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8782: This Week in Haiti 19:18 7/18/2001 (fwd)

"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
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                           HAITI PROGRES
              "Le journal qui offre une alternative"

                      * THIS WEEK IN HAITI *

                        July 18 - 24, 2001
                          Vol. 19, No. 18

(First of Two Parts)

July 28 marks the day 86 years ago when the U.S. Marines landed
in Haiti in 1915 to begin a 19-year military occupation. Haitians
observe the anniversary with anti-imperialist events. For
example, the National Popular Party (PPN) will be holding
meetings and rallies in towns like Cap Haïtien, Cayes, Jacmel,
and the capital.

"The United States Occupation of Haiti: 1915-1934" by Hans
Schmidt, published in 1971, is one of the best accounts of the
period. Rutgers University Press made a second printing of the
book in 1995 after the second U.S. military occupation of Haiti
on Sept. 19, 1994.

This week we present the first part of chapter entitled "The
Intervention", in which Schmidt lays bare the premeditation,
racism and brutality of the U.S. invasion. He also highlights the
Haitian resistance struggle, which is so belittled in mainstream
historical accounts.


The immediate occasion for Unites States intervention was the
overthrow of Haitian President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam in July,
1915. Declarations issued by the State Department that
intervention was undertaken for humanitarian reasons to prevent
anarchy and bloodshed were spurious and misleading. American
warships had been maintaining a close vigil in Haitian waters
throughout the unsuccessful attempts to negotiate an American
customs receivership, and had been alerted for possible landing
operations as early as July 1914.

Plans for military occupation of Haiti were drawn up well in
advance, showing that intervention was not precipitated by a
single, anarchic revolution. A detailed Navy Department "Plan for
Landing and Occupying the City of Port-au-Prince", drawn up in
November, 1914, begins: "Situation - The government has been
overthrown; all semblance of law and order has ceased; the local
authorities admit their inability to protect foreign interests,
the city being overrun and in the hands of about 5,000 soldiers
and civilian mobs."

This description could pass for a news report of the actual
landings which took place nine months later. Another contingency
plan, constructed in the summer of 1914, contained sample letters
for notifying Haitian authorities of American intentions: one
such, under a 1914 dateline with the day and month left blank,
stated that "the purpose of the President of the United States is
solely for the establishment of law and order." This same plan
stipulated that naval landing forces at Port-au-Prince should not
be used against organized armed troops ashore, which would
instead be subjected to gunfire from American warships standing
out in the harbor. The Haitian army's capacity for resistance was
correctly judged to be negligible, with one 1914 intelligence
report describing Haitian soldiers as a mob armed with worthless
rifles. When it became clear that the Haitians would not agree to
a negotiated customs receivership and that military force was
necessary to achieve American ends, the only missing detail in
the military invasion plans was an appropriate Haitian revolution
that would justify United States intervention on the customary
pretext of protecting American lives and property. In fact, there
was no record of any American life having been lost or property
destroyed prior to the intervention.

The overthrown of President Guillaume Sam provided the United
States with the requisite opportunity. Not only were Haitian
politics becoming increasingly chaotic, with seven presidents in
the preceding five years, but the overthrow of Sam was
exceptionally bloody and repugnant to public opinion both within
Haiti and in the United States. Sam, in office less than five
months, was implicated in the massacre of 167 political prisoners
who were murdered by Sam's army commander as Port-au-Prince was
being taken by revolutionary forces. After the massacre of
prisoners, many of whom were members of prominent elite families,
Sam took refuge in the French legation, and chief executioner
General Oscar Etienne in the Dominican legation. Enraged mobs
violated the legations and killed both Sam and Etienne. Sam was
dragged from the French legation and publicly dismembered.
Portions of his body were then paraded around the streets of
Port-au-Prince in a grotesque spectacle accompanied by vindictive
cries from the mob.

