EDITORIAL: Haiti Under the Rule of the United States, Dantès Bellegarde, 1927

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Dantès Bellegarde’s 1927 editorial on the US occupation of Haiti speaks to the present.

You could not be faulted if you assumed the title of Dantès Bellegarde’s editorial from Opportunity magazine – “Haiti Under the Rule of the United States” – referred to the present-day military occupation of Haiti, an occupation by the US and the United Nations that began in 2004 via a coup d’etat initiated and sponsored by the US, Canada, and France. Instead, Bellegarde’s editorial, published in 1927, examines the first U.S. occupation of Haiti, an occupation that started in July, 1915 and lasted nineteen years, until 1934.

The U.S. invaded Haiti during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. Haitian president Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam had been assassinated and the US landed Marines, claiming they wanted to restore “order” and “stability” to the country. They also used the Monroe Doctrine as justification for their actions, asserting that military occupation was necessary to prevent a German invasion. They had, however,  long wanted to occupy an island with clear geopolitical and strategic significance in the Caribbean, especially since they had gained control of Panama. Beneath the political veils lay another truth: the US invaded and occupied Haiti to protect and guarantee the financial, commercial, and industrial interests of the National City Bank of New York, the ancestor of today’s Citibank. The occupation was brutal, and racist. The US used the Haitian peasants to experiment with aerial bombing. Thousands of peasants were killed or conscripted into chain-gangs to build roads. Haitian sovereignty and pride were snuffed out. The ever-slavish U.S. press praised the work of the occupation and lauded its “benefits” for the Haitian people.

Dantès Bellegarde (1877 – 1966) was asked to respond to one such pro-occupation article written by a white American travel writer. Though raised poor, Bellegarde benefited from being a “mulatto” and was a member of the Haitian bourgeoisie. A career diplomat who became one of Haiti’s most significant statesmen and intellectuals, Bellegarde represented Haiti in Europe, at the League of Nations, and at the Pan-African Congresses. In the world of Haitian diplomacy, his only equal was the legendary Jean Price Mars . Bellegarde’s political career was not uncomplicated, however. He saw himself as a “mulatto” (and not Black), was an advocate of Haitians assimilating to French culture and catholicism, and he had initially collaborated with US occupation forces. Nonetheless, W. E. B. Du Bois conferred on him the title, “International Spokesman of Black Folk.”

Despite the contradictions, Bellegarde’s criticism of the U.S. occupation in “Haiti Under the Rule of the United States” deserves recognition. Ever the statesman, Bellegarde rebukes the occupation both as a “violation of the principle of equality which is the essential basis of international law,” and as denial of Haitian sovereignty. He points out the hypocrisy of the US claim that it needed to protect Haiti from violent revolutions by arguing that Portugal “had in sixteen years eighteen revolutions,” yet no European nation invaded and occupied that country. Most significantly, Bellegarde demonstrates all the ways that the US “destroyed all liberal institutions in the country, all the achievements that had already been made in the path of democracy.” At a moment when Haiti finds itself under another occupation – this time under the cover of the United Nations – we would do well to read Bellegarde’s assessment (reprinted below) of what that earlier foreign occupation had wrought. Today, we wholeheartedly agree with Bellegarde’s assertion that, “the American action in Haiti is in bankruptcy.”

Haiti Under the Rule of the United States

Dantès Bellegarde

On July 28, 1915, Admiral Caperton landed marines from his flagship, the cruiser “Washington,” and took possession, in the name of the government of the United States, of the Republic of Haiti. For more than eleven years this occupation has lasted. Each day it is being strengthened by a “civil occupation” whose evident aim is to absorb or destroy all the moral and economic forces of the Haitian people.

