The Other Occupation:
The Haitian Version of Apartheid
A specific role has been assigned
to Haiti by the West. It is to prove that Black people cannot
govern themselves and to tell the weak and small nation that if
they want to be independent, the West will
make their life miserable.
by Jean-Claude Martineau
CovertAction Quarterly, Spring
Whenever the name of Haiti is mentioned
in the international media, it is immediately followed by what
seems to be a title, a last name or a claim to fame: The poorest
country in the western hemisphere. It is the only country whose
name is associated with poverty. There must be a poorest country
in Africa, Asia, or Europe, but they have never been mentioned.
Although there are about two dozen countries poorer than Haiti,
she has become, by default, the poverty champion of the world.
Why then is the West, particularly the
U.S., so interested in Haiti that they occupied it three times?
What do they want there since, by their own admission, there are
no resources worth stealing? The answer must be found somewhere
When Haiti proclaimed her independence
in 1804, the white slave masters chose to ignore it. But Haiti
was fast becoming a beacon of freedom for the abolitionists in
their fight to end the slave trade and slavery. The South American
revolutionaries also viewed Haiti as a beacon of light in their
struggle for independence. One way or another this bad example
had to be erased, this experiment had to fail.
During her two hundred years of independence
Haiti has suffered all types of interventions: military, economic,
political and even cultural. Very few countries, if any, have
been treated with so much malfeasance by the West.
It would take a whole book to enumerate
all these interventions. We will only mention the most significant
When the French royal family regained
power after the defeat of Napoleon, it tried to reestablish its
sovereignty over its former colony. On the other hand, the Haitian
president Jean Pierre Boyer wanted France to recognize Haiti's
independence, believing that it was the only way to end Haiti's
isolation. The two positions couldn't be further apart so the
two sides engaged in negotiation.
Finally in 1825, after years of discussions
and interruptions, France accepted Haiti's proposition providing
that she paid reparations to the former
French colonists. Boyer accepted to pay
one hundred and fifty million gold francs. Later the debt was
reduced to ninety million but was still a heavy burden for a small
country at the beginning of its national life. No other country
has ever paid for an independence it won on the battlefield. The
debt was paid off during the presidency of Lysius Salomon (1879-88).
For over fifty years, the accumulation of capital that could have
launched the country on the path to development was made impossible.
This was the first burden imposed on Haiti to get off the road
from being a prosperous colony toward becoming a poor republic.
It was the so-called elite that kept the
door wide open for foreign interventions. After independence,
the Haitian society was completely militarized. In his district,
a general was the judge, the agricultural inspector the head of
police, etc ... When the time came to distribute the land that
used to belong to the French, a general would receive so many
acres, a colonel so many less and so on. The farmers and soldiers
received nothing. Since that time the landless peasants have been
and are still the largest social group in Haiti. They have no
rights, no protection under the law, no political weight, no schools,
no hospitals, nothing. Jean Dominique, our great journalist and
patriot, who was assassinated in 2000, called them the excluded:'
In the meantime, the many sections of the elite were fighting
for dominance. From the fall of Boyer in 1844 to the American
occupation in 1915, Haiti was in a state of permanent civil war:
Mulattoes against Blacks, the north against the west, the south
against the west and any combination in between. The European
powers and the U.S. were too happy to supply weapons and ammunition
in exchange for some promises of commercial or territorial advantages
in the event that the group they supported would win. During that
century of unrest, many foreign businesses established in Haiti
pretended to have suffered some losses and demanded reparations
from the government. According to historian Desquiron, who died
in 1999, there were about a thousand such claims. From time to
time a war flotilla would appear in Port-au-Prince Bay, threatening
to obliterate the city if such debt, such claim or such promise
was not honored by the Haitian government. In March 1849, it was
the French admiral Duquesne; in July 1861, the Spanish admiral
Rubalcava; in 1872 the German captain Batsch; in April 1891, the
American admiral Gherardi; in December 1902, the German captain
In spite of the obvious danger to he country's
independence, the different factions of the elite kept on fighting
each other. They would unite only if a popular uprising threatened
their stupid game. During that period Haiti had about twenty presidents
(only one of them civilian), more than a dozen coup d'états
and as many constitutions.
The last moments of this period were particularly
active: four presidents in two years. The very same day the fourth
one was killed by the Port-au Prince's population, in July 1915,
the American admiral William Capperton landed his marines in Haiti.
The reason for the occupation of Haiti was to restore order in
the country's finances and political life. Let's remember that
almost a year before, an American war ship, the Mathias landed
a marine regiment in Port-au-Prince. They marched to the national
bank, broke it open, took the republic's gold reserve and left.
This gold, estimated at half a million dollars has never been
returned. Still, Haiti was forced to accept a loan of forty million
dollars to pay her debts. These included the one thousand or so
claims presented by the foreign businessmen established in Haiti.