Even before learning of the unprecedented violation of foreign
legations, the State Department ordered marines under the command
of Rear Admiral William B. Caperton to land at Port-au-Prince.
Unlike previous revolutions, when French, German, and sometimes
British marines were landed for short periods to protect their
nationals, this time the United States intended to go in alone.
Admiral Caperton was instructed to request the captains of
British and French warships in the area to abstain from landing
forces, and to assure them that the United States would protect
all foreign interests. The French minister had, in fact,
requested a French landing party after the violation of the
French legation, but a navigational error delayed the French
cruiser Descartes and helped avert possible Franco-American
complications. The Descartes remained in Haitian waters for
several months, until the French received a satisfactory response
to their protest over the violation of the legation.

The macabre overthrow of Sam was cited as justification for
intervention by subsequent apologists for American policy. The
United States, as the self-appointed trustee of civilization in
the Caribbean, was obligated to maintain minimal standards of
decency and morality. The weakness of this argument was readily
demonstrated by opponents of the intervention. A prominent
Haitian writer, referring to an incident in a Southern United
States town where a black man was dragged from the local jail and
burned alive in the town square, pointed out that barbarity also
existed in the Unites States. In a 1929 United States
congressional debate, several congressmen noted that the number
of Haitian presidents assassinated over the years was almost the
same as the number of American presidents assassinated and that
since 1862, the year of the American recognition of Haiti, the
number was identical - three presidents killed in each country.
Likewise, the frequent overthrow of governments was not unique;
France had eleven governments from 1909 to 1914.

Whatever the moral implications of American intervention, the
missionary impulse did not figure prominently in the
deliberations of United States policy makers in the Wilson
administration. Policy discussions centered around strategic
considerations, with the sensational demise of Sam serving only
to make intervention more palatable to moralists outside the
government, and to those administration officials, notably
Secretary of the Navy [Josephus] Daniels, who had qualms about
the moral rightness of military incursions into friendly
neighboring countries. Secretary of State [Robert] Lansing took a
decidedly cynical approach, writing Wilson a few days after the
intervention: "We have no excuse of reprisal as we had at Vera
Cruz, to take over the city government and administer the
offices. There would appear to me to be but one reason which
could be given for doing so, and that is the humane duty of
furnishing means to relieve the famine situation. If our naval
authorities should take over the collection of customs on imports
and exports these might be expended on the ground of dire
necessity for the relief of the starving people."

Since food shortages were caused by Haitian guerrillas cutting
off roads to marine-occupied cities as a part of their military
resistance to American intervention, Lansing's humanitarian
argument was doubly specious.

Three hundred thirty United States sailors and marines landed at
Port-au-Prince on July 28, 1915, and were quickly reinforced by
troops dispatched from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. As the New York
Times remarked on July 31, "The force being sent to Haiti is much
larger than is necessary for mere protection of foreign
interests." The intervention was immediately sanctified by the
spilling of American blood as two American sailors, one of whom
was a nephew of Samuel Gompers, were killed in action. The two
men were described in American diplomatic and newspaper reports
as having been killed by Haitian snipers. President Wilson
expressed his personal condolences, but even these first
casualties proved to be lacking in the romantic battlefield
pageantry that was to be conspicuously absent in many of the
American military skirmishes in Haiti. Subsequent military
reports disclosed that there were no indications of enemy fire in
the area where the two sailors were killed and that they were
accidentally shot in the night by rifle fire from their comrades
in the Seaman Battalion, which was untrained for shore action and
under severe nervous strain in unfamiliar surroundings. The
Americans were intimidated by the sound of constant firing in the
city throughout the night, but there was no danger since the
firing was just a traditional form of celebration at the fall of
a tyrant.

