In July 1915, the US intervened in Haiti. Civil unrest surrounding the assassination of President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam provided a pretext for intervention. U.S. marines were dispatched to Haiti, ostensibly to protect U.S. financial interests and citizens. Rather than withdrawing after a show of ‘gunboat diplomacy’, as had previously been the case, the U.S. military came to stay in 1915. Marines seized control of the country and stayed there for 18 years.
Under the pressure of the military occupation, Haiti was forced to sign a treaty granting the United States security and economic oversight of Haiti for a 10-year period. The treaty established that the US would nominate a Financial Adviser, a Health Care Administration Officer, and a Public Works Officer. According to the Haitian-American convention, the government of Haiti also agreed not to surrender any of the territory of the Republic of Haiti by sale, lease, or otherwise, or jurisdiction over such territory, to any foreign government or power, nor to enter into any treaty or contract with any foreign power or powers that would “impair the independence” of Haiti. The U.S. forced the Haitians to adopt a new US-inspired constitution. In other words, Haiti, became, even if not officially, a de facto US protectorate.
The US occupation paved the way to the expansion of large US investments in sugar-cane plantations and other sources of revenues in the Caribbean country. Washington also established a military force in charge of securing order and peace, mainly to defend the local US investments and interests.
Haiti occupation was important to US not only from a commercial point of view, but also for military and strategic reasons, since Haiti‘s location had become an essential base for the control of transit routes to the Caribbean Sea, following the opening of the Panama Canal. Having control over Haiti, would secure the US the safety and the monitoring of the routes transiting the Caribbean Sea.
The American occupation ended in 1934. Though infrastructure had improved, Americans left behind an economically shattered country. A country on its knees, whose inhabitants shortly thereafter would be forced to migrate to neighboring Santo Domingo to find employment in the sugar cane fields.
The economic crisis in Haiti lasted until the 40s. Hostilities between blacks and mulattoes resumed at the end of the US occupation, while the army began to assume a more prominent role in the political life of the country.
In 1946 Dumarsais Estimé, a black rights activist, was elected President. Despite his set of programs, Estimé was largely unable to deliver on his promises of economic liberation and elimination of inequalities in the country, since his government was hampered by both the mulatto elite and the army, that supported a corrupt government.
In 1949 a military group led by Paul Magloire deposed the President. The military junta stayed in power until the 1957 elections won by a black medical doctor, Francois Duvalier, known as “Papa Doc”. He set about consolidating his power by means of force and playing on the superstitious nature of many Haitians.
His program was a melting pot of mystical, racist and nationalist elements. He declared himself president for life in 1964, and after his death in 1971 he was succeeded by his son Jean-Claude, known as “Baby Doc”.
In those years deadly clashes among ethnic groups resumed. Haitians also suffered the violence and murders perpetrated by the ‘Tonton Macoutes’ a paramilitary force created by dictator Duvalier. He employed the Tonton Macoutes against any opponents, including those who proposed progressive social systems. Those who spoke out against Duvalier would disappear at night, or were sometimes attacked in broad daylight.
The Tontons Macoutes often stoned and burned people alive. Many times the corpses were put on display, often hung in trees for everyone to see. The Haitians experienced massacres, corruption, State terrorism, persecution, torture, poverty, and social exclusion for about three decades. In 1986 protests spread throughout the country and “Baby Doc” was forced to flee into exile.
The head of the newly appointed National Council of Government was Lieut. General Henri Namphy, 53, the commander of Duvalier’s armed forces. However, The Tontons Macoutes remained active even after the presidency of Papa Doc Duvalier’s son Baby Doc Duvalier ended in 1986. Massacres led by paramilitary groups spawned from the Macoutes continued during the following decade. Later the Macoutes became integrated into the FRAPH (Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti), a creation of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). (F.R.)