The American Occupation Of Haiti


By Robert Debs Heinl and Nancy Gordon Heinl - Originally Published January 1979

This account of the conclusion of the U.S. occupation of Haiti is the final installment of a three-part series condensed from the book, WRITTEN IN BLOOD: The Story of the Haitian People, 1492-1971, by Robert Debs Heinl and Nancy Gordon Heinl, published by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. Copyright © by Robert Debs Heinl Jr. and Nancy Gordon Heinl.

As the decade of the 1920's neared its end, the U.S. occupation of Haiti seemed to have become an established part of the order of things both in Port-au-Prince and in the Caribbean policies of the United States. Unforeseen in Haiti or in Washington, however, political and economic forces were already at work, which would end America's intensive effort at nation-building in the West Indies, and also end one of the most engrossing and romantic periods of foreign service for the Marine Corps.

The Agricultural Extension and Teaching Service (always called "the Service Technique" by Americans and Haitians alike), organized in 1923, was no mere agricultural extension program as known in Kansas. It was an attempt to make good an inexplicable omission in the original occupation treaties, failure to include public education in the scope of U.S. authority.

In 1915 when the Marines arrived, Haiti already had two school systems: the network of graft-engulfed government schools, mainly nonexistent save on paper, manned if at all by illiterate spoilsmen; and the flourishing, mainly Catholic, religious schools, exclusive preserve of the predominantly mulatre (mulatto) elite, except for a few parish schools in which backcountry French priests imparted smatterings to a few thousand noir (black) peasant children.

No matter by whom conducted, education in Haiti had and still has unique problems. Haiti's peasants were apathetic. Its elite rightly feared uncontrollable social consequences resulting from enlightenment of noir masses. In the 1920's, they also feared, with reason, that those masses could readily bestow greater loyalty on white Marines, who were demonstrably bettering their lives, than on Haitian masters who exploited them. The almost insoluble two-language problem of Haiti was another obstacle. Teachers persisted in using French, language of social distinction, rather than the Creole dialect alone understandable to noir pupils. And teachers in Haiti were and remain among the poorest paid of all public servants.

Behind these barriers to enlarged education lay one more. Clutching at any shred of power not monopolized by the U.S. occupation, Haitian politicians rallied to education as a national redoubt against further foreign encroachment.

The Americans for their part saw Haitian education as hopelessly misdirected, preparing elite children for white-collar jobs that did not exist, turning out swarms of lawyers and other professionals while shunning vocational training so desperately needed. These very perceptions had long been accepted by thoughtful Haitians, one of whom had written in 1915: "Our school system constitutes a real social danger."

How insoluble the problem really was may be questioned. Keeping peasants ignorant supported the interests, conformed to the natural inclinations and quieted the insecurities of the elite. Regardless of how correctly the Americans perceived the situation their solution was foredoomed, and in a fashion which would do much to bring down the entire occupation.

To head the Service Technique, which was not merely a means toward agricultural improvement but also the vehicle for a third competing school system aimed at the masses, the civilian director, Dr. George F. Freeman, was a poor pick. Assessing Freeman in late 1929, British Minister John Magowan wrote:

Dr. Freeman's Service Technique has not a friend in the island. He himself is regarded even by the Americans as of doubtful competence:... his previous career as well as his six years in Hayti furnish, it is said, no evidence of suitability for any post demanding initiative, resource, tact, and organizing ability as well as theoretical knowledge... His personnel is made up to a great extent of men and women who neither speak a word of French nor have any special qualifications as "experts," but who have been dumped upon the unfortunate Haytian budget at unnecessarily high salaries.

Magowan's verdict (especially his identification of what could be called an AID-mission syndrome before its time, with high-paid foreign "experts" incapable of disclosing their insights save through interpreters) is confirmed by a cloud of witnesses.

The fuze that was to detonate the coming explosion the blancs (whites) had so unwittingly prepared had been lighted in 1925.

That year, a young scion of the elite who was pursuing engineering at Zurich had delighted the anti-American Union Patriotique by a fiery letter asking to be enrolled. This brilliant young mulatre was of one of Haiti's finest families. His name was Jacques Roumain. When he came home in 1927, he flung himself into the intellectual resistance as a writer. In 1928, he founded Le Petit Impartial, calling itself "Organ of the Masses" and specifically the voice of a student group, Ligue de la Jeunesse Patriote Haitienne (League of Young Haitian Patriots) brought into being by Roumain. What was then known to few Haitians and no Americans was that Roumain had been recruited in France by the Communist Party.