The Americans had for their intervention in Haiti none of those reasons or even pretexts by which internationalists sometimes try to justify the intervention of one state in the affairs of another. No insult had been made against the American flag. No citizen of the United States had been wronged either in his person or in his property. The Haitian Republic had not advanced to any power a refusal to submit to arbitration debts that had been contracted or to execute a decision resulting from arbitration. (Such a refusal the Convention of the Hague of 1909 recognizes as justifying in the last resort of armed intervention.) All the obligations of the Haitian foreign debt– represented solely by the loans of 1875, 1896, and 1910 floated in France– were in the hands of French bondholders. The interest on this debt was being regularly paid. It is also worth noting that Haiti, which has always been mindful of its international obligations, did not demand a moratorium during the war, and that the payment of interest on their debt, foreign or domestic, was suspended only on the arrival of the Americans and in spite of the protests of the Haitian government.

Indeed, the armed intervention of the United States in the domestic affairs of Haiti, a free, sovereign, independent state, constitutes a violation of the principle of equality which is the essential basis of international law. Certain American politicians who have preserved even a hypocritical respect for jus gentium endeavor to adorn with the loft name of Humanity this act of piracy. It was for the purpose of freeing Haiti from its revolutions and preventing the destruction of Haitian lives that marines are supposed to have come to our land. Let us note, first of all, that according to public statements made by General Bennett, former Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Yankee soldiers, improvised defenders of Humanity, killed in the first four years alone of the occupation, more than 3,500 Haitians– a figure which surely exceeds the number of victims of all the Haitian revolutions together.

Moreover, people have greatly exaggerated the number and importance of these revolutions. Portugal has had in sixteen years eighteen revolutions; and yet this has given no one the right to intervene in her affairs. Many of the so-called revolutions were only uprisings and which passed off almost without bloodshed and which frequently did not have the gravity of certain riots or lynchings in the United States. They were often financed by foreigners who saw only a sure source of gain. They were made, one might say, by a select few, and they never incurred the risk of bringing about in Haiti the armed intervention of a Power, European or Asiatic, which would have justified the application of the Monroe Doctrine.

Haiti, in the course of its history, received various affronts from European states. Admiral Rubalcava came in the name of Spain to demand an enormous indemnity for the secret aid that Haiti had given to the Dominican Republic in its struggle for emancipation. In 1871 the German Commander Batch inflicted a stinging insult to the Haitian nation for having manifested too clearly its sympathy for France. England threatened Port au Prince with its cannon in order to force the Haitian government to yield to an unjustified claim of a British subject. In 1897 Commander Thiele of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Imperial Navy insulted the Haitian people by an outrageous ultimatum and extorted 20,000 dollars. Why? Because a German man subject, having beaten a Haitian gendarme, had been duly and justly condemned by the Police Court of Port au Prince.

In every case where law and justice were on the side of Haiti, America did not budge. It protested against none of these brutal aggressions by European nations. But, in 1915, at a time when all Europe was involved in the World War, the United States came to occupy Haiti. And Mr. Lansing, Secretary of State, Dared to write then to the senate Committee of Foreign Affairs that this American action had for its purpose the preventing the occupation of Haiti by a European Power! By what adjective should we describe such an audacious statement?

In fact, just as Mr. James Weldon Johnson showed in a series of articles published in 1921 by The Nationthe intervention of the United States was inspired only by financial interests. He showed clearly the direct action of the National City Bank of New York, for the policy of intervention became effective as soon as that powerful company had acquired an interest in the Haitian National Railway and as soon as it had taken control of the National Bank of the Republic of Haiti. The efforts made by this American bank with the assistance of the Financial Adviser and of the Legation of the United States to assure a monopoly of the importation of gold into Haiti; the loan of 1922 imposed on Haiti and which replaced the French debt in francs at per cent by an American loan in dollars at six per cent, or even at more than seven on account of the low sale price, are sufficient to prove in the most convincing manner the connivance which has existed between Washington and Wall Street.

The government of Mr. Wilson, having occupied Haitian territory without just or legitimate motive, wished to legalize this state of affairs, and for that purpose imposed on Haiti a treaty, the American-Haitian Convention of 1915. The day on which this convention was voted, in the Chamber of Deputies, the representative of les Gonaives, Dr. Cabeche, arose and uttered these words: “In the name of Humanity the government of the United States, according to the declarations of its agents, has carried out in our land an armed intervention. And it has presented to us at the point of the bayonet, supported by the cannon on its cruisers, a convention which, from the lofty pinnacle of its imperialism, it calls upon us to ratify. What is this convention? It is a protectorate imposed on Haiti by Mr. Wilson, the same Wilson who said in a speech at Mobile with reference to the sister-republics of Latin-America: ‘We can be their close friends only by treating them as equals.’And now today he intends to put Haiti under the protectorate of the United States. For how long? God only knows, after one envisages the conditions of which is subordinated the withdrawal of troops or the renewal of this instrument of shame. I am not all a partisan of the policy of a closed republic. I do not think that isolation is a factor conducive to the evolution of a nation. I do not believe that the principle of patriotism resides in the hatred of foreigners or in the refusing of their aid provided that it is sincere. But I do not think that it is an honorable thing, either, to sacrifice, whether forced or not to do so, the dignity of one’s country. Particularly to assure what? Order with shame? Abundance in Golden Chains? Abundance, we shall have it– perhaps. The chains, they are certain. With this convention we decree moral slavery for the Haitian people instead of physical slavery which one no longer dares to reestablish. This convention compromises the rights of the nation. The Chamber, by voting it, undertook a grave responsibility. I can not share this responsibility with it. When the Haitian people shall groan in the chains that have just been forged again, when future generations will have to execrate the memory of the authors of their misfortune, I do not intend that it shall be said that I was one of them. I shall not permit my name to appear at the bottom of the report of that session in which was executed the sale of a whole people by a few of its members. I offer my resignation as deputy of the 28th Legislature by exclaiming for a last time: ‘I protest in the name of the Haitian and of its independence against the project of the Haitian Convention’.”

Having spoken thus, Dr. Cabeche took from the lapel of his coat the insignia of deputy, threw it into the midst of the assembly, and left the Chamber.

Cabeche was not a politician. He was a young doctor who had pursued his medical studies in the United States and knew white Americans better than the great majority of his fellow-countrymen. He died shortly afterward–the attack made against the dignity of his country had broken his heart. He did not live long enough to see his pessimistic prophecy fulfilled. For his words were truly prophetic.

Many of those who voted for the convention were sincere. Tired of our civil strifes, which were most frequently provoked by the despotism, and dictatorships in our government, desirous of seeing the country develop from the intellectual as well as from the economic point of view, thinking that the condition indispensable to the social progress of the Haitian people was order with liberty, they believed in the promises of peace, of democratic liberty, of prosperity which Wilson and his agents brought to them. Alas! Cabeche alone had seen clearly.

Haiti does not have peace.

Peace, real peace, is not in material order in the streets imposed by the force of the bayonet; it is the relief of consciences and of minds obtained by the loyal practice of liberty, the cult of justice and the respect of the rights of the individual and of the nation. The Americans themselves recognize that they have not aided in establishing in Haiti this real peace since they say that civil war will begin again as soon as they leave the country. Here in a convincing confession that in twelve years they have not been able to create anything stable.

Haiti does not have democratic liberty.

In democratic countries all power issues from the nation; that is to say, from the votes of the people. The right of the people to vote has been suppressed in Haiti. The Haitians no longer have any part in the management or the control of their own affairs.

In democratic countries the law is the expression of the national will– the law in Haiti today is now only the will of the American High Commissioner registered and signed by the native “puppets.”

In democratic countries taxes are a contribution which the citizens can be forced to pay only if it has been recognized as necessary and voted by their elected representatives. “No taxation without representation.” Haitians pay taxes and are not permitted to discuss them. The Receiver-General of the Haitian Customs, an American from Louisiana or elsewhere, makes and unmakes the tariff, overwhelms business men with fines, and renders life difficult for small local industries, suppresses free entry granted to tools and machines for agricultural use, places a high tariff on books and objects intended for the instruction of our youth, spends as he wishes the money of the nation, laughs at decrees of Haitian courts and considered as scraps of paper the decrees of the Supreme Court of Haiti. He is dictator and master of the destinies of the Haitian people. From whom does he hold these extraordinary powers– powers which no man possesses in any civilized country? From the American President, sovereign of the Republic of Haiti by the grace of the old German Gott, the God of War.

In democratic countries the liberty of the press is considered as the first of the cardinal liberties because there is no democracy without control by public opinion and there is no control of public opinion without liberty of the press. That is why all liberal countries have abolished preventative measures in affairs of offenses of the press even in case of libel, insult, or abuse. The Americans have destroyed in Haiti or allowed to be destroyed this liberty recognized as indispensable to a democracy. For they approved a law in 1922 which suppresses in fact liberty of opinion, since it permits imprisonment pending trial for offences of the press and refuses to journalists the privilege of habeas corpus which, according to the Constitution of the United States (Sect. 9, par. 2), can be suspended only if public security demands it in the case of invasion or of rebellion.

The vote of the citizens suppressed, the nation violently removed from the administration and control of its own affairs, journalists hounded and imprisoned for the expression of their opinion on the policy of the government and kept in prison without trial and even without examination by the judge, the freedom of assembly obstructed, the land of the peasants threatened by unconstitutional laws or arbitrary administrative measures, the right to contribute voluntarily to scientific, benevolent, or patriotic societies taken from the citizens, fiscal measures voted without discussion, rendering the heavier for all the burden of life: –that is what the Americans have done in Haiti.

And it will now be understood how far we are from Wilson’s principle of the right of peoples to govern themselves when we recall that the Receiver-General, the master of the liberty and property of the Haitian citizens, is in his turn only a puppet in the hands of the American High Commissioner, the personal Representative of the President of the United States.

Haiti lives under a false label– it has ceased to be a republic and has fallen to below the rank of a “possession,” since Porto Rico and the Philippines have elective chambers. Haiti has retrograded beyond 1804. M. Borno has given it its real name by calling it the Republic of Slaves. The expression is unhappy but the exact in spite of the antithesis of the terms “Republic” and “Slave”.

But this situation, already so dark, threatens to become worse yet. The so-called president of Haiti, in accord with General Russel, the American High Commissioner, has just laid before the Council of State, a corps of politicians appointed and removable by him at will, amendments to the Constitution. This is the famous Constitution of 1918 which Mr. Franklin Roosevelt himself boasts of having written, and which, according to the apt expression of the late President Harding in his speech at Marion, “was forced down the throat of the Haitians with a bayonet.” The twelve amendments which have been proposed tend to concentrate in the hands of the President of Haiti (in reality in those of the High Commissioner) all the powers of the state: the executive power, the legislative power, which he already exercises through his Council of State, and finally the judicial power. In other words, what one is seeking to establish in Haiti is a legal dictatorship, sustained by the machine guns of the army of the United States and functioning under the shelter of the Stars and Stripes.

Poor Franklin Roosevelt, who thought that he had given the Haitians a perfect and definitive constitution! If these amendments were imposed upon by the Haitians by fraud or by violence, they would assure the total ruin of the Haitian nation. The nation has grasped this fact– the instinct of self-preservation has awakened in it– and from the depth of its soul arises a piercing cry of distress. Since the publication of the proposed sinister amendments, petitions signed by thousands of men and women belonging to all classes of the population pour in from city and country, denouncing as a criminal attack this supreme effort made to snatch from the Haitian people all its rights and all its means of livelihood.

The avowed purpose of these amendments is, first, to permit M. Borno to serve a third term and to remain in power for fourteen years while awaiting a second revision of the constitution which will give him the office for life; second, to put Haitian justice in the hands of General Russell and of the American companies which he supports. The present judiciary appears insufficiently obedient to the High Commissioner– he wishes to have judges who will be as submissive and as eager as the gentlemen of the Council of State. He accuses the magistrates of having color prejudice. One is led to conclude that what he desires is to replace them by men who will always give decisions in favor of the American whites, to whom vast concessions have been accorded by the government. The most extraordinary of these concessions is that which has been granted to a Mr. Rodenberg, which such exceptional privileges that they make of this former Representative of Illinois, “blackballed” by his constituency, the master of the Artibonite Valley, one of the richest regions in Haiti.

The reader of these lines will perhaps wonder: “In exchange for its liberty, for its independence, for its sovereignty, has not Haiti at least become more prosperous under American domination?” Money certainly cannot replace honor and liberty; but there are in Haiti as elsewhere creatures sufficiently low to resign themselves with chains, provided the chains are of gold. Well, they do not have even this compensation. I could prove here by authoritative statistics that our production has not been increased by a single grain of coffee since the American Occupation and that our exports at present are frequently inferior to those under a purely Haitian administration. Living conditions of laborers have not improved; on the contrary, they have grown worse as a result of the increase in the duty on articles of prime necessity which the new tariff law– the personal work of Mr. Cumberland, the American Financial Adviser– imposes. The salaries of government employees, of Haitian professors and teachers are ridiculous and seem insulting when one compares them with those of the administrators appointed for the “Republic of Slaves.” Under the pretext of organizing agriculture they have instituted a Vocational Department into which millions fall and evaporate without end and without considerable results for the economic development of the country. Some roads have been restored, a few buildings have been constructed, a sanitary organization, which has been really necessary, has been created. Much ado has been made over these achievements as if they sufficed to justify the attack against sovereignty of Haiti and the enslaving of a whole race in the interest of a few politicians and businessmen of the United States. The “Occupationists” boast of these achievements but they refrain from saying what enormous sums they have cost the Haitian people. The most famous example of the waste of money which is prevalent in Haiti is the establishment of a radio broadcasting station costing $40,000, which every Friday evening carries on the wings of the air antiquated fox-trots and…praise of the American occupation. This sum might have been better served to construct several school buildings in the rural districts or aqueducts to irrigate the land.

Upon this question, moreover, my excellent friend, Professor Rayford Logan, has thrown complete light in his article in The Nation of March 16, 1927 issue of OPPORTUNITY. They are also expressed in Occupied Haiti by a committee of American women who, accompanied by Professor Paul Douglass of the University of Chicago, made in 1926 a minute investigation in that poor country. They are those which were expressed in the Senate by Senator King of Utah, the same Senator who was kept out of Haiti when he wished to see with his own eyes what he already knew so well from documents. They are those which without doubt will be expressed in

the next session of Congress by Senator Shipstead who studied on the spot of the situation of Haitian peasants, and who pointed out the danger threatening them as a result of the measures which the military occupation under cover of the “puppet government” is enacting against landed property for the benefit of American monopolists.

Surrounded by a thousand difficulties and by the almost general hostility of white nations, the black people of Haiti, issuing from the most abject slavery, succeeded in creating a society that was civilized and equipped with all the organs which should permit it to take definite strides towards progress. Just like all other nations during their formative period, Haiti experienced the struggles which always precede the fusion of social elements and it made many false steps on the steep path of progress. There has, nevertheless, occurred that internal work of organization which, having already brought about social stability, was necessary to introduce political or governmental stability. American imperialists, taking advantage of passing troubles, have entered Haiti. They have destroyed all liberal institutions in the country, all the achievements that had already been made in the path of democracy; they have replaced the “black satrapy” by a white dictatorship, but with this disadvantage, namely, Haitians could revolt