U.S. Invades Haiti, 1915

Haiti mapJohn’s been in Haiti this week on a project working with coffee farmers, and it made me wonder what was happening in Haiti during WWI. Sure enough – plenty.

Following the assassination of Haiti’s president in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson sent in the U.S. Marines to restore order and maintain economic and political security in the region for U.S. interests. We occupied Haiti for another 19 years. It wasn’t just Haiti. We occupied Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras around that time too. We also intervened in Panama, Guatemala, Mexico and Costa Rica. We didn’t leave any of Latin America alone except those places already controlled by Britain.

This was also the time of our so called isolationist policy, but really that only extended to Europe and getting involved in WWI. We had no qualms about butting into other countries to “protect” our interests. Sounds all too familiar.

Anyway, back to Haiti. Haiti was a French Colony until the early 1800s when the slaves revolted and won. It became an independent nation in 1804. Quite a victory! The problem was the French wouldn’t recognize Haiti, nor would anyone else, and they set up an embargo which crippled the new country. In 1825, Haiti agreed to pay reparations to France on the order of $150 million gold francs! The reparations were for “lost property” which meant slaves, equipment and land. Haiti took out high interest loans in order to pay this, and even though France eventually reduced the amount to $90 million, Haiti didn’t successfully pay it all back until 1947. No wonder the country has been fraught with so much economic strife over the years with a debt like that hanging over their heads.

safe for democracy


It wasn’t until 1862, after many of the southern states that still had slaves seceded that the U.S. granted diplomatic recognition to Haiti. From around the 1860s to the early 1900s, Haiti was relatively economically and politically stable. However by 1910, Germany was established as an economic powerhouse in Haiti through financial investments and marrying into the Haitian elite. They controlled the majority of the international commerce and funded some of the recent uprisings. The U.S. was concerned about this and even more so at the start of WWI when they feared that Germany might set up a military presence in Haiti. Thus, they sent in the marines.

The U.S. officials then took over the government functions, disbanded the army and put a U.S. trained police force in its place, installed a puppet government, censored the press, and used forced labor. The U.S. secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, wrote their new constitution in 1917. Just another example of President Wilson’s adage of how the U.S. is “making the world safe for democracy.”