The time was ripe for Roumain, his ideas and those of the volatile elite students he set out to politicize. Reporting in mid-1929, a U.S. officer in the Garde commented: "These people, mostly aged up to 22 years, are ANTI-EVERYTHING. Their attitude is strictly and all that might have caused the present condition of Haitian politics. They are against their parents, the Government, the opposition, and the Occupation."

After 14 years' occupation (including two terms under President Borno, whom his fellow elite particularly disliked because of his pragmatic collaboration with the Americans), this was the mood of a class whose parental bases of self-respect and pride, identification with French culture and condescension alike toward American materialism and ignorant noir peasant culture, had been so undercut by events.

The Service Technique show window was its Central School of Agriculture at Damien. Here, in a program intended to create a cadre of teachers, students were taught agronomy. In the way of things in Haiti, and more particularly because such studies required literacy and prior preparation, the students came from elite families, though usually with small appetite for the dunghill side of agriculture (let alone going out into the country to teach peasant noirs). To overcome such reservations, there had been adopted a system of scholarships (bourses), whereby each student received the not-inconsiderable sum of $25 a month and, as Dr. Freeman later said, "was virtually hired to go by means of scholarships." This incentive notwithstanding, the elite students concentrated on academic work while hired peasants dug ditches, cleaned stables, slopped hogs and shoveled manure.

The above arrangement might have gone on indefinitely but for the fact that 1928 was a bad year for coffee (Haiti's main money crop), and 1929 ended as a bad year for everything. These circumstances led to a series of financial cutbacks for the U.S. occupation, of which the Service Technique had to accept its share.

Like most previous Haitian presidents, Louis Borno, as his second term waned in 1929, became increasingly reluctant to stand down. He also (despite earlier promises for a 1930 popular election) had doubts, shared by Gen Russell and Washington policy-makers, as to whether Haiti was ready for a completely free election. This word, spread by rumor and then confirmed by Borno in October 1929, provoked a storm of protest. This soon hardened into a violent anti-Borno campaign that in its nature was automatically antioccupation and antiAmerican.

It was at the height of this uproar that Dr. Freeman, confronted by a need to reallocate funds, made a three-way decision: to reduce the money set aside for student bourses at Damien, to divert this money to peasant students at experimental stations in the interior and to take up the resulting slack at Damien by requiring that students do their own rural labor rather than hiring peasants as in the past.

As Minister Magowan reported to London, "Dr. Freeman's motives were doubtless sound," but on the other hand, as Gen Russell wrote, - "The proposition of being paid less or not at all to attend school for a free education displeased the students." Displeased is mild. Stung simultaneously in pocketbook and pride, the students were outraged.

On 31 October, all 215 students at Damien, accompanied by Haitian instructors, struck and trooped into town, thus launching the first serious disturbance in Haiti in nearly a decade.

Within less than 10 days, the elated schoolboys, inflamed by Roumain and the opposition to President Borno, were being treated like heroes. Backed by sympathy strikes in the American-run industrial school in Port-au-Prince, in the schools of law, medicine and applied science, as well as the normal school, "the action of the students," reported Magowan, "was lauded to the skies as signifying the re-awakening of the Haytian national soul. Assemblies were held at which flaming orations were declaimed; street processions and demonstrations were organized."

Strikes were quickly orchestrated at Cap Haitien (where schoolchildren refused to salute the flag at morning colors), at Jacmel, Gonaives and St. Marc. As November wore on, Port-au-Prince was plagued by demonstrations, mobs and spot strikes at the national bank, by stevedores and by the ever-turbulent customhouse employees (douaniers).

The reaction of the authorities, with Gen Russell applying brakes at every step, was initially restrained. Parade permits were freely issued to strikers (though parade routes selected by the Garde took barefoot students through the hottest, narrowest and flintiest cobbled streets, an expedient that tended to make parades melt away). As the strike changed from a schoolboy disturbance into a general protest against the U.S. occupation, the authorities became less sanguine. Russell, who three weeks earlier had no qualms, on 3 December telegraphed Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson:


While Stimson and Washington officials fussed over Russell's request (and suspected he had lost his head), events moved swiftly. Within 12 hours after the U.S. high commissioner asked for troops, on the morning of 4 December, the douaniers walked out, in the process manhandling the American collector of customs. When the latter hit back, the douaniers rampaged, breaking furniture, throwing inkwells, smashing typewriters and bashing another American with a steel crowbar when he tried to phone the police. As crowds gathered in the streets, employees at the nearby U.S. financial adviser's office joined the strike. At two that afternoon, Russell, again very much the general despite his civilian clothes, reactivated martial law throughout the country, ordered the Marine brigade to take charge of Port-au-Prince, and attached the Garde to the brigade as an additional regiment.