Many of the American troops that landed in Haiti were unfamiliar
with the abject poverty and unsanitary conditions which now
surrounded them. Port-au-Prince, with its background of
picturesque mountains, was one of the most beautiful harbors in
the world when viewed from the sea, but first impressions on
landing were unfavorable. One young marine, anticipating exotic
adventure in a tropical paradise, later described his first day
ashore as follows: "It hurt, It stunk, Fairyland had turned into
a pigsty. More than that, we were not welcome. We could feel it
as distinctly as we could smell the rot along the gutters.... In
the street were piles of evil-smelling offal. The stench hung
over everything. Piles of mango seeds were heaped in the middle
of the highway, sour-smelling. It was not merely that these,
mingled with banana peels and other garbage, were rotting - the
whole prospect was filthy.... Haitians of the working class have
the ugliest feet in the world. In my bewilderment I somehow
blamed them for the horrid things on which they stood. We were
all annoyed."

The hostility of the Haitians also tended to make things
unpleasant for the newly arrived marines. Night curfew patrols
were forced to march warily down the middle of the streets of
Port-au-Prince in order to avoid being showered with household
waste dropped from darkened second-story windows.

Organized military resistance to the invasion, both at Port-au-
Prince and at the other locations throughout the country where
American troops were landed, was minimal. Admiral Caperton, the
senior officer in charge of the intervention, cabled Secretary of
the Navy Daniels and President Wilson: "U.S has now actually
accomplished a military intervention in affairs of another
nation. Hostility exists now in Haiti and has existed for a
number of years against such action. Serious hostile contacts
have only been avoided by prompt and rapid military action which
has given U.S. control before resistance has had time to

Faced with the overwhelming military superiority of American
forces, those Haitians who were determined to resist the
intervention took to the hills and there organized guerrilla

At the time of the intervention American authorities found that
the general economic situation, and especially the food supply in
Port-au-Prince, was disorganized. Under the impact of military
invasion, many additional economic functions were temporarily
suspended. The situation was further complicated when Haitian
guerrilla forces, erstwhile cacos, cut off the food supplies to
major cities in an attempt to exert pressure on United States
forces. The United States, which assumed a measure of
responsibility along with military control, was thus called upon
to provide relief for the destitute population of Port-au-Prince
until such time as the food supply could be restored. Secretary
Daniels, assessing the Haitians according to racial stereotypes
of Negroes in the Southern United States instead of viewing them
as a distinct foreign people, was skeptical about the effects
that free relief might have upon them, and wrote to President
Wilson: "It is very dangerous to begin to supply provisions
because the Haitiens are like negroes in the South after the war
and would quit work entirely, deserting plantations if our
Government undertakes to feed them."

This wholesale misapplication of the presumed lessons of white
American historical experience with Negroes indicates the extent
of misinformation and prejudice with typically clouded the minds
of cognizant United States officials. Aside from the implicit
racial slur, Daniels was badly confused, since the problem in
Haiti involved feeding the urban population of Port-au-Prince
and, moreover, there were no plantations in Haiti comparable to
those in the American South during the Civil War era. In spite of
Daniels' apprehensions, navy doctors and medical corpsmen
undertook relief work among "a large population of sick and
practically starving people" in Port-au-Prince in August, 1915.
The navy medical personnel, aided by the American Red Cross,
which contributed a fund of $1,500 in January, 1916, gave medical
attention to indigent Haitians in Port-au-Prince and distributed
food on a regular basis to those who had been investigated and
certified as destitute. This was the beginning of a long series
of constructive humanitarian projects originated by the navy
medical corps that was to continue throughout the occupation.

Shortly after intervening, the United States restored the Haitian
treasury service to the American-controlled Banque Nationale,
which had been deprived of the service by the Haitian government
during a dispute earlier in the year, and assigned American naval
officers to supervise the collection of all customs duties. These
customs and financial adjustments fulfilled long-standing
objectives of United States diplomacy and resulted in effective
control of the Haitian government's purse strings. American
officers who took over customhouses and local government
administration were often appalled at the inefficiency and
corruption characteristic of local institutions. The marine
officer who took charge of the coastal town of Jérémie audited
the mayor's books and found evidence of extensive graft. A navy
pay corps officer, under orders to assume "complete authority
over all port activities and coastwise trade" at Petit Goâve,
found that customs facilities included stones and pieces of iron
used as weights to measure for duties. Within several weeks of
the landings United States forces were in control of all
governmental agencies and revenues in the coastal towns of Haiti.
Military control of the occupied towns and cities varied in style
and emphasis according to the personalities of local commanders,
but in all cases American authority was predominant. The marine
officer at Jérémie, a veteran of other banana wars, remarked that
"in Cuba we didn't have the absolute authority we had here."