Some of these claims may have been legitimate, most were ridiculous
and some openly criminal. Take the following case reported by
Jean Desquiron in "Port-au-Prince a la une": In 1861,
Antonio Pelletier was a slave ship captain with an original idea.
Since the slave trade was outlawed but slavery still practiced
in the hemisphere, why not get the slaves from Haiti? He raided
the coasts of the independent black republic, kidnapping people
whom he would sell into slavery. He was caught, tried and jailed.
Somehow he managed to escape. He returned eighteen years later,
in 1879 to sue the Haitian government for damages. With the support
of the American ambassador John Langston, he demanded two and
a half million dollars.
Some Haitians still want to believe that
the American occupation was beneficial. It is true that a few
benefited from it. But as it goes in almost every foreign intervention,
only a specific minority is satisfied. The permanent unrest had
subsided to the delight of the foreign and national businesses.
Politically, the occupants favored the mulatto section of the
elite. Although they never represented ten percent of the Haitian
population, the four presidents under the American occupation
In 1918, a constitution, probably written
in the U.S. was given to Haiti. It took out an article that was
present in every Haitian constitution since 1804 and that provided
that no foreigner should own land in Haiti. Soon after this constitution
was voted by a handpicked parliament, the most fertile land in
Haiti fell into American hands. A company called MacDonald, for
instance, received a contract to build and operate a railroad
line from Port-au-Prince to Saint-Marc, a city one hundred kilometers
northwest of the capital. The contract gave the company twenty
kilometers (13 miles) on either side of the tracks. This would
have been a large piece of real estate in any country let alone
a small one like Haiti. A significant number of peasant families
were displaced, but the occupant had a plan for them. Tens of
thousands of Haitians were shipped to Cuba and the Dominican Republic,
where Americans had built dozens of sugar mills. It is obvious
that the sugar mills were built with Haitian cheap labor in mind
since only one was created in Haiti. That was the slave trade
all over again in the twentieth century.
The Americans re-enacted an old law called
corvée. This law provided that each peasant must give six
days of free labor a year repairing roads. The peasants were rounded
up and marched to their assigned work area. Many never came home.
Where there is oppression, there will
be revolt and that's exactly what happened. The Haitian peasants
revolted and started an armed rebellion against the occupation.
They opposed American firepower with hoes, machetes and dozens
To put down the rebellion, the Americans
and the U.S.-made Haitian army used every weapon in their arsenal.
It was the first time that Americans used airplanes in combat.
The revolt ended after a year when its
leader Charlemagne Peralte was assassinated in 1919. His body
was exposed, tied to a door and naked except for a loincloth fashioned
after the one we are told Jesus Christ wore on the cross. That
is why, up to even now, Haitians say that Peralte was crucified.
Then the retaliation came. Even in the
1960's some old Haitian peasants could still tell some unbelievable
horror stories about that time: People were hanged, burnt alive
and hunted like wild games. What enhances these stories is the
fact that a large number of American soldiers came from the southern
states. Some of them may have heard, seen or even participated
in many lynchings. You turn these men loose on a Black and rebellious
population and you have an open season on Negroes.
The resistance didn't stop, it only changed
form. A group of intellectuals founded the Patriotic Union. In
their newspaper they conducted an active campaign against the
occupation. Finally a strike started by students spread to other
sectors and became a general strike. The Americans accepted to
leave and the occupation ended in August 1934 after nineteen years.
They left behind a tiny minority in power,
an army to defend their interests and control the masses and a
majority poorer and more excluded than ever. They had the possession
of the country's most fertile land and they had created an exportable
pool of cheap labor.
The occupation ended but the interventions
in Haitian affairs continued:
From 1946 to 1950 Dumarsais Estime' was
president of Haiti.
Under his progressive administration,
the minimum wage was raised for the first time in about a century
and Port-au-Prince was modernized to celebrate the city's bicentennial.
The loans contracted under the occupation were paid off. Estime'
organized an international exposition that practically launched
the Caribbean tourism. Haiti was then an important exporter of
banana but the industry belonged to the Standard Fruit company,
an American business. Estime' nationalized the company. He was
overthrown soon after by the military.
In 1957, the army seized power and called
for an election. The candidate the military favored was none other
than the infamous François "Papa Doe" Duvalier.
During his reign, more than thirty thousand Haitians were killed.
One particular event helped him establish and consolidate his
dictatorship: In 1960, the United Nations came to Haiti to recruit
teachers to go to the Congo. Engineers, doctors, professors, agronomists,
lawyers and artists were hired to teach French, math, history
at the high school level. The salaries were high enough to attract
thousands of Haitian professionals. The U.N. knew very well that
the illiteracy ratio in Haiti was about ninety per cent, a lot
higher than in the Congo.
These interventions robbed Haiti of the
brains that could have helped in the building of a modern society
and more importantly, in opposing the dictatorship of "Papa
When François Duvalier died in
1971, His son Jean-Claude inherited the presidency; he was nineteen.