Elite protest against the occupation found an immediate echo in the south, specifically in Les Cayes, Jacmel, Miragoane and the Goaves. The day the douaniers erupted in the capital, stevedores and douaniers at Cayes halted unloading of all ships.

Next morning, 5 December, the Marine commander of the Garde at Cayes reported "disturbances rapidly getting out of hand." Soon afterward telephone lines were cut (as were lines leading into Jacmel, where intelligence reported landing of a shipment of weapons from Guatemala). American women and children were assembled in the Garde barracks at Cayes, a Marine platoon was entrucked for the eight-hour run from Port-au-Prince and, meanwhile, a section of scout bombers was flown from Bowen Field at Port-au-Prince to make dummy passes over Cayes and drop 25-pound bombs into the bay offshore.

Amid these disturbing developments, the peasants of the farmland around Cayes, hardpressed by the poor coffee harvest and resentful of higher taxes on rum (and of the opening of a competing distillery in Port-au-Prince, which had cut into profits on local rum) had grievances of their own for which agitators from the towns provided slogans. At Torbeck and Chantal, outside Cayes, noir mobs armed with sticks, machetes and spears and chanting "Down with Borno! Down with Freeman!," all but overran tiny Garde substations. Fueled with rum, hatred of the town and expectations of loot, they also marched, as so often in the past century, against Les Cayes.

Outside Cayes, the large mob encountered a section of Marines with an automatic weapon. For a half hour the 1,500 peasants milled, hurled stones and tried without success to creep past in the cane, then twice turned back when the 20 Marines fired overhead. A leader, stepping forward across the narrow interval, suddenly grappled with and bit a Marine. As another Marine prodded the assailant off with his bayonet, the peasants charged. This time, the Marines fired for effect, expending 600 rounds. Abandoning 12 dead and 23 wounded, the mob evaporated.

This, as the American press quickly dubbed it, was the "Cayes Massacre." That a handful of Marines (a "firing squad" Under Secretary of State J. P. Cotton overheatedly called them) finally had to fire in self-defense against overwhelming odds was beside the point.

Just as in the case of the Boston Massacre (where even a colonial jury eventually acquitted British redcoats on grounds of justifiable homicide), the issue went beyond justification. The killing of a single Haitian, let alone 12 Haitians, by a single Marine or by 20, was at this juncture an event the occupation could not stand, because in the later words of Dean Acheson, "A free people cannot long steel itself to dominate another people by force."2

On 7 December, as the strike collapsed in face of the Marines' show of force and a round of flag-showing by the venerable cruiser Galveston sent over from Guantanamo Bay, U.S. President Hoover (who since inauguration in March 1929 had been searching for a way to get out of Haiti) asked Congress to establish a commission to determine "When and how we are to withdraw from Haiti... and what we shall do in the meantime."

Within a fortnight martial law and curfew were lifted, papers were again published, the Damien dispute - which, almost overlooked at the end, had been narrowed to trivia - was settled and Dr. Freeman was on his way out. "Throughout the Republic," Minister Magowan wrote in epilogue, "order is good and spirits calm."3

Back in 1915, at the beginning of the occupation, Adm Caperton had written his friend, Chief of Naval Operations Adm W. S. Benson: "For the love of anything good or bad, do not send any politicians down here yet awhile. I would like to say, never send them." Fifteen years later, the old admiral's nightmare was being realized.

On 7 February 1930, Herbert Hoover named a five-man Commission for the Study and Review of Conditions in Haiti. Just as no lawyer calls a witness whose testimony he does not know, few Presidents convene commissions whose findings have not been settled in advance. This one headed by W. Cameron Forbes, a distinguished Boston lawyer, former governor-general of the Philippines, and recognized colonial expert, was no exception. As Forbes confided wryly to his diary, what his mission was to be "had been laid out for me in no uncertain terms."

