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Recalling 1915-1934

by BOB FELDMAN

Fifteen years before GOP President Herbert Hoover appointed a member of Boston’s Forbes family, W. Cameron Forbes, to chair the 1930 Forbes Commision (which investigated conditions in Haiti), Democratic President Woodrow Wilson ordered U.S. troops to occupy Haiti. As UNDER THE EAGLE: U.S. INTERVENTION IN CENTRAL AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN by Jenny Pearce recalled in 1982:

“Haiti had assumed considerable strategic importance to the United States after the building of the Panama Canal…Increasing French and German involvement in the country convinced the United States of the need to take direct action to defend its interests.”

The same book also noted that the U.S. troops who occupied Haiti in July 1915 to establish martial law “were mostly from the Deep South,” “exacerbated racial and social divisions between the blacks and mulattos on the island,” “reinforced the rigid social structure” and “when they finally withdrew in 1934 their only contribution to the country was a few roads and sewers and a pro-United States local militia…”

According to THE UNITED STATES OCCUPATION OF HAITI 1915-1934 by Hans Schmidt, “those who did not come to terms with the Americans were subjected to…decimation by marine patrols.” Although only 16 U.S. soldiers lost their lives during the first five years of the U.S. military’s first occupation of Haiti, over 2,250 Haitians were killed by U.S. troops during this same period.

After Charlemagne Peralte organized a provisional government in the northern part of Haiti, for instance, 1,861 of his supporters were killed in 1919 and “Charlemagne…was eventually killed by two marines, disguised as blacks who sneaked into his camp at night and shot him,” according to THE UNITED STATES OCCUPATION OF HAITI, 1915-1934. The same book also noted that “in an attempt to demoralize the guerrillas, the marines disseminated photographs of Charlemagne’s body, but made the mistake of propping him up so that he looked like Christ on the cross” and “the photograph became a continuing source of inspiration to Haitian nationalists.” THE UNITED STATES OCCUPATION OF HAITI, 1915-1934 also revealed that “following the arrival of the white women, Americans instituted Jim Crow racial segregation in Haiti” and “Haitians also resented the fact that Americans took over the most expensive houses and neighborhoods for themselves.”

In October 1929, however, “students at the Service Technique’s central agricultural college at Damien walked out in a body protesting a reduction in scholarships for field work,” “students in the medical college and law college followed in a sympathy strike” and “the strike quickly spread throughout the nation” into a Dec. 4, 1929 general strike, according to THE UNITED STATES OCCUPATION OF HAITI, 1915-1934. Two days later, U.S. troops shot into a demonstration of 1,500 peasants in Cayes and 24 more Haitians were killed, but “the 1929 strikes and riots” had “made the occupation untenable,” according to the same book. Although “Forbes was personally convinced that Haiti was not ready for self-government,” according to AMERICAN NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY, the Forbes Commission then recommended that the U.S. military occupation end, and FDR finally pulled the U.S. troops out of Haiti in 1934.

But in 1994, the NEW YORK TIMES indicated that the CIA has apparently been used to both encourage and discourage political opposition to Haitian President Aristide in recent years. In its September 29, 1994 issue, for instance, THE TIMES reported: “President Clinton has approved a secret contingency plan that authorizes unspecified political activities to neutralize the opponents of…Aristide, senior Administration officials said today.

“In addition, the $5 million plan authorizes the Central Intelligence Agency to spend $1 million in propaganda activities to help ease…Aristide’s return…The CIA has begun to use some of the $1 million earmarked for propaganda for covert radio broadcasts…The covert propaganda program gives the Administration maximum flexibility and provides funds for activities like newspapers.

“As part of the plan, Mr. Clinton authorized the CIA to introduce agents inside Haiti…”

But in its October 8, 1994 issue, THE TIMES also noted that “the leader of one of Haiti’s most infamous paramilitary groups was a paid informer of American intelligence for two years,” received “money from the Untied States while his associates committed murder and other acts of political repression” and was kept on the Clinton Administration’s CIA payroll until Spring 1994.

 

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