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From owner-imap@chumbly.math.missouri.edu Wed Aug 28 07:30:12 2002
Date: Tue, 27 Aug 2002 22:37:23 -0500 (CDT)
From: =?iso-8859-1?Q?Haiti_Progr=E8s?= <editor@haiti-progres.com>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 20:23 8/21/02
Article: 144230
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

The first U.S. occupation of Haiti

Haiti Progres, Vol. 20 no. 23, 21-27 August 2002

Aug. 15 marks the 68th anniversary of the end of the first U.S. military occupation of Haiti, which lasted 19 years. This week, we present passages from The United States Occupation of Haiti: 1915-1934 by Hans Schmidt ( Rutgers University Press, 1971), the definitive English language account of that intervention.

Many people are aware of the Caco resistance led by Charlemagne Piralte during the Occupation’s early years. Less well known is the resistance during the Occupation’s later years, in particular the uprisings of 1929, which prompted the Marines’ 1934 pullout.

Our selections are drawn from the chapter entitled Strikes and Riots, which treats these events of late 1929 and early 1930. In Schmidt’s account, it is interesting to note how the resentment and anger engendered by the U.S. Occupation of Haiti is being reproduced today in countries like Afghanistan, South Korea, and the Philippines.

Schmidt explains the incidents that led to President Herbert Hoover and his Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson deciding to withdraw from Haiti.

The stolid domination of the Occupation, which had for so long effectively controlled Haiti with so little overt resistance, was broken by explosive political and economic forces which converged in the fall of 1929. Economic distress caused by falling coffee prices and increases in government taxes were coupled with discontent over the postponement of the 1930 legislative elections and the apparent continuance of [Louis] Borno as client-president. These factors exacerbated the latent hatred of the Occupation inspired by American racial condescension and boorish military dictation. A poor coffee crop in 1928, the collapse of the coffee market in 1929, and the restriction of migrant labor emigration to Cuba were compounded by the Occupation’s policy of pressing new tax collections. By the fall of 1929, unbeknown to complacent officials and the State Department, popular discontent in Haiti needed only a rallying point to develop into a major uprising against the Occupation. This rallying point was provided by a series of student strikes against the Service Technique [a U.S.-sponsored technical training program].

The student strikes began in late Oct. 1929, when the students at the Service Technique’s central agricultural college at Damien walked out in a body protesting a reduction in incentive scholarships for city students and corresponding increases 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 to both public and private schools. Idle students milled about in the streets for a period of five weeks while General [John H.] Russell [the U.S. high commissioner] tried unsuccessfully to meliorate the situation by conceding a substantial raise in student scholarship rates. (...)

High Commissioner Russell later expressed the opinion that the striking students were acting according to Latin and European radical political action. He described the strikes as a petty students’ affair which was being used by disgruntled politicians, the outs, to undermine the Occupation. In fact, Haitian nationalists of all ages were already much exercised over the cancellation of elections and the prospect of Borno’s being foisted upon them for a third term. Opposition agitators and newspapers, of course, made the most of the situation.

By the end of November the student strikes, supported by French Catholic brothers and sisters in Catholic schools, was widening to include the threat of a general strike. In mid-November Borno issued a declaration that he would not seek a third term and on Dec. 2 Russell requested that the State Department publicly confirm Borno’s noncandidacy in order to quiet popular unrest, but these moves were inadequate. On Dec. 3 Russell reported to the State Department that politicians and businessmen were aligning themselves with the strikers, that the loyalty of the Garde [d’Haoti, a Haitian auxiliary force to the Marines] was very questionable, and that an additional force of 500 Marines would be immediately required to protect American lives.

The following morning the expected general uprising began with a strike by customs employees in Port-au-Prince. A large, angry mob gathered at the site of the customs strike and by the end of the day the streets of Port-au-Prince were crowded with excited people who stoned Marine patrols which had been called out to reinforce the Garde. (...)

The general uprising spread quickly throughout the country. In Cap Haotien, the Garde was unable to handle 1,000 demonstrators without the support of Marine patrols and several towns in the Cayes district reported thousands of peasants gathering around American outposts shouting A bas Borno! A bas Freeman! [Dr. George F. Freeman was head of the Service Technique.] On Dec. 4, Brigade Commander R. M. Cutts reported to the commandant of the Marine Corps that the loyalty of the Garde was becoming more doubtful and envisioned the possibility of re-occupation of outlying important towns by Marine forces, heavily supplied with automatic shoulder weapons.

High Commissioner Russell reacted to the uprisings by reinvoking curfew and martial law, by interdicting the opposition press, which suspended publication from Dec. 5 to 16, by canceling the independent status of the Garde d’Haoti and incorporating it as a regiment of the Marine Brigade, and by dispatching Garde reinforcements to Jacmel, Petit Gobve, and Liogane, where their timely arrival thwarted attempted uprisings. (...)

