted Boyer, who formally resigned from office in March of 1843. A provisional government headed by Herard abolished the concept of presidency for life which was a part of the original Haitian constitution.11 While in democratic theory, this was a major progressive success, it would ironically lead to a turbulent series of Haitian presidents that would greatly upset the small level of stability that Haiti had experienced under the rule of Jean-Pierre Boyer. The beginning of the twentieth century marked a brief period of extreme political turmoil in Haiti. In 1910, Haitian President Antoine Simon began a pattern of negotiations with foreign investors in an attempt to improve the infrastructure and economy of a struggling Haiti. While acting with good intentions, Simon was investing beyond his means and his actions resulted in an even greater indebted Haiti. This financial burden of these economic ventures is estimated to have cost the Haitian people around eight million dollars.12 After Simons failure to stabilize the Haitian economy, he was driven out of the country. Between 1911 and 1915, Haiti saw a series of violent coups that enabled the ascendance and departure of six presidents in just four years. However, as Paul H. Douglas noted in his 1927 analysis of the occupation, the Haitians took extra measure to avoid the possibility of American intervention. In his article, The American Occupation of Haiti I, Douglas noted the following.

During this period however, as at all previous times, both governmental and revolutionary forces were careful, because of their fear of intervention, not to kill or molest foreigners. The revolutions in Haiti were therefore domestic wars which did not menace the safety of foreign lives. The Haitians, in their anxiety to

H.P. Davis, Black Democracy: The Story of Haiti (New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1967): 115-18. Paul H. Douglas, The American Occupation of Haiti I, Political Science Quarterly 42, no. 2 (June 1927): 230-31, (accessed November 13, 2011).


prevent the foreign powers from intervening, were also careful to keep up the interest payments on the foreign debt13

Despite the attempts of the revolutionaries to keep the United States out of Haiti, intervention was almost inevitable. After a series of military coups that occurred between 1911 and 1914, the United States, France, and Great Britain occupied Haiti in order to restore order to the nation. Though the three nations entered together, France and Great Britains official occupation would not last more than a year, where after the United States assumed control of the region. However, even after order was restored to Haiti, the American military did not withdraw from Haiti. After the restoration of political order in Haiti in 1915, a presidential election was set to be held. The leading candidates for the presidency were Dr. Bobo, an important leader of the recent Haitian revolutions, and Sudre Dartiguenave, the president of the Haitian Senate. The United States, backing Dartiguenave, proceeded to directly interfere with the process and outcome of the election. Douglas analysis of the occupation provided the following account of the 1915 Haitian election:

On the day of the election, American troops surrounded the place of assembly of Congress and only those possessing cards signed by Senator Dartiguenave or the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies were admitted. The justification offered for this was the fear that Bobo and his supporters would try to coerce Congress into electing himIt seems undeniable therefore that the election took place in a setting where the American military force could exercise a strong and perhaps predominating influence in favor of Dartiguenave.14 Not surprisingly, the election was a landslide victory for Dartiguenave. For the next several years, Dartiguenave would essentially act as a puppet leader. While the United States would consult Dartiguenave on most of its actions in Haiti, this was more often than not a mere
13 14

Douglas, 232 Douglas, 243.

formality, and Dartiguenaves opinion was by no means definitive or effective. Historian Arthur C. Millspaugh, in his book Haiti Under American Control, offered the following perspective on the role of the Haitian President

Representatives of the United States were instructed on many occasions to obtain the consent of President Dartiguenave before adopting some new line of action. His consent was usually forthcoming, and some of the measures taken by Admiral Caperton were on Dartiguenaves request. In many cases, his request or consent was a formality; in some cases it was not given; and American seizure of the customs houses was publicly protested by the Haitian President.15

