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Punishing the Population: The American Occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic


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Punishing the Population: The American Occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

A brief glance at the early 20th century American occupation of Haiti and the Dominican Republic tell us a great deal about America’s role in the world today. The Dominican Republic is the Western nation on the island that was named Hispaniola by Christopher Columbus, and was later split between Spanish and French rule: Santo Domingo in the west and Saint Domingue in the east. The Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804 took place in Saint Domingue, where black slaves successfully revolted against the white French slave-owners and established the first black republic in history. The country was ruled by a military dictatorship which annexed Santo Domingo in 1822. In 1844, the residents of Santo Domingo expelled the Haitians, proclaiming independence as the Dominican Republic. Thereafter, the Dominican Republic became a major sugar producer in the world, and in the latter 19th century, American financial and business interests established extensive investments in the Dominican sugar plantations. At this time, Morgan and Rockefeller corporate and financial interests had established dominance in Cuba, following the Spanish-Cuban-American War of 1898, in which the United States achieved its three main goals: expel the Spanish imperialists, crush the Cuban liberation movement, and establish absolute economic dominance of the nation. This was achieved most especially during the 1920s and 1950s, with a transition from a Morgan-dominated Cuba to a Rockefeller-dominated Cuba, leading right up to the Cuban Revolution in 1959.[1]

Theodore Roosevelt first intervened in the Dominican Republic in the early 1900s, following the insistence of an American corporation which wanted its debt repaid by the Dominican government; a corporation which happened to have extensive ties to the U.S. State Department. Roosevelt eventually announced the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which stipulated that the Western Hemisphere ‘belonged’ to the United States, and it was the duty of the United States to prevent any other powers (presumably European) from establishing hegemony over America’s “back yard.”[2]  Eventually, America’s intervention in the Dominican handed control of the nation’s finances to National City Bank of New York, which would later be controlled by the Rockefeller Group, as well as other powerful banking houses in New York. This was to be the geopolitical and economic doctrine of the United States in the region: one which ensured American hegemony over the entire Hemisphere, repressing liberation struggles, and ensuring the financial and economic dominance of the leading banking houses in America over the resource-rich world south of the United States.[3]

President Woodrow Wilson, the famous stalwart of democratic idealism and the rights of self-determination, sought to crush any hopes of democracy and self-determination in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Here, the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine was implemented: European, and especially German economic interests had near-entire control of the Haitian economy, while American economic interests had a large share of the vastly profitable sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic. Further, there were social conditions in each country which threatened the hegemony of America, with immensely unstable regimes in Haiti, which had, since the end of its revolution in the early 1800s, written into its constitution that no foreigners can own Haitian land; and in the Dominican Republic, where a weak central government was incapable of placating the Dominican nations who had been pushed aside by the sugar plantations which sought to undermine the Dominican labour movement and their refusal to take pay cuts by importing cheap Afro-Caribbean labour, most especially from Haiti.[4]

Thus, in 1915, the United States invaded and occupied Haiti until 1934, with a brutal Marine occupation resulting in the torture and murder of thousands of Haitians. Woodrow Wilson and his Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan constructed a “new order” for Haiti. William Jennings Bryan had said to close adviser three years previous, when discussing Haiti, “Dear me, think of it! Niggers speaking French.”[5] The Americans wrote a new constitution for Haiti in 1918, while under military rule, which removed the law that barred foreigners from owning Haitian land.[6] The Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time, a young Franklin D. Roosevelt, took credit for writing Haiti’s constitution, which gave preference to American corporations to buy and own Haiti’s land, as well as saying he had been “running several Caribbean republics.”[7] Later, in 1928, four years following the end of the American occupation of the Dominican Republic, Franklin Roosevelt stated, “We accomplished an excellent piece of constructive work, and the world ought to thank us.”[8] Franklin Roosevelt, long hailed as one of the greatest American Presidents in history, once referred to Latin Americans, saying, “You have to treat them like children.”[9]

The American media largely applauded the occupations of Haiti from 1915-1934 and the Dominican Republic, from 1916-1924. Several publications even called for the outright annexation of these countries to “add another star to the flag.” As the New York Times had explained in the early 1900s, commenting on Teddy Roosevelt’s strategy for the region, it was really to protect Latin Americans “against the ultimate consequences of their own misbehavior.” Between 1904 and 1919, the American press referred to Haitians and Dominicans as child-like “coons,” “mongrels,” lazy, ignorant, savage, superstitious, and “a horde of naked niggers,” as a New York daily newspaper referred specifically to the Dominicans. The papers claimed, as one correspondent did, “the Negro as a race, when left alone, is incapable of self-advancement.”[10] So, naturally, the United States had to step in and “advance” them. Just after the Haitian occupation began in 1915, one newspaper declared, “Whatever is to be done in Haiti should be done for the permanent welfare of the inhabitants,” but along those lines, you must first,  “ignore a theoretical position of sovereignty which the people of the little republic are wholly unable to maintain.”[11] Under each occupation, United States financial and corporate interests came to dominate the two countries on an unprecedented scale. The Europeans weren’t too happy about it, but they were busy with the First World War.[12]

In each country, the United States left the legacy not only of establishing economic dominance, but of creating strong central states with powerful and ruthless U.S.-trained national police and military forces.[13] When the United States left the Dominican Republic in 1924, they left a meager weak democratic regime, and the commander of the powerful and vicious U.S.-trained army, Rafael Trujillo, “a favorite of the Marine staff,” rigged the elections of 1930 and took power, establishing one of the most ruthless and brutal dictatorships of the twentieth century. Upon winning the rigged elections, Trujillo was promptly congratulated by U.S. President Hoover on his “auspicious” victory, who extended his “wishes” for the “happiness of the people of the Republic.”[14]