Mr. Hoover, a Quaker humanitarian by background, had come to the Presidency with little sympathy for U.S. Caribbean politico-military policies. In Hoover's own words when he instructed the Forbes Commission, "I have no desire for representation of the American government abroad by our military forces."4

Hoover's concerns were not entirely abstract. The United States was already five years into the tedious mini-Vietnam of Nicaragua. As The Times of London correctly observed, "Haiti is a stick, in habitual use throughout Central and South America, with which to belabor the United States."

Besides its able chairman, the Commission consisted of Henry P. Fletcher, former career diplomat and briefly Under Secretary of State; EHe Vezina, Quebec-born Catholic publicist; James Kerney, editor and publisher of the Trenton (N.J.) Times; and William Allen White, the gusty liberal Republican editor of the Emporia (Kan.) Gazette. No member of the group had ever seen Haiti.

After a 10-knot passage down from Key West aboard cruiser Rochester, veteran of the Spanish War and many a banana war, the Commission (in full ambassadorial rig, tophats, tailcoats and striped pants) debarked on 28 February. Hatless under the blazing afternoon sun throughout national anthems and gun salutes, the commissioners then received a welcome address by the mayor and were at length conveyed to the American legation and thence, finally, to their headquarters. "The populace," reported Minister Magowan:

...had been wrought upon effectively by the opposition, and the streets were thronged throughout the afternoon. Processions with placards calling for legislative elections and the restoration of national sovereignty were organised in the quarter lying between the wharf and the National Palace.

One newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, had an English edition for the visitors stating the opposition case. "The counter-case," Magowan reminded the Foreign Office, "is of course to point to the history of the Republic, but that is not understood to be relevant at present."

The next afternoon, Gen and Mrs. Russell held a reception for the Commission, a function ostentatiously boycoted by a number of invited Haitians. Although invitations required no acknowledgement, some recipients (as well as others not even invited) chose the columns of La Presse to print uncalled-for replies whose tenor and rudeness can be judged from that of Jacques Roumain: "Le negre Jacques Roumain ne daigne pas frequenter les blances" (Nigger Jacques Roumain doesn't deign to associate with whites.).

The Forbes Commission, White House marching orders in hand, took 12 days' testimony, and largely surrendered proceedings to the opposition. The lopsided nature of the hearings may be gauged from the following: Charges against the occupation were heard in every case by the full Commission, but rebuttals, when heard at all, were taken by single commissioners or staff; no U.S. official was allowed to appear as witness during the first week of proceedings; no opportunity to crossexamine witnesses or publicly refute charges was ever accorded Gen Russell; and 90 per cent of the hearing time was allocated to opposition voices. When, toward the end, a delegation from the Borno Party appeared to testify in favor of the U.S. occupation, the respected spokesman, Col Auguste Nemours, was told there would be no need for a formal statement, because "the Commission had already made up its mind."

As the Commission's tilt became evident, fulsome praise and applause echoed throughout Port-au-Prince. The one substantive task that still remained was to devise constitutional machinery whereby incumbent President Louis Borno could be eased out and a provisional successor (jointly selected by the Commission and by representatives of Haitian factions) eased in. On 14 April, it was agreed that Eugene Roy, a highly regarded elite exchange broker, would be duly elected and would succeed Borno on 15 May 1930.

There remained only the communique and press release, the final calls and, of course, the report to be written as Rochester chuffed northward. Considering that its findings and chief recommendations had already been arrived at in Washington before the authors ever saw Haiti, it is no surprise that the report itself was largely a recitation of superficialities blurred by internal contradictions. But its main thrust was clear enough. The United States should liquidate the occupation of Haiti as expeditiously as possible, meanwhile rapidly "Haitianizing" treaty services and the Garde and reducing American interference in Haiti's internal affairs. The first step in this process would be to wind up the office of the U.S. high commissioner and replace the Marine general with an American minister. For Russell's 13 years of selfless labor in and for Haiti, the report had only condescending praise. It noted his "wholehearted and single-minded devotion to the interests of Haiti, as he conceived them."5

When the commissioners reached Washington, they went in a body to President Hoover, who after leafing through the report, said, "This seems to be along the lines I would like to move. I think we might accept it now."

To his credit, Forbes replied that "the Commission harbored no illusions, that I thought we had offered a palliative and not a remedy. That conditions were fundamentally unsound in Haiti and that we did not feel that after all these changes had been made there was any guarantee that a new government would be able to carry on."