The United States proceeded to design a treaty that would place numerous portions of the Haitian government directly under American control. Included in this treaty was the American appointment and control of a Financial Adviser, Haitian constabulary, and the direct control of all Haitian public services. The Haitian government, despite its limited power and influence, expressed direct opposition to the treaty. However, the United States refused to recognize the Haitian government until the ratification of said treaty.16 After utilizing economic and military pressure, the United States was able to convince the Haitian President to approve the treaty on September 16, 1915. However, the Haitian Congress was still in direct opposition of the treaty and refused to ratify it. On November 9 of that same year, U.S. Secretary of State Daniels issued the following statement to Admiral Caperton, who was to repeat the statement in an address to the Haitian Senate: there is a strong demand from all classes for immediate ratification and that treaty will be ratified Thursday. I am sure that you gentlemen will understand my sentiment in this matter, and I am confident that if the treaty fails of ratification that my government has the intention to retain control in Haiti until the desired end is accomplished, and that it will forthwith proceed to the complete pacification of Haiti so as to insure internal tranquility necessary to such

Arthur C. Millspaugh, Haiti Under American Control, 1915-1930 (Boston: World Peace Foundation, Douglas, 244-46.

1931): 60.

development of the country and its industry as will afford relief to the starving population now unemployed.17

Through the use of rigged elections and threats of military force, the United States was able to impose its control over Haiti and establish a puppet government that would do its bidding. While the United States claimed that it was acting both in the best interest of the people of Haiti and in the interest of foreigners living in Haiti, there was another ugly side to the American occupation. Many of the so-called goals of the occupation simply were not met, and the country was in some ways left in a worse condition than before the Americans arrived. One area that suffered immensely in Haiti was public education. According to the second half of Paul H. Douglass analysis of the occupation, public education was largely ignored by the American-appointed Financial Adviser. In his analysis, Douglas wrote the following on the state of public education in Haiti in 1927:

From all the estimates which I can make, it seems probably that there are not more than 36,000 children in school out of a total population of from two and a quarter to two and a half millions. The quality of instruction offered can be inferred from the fact that the prevailing salary for country school teachers is $6 a month, or only sixty percent of the money pay of a private in the gendarmerie while the latter secures board, room, and clothing in addition.18 Douglass analysis also uncovered the case of Joseph Jolibois. Jolibois, the editor of a small newspaper called Le Courier Hatien, was a well known critic of the American occupation. After making harsh accusations against General Russell and other members of the U.S. State Department through his publication, Jolibois was arrested and imprisoned without trial. Although he was released shortly after, he was imprisoned several more times, each without proper trial. In

Douglas, 247. Paul H. Douglas, The American Occupation of Haiti II, Political Science Quarterly (September 1927): 371, (accessed November 13, 2011).


Douglass words, he has not yet faced a jury. The right of trial by jury has therefore not been granted to political opponents of the government and the American Occupation.19 How can a nation that expresses the importance of the right to a trial by jury and due process of law deny these very same principles to an area which it is governing? This hypocrisy was met with two so-called justifications. According to General Russell, if tried under the Haitian courts, Jolibois would likely be found innocent simply because of their position against the occupation. Russell also suggested that if members of the Occupation were permitted to sue Haitians that the inverse would be theoretically possible, and the occupation would therefore fall under the control of the Haitian courts. In response to these two justifications, Douglas offered the following opinion.

Anglo-Saxon countries have been striving to guard against such arbitrary power since the days of the Magna Charta. It is humiliating to find Americans careless of individual liberty and of the right to a fair trial in a country which the United State has virtually conquered.20

A similar perspective of the American occupation of Haiti came from NAACP representative James Weldon Johnson. In March 1920, Johnson was assigned to investigate reports of American brutality in Haiti. The broad impression given by Johnsons report is summed up quite nicely in the words of Leon D. Pamphile, author of The NAACP and the American Occupation of Haiti, when stating that He demonstrated in the first place that contrary to the official version from Washington, the marines did not intervene to restore

19 20

Douglas, The American Occupation of Haiti II, 374. Douglas, The American Occupation of Haiti II, 374.


