Located in the gorgeous Caribbean basin, within the archipelago of the Antilles, the Republic of Haiti consists of two peninsulas that cover an area of 27,750 square kilometers. The country comprises the western third of the island of Hispaniola, west of the Dominican Republic. Its territory, mostly mountainous, including two major mountain ranges interspersed by a smaller one, is home to 10,033,000 inhabitants. People of African descent make up 95% of the country’s population, mulattos and whites make up the remaining 5%.
Known as one of the poorest and most unfortunate country of the entire continent because of the innumerable calamities suffered, Haiti is also renowned for its artists’ creativity and for being a forerunner in the fight against slavery and colonialism. For this reason in fact, Haiti was considered as a threat by the colonialist countries of the nineteenth century.
The country was at the beginning a thriving Spanish and French colony where thousands of slaves were deported to be employed to grow sugar-cane crops, replacing the native population that was extinct because of the Spanish colonialists’ brutality, cruelty and mass murder. Later, Haiti was the second American republic after the United States to declare its independence, in 1804, and the first independent black nation in the world.
Already independent Haiti, re-armed, supported Freedom Campaign battles in South America led by the libertador (liberator) Simon Bolivar a few years later. Bolivar expressed his gratitude to Haiti saying, “Los americanos del sur debemos mucho por su apoyo a los haitianos to Emancipador procedures”. ( We, the Latin American people have a debt to Haitians for their support in the liberation struggle from colonialism in Spanish ruled South America).
According to several historians, these are the reasons why France, England, Spain and the United States, considered Haiti a threat in Latin America where slavery was the main driving force of the economy. As a consequence, the new ‘black republic’ was diplomatically and economically isolated and faced a continuing threat of foreign intervention. In this regard, it is appropriate to recall the then U.S. President Thomas Jefferson’s lapidary phrase, “Haiti is a bad example”.
Its geographical location makes Haiti, like the other Central American and Caribbean countries, a land of connection between South and North America. There is no doubt, that the geographical location has contributed to the continuous economic instability of the country, the prelude to tragic and incessant social dramas.
The United States, in particular, interfered massively in local political life, striving to oust the European powers, in order to take exclusive control over the production and export of tropical agricultural products, in particular bananas. The importance of this business was so relevant that it severely affected Haiti’s national sovereignty. Hence the epithet ‘banana republics’.
In those years, the United Fruit Company, an American company also called the ‘Green Octopus’, because its tentacles reached everywhere, created a powerful empire in the entire region of Central America and the Caribbean. Basically a sort of State within a state, having a power over its own property analogous to the police power, and that played a major role in decision-making for strategic sectors such as local rail networks, ports, merchant navy, major banks, telephone market and broadcasting companies, as well as the public procurement sector of the host country.
With regard to the public procurement sector, it must be underlined that the construction of railways often acted as a pathfinder for the penetration into Central American and Caribbean territories and the acquisition of new plantations. Furthermore, if we consider that the revenues of the United Fruit Company, and other equivalent American companies were higher than those of the countries where they operated, the pressure and conditioning the governments of Central American and Caribbean states were subjected to, can be easily understood.
The operations of these companies were the result of a well-defined strategy, engineered by the U.S. government, known as ‘dollar diplomacy’, that is a foreign policy aimed at furthering American interests in Latin America by using its economic might. The U.S. government provided support to governments and loans to entrepreneurs of financially weak nations in order to expand US influence in Central America and the Caribbean basin.
It must be underlined that dollar diplomacy was by no means an alternative to the use of the most brutal pressures and violent interventions in the affairs of Latin American countries. Economic and repression strategies were joined and overlapping. It should be noted, however, that US intrusive policy and military operations were disguised as ‘humanitarian’ interventions. This paternalistic policy culminated during Wilson’s presidency. Woodrow Wilson was of the firm belief that democracy is the most essential aspect of a stable and prospering nation. He also believed that the United States had to play the pioneering role in promoting democracy and peace throughout the world.
This policy stated that the United States had a right to deny support to any Latin American government “viewed as oppressive, undemocratic, or hostile to US interests”, emphasizing the need for democracy around the world. The United States would only support Latin American governments that were democratic and supported U.S. interests.
Wilson’s paternalistic and ethical view towards Latin American countries led him to intervene and send marines when ‘unconstitutional’ (according to Washington’s parameters of democracy) governments came to power. (F.R.)