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 2005


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 else.

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 ones.

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 Thiele.

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 were mulattoes.

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 of rifles.

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 Doc."

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 was ruined.

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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