The American occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934, while still hailed today by some scholars as the era of Haiti’s “modernization,” was a truly brutal military occupation, resulting in the deaths of between 15-30,000 Haitians. The United States even undertook a plebiscite to “validate” their occupation (just as Napoleon had been a great fan of plebiscites), in which the U.S. came out with 99.2% of the vote. The strongest institution the United States built was of course the Haitian military. In 1957, François Duvalier took power in a rigged election and established for himself a military dictatorship lasting until his son came to power in 1971 – both known euphemistically as “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” – the latter having ruled a military dictatorship until 1986. Prior to the U.S. occupation of Haiti in 1915, there were no American corporations in the country. By 1986, there were over 300.[15]

When Franklin Roosevelt became President in 1933, he implemented his ‘Good Neighbor’ policy for the region, after which he extended immense economic and military aid to the dictatorships of the region, and specifically to Trujillo. As one American businessman declared, “We have a staunch friend in the Dominican Republic.”[16] America’s “staunch friend” then undertook a horrific massacre of Haitians in the Dominican Republic, killing up to 25,000 Haitian men, women, and children in a couple weeks. This was called the “mowing down” campaign, in which Trujillo sought to eradicate the racially inferior Haitians from the Dominican for fear of their stock reducing the purity of the Dominican population.[17] Following the massacre, Trujillo received negative international attention and comparisons were made to the other ruthless dictatorship of the era which was eradicating a specific ethnic population, Nazi Germany. Since the United States sought to maintain Trujillo as a ‘Good Neighbor’ and ‘staunch friend,’ the American government undertook a “massive public relations effort” on behalf of the Trujillo regime, which included subsidizing the writing of biographies of the tyrant extolling his ‘democratic’ and ‘humanitarian’ virtues in “glowing terms.” The campaign was also taking place inside the Dominican Republic, where there was an attempt to have Trujillo be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.[18] But the United States stuck with Trujillo, and in 1940, it paid off: the Rockefeller-dominated National City Bank “was to be designated the sole depository of all revenues and public funds of the Dominican Government.” This was, of course, hailed as a wonderful victory for Dominican independence.[19]

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.

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[1]            Rémy Herrera, “When the Names of the Emperors Were Morgan and Rockefeller… Prerevolutionary Cuba’s Dependency With Regard to U.S. High Finance,” International journal of Political Economy (Vol. 34, No. 4, Winter 2004-05), pages 29-37, 46.

[2]            Cyrus Veeser, “Inventing Dollar Diplomacy: The Gilded-Age Origins of the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 27, No. 3, June 2003), pages 309-314.

[3]            Ibid, pages 315-323.

[4]            Samuel Maritnez, “From Hidden Hand to Heavy Hand: Sugar, the State, and Migrant Labor in Haiti and the Dominican Republic,” Latin American Research Review (Vol. 34, No. 1, 1999), pages 60-66.

[5]            Scott H. Olsen, “Reverend L. Ton Evans and the United States Occupation of Haiti,” Caribbean Studies (Vol. 26, No. 1/2, 1993), pages 34-35.

[6]            Magdaline W. Shannon, “The U.S. Commission for the Study and Review of Conditions in Haiti and Its Relationship to President Hoover’s Latin American Policy,” Caribbean Studies (Vol. 15, No. 4, January 1976), page 56.

[7]            Scott H. Olsen, “Reverend L. Ton Evans and the United States Occupation of Haiti,” Caribbean Studies (Vol. 26, No. 1/2, 1993), pages 40-41.

[8]            Raymond H. Pulley, “The United States and the Trujillo Dictatorship, 1933-1940: The High Price of Caribbean Stability,” Caribbean Studies (Vol. 5, No. 3, October 1965), pages 23-24.

[9]            Max Paul Friedman, “Retiring the Puppets, Bringing Latin America Back In: Recent Scholarship on United States-Latin American Relations,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 27, No. 5, November 2003), page 623.

[10]            John W. Blassingame, “The Press and American Intervention in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, 1904-1920,” Caribbean Studies (Vol. 9, No. 2, July 1969), pages 28-30.

[11]            Ibid, pages 36-37.

[12]            Michiel Baud, “The Origins of Capitalist Agriculture in the Dominican Republic,” Latin American Research Review (Vol. 22, No. 2, 1987), pages 148-149.

[13]            Samuel Maritnez, “From Hidden Hand to Heavy Hand: Sugar, the State, and Migrant Labor in Haiti and the Dominican Republic,” Latin American Research Review (Vol. 34, No. 1, 1999), pages 67-69.

[14]            Raymond H. Pulley, “The United States and the Trujillo Dictatorship, 1933-1940: The High Price of Caribbean Stability,” Caribbean Studies (Vol. 5, No. 3, October 1965), pages 22-23.

[15]            Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood: Haiti and the Politics of Containment (Verso, New York: 2007), pages 14-15.

[16]            Raymond H. Pulley, “The United States and the Trujillo Dictatorship, 1933-1940: The High Price of Caribbean Stability,” Caribbean Studies (Vol. 5, No. 3, October 1965), pages 23-24.

[17]            Samuel Maritnez, “From Hidden Hand to Heavy Hand: Sugar, the State, and Migrant Labor in Haiti and the Dominican Republic,” Latin American Research Review (Vol. 34, No. 1, 1999), page 70.

[18]            Raymond H. Pulley, “The United States and the Trujillo Dictatorship, 1933-1940: The High Price of Caribbean Stability,” Caribbean Studies (Vol. 5, No. 3, October 1965), page 26.

[19]            Ibid, pages 29-30.

 

 

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  1. [...] Punishing the Population: The American Occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic [...]

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