U.S. marines occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. By 1919, Haitian Charlemagne Péralte had organized more than a thousand cacos, or armed guerrillas, to militarily oppose the marine occupation. The marines responded to the resistance with a counterinsurgency campaign that razed villages, killed thousands of Haitians, and destroyed the livelihoods of even more. In 1926 the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) organized a committee to look into conditions in Haiti and offer alternatives to the American policy of routinely sending in the marines.
Haiti constitutes a clear challenge to all who believe in the fundamental principle upon which the United States is founded, that government should rest upon the consent of the governed.
The United States is at the parting of the roads. There has been for some time a drift toward imperialism, a movement veiled and therefore the more dangerous, dangerous to the liberty of our neighbors, dangerous to our own democracy.
Our relations with Latin America are poisoned by the feelings roused by several instances of this imperialistic tendency on the part of the United States, and of all these instances our actions in Haiti are perhaps the most flagrant.
Is it possible to give fair and dispassionate attention to the facts in regard to Haiti set forth, not merely in this and other unofficial reports, but in official publications, and not feel that the restoration of the independence of Haiti is binding on the United States, as both a moral and a legal obligation?
From the point of view of United States interests, in the most “hard-boiled” sense, there is little to be said for the continuance of our Occupation of Haiti. American investments there have in general not proved a source of legitimate profits, but of loss, and there is now nothing to justify, from the selfish point of view, the continued expenditure of United States money in administering the country.
From the point of view of Haiti’s interests, it is not true that we are in Haiti solely as disinterested benefactors, nor that we can show clean hands in our business dealings there. If our officials have tried to benefit the people of Haiti, (as we believe they have), it is also true that the Occupation has cared for American financial interests there, of a none too creditable sort, at the expense of our poor and weak neighbors.
Happily it is not the case that the United States is confined to the alternative of either occupying Haiti, or else regarding her necessities with indifference and unconcern. It is perfectly possible to be a good neighbor and help Haiti to attain health, education, public improvements and public order, by other less drastic, and ultimately more effective methods than military control.
The authors of this report believe that the Occupation should be ended for the sake of Haiti, for the sake of the United States, and especially for the sake of good relations among all American republics, and finally because it is in itself an unjustified use of power.
In April, 1926, Senator William H. King, of Utah, one of the original members of the Senate Committee of Inquiry on Haiti and Santo Domingo under Senator Medill McCormick, presented Senate Resolution 202, which was later referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs.
This resolution is preceded by a long preamble setting forth the situation, and reads as follows:
Resolved, That the Committee on Foreign Relations is directed to consider the
statements and claims herein set forth and report to the Senate measures which shall permit the Haitian people to set up and establish a government of their own choice, and assume control of their own Government and their own civil and political affairs, and which shall provide for the withdrawal from Haiti of all military forces of the United States and all officers—military, naval, and otherwise except only regularly accredited diplomatic representatives or consular agents as may be agreed upon by the Government of the United States and the Government of the Haitian Republic.
It looks at this writing as though this proposal to enable Haitians to resume control of their own Government might not encounter any substantial opposition, (at least openly), and might have an unexpectedly easy victory.
To sum up the conclusions of the authors of this report, their impression of the present American administration is that its directing officials are honest, able and aiming to serve the people of Haiti, and that cruelty, abuse of personal power and violence seem to have been substantially stopped, and the whole tone of the administration immensely improved over what it was at certain periods since 1915.
The determining element in the situation, however, is the fact that it rests on force. This affects its character throughout. It tends to make the Occupation officials high-handed, careless of the law and, above all, contemptuous. It makes American rule deeply repugnant to all Haitians that still prize the independence that they have suffered so much to win and maintain.
Although the maintenance of the Occupation is constantly excused on the ground that its object is to help Haitians in the fundamental matter of self-government, it is at best doubtful whether it is not doing quite the opposite.
Our officials are setting up elaborate financial and administrative mechanisms which Haitians are not yet sufficiently advanced to manage by themselves. We are training them to subordinate themselves, and work under others, who take the responsibility. We are teaching them to accept military control as the supreme law, and to acquiesce in the arbitrary use of superior power. They are not permitted to elect representatives, nor to convene a National Assembly.
Haitians themselves complain that a generation is growing up without any political experience or habit of political responsibility or initiative, and that the government was never so militarized.