Within weeks of his inauguration, all the big democratic powers
had recognized the government. "Baby Doc" received more
aid from the so-called democracies than all the Haitian governments
combined. When he was finally kicked out by a popular uprising
in 1986, the American administration sent two planes to take him
away to France. One for him and his entourage and the other for
the loot they were taking out of the country.
The AIDS epidemic appeared in the beginning
of the 1970s. Nobody knew what it was or where it came from. It
was determined soon after that there were four high-risk groups.
The fourth one was the Haitians. They were at risk not because
of a certain behavior that could be changed, but by being who
they were. There were no studies, no research, no investigations
backing that view. As a result of that racist position, scores
of Haitians lost their jobs in the U.S. and the tourist industry
in Haiti was severely damaged.
In the early 1980s an epidemic of Swine
Fever attacked the Haitian pigs.
The American administration rushed to
the rescue. They proposed and financed the slaughter of every
single pig in Haiti. They paid five to twenty dollars per animal
depending on their size. Pork is the most consumed meat in Haiti.
That's why every peasant family tries to have a few in order to
face some unforeseen spending like weddings and funerals. In Haiti,
they call the pig the peasant's bank account. Although large areas
were not affected by the Swine Fever, all the pigs were killed
except for a few hundred hidden by their owners. The rural economy
In February 2004, the United States and
France invaded and occupied Haiti. This intervention had been
in the making for at least three years. It started by gathering
an amazing opposition made of people who call themselves former
communists, (some used to be pro-Moscow and some others pro-Beijing),
some former military and civilian officials of the Duvalier regime
and some other members of the repugnant elite. They have nothing
in common except a virulent hatred for Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
They accused the president of all the crimes in the book: He was
a dictator, a drug dealer, he participated in human sacrifices
and so forth and so on.
It was strange to hear members of the
opposition complaining over the radio or on television that they
didn't have the right to speak. It was also surprising to hear
former members of the Duvalier regime accuse anyone of dealing
drugs when they were the ones to introduce the profession in Haiti.
All these of course were just pretexts; the real reason was that
Aristide was from the "excluded," therefore he had no
right to be the president.
When it became obvious that the opposition
was getting nowhere, in spite of the armed groups in their ranks,
the Americans decided to intervene directly to "save"
the Haitian people from the President they have elected twice.
At the time, Haiti was celebrating the two hundredth anniversary
of her independence from France. By inviting the French to be
part of the invasion, the American administration has shown clearly
its intention to humiliate this Black nation. Beside the common
hatred of the masses they share with the repugnant elite, each
of the two invaders had a bone to pick with the elected government.
For the Americans it was the relations with Cuba and for the French
it was the demand to return the money Haiti paid for her independence.
Now that the U.S. and France have invaded
Haiti to remove an elected president, what could be their plan
for the country's future? If such a plan exists, it cannot have
anything to do with democracy. The intervention destroyed the
democracy the Haitian people were trying to build with great difficulty.
The president who was removed from office had two more years to
go on his term. The vote of the majority was erased, damaging
the principle of "one person one vote." The cornerstone
of democracy: Election was vilified. The right of association
and free speech were eliminated. The leaders of the deposed president's
party are either in jail, in exile or in hiding.
Instability has always been Haiti's main
problem: Every change in government was done through violence.
For the first time in the country's history, three consecutive
administrations took power peacefully. From Ertha Trouillot to
Aristide then to Rene Preval and back to Aristide. It was an interesting
development. Most Haitians were hopeful that stability was at
hand at last. The American and French governments decided that
the process had to be stopped. The actual interim government they
put in place has no support from the people. According to the
Haitian constitution, an interim government has but one mandate:
It is to organize elections within ninety days. The U.S. has taken
upon itself to override an independent country's constitution
and prolong the illegal government's term to two years. The pretexts
used against Iraq cannot be applied to Haiti. No weapons of mass
destruction, no connection with al Qaeda and no harboring of terrorists.
Haiti didn't even qualify to be an issue in the presidential debates.
After all it's only eight million Negroes. The contempt for Haiti
is so strong that the American administration didn't even send
any help after the passage of cyclone Jeanne to the very government
they put in place. If Haiti has been taken out of the headlines,
it is exactly because this racist occupation cannot be justified.
A specific role has been assigned to Haiti
by the West. It is to prove that Black people cannot govern themselves
and to tell the weak and small nation that if they want to be
independent, the West will make their life miserable. But Haiti
has written a different script for herself. She says: In spite
of your military might, in spite of your economic power, in spite
of the racist dishonesty of your propaganda machine, independence
will prevail, you will fail.
Jean-Claude Martineau is a Haitian writer,
historian and songwriter. He was the spokesperson for President
Aristide when he was in exile in the US. after the first coup
d'etat against Aristide.
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