Red & Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934-1957

Red & Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934-1957

Red & Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934-1957

Red & Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934-1957

Synopsis

In 1934 the republic of Haiti celebrated its 130th anniversary as an independent nation. In that year, too, another sort of Haitian independence occurred, as the United States ended nearly two decades of occupation. In the first comprehensive political history of postoccupation Haiti, Matthew Smith argues that the period from 1934 until the rise of dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier to the presidency in 1957 constituted modern Haiti's greatest moment of political promise.

Smith emphasizes the key role that radical groups, particularly Marxists and black nationalists, played in shaping contemporary Haitian history. These movements transformed Haiti's political culture, widened political discourse, and presented several ideological alternatives for the nation's future. They were doomed, however, by a combination of intense internal rivalries, pressures from both state authorities and the traditional elite class, and the harsh climate of U.S. anticommunism. Ultimately, the political activism of the era failed to set Haiti firmly on the path to a strong independent future.

Excerpt

The national colors shall be black and red.
—1805 HAITIAN CONSTITUTION

On the first of January 1934, the republic of Haiti celebrated its 130th anniversary as an independent nation. In a country born from a slave revolt, embittered by a history of regional, color, and class divisions, New Year’s Day holds great meaning for Haitians. Yet despite a proud legacy of independence and several decades of attempts to shield their country from aggressive foreign penetration, on the first of January 1934 most Haitians did not consider themselves free. At the central square Champs de Mars, in the capital Port-au-Prince, the United States’ red, white, and blue flag flew high, a visual reminder that the Caribbean’s first sovereign nation was still in the throes of U.S. marine occupation. On the first of January 1934, independent Haiti resembled a colonized state.

In a few months, however, all this would change. After nearly two decades of U.S. occupation that witnessed popular and intellectual resistance, and a vigorous reevaluation of Haitian national discourse, the occupation was finally nearing its end. Nineteen thirty-four was, according to President Sténio Vincent in his New Year’s state of the nation address, “the year of [Haiti’s] Second Independence.” But if 1934 marked an end to the struggle for désoccupation, it was the beginning of a long and intense ideological and political conflict that would ultimately lead, in 1957, to one of the most brutal dictatorships the Caribbean has ever experienced: the regime of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. It is the story of this conflict that is the subject of this book.

This book is about radical political movements in Haiti and their struggles in the period following the U.S. occupation until the creation of the Duvalierist state. It seeks to remedy a significant absence in the historiography on modern Haiti by investigating the turbulent politics of the postoccupation era, 1934–1957. The saga of the Haitian postoccupation presents a fascinating case of a small Caribbean nation with profound historical connections with the rest of the Americas, confronting the challenges and . . .

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