peaceHe charged that the American government had failed to redeem any of its promises to aid in developing Haiti financially, educationally, or otherwise.21 Johnsons report also touched on the role of American businesses in the occupation of Haiti. He noted figures such as Roger L. Farnham, Vice-President of the National City Bank of New York, who asserted control of the Banque Nationale dHati, the only banking institution of Haiti. Farnhams monopoly over the Haitian economy served not in the interest of the Haitians, but only to build the funds of his own institution.22 There were also congressional investigations into the abuses that occurred during the American occupation of Haiti. The Select Committee on Haiti and Domingo published a report on April 20, 1922 contained the following excerpt uncovering some of the abuses in Haiti at the hands of the United States and the American-controlled Haitian government.

The charges laid before the Committee were the forcing of a new Constitution upon Haiti, twice driving out the members of the Haitian Congress because they opposed the Constitution, the use of forced labor in road-making, and connected abuses, atrocities committed by marines and gendarmes, prison abuses, martial law, and restrictions of the press.23

Violent resistance to the American occupation continued through the 1920s into the early 1930s. However, the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt would mark the beginning of the end for the occupation. While he was to some extent bound by treaty, in a 1933 letter to President Vincent of Haiti, Roosevelt stated that except for this obligation, upon which the bondholders

Leon D. Pamphile, The NAACP and the American Occupation of Haiti, Phylon 47, no. 1 (1st Quarter, 1986): 93, (accessed November 14, 2011). 22 Pamphile, 93. 23 Emily Greene Balch, Charges of Abuses in Haiti, Occupied Haiti, ed. Emily Greene Balch (New York: The Writers Publishing Company, 1927): 123-24.



are entitled to insist, my Government would be only too glad to discontinue at once its connection with financial administration in Haiti.24 The official withdrawal of American troops began in 1934, and would last through the rest of that decade. Roosevelts opposition to the occupation, combined with the pressures of the Great Depression and the onset of World War II of Europe were likely the main factors in the United States withdrawal from Haiti. But exactly what was the justification for the American occupation of Haiti in the first place? As some of the sources presented thus far have argued, it was (perhaps falsely) claimed that the main goal was to restore political, economic, and social order in the struggling nation. As Johnson and the NAACP pointed out, the real reasons behind the occupation were more likely rooted in American interests. However, foreign policy precedents also would play an important role in the U.S. justification for the occupation. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823, an important staple of American foreign policy toward Latin America, was used as a partial justification for the American occupation of Haiti in 1915. According to former West Virginia Governor William A. MacCorkles interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, Haitis instability threatened the possible intervention of European nations, as stated in the following excerpt from his article, The Monroe Doctrine and Its Application to Haiti.

The island is a land of despotism and wicked government, which is increasing and not decreasing in its terrorA number of times, by reason of this situation, war has been almost precipitated between the Haitian government and the European nations. The action of the German government is fresh in the minds of our people, and the warships of Great Britain and France are only too frequent in the harbors of Haiti, protecting their subjects, demanding redress for grievances and saving human life. This means, sooner or later, that the irresponsible government of the
Ernest Gruening, The Withdrawal from Haiti, Foreign Affairs 12, no. 4 (July 1934): 678,


Republic of Haiti will commit the act which will involve us, under the first clause and original application of the Monroe Doctrine.25

The departure of American forces in the mid-to-late 1930s was not followed by stability in Haiti; rather, it was followed by the same chaos and political turmoil that existed prior to and during the American occupation from 1915-1934. The level of chaos reached new heights with the rise of the Duvalier dictatorship, a regime that would remain in power for twenty-nine years. Supported politically and economically by the United States, Duvalier and his son would contribute to Haitis continual social, economic, and political downfall. Duvaliers decision to vote against Cubas inclusion in the Organization of American States would solidify U.S. support for the dictatorship due to the Cold War mentality of containing communism. Even after Duvaliers death in 1971, the trend of American support for the dictatorship continued in what is known as Duvalierism without Duvalier.26 The United States continued support of the Duvalier dictatorship would have unrelenting negative effects on the economy of Haiti. Mark Schuller addresses the abuses of Duvaliers son and the United States in the following excerpt from Haitis 200-Year Mnage--Trois