The onesidedness and bias of the proceedings and report, as well as the accompanying press coverage, were deeply wounding to Gen Russell and to many Marines who had worked so hard for Haiti. As The New York Times reported a year later (28 June 1931), Russell's rebuttal to the commission, which he asked to be made public, was withheld from the press and ignored in the report, because it was "controversial" or, as The Times said, "because it would have been politically disturbing in the United States."

On 26 May 1931, Russell sent the Secretary of State a final 31-page reclama for the record. Well-constructed, buttressed with chapter and verse, in places devastating, this powerful paper rightly lays at the doorstep of American policy the shortcomings of the United States in Haiti. When Under Secretary Cotton (who from first to last had undercut both the Marines and Gen Russell) read it, he noted: "This report should go to the Secretary, and then be locked up."6 As if in echo, a British analyst had commented: "Hayti is sorely troubling to the American conscience... The United States has got itself into a most unfortunate mess." On the margin, a Foreign Office reader who evidently knew his Haiti, penciled, "One need not wonder at the result of a visit to the Augean Stables."

In 1891, telling Paris about an ecclesiastic contest then going on in Haiti between certain French Catholic orders and those whose origin was Spanish, then French Minister Flesch set out some penetrating observations on the nearexclusively French Catholic Church: "The secular clergy of this country are composed exclusively of French priests, every man imbued with warmest love of country and therefore strongly inclined to profess that the interests of France and of the Catholic Church are inseparable in the Black Republic."

Thus perhaps it was no accident that the Breton clergy in the north of Haiti had been early identified by Marine officers as stumbling blocks to the spread of U.S. influence. In 1917, a quarter-century later, Flesch's successor, Minister de la Batie, reported: "The Clergy have been in no hurry to welcome the Americans joyfully, and continue to fear the advent of Protestantism."

That similar reservations were entertained by the French government had been promptly made clear in October 1915 when France anxiously asked assurance that the United States had no plans to undermine present and future French influences in Haiti, specifically including "the ecclesiastical hierachy and the French clergy."

During the first decade of U.S. occupation, France had pursued a waiting policy in regard to Haiti. This was the period when the Service Technique took shape, whether so intended or not, as an American challenge to French and Catholic educational and cultural influences in Haiti, thus generating head-on collision between the Breton priests who ran Haiti's schools and parishes and the practical men, largely Protestant, who worked for Dr. Freeman. While these specialists maintained they were merely agricultural and vocational advisers, the Service Technique cut squarely across the grain of French Catholic education. The result, whose symptoms first appeared in 1927, was underground opposition by the Church to the American presence and all its works.

By 1929, opposition became less subterranean. The Church's support for the striking students was well known, and intelligence reports came to Gen Russell that the French legation had been suborning both priests and strikers. These developments coincided with the arrival in 1929 of a new French minister, Ferdinand Wiett, who soon began making openly antioccupation speeches to various groups.

When the Forbes Commission arrived, the Church unmasked her batteries. The French Archbishop of Haiti, backed by his assistant, told the commission that Haiti was jealous of her liberty and had not known it since the Americans came. In the Archbishop's words, "the clergy will rejoice with all their hearts when the present situation is ended."

As British Minister Magowan reported, "The Americans regarded it as something between a stab in the back and a contemptuous kick adminstered to General Russell... since that time I have observed a certain tension in relations of the official Americans here with the ecclesiastical authorities and the French legation."

Why did France sabotage the American occupation?

One answer would be that irredentism impelled Paris, the Church its surrogate, to sabotage U.S. incursion (much as France did in South Vietnam) into a one-time French preserve.

The proximate cause, however, was the Service Technique, which uniquely provoked the Bourbon displeasure of France, the Church and the elite, all of whose intersecting interests it tactlessly threatened and, because it did, launched the events that were to end the U.S. occupation of Haiti.

No party quite knew how to end the Borno regime (or, more largely the occupation) with dignity, let alone grace. As the opposition maneuvered in flagrant bad faith to kick out Borno immediately, the latter made one final attempt to clutch the power that was slipping away. At that point in April, with only a month of the president's term to go, Gen Russell, for the last time, used his iron hand, telling his old friend and faithful collaborator that, if matters came to it, the United States would simply install Eugene Roy as the successor president on inauguration day.

On 15 May 1930, Haiti had its third constitutional change of power in 126 years. Roy took the oath of office, then went to the Cathedral through cheering streets for a very grand Te Deum such as the hierarchy had never given his very Catholic predecessor, and returned to the National Palace where, with full honors and gun salutes, Borno received the new president and took his leave. In the streets, he was roundly booed by the crowds that had acclaimed Roy. Gen Russell left Port-au-Prince without pomp or fanfare. By his own request, his honor guard and escort were composed entirely of U.S. Marines, with no participation by the Garde he had done so much to shape.

Six months later, Stenio Vincent, a strongly nationalistic and anti-American candidate, was elected permanent president to succeed Eugene Roy, and the windup of the occupation began.

It had been the U.S. expectation that the remaining period of occupation and tutelage would be devoted to a nicely regulated, finetuned, orderly return of authority to carefully prepared Haitian officials until the year 1936 when the treaty expired. Vain hope. The Vincent regime felt obligated to repudiate Borno and all his works. The best way to publicize this policy was noncooperation with the Americans.

Fortunately more progress in Haitianization had already been made by Gen Russell and the Marines than the Forbes Commission had taken the trouble to find out. It was good that this solid groundwork had been completed, because little more could be accomplished in any constructive spirit. Thus wind-down became one long wrangle in which it seemed increasingly advantageous to Haitians to provoke controversy, because they knew they could make the exercise of U.S. treaty rights profitless and bothersome. The essential steps that remained, while Haitianization went ahead, were negotiation of a new treaty to replace its odious predecessor of 1915, and the drafting of a new constitution to replace that more or less dictated by the United States in 1918.

Constitution came easier than treaty. A draft enacted in 1932 with cosmetic treatment of old provisions, went through without difficulty. But there was a great row on which, on a tide of nationalism, the assembly rejected a treaty signed between the two governments. The way out was to negotiate the essentials - Haitianization of the Garde, stand-down of the Marines and future fiscal controls - in terms least offensive to national pride, and set out the result in an executive agreement not subject to legislative ratification. Norman Armour, the new American minister, was able to get through such an agreement, signed 7 August 1933, which in effect ended the occupation.

On 5 July 1934, Franklin D. Roosevelt, old Haitian hand that he was, became the first U.S. President to visit Haiti when he put in at the Cap aboard the cruiser Houston en route to Panama and thence the Pacific.

The President, clad in a white pongee suit, left the handsome, bunting-decked cruiser (which in eight years would be shot to pieces in a final stand against a Japanese squadron) and debarked over the wharf where Vincent awaited. The temperature was close to 100 degrees. After what FDR later said was the longest walk he had made since being stricken, the two presidents drove through dense crowds to the Union Club, where, amid toasts drunk, at Roosevelt's request, not in champagne but in that greatest of rums, five-star Barbancourt, the memorandum of understanding was agreed to. Then not forgetting a special word with the two Haitians who had been his interpreters in his 1917 visit, Roosevelt delivered a short speech in Harvard College French and returned to the Houston. His pongee coat, Armour recalled, was now wringing wet.

The main result of the historic meeting was that U.S. Marines would be out of Haiti by midAugust.

Already, orders had been cut dispersing the American officers of the Garde to far corners such as San Diego, Bremerton, Quantico, Shanghai and Peking. By authority of Washington, the Marines left behind the American weapons, ammunition and military equipment with which, on long-term loan, the Garde had been equipped. On 7 July 1934, the Chief of Naval Operations radioed Col Louis McCarty Little, the brigade commander:


Soon afterward, supply ships began shuttling out forward echelons of the brigade and its gear. On 28 July (accompanied in many cases by faithful Haitian servants) the last of the wives and children and pets - notably including the Alsatian boxer, Bagaille, who survived for many happy years in the family of Col C. B. Vogel, last U.S. commandant of the Garde - sailed aboard USS Chateau Thierry.

Nineteen years to the moment since American Marines set about taking over Haiti, on 1 August as ordered, while President Vincent, the cabinet, Norman Armour and 10,000 Haitians watched, a smart battalion of the Garde d'Haiti swung onto the Champs de Mars in Port-au-Prince to the lilt of "Angelico," the traditional Haitian tune, played on drums and bugles. There Col Demosthenes Calixte, one of the first Haitian officers of the Garde, proudly accepted command from Col Vogel.

On 14 August before sunset (it had rained throughout the day but no matter), with a company of the Garde facing a company of Marines on opposite sides of the flagpole, the American colors came down for the last time at brigade headquarters while the band played "The StarSpangled Banner" and Ft. National boomed out 21 guns. Then, to the inexpressible joy of Haiti, as 21 more guns and the "Dessalinienne" (Haiti's national anthem) rang out, the cherished scarlet and blue, flag of Haiti rose to the peak and billowed grandly in the evening breeze.

Next morning at eight, the Marines paraded for the last time. Then behind a Garde band that in 19 years had well learned "Semper Fidelis," and "The Halls of Montezuma," they marched down to the waiting transports.

What many Haitians made of it was expressed in Le Temps in a measured and generous verdict:

No sentiment of enmity was manifested on the occasion of the departure of the Marines, either here or at Cap Haitien. The military occupation had so tempered itself that it became unnoticed... There was no longer more than a suffering of patriotic pride, of wounded national self-esteem, for the occupation had long since ceased to intervene in private life or private interests, and there remains nothing for which we can reproach the Marines.

Once again, 131 years since the French left in 1803, yet so differently, the blancs leave, and it is proper to ask what they left behind.

Haiti before 1915 had been isolated from the surrounding world for more than a century. Thus the overriding impact of American occupation was modernization. Yet the essential Haiti had been changed so little. In only 19 years, little enough should have been expected. The Americans, reversing the cliche that the United States always tries to "export democracy," had laid no foundations - were not really allowed to lay foundations - for Haitians to rule themselves save in old ways. Writing bleakly to Forbes in 1930, Russell went to the heart of it:

While tremendous advances have been made in the material rehabilitation of Haiti, and the happiness and prosperity of the mass of the Haitian people have been decidedly increased, the Haitian people are, today, but little better fitted for self-government than they were in 1915.

James G. Leyburn, the sociologist who knew his Haiti so well, said afterward that the occupation failed, because the Americans never recognized the social situation in Haiti. Their labors were thus in vain. To this might be added that the elite, like the Bourbons, forgetting nothing and learning nothing, for their part proved unable to rise to the greatest opportunity ever graciously granted to Haiti by history.

At the very end, a Marine officer, who during two tours in Port-au-Prince had been a tenant of Georges Leger (who had been the driving force of elite resistance to the Americans), came to tell him the Americans were leaving and to say goodbye.

"You'll be glad to see us go and the occupation end," said the Marine.

"Yes," replied Leger, who had done so much in sincere patriotism to bring this about, "I will be absolutely honest. We know how you have helped us in many ways and we appreciate that. But after all, this is our country and we would rather run it ourselves."


  1.  The so-called brigade had been run down to an enlisted strength of 425 Marines in order to provide replacements for the active campaign in Nicaragua against Sandino. Five hundred reinforcements would have still left it below the size of an infantry battalion of the 1970's.
  2. The clash at Cayes provoked a not altogether spontaneous shudder from Jacques Roumain's allies in New York, the American Communist Party, who fielded 500 demonstrators on 14 December to oppose the U.S. occupation of Haiti. General reverberations were also heard throughout the liberal media. Secretary Stimson, who had been so hasty in attributing to Gen Russell the panic felt by the State Department, himself included, calmed down sufficiently to apologize to Russell in a handsome telegram of commendation on his handling of the situation.
  3. Besides that at Cayes, there were numerous lesser clashes in other towns and, of course, in Port-au-Prince involving Marines and mobs or strikers. It is an inexplicable omission, involving the officers and men of the brigade - a reasonable number of whom are still living - that the Haitian Campaign Medal has never been extended to include the 1929 disturbances, as it logically should have been.
  4. Hoover (as well as his longtime associate and man at the Senate Department, Under Secretary Joseph P. Cotton) had even less desire to see the United States represented by the Marine Corps, against which he held longstanding animosities going back to an altercation, when he was a young civilian in Tientsin, with a Marine lieutenant, Smedley D. Butler, during the Boxer Uprising of 1900. In 1931-1932 Hoover was balked only by public and Congressional opposition from abolishing the Marine Corps outright.
  5. Privately, Forbes complained to Under Secretary Cotton about "the injustice done to Russell," whom he afterwards described as "a competent, conscientious official who has rendered great service to Haiti under very difficult circumstances. Gen Russell deserves the thanks of the American people."
  6. The original of Gen Russell's letter was never seen again after, presumably, it left Mr. Cotton's desk. The carbon copy now in the National Archives was rescued in 1933 after prolonged search by a dutiful secretary who, by the evidence of accompanying memoranda, realized the files on Haiti would, despite Cotton's evident contrary feeling, be incomplete without it.