Certain specific recommendations follow:
A. Restoration of Independence and Self-Government.
I. The Treaty officials should be withdrawn and actual self-government restored as soon as affairs can be got into such a shape as to make it practicable to evacuate the country.
B. General Interim Provisions.
I. A small commission should be appointed to go to Haiti, and there work out a program for the first stage of the transition, in cooperation with the men who would effect such transition, namely, leaders of the Haitians themselves, and the American representatives in Haiti.
a. At the earliest date compatible with the Constitution, that is in 1928, elections should be held to choose Senators and Deputies as well as communal officials.
The electoral law should be modified by the Council of State, under its legislative powers, so as to secure free and secret balloting, and the United States authorities should of course abstain from any interference beyond securing the conditions for fair elections.
3. When a National Assembly has been elected, and so long as Treaty officials are still in Haiti, opportunities should be given at stated intervals for interpellation in parliament of American officials of all ranks on all matters affecting Haiti.
4. We urge the demilitarization of the American administration while it lasts, and the withdrawal of the Marines with the exception of a small body for possible emergencies. Military control of civilian affairs is the worst possible model for Haiti. It is no reflection on the present military head of the Occupation that we urge replacing him by a civilian. We advocate such a step for its effect on Haitian feeling, and for the sake of the whole tone of civilian as opposed to military methods.
5. We recommend the replacement of most of the American non-commissioned marine officers in the Gendarmerie by
(a) Haitians trained for these posts,
(b) Where suitable Haitians are not available, commissioned officers from the United States Marine Corps.
By the time that evacuation takes place the bulk of the officers in the Gendarmerie should be Haitians, and the civilian functions in the communes should be in the hands of civilians and not gendarmes.
6. United States officials should be instructed to respect all court decisions as well as all the provisions of the Treaty, and Constitution. We realize that the contrary practice may have been based on a real regard for substantial justice and the welfare of the Haitian people, but we cannot think that a system of arbitrary personal government, directed by a personal judgment of what ought to be done, is a good preparation for the constitutional, law-abiding government that Haiti needs to develop.
7. As to preventive imprisonment, we strongly urge that the American authorities be instructed to use all proper methods open to them to put an end to the practice of “preventive imprisonment,” and to secure the adoption into Haitian law of the principle of Habeas Corpus. They should also use their good offices to secure the release of the political prisoners now in prison.
8. United States officials in Haiti should be advised (if this has not already been done) to be scrupulous in showing as full official courtesy and respect to Haitians as would be shown under the same circumstances to people of a white race.
Above all in the selection of persons to be sent to Haiti from now on, an effort should be made to send only such as will refuse, they and their families, to “draw the color line.” It is obviously impossible to have normal relations or fruitful cooperation with a population which is treated as of an inferior caste.
The Haitian people have a century of complete independence behind them, won by their own unaided efforts. They are accustomed in France, the country with which they have the most contact, to enjoy complete social equality. They are a very high spirited, sensitive and proud people. Though the vast majority are illiterate peasants trained by tradition, not schools, those who are cultivated are often highly trained and brilliant men of the world, diplomats, writers and professional men. The impression made by the current American attitude must be felt to be appreciated.
C. Financial Interim Provisions.
1. The Protocol of 1919 provides that an American Receiver General of Customs is to be maintained till the loan is extinguished, which it must be by 1952 or sooner. An agreement could probably be reached with the bondholders for some modification of this arrangement whereby their interests would be fully protected in some form acceptable to Haiti, and compatible with Haitian independence.
2. The Banque Nationale and the National City Bank should be asked to pay the market rate of interest on government deposits, which they do not now do. If this request is not complied with, as large a part of the government deposits as possible should be transferred to other banks which will pay the market rate of interest thereon.
3. The State Department of the United States should make every effort to resist in behalf of Haiti the claims of the Haitian-American Sugar Company (“Hasco”) for the payment by the Haitian government of alleged deficits in the operation, since 1916, of the Plaine de Cul de Sac Railway.
4. The wharfage, electric light and street railway franchises should be cancelled at as early a date as possible.
5. There should be no further grants of exclusive concessions.
6. Savings banks and agricultural credit are needed, and efforts should be made to develop them as rapidly as possible.
7. Disquieting rumors are abroad of pressure in favor of establishing gambling places as an attraction to tourists. We emphatically protest against such a plan.
Source: Emily Greene Balch, ed., Occupied Haiti (New York: The Writers Publishing Company, Inc., 1927), 149–161.