Upon Duvalier pres (the father) death in 1971, the U.S. military helped to secure the transition of power to Duvalier fils (the son) by keeping people notably exiled professionals out of Haiti. During the reign of Duvalier fils, the U.S. governments development plan starved Haitian peasants and swelled Haitis cities with very low wage laborers for export processing zones in a blueprint of the Caribbean Basin Initiative. Later, responding to an outbreak of swine fever, the U.S. government killed off Haitian pigs, de-facto bank accounts, replacing them with high-maintenance pink U.S. pigs, amounting to Haitis great stock market crash.27

William A. MacCorkle, The Monroe Doctrine and Its Application to Haiti, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 54 (July 1914): 41-42, (accessed November 19, 2011). 26 Schuller, 150. 27 Schuller, 150



The U.S. support of the Duvalier regime also led to a distortion of Haitian political and social ideas. The Duvalier regime helped in creating a harsh, unproductive society divided by race and social class. With no economic incentives for labor, Haitians were either condemned to a low-quality life based on poor agriculture and low-wage manufacturing, or were forced to seek other, destructive means of advancement. In his article, Robert Fatton Jr. expressed this idea with the term La politique du ventre, or the politics of the belly. He describes this idea, which was greatly reinforced during the Duvalier years, in the following passage.

La politique du ventre represents a form of government based on the acquisition of personal wealth through the conquest of state offices. It is a logical consequence of the material scarcity and unproductive economy that have marked the history of Haiti. Given that poverty and destruction have always been the norm, and that private avenues to wealth have always been rare, politics became an entrepreneurial vocation, virtually the sole means of material and social advancement for those not born into wealth and privilege. Controlling the state turned into a fight to the death to monopolize the sinecures of political power.28

Today, Haiti is still struggling with many of these same issues. After a brief second U.S. occupation in 1994 which restored the power of President Jean Bertrand Aristide, a leader who had the potential to make great changes in Haiti. Elected in 1990, Aristide promoted an idea of a state that grew from the bottom up, challenging the traditional hierarchal structure of Haitian society. In an intervention entitled Operation Uphold Democracy, 20,000 marines were sent into Haiti to restore the exiled president to power. While Aristides ideas may have been beneficial to Haiti, the need for U.S. intervention demonstrated that violence remained decisive in Haitian politics, and explained Robert Fatton Jr. in his article, represented the only viable


Fatton, 123.


means of ending re-dictatorializationThe result was a change of regime rather than the creation of a new state.29 Haiti post-1994 has essentially reached a stagnant point in terms of both economics and politics. As the western hemispheres poorest nation, there is little hope for Haiti, at least in its current condition. The United States decision to take advantage of the Haitian people and the nations natural resources during its 1915-1934 occupation of Haiti has left the nation starved of the necessary means for growth. From the U.S. seizure of La Banque Nationale dHati to the reinforcement of the Duvalier dictatorship, the extent of the negative American impact on Haiti extends beyond the first American occupation of the nation. In her article, Can Haiti Change?, Mintz summed up the current Haitian crisis, stating the following: In todays world, even the reconstruction of Haitian society on a peasant basis cannot restore the country. Haitis rulers have siphoned off surpluses for two centuries without contributing even minimally to the education of the people or the growth of new sources of incomeUnless there is to be some investment in Haitis human capital, real change will prove impossible.30

Whether or not this change can or will occur is certainly debatable. It is clear that direct U.S. intervention in Haiti has failed. While the Haitian people, and most notably the Haitian rulers, have not helped the situation at all, the nation has been exploited since its time as the French colony of St. Domingue. Much like some other nations in Latin America, it is struggling to see social or economic change because the leaders of these nations do not see the need for change on a personal basis. In the words of Mintz, rulers who profit from stasis are disinclined to risk change.31

29 30

Fatton, 123-24. Mintz, 86. 31 Mintz, 86.