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17203: (Hermantin) Miami-Herald-Then & now: U.S. occupations (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <email@example.com>
on Sun, Nov. 09, 2003
Then & now: U.S. occupations
Leaders promised fast results in Haiti and Iraq - then met hard going
BY BERNARD DIEDERICH AND DON BOHNING
Special to The Herald
Modern warfare changed dramatically between President Woodrow Wilson's 1915
order to intervene in Haiti and President Bush's decision in March to invade
Iraq, but the U.S. experience that began in Port-au-Prince 88 years ago has
First and foremost, as Wilson discovered and Bush is finding out, it is much
easier to invade a country than to occupy and pacify it, as occupation
itself breeds resentment. In both Haiti and Iraq, as well, the initial
rationale for invasion became murkier as the situations evolved.
But unlike the Bush administration's Iraq policy, widely debated, the U.S.
occupation of Haiti was barely noted by the American public, in part because
of World War I in Europe and the low casualty rate that spanned the 19-year
U.S. Marine presence. Although Republicans denounced the occupation in the
1920 presidential campaign, most journalistic coverage was favorable -- and
sometimes nonexistent. The New York Times index for the years 1917 and 1918
omitted any reference to Haiti.
Although President Wilson didn't officially invoke the Monroe Doctrine in
ordering the invasion of Haiti, he acted in part under its rubric that
warned European countries -- in this case Germany -- not to meddle in the
Western Hemisphere, and to protect U.S. financial interests. The specific
order by the Navy Department for Rear Adm. William Caperton, the invasion
commander, as he landed 330 Marines and sailors in Port-au-Prince on July
28, 1915, was to ``protect American and foreign interests.''
Marine Maj. Gen. Smedley Darlington Butler -- the first commandant of the
new U.S.-created Haitian constabulary or Garde d'Haiti -- put it much more
bluntly after retiring. The Marines in Haiti, he said, had been used as a
''glorified bill-collecting agency,'' declaring that he had been ''canned''
for refusing to cooperate with New York banking interests.
President Bush, in ordering the invasion of Iraq under his newly minted
doctrine of preemption, cited the threat from weapons of mass destruction
that he believed Saddam Hussein possessed. When none were discovered, the
emphasis shifted to the global war on terrorism and ridding the country of a
brutal dictatorship. Critics have hinted at less altruistic motives such as
In the case of Haiti, 'it was not a `Marine show' but rather a closely
controlled State Department operation,'' according to Garde d'Haiti, an
official record of the occupation compiled by James McCrocklin and published
by the U.S. Naval Institute in 1956. In Iraq, it has largely been a Defense
Department, not a State Department, show.
Admiral Caperton promised the Haitians an occupation of ''short duration.''
But it lasted until 1934, through four U.S. administrations. During that
time, Americans controlled Haiti's finances, police force and public works,
in addition to serving as government officials under a treaty imposed by
The ultimate outcome of the Iraq venture -- less than eight months since its
inception -- is still undetermined. However, even Bush administration
officials concede that the occupation of Iraq has become much tougher than
anticipated when President Bush declared an end to major combat operations.
It has become, in the words of one official, a ``long, hard slog.''
In Haiti, as in Iraq, a U.S. occupation authority effectively ran the
country through handpicked local leaders.
In Baghdad, the United States and its coalition partners established the
Coalition Provisional Authority and a 25-member Iraqi Governing Council.
More recently, Washington has sought a larger role for Iraqi police and
other security forces.
In the Haiti occupation, the treaty forced on the country called for the
dissolution of Haiti's security units, with the United States to establish a
new, American-controlled, indigenous security force, similar to those in the
Dominican Republic and Nicaragua and, earlier, in Puerto Rico and Cuba
following U.S. interventions there.
Thus the Gendarmerie d'Haiti, later renamed Garde d'Haiti, was created as an
administrative branch of the Haitian government, but led by U.S. Marine
officers who simultaneously received commissions from Haiti while retaining
their Marine Corps rank.
Despite recruitment difficulties among both Haitian rank-and-file and the
American officer corps, the Gendarmerie soon became the main instrument of
American authority in Haiti, with the Marine units in Port-au-Prince and Cap
Hatien serving as backup in times of crisis.
''Gendarmerie officers,'' said Hans Schmidt in his book about the
occupation, ''exercised authority over most local government and military
matters and, according to personal inclinations, dominated their respective
regions completely.'' One, Sgt. Faustin Wirkus, even became the crowned king
of La Gonve Island off Port-au-Prince.
In much the same fashion as the U.S. troops who rolled into Baghdad, the
young U.S. Marines who went ashore in Haiti in 1915 faced culture shock, a
language barrier (with most Haitians speaking only Creole) and an unfriendly
society. While Haiti was the world's first black republic, the occupying
force, for the most part, was segregationist.
''The American-nurtured Haitian constabulary, rationally and plausibly
conceived as an efficient, nonpartisan peacekeeping force,'' observed
Schmidt, 'was irrationally stunted in its development by the American racist
dogma, as expressed by a commander of the occupation, that `you can never
trust a nigger with a gun.' ''
It was that clash of racial and cultural prejudices that was to lead to a
brutal guerrilla campaign against the American occupiers.
Poor farmers made up all but a small fraction of Haiti's 2.5 million people
in 1915, and they saw ''blan,'' or foreign, invaders as the enemy. They knew
the role played by their ancestors in winning freedom from France in a long
and bloody rebellion from 1791-1803. For decades after they were warned that
the blan would return to try to seize their lands and enslave them.
Either not understanding Haiti, or not caring to understand, the Marine
occupiers reinstituted the corvee, essentially a system of forced labor, to
construct roads and other public works projects.
That move provoked a bloody guerrilla war, climaxing in 1919. It was
reminiscent in some ways of Iraq today, as Haiti's peasant farmers -- known
as Cacos -- took up arms against the occupation. The Cacos -- seen by U.S.
authorities as bandits -- promised to ``push the blans into the sea.''
Unnerved Marine recruits often mistakenly fired on ''voodoos,'' as they
called Haitians who practiced Vodou, equating the drumming with the drumming
and blowing on conch shells by the Cacos.
On Oct. 11, 1917, the Cacos attacked the Marine garrison in the Central
Plateau town of Hinche. Among those captured was Charlemagne Peralte, who
had refused to surrender his command in Leogane, south of the capital, when
the Marines first landed in Haiti. Peralte, an educated Haitian and a native
of Hinche, was sentenced to five years hard labor for his part in the
Peralte escaped and became the most wanted of the Caco leaders, with a
$2,000 reward offered for him, dead or alive. The reward was a huge sum at
the time, but paltry compared to the $25 million offered by the Americans
for Saddam Hussein.
Marines, tipped off to his whereabouts, sneaked into a Caco camp Oct. 31,
1919, and killed Peralte, only to face the same dilemma U.S. troops did in
Iraq: proving to a skeptical populace that Saddam Hussein's two sons were
Peralte's corpse was exhibited in Cap Hatien, where -- clothed only in a
loincloth -- he was photographed upright and tied to a wooden door, giving
the eerie appearance of a crucified Christ.
Thousands of leaflets with the picture were dropped over the countryside to
prove to illiterate farmers that Peralte was dead. Still, skeptical Haitians
did not believe the blan.
The U.S. death toll in Iraq, now exceeding those who died before President
Bush's May 1 declaration that major combat was over, has become a key
element in the debate over U.S. policy. However, casualties in the Haiti
occupation were low, with 10 to 16 Marines dying while battling the Cacos.
No exact figures were kept on Cacos and peasants killed. Some Americans put
the figure at 3,250 killed. Haitian historian Roger Gaillard estimated an
Bernard Diederich, a longtime Caribbean correspondent for Time magazine,
published a newspaper in Haiti from 1950 to 1963. Don Bohning is a former
Herald Latin America editor.
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