Haiti and Its Occupation by the United States in 1915: Antecedents and Outcomes

By St Jacques, Ermitte; Sommers, Jeffrey | Journal of Haitian Studies, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

Haiti and Its Occupation by the United States in 1915: Antecedents and Outcomes


St Jacques, Ermitte, Sommers, Jeffrey, Journal of Haitian Studies


Roundtable discussion by Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, Alex Dupuy, Robert Fatton Jr., and Mary Renda, moderated by Ermitte St. Jacques and Jeffrey Sommers

The Journal of Haitian Studies convened a roundtable on May 13, 2015, to discuss the centennial of the occupation of Haiti by the United States. The formal occupation began on July 28, 1915, and lasted until August 1, 1934. This was preceded by the United States landing military forces in Haiti on January 27, 1914. The occupation followed a long history of US interference in Haiti extending back to the country's founding. It changed Haiti's economic, political, and social landscape in ways cascading into our present.

Our roundtable brought together Patrick Bellegarde-Smith (Professor Emeritus of Africology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), Alex Dupuy (John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology at Wesleyan University), Robert Fatton Jr. ( Julia A. Cooper Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia) and Mary Renda (Associate Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College). It was moderated by Ermitte St. Jacques (Visiting Assistant Professor of Africology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and Jeffrey Sommers (Associate Professor of Africology and Global Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee). We discussed the occupation and the legacy it has left at its centennial.

Sommers: What were the signal events marking Haiti's evolution as a state and nation prior to its occupation by the United States? In contemplating those changes, which were functions of internal dynamics and which represented structural change on a hemispheric and/or a global level? I'm thinking about the entire period prior to the occupation of Haiti, looking at how Haiti evolved as a state and nation from independence until its occupation by the United States. Then, thinking about how Haiti changed over time: what were the internal factors driving that change and what were the larger macro-level external factors that were driving it? I want us to get a sense of how the nation of Haiti was developing prior to the occupation. Alex, would you care to give us your insights on these questions first?

Dupuy: Do you mean the beginning of Haiti as a revolutionary state after it defeated the French and won its independence? From that time on it emerged as a divided state in which factions of the old property- and slave-owning class of the affranchis-generically referred to as mulattoes even though it also included Blacks-and the new Black property-owning class formed during the brief period of Toussaint Louverture's rule and after independence fought for control of the state. The conflicts between these two factions led to a civil war that divided the country from 1806 to 1820. President Jean-Pierre Boyer reunited the country and created the Republic of Haiti. The turning point for Boyer's administration was the negotiations that culminated in the agreement to pay an indemnity to France in return for the recognition of Haiti's independence. But that did not end the warring between the two factions of the ruling class for control of the state and/or the economy.

These divisive conflicts played a significant role in stymying any process of economic development. There were two principal reasons for this. On the one hand, President Boyer failed to revitalize the sugar plantation system with his draconian Code Rural of 1826, which, if successful, would have forcefully expropriated and proletarianized the peasantry to create a wage-labor force for the plantations. That failure led to what I have called the "Stalemate of the Haitian Bourgeoisie" because, in addition to undermining the possibility of creating an industrial infrastructure, it also paved the way for the return of foreign capital, mostly in the form of financial and commercial capital, to reassert its dominance in the country. On the other hand, even though they successfully resisted their proletarianization, the peasantry could not prevent their many forms of subjection to and exploitation by the dominant classes, an outcome I have called the "Pyrrhic victory" of the peasantry. …

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