With American forces in effective control, the Wilson
administration turned to the problem of developing suitable
political machinery through which the United States could govern
the country. Apparently little advance consideration had been
given to the problem, since both Wilson and Lansing were
uncertain as to how they should proceed. Both agreed on the
necessity of prolonged military occupation but at the outset
neither had any clear idea of how this could be done within the
framework of international law. On the sixth day after the
intervention, Lansing wrote Wilson that he was "not at all sure
what we ought to do or what we legally can do." Wilson replied
that he too feared that "we have not the legal authority to do
what we apparently ought to do" but that the United States must
send sufficient troops to subordinate local authorities and
completely control the country. Excepting these irregularities,
Wilson insisted that "constitutional government" be established
and maintained, but he did not specify that the existing Haitian
Constitution should be respected. In keeping with the continuing
interest the United States had in establishing order and
stability in the Caribbean, Wilson's plans were to retain
military control over Haiti until a strong and stable Haitian
government could be set up under American auspices.

Although American military leaders in Haiti favored outright
military government, the Wilson administration decided to work
through existing Haitian political machinery, including a Haitian
chief executive. In deciding to set up a Haitian client-
president, Lansing wrote Wilson: "I do not see why it would not
be as easy to control a government with a president as it is to
control the Haitian Congress and administrative officers." The
first important step in the political reconstruction   of Haiti
was the selection of a suitable client-president. By taking
military control of Port-au-Prince in late July the United States
had prevented the election of Dr. Rosalvo Bobo as the new
president of Haiti. Bobo headed the caco army that precipitated
the downfall of Sam and was about to appropriate the rewards of
successful revolution by intimidating the Haitian legislature
into electing him to the recently vacated presidency. Admiral
Caperton, acting in accordance with advice given him by a
prominent Haitian confidant, postponed the election and took
measures to disarm the 1,500 caco troops who were demanding the
election of Bobo. Bobo's adherents hung together for several
weeks, until he disbanded them after having been told by Admiral
Caperton that the United States would forbid his candidacy if the
troops remained in the city.

Dr. Bobo was a man of considerable personal accomplishment. He
had traveled widely, held degrees in law and medicine from the
universities of Paris and London, and was fluent in many
languages. Captain Edward L. Beach, Caperton's chief of staff who
represented the admiral in all dealings with Bobo and who wrote a
lengthy chronicle describing the various negotiations, commented
that Bobo "was greatly beloved in Haiti because the poor and
needy sick always had the first call on his services, and none of
these ever received a bill from him," but Beach noted that Bobo
was unbalanced and, as an "idealist and dreamer," was "utterly
unsuited to be Haiti's President." Moreover, Bobo had long been
known to the State Department as an opponent of United States
encroachments in Haiti. In 1911 Bobo had opposed the McDonald
railroad and fig banana concessions, and as minister of the
interior in 1914 he had worked to thwart the proposed American
customs receivership. The proclaimed object of his revolution
against Sam was to prevent the "tremendous disgrace" of an
American receivership. On top of all his other liabilities,
Caperton and Lansing believed that Bobo was bordering on
insanity. Given these grave misgivings about Bobo, the United
States began to look for an alternative candidate.

In seeking a suitable client-president, Admiral Caperton
approached three of Haiti's most distinguished politicians: J.N.
Leger, who for twelve years had been Haitian minister to
Washington; Solon Menos, who was the current minister in
Washington; and former president F.D. Légitime. Each declined,
with J.N Leger, whom Captain Beach recommended as "Haiti's most
distinguished citizen," peremptorily refusing with this
explanation: "I am for Haiti, not for the United States; Haiti's
president will have to accept directions and orders from the
United States and I propose to keep myself in a position where I
will be able to defend Haiti's interests."

Caperton's trusted Haitian confidant, referred to as "X" in
Captain Beach's chronicle and probably J.N. Leger, also refused
to form a provisional government because of the ignominy of
holding office under American auspices.

Faced with the reluctance of the foremost politicians to
associate themselves with the Occupation, Caperton turned to
Philippe Sudre Dartiguenave, president of the Haitian Senate, who
was eager to volunteer his services. Dartiguenave, in declaring
his candidacy to Captain Beach, insisted only that the United
States guarantee to protect him if he were elected. He agreed to
the United States financial control and customs receivership, and
offered to cede Môle-Saint-Nicolas outright, recommending to
Beach a plan by which the United States would land troops at the
Môle before the election, with a formal treaty of cession coming
later. In negotiating his candidacy with United States
representatives, Dartiguenave also made specific commitments to
settle outstanding difficulties between the Haitian government
and the Banque Nationale and to pay the various claims made
against the government by the American-owned National Railways.

Dartiguenave headed a faction of legislators and claimed to
control the Haitian congress which, under strong pressure from
Caperton (who made it clear the United States insisted on
effective control), was to elect the new president. Bobo's
supporters, who controlled the guerrilla forces still active in
the interior of the country and included the leading citizens who
comprised the Committee of Public Safety through which Caperton
governed Port-au-Prince, were still the dominant political group.
Dartiguenave was threatened with immediate assassination if he
did not withdraw his candidacy; he was then provided with a nine-
man marine bodyguard by the Americans.

With Dartiguenave and Bobo having emerged as the leading
candidates, Captain Beach conducted a series of interviews with
them in order to select the better man. Bobo's limitations as a
long-time opponent of United States interests were well known,
but Dartiguenave also had his drawbacks. Caperton's trusted
Haitian confidant "X" did not think highly of Bobo, but preferred
him to Dartiguenave whom "X" characterized as being "surrounded
by grafters with whom he has grafted, which accounts for his
candidacy." Bobo, seeing his chances for selection deteriorate
with each passing day, desperately offered to make any
concessions the United States might demand, but Dartiguenave, in
the series of interviews with Beach, made a much more favorable
impression than did the temperamental Bobo, who became irate and
impetuous. Admiral Caperton recommended Dartiguenave to
Washington, where Bobo was already viewed with disfavor because
of his anti-American background, and Daniels replied, "Allow
election of President to take place whenever Haitians wish. The
U.S. prefers election of Dartiguenave." Daniels later confessed
to William Allen White that, "Of course, you and I know that this
was equivalent to American making Dartiguenave President."

There were some qualms within the Wilson administration about the
heavy-handed methods being employed by the United States in
Haiti. Lansing wrote to Wilson: "I confess that this method of
negotiation, with our marines policing the Haytien Capital, is
high handed. It does not meet my sense of a nation's sovereign
rights and is more or less an exercise of force and an invasion
of Haytien independence."

Secretary of the Navy Daniels, known as an anti-imperialist, was
chided by his fellow Cabinet officers for his role in the
intervention. Secretary of the Interior Frank K. Lane, with a
wink toward President Wilson, addressed Daniels at a Cabinet
meeting as "Josephus the First, King of Haiti," and another
colleague, referring to the election of Dartiguenave, asked
mockingly, "Will the candidate you and Lansing picked manage to
squeeze in?" Daniels did not appreciate the situation and later
wrote to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was Assistant Secretary of
the Navy in 1915, that "You know that the things we were forced
to do in Haiti was a bitter pill for me, for I have always hated
any foreign policy that even hinted of imperialistic control."

(To be continued)

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