The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

In the Grip of the United States

Feb 1, 2010

These wealthy countries that pretend to be rescuing Haiti are just returning to Haiti a fraction of what they have stolen.

Haiti is today the poorest country of the Americas, the result of two centuries of pillage. First by France, sending Africans transformed into slaves there, whose forced labor made Haiti the most important producer of sugar in the world at that time.

It was the revolt of these slaves that put an end to both the colonial domination of France and to slavery. But France still did not end its pillage. It imposed the payment of huge sums of money for the property taken by the slaves, so much money that it took over half a century to pay off the debt.

Then the United States transformed Haiti into its own backyard.

In November of 1914, the Haitian president tried to use his own government’s money which was in Haiti’s own national bank. A U.S. military intervention stopped him. Haiti’s money – $500,000 in gold – was confiscated. Seven months later, U.S. marines landed in Port-au-Prince under the pretext of “reestablishing order.” The chief of the U.S. troops put a compliant Haitian politician in office. A U.S. tax collector was put in charge of customs. A U.S. administrator took control of Haitian finances. The Haitian army was dissolved and replaced by a national guard recruited and commanded by the U.S. army.

The U.S. intervention ran smack into the poor peasants’ resistance. The U.S.’s scornful attitude and brutality during this occupation outraged the Haitians. The U.S. decision to disarm the population and reestablish the corvée – a requirement that the peasants work for free to maintain the roads – touched off the powder keg. At the end of 1918 an insurrection broke out that put the U.S. armed forces in check. The United States was able to assassinate the head of this insurrection, but it took U.S. forces ten months afterwards to bring the revolt under control. 13,000 died in the repression carried out by U.S. forces.

In 1918, a new constitution abolished Haiti’s prohibition on land ownership by foreigners. U.S. companies drove hundreds of peasants off their land and into poverty and emigration. In 1922, the Haitian National Bank was transferred to National City Bank of New York. The U.S. forced Haiti to take out a 40-million-dollar loan from U.S. banks to pay off its debts to France. But this only changed Haiti’s creditor.

The U.S. occupation lasted until 1934. In 1935, the Haitian government bought back the national bank, though half the members of its board of directors were still from the U.S. The financial department remained under U.S. control until the 1922 loan was paid off – that is, until 1947. A 1935 trade agreement gave the United States privileged status.

The United States thus maintained control over the country’s affairs. Their agent during the post-war years was the Haitian army, whom they had recruited and whose officers they had trained. This army would have a big influence on the life of the country – except during the long, bloody and ruinous Duvalier dictatorship (1957-1986). To neutralize the army, the Duvaliers built their own militia, the ferocious “Tontons Macoutes,” who were trained by the French!

After the younger Duvalier fell in 1986, the population was caught in the rivalry between the military and mostly corrupt politicians, all in the shadow of a U.S. power which in 1994 once again landed troops. Ten years later, the country became a U.N. protectorate, under the control of U.S. marines and a few French soldiers.

So even before the earthquake, Haiti was a country drained for centuries by imperialist pillage, ruled by the military, and controlled by U.S. marines.