Stimson advised Russell to rescind the proclamation and to withdraw Americans from exposed places rather than send out reinforcements. As a precautionary measure, 500 Marines were embarked at Norfolk for possible Haitian duty, but these men would be used only in dire emergency, since Stimson was extremely reluctant to increase the strength of the Marine Brigade and felt that the sending of additional forces would give rise to sensational reports regarding the Haitian situation.

All this was before the disastrous Cayes massacre of Dec. 6. Fifteen hundred angry peasants, armed with stones, machetes, and clubs, surrounded a detachment of twenty Marines armed with rifles and automatic weapons. The Marines had gone out to meet the peasants, who were advancing on the town intent on securing the release of prisoners arrested the day before and on airing various grievances against the Occupation, including complaints about alcohol, tobacco, and other taxes. Marine airplanes had dropped bombs in the Cayes harbor in an attempt to awe the local population into submissiveness, but this demonstration apparently had the undesired effect of creating terror and frenetic excitement. A district Marine officer unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the mob to retire, but then, according to an account given by two Marine participants, a Haitian leader instigated a scuffle:

The leader made a suspicious move and Gillaspey countered with a blow with the stock of his Browning gun, breaking the stock. The belligerent fell, tackling Gillaspey around the right leg and biting him. William T. Meyers, private, first class, bayoneted the man without seriously hurting him, but forcing him to release Gillaspey. The clash with the natives followed.

The State Department announced that the Haitians first threw stones and then rushed the Marines. In any case, the Marines opened fire at point-blank range and dispersed the mob.

Initial Marine reports and State Department press releases indicated that 5 Haitians were killed and 20 wounded, but Russell later informed the department that the final hospital list totaled 12 dead and 23 wounded, and that It is possible that other wounded were not brought in and other deaths occurred in the hills from contaminated wounds. Reports are current that this is the case, but verification cannot be secured. Casualty lists published in the Haitian press in Jan. 1930 totaled 24 dead and 51 wounded. In response to pointed questions from Under Secretary of State Joseph P. Cotton, who referred to the Marine detachment as a firing squad, Russell explained the curious fact that both the officer in charge of the detachment and his second-in-command had arrived in Haiti only two days before the massacre by saying that they were selected for this duty as they would operate on a military basis, having no bias or preconceived ideas of the Haitian situation. Russell reported that 600 rounds had been fired by rifles, automatic rifles, and one machine gun, but that most of the firing had been deliberately over the natives’ heads and that Had punitive effect been desired, it is reported that from 300 to 400, perhaps more, could easily have been killed. A State Department press release indicated that one Marine was hurt in hand-to-hand encounter with a mob leader. The Marines were later officially vindicated of any taint of brutality or indiscretion when the Navy Department awarded the Navy Cross to the Cayes detachment commander for commendable courage and forbearance. (...)

In subsequent reports Russell made vague allusions to an international Red conspiracy and blamed the Cayes massacre on dishonest, paid agitators. (...)

The only indications of any international Communist conspiracy to foil American plans for Haiti were several mass demonstrations against the Occupation staged in Washington and New York. The New York Times reported that 500 Communist party members battled New York City police at City Hall Plaza following a call for demonstrations against the Occupation issued in the party’s newspaper, the Daily Worker. These demonstrations, however, took place after the uprisings in Haiti were over, and coincided with widespread American and worldwide public attacks on United States policy following the Cayes massacre. (...)

The 1929 uprisings and the Cayes incident spurred a dramatic increase in unfavorable foreign newspaper reports. The Paris press followed the uprisings closely and was characteristically critical, with some papers calling for a League of Nations investigation. The Manchester Guardian published the following dispatch from a British reporter in Haiti three days after the Cayes massacre: The situation in Haiti, where almost the entire population is in revolt against American control... comes as no surprise to those in close touch with the affairs of the negro republic. Resentment against the American occupation has long been smouldering and needed only some minor dispute to cause it to burst into flame.

The Guardian later referred to the occupation as America’s least successful experiment in imperialism. (...)

The uprisings, especially the sensational Cayes massacre, were as disastrous as Hoover and Stimson cared to face. President Hoover, in dispatching a special commission to Haiti in Feb. 1930 stated The primary question which is to be investigated is when and how we are to withdraw from Haiti. The second question is what we shall do in the meantime... As I have stated before, I have no desire for representation of the American Government abroad through our military forces.

Subsequent American policy was to avoid further popular demonstrations at all costs and to get out of Haiti as quickly as could be done in an orderly fashion.