Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

Feeding Sharks Their Blood: A Historical Overview of the Diplomacy of Haitian Leaders, US Diplomats and American Smugglers during the Revolution of 1888-1889

Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

Feeding Sharks Their Blood: A Historical Overview of the Diplomacy of Haitian Leaders, US Diplomats and American Smugglers during the Revolution of 1888-1889

Article excerpt

At the turn of the twentieth century, the United States of America was poised to extend its hegemony over the Caribbean Basin. Its imperialistic endeavours were devastating for countries such as Haiti (Black Republic). Actually, Haiti's independence had been undermined long before 1915, when the US marines occupied it. Ironically, Haitians and AfricanAmerican diplomats were partially responsible for Haiti losing its sovereignty. Had Haitian leaders developed a consensus in reference to managing foreign machination, the Black Republic may have been able to more effectively confront western imperialism. Ultimately, the Revolution of 1888-1889 was an example of their failure to protect their nation.

From 1869 to 1913, excluding 1893-1897, blacks served as the US minister, the chief American diplomat in Haiti. As US ministers, AfricanAmericans played a key role in the policymaking process. Unfortunately, most of them championed the causes of the West European (Britain, France and Spain as well as Germany after 1871) and American business communities at the expense of Haiti's independence. The fact that most African-American ministers did not fight to preserve Haiti's independence was odd because their people and Haitians were linked by their endurance of the most rigid form of racism. Furthermore, Haitians waging of a successful slave rebellion and establishing a black republic captured the imagination of and gave hope to many AfricanAmericans. Since whites in the United States used Haiti's instability as one of the pretexts for denying blacks political rights, it is ironic that most African-American diplomats were uninterested in preserving the independence of the Black Republic.

The United States and West European powers looked unfavourably on the Haitian Revolution because slavery was the foundation of their economies. Consequently, Haiti had to fight Britain and France with little assistance from the outside world. To subdue Haitian rebels, the George Washington Administration sold France arms and gave it $726,000 to go toward repaying the money that France loaned the United States during the American Revolution. The Thomas Jefferson Administration sold Haitians weapons, at incredibly high interest rates, only when the president learned about Napoleon's greater empire scheme, which encouraged French farmers to settle the Louisiana territory.1

The United States and West European powers rested their justification for slavery on their conjecture that civilization had eluded people of African descent. To insure that their prediction became reality, they constantly threatened Haiti's independence. In essence, the United States and West European powers waited until they emancipated their slaves before they recognized Haiti. Without recognition, Haitians could neither sign treaties relating to international trade, nor enforce blockades nor extradite criminals.

Haiti's extraordinary push for national self determination was immensely problematic for the United States and West European powers. Its decision to ban white citizenship and foreign landownership curtailed whites' ability to dominate its natural resources. Most other Latin American countries were not as fortunate. For instance, by 1905, foreigners owned over 90 per cent of Cuba's sugar fields.2 Americans held the deeds to 60 per cent of all rural property.3 This economic pattern also existed on the banana plantations of Nicaragua and Guatemala. In Mexico, foreigners invested heavily in the mining industry.4

Haiti also posed a problem for the United States and West European powers because it emphatically rejected white supremacy and fought to create a black republic. In fact, when Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared Haiti's independence in 1804, he offered citizenship to any person of African descent who landed on its shores. Moreover, from 1816 to 1823, when Simon Bolivar, a Latin American revolutionary, was fighting Spain for independence, Haitians granted him aid because he promised to emancipate slaves in areas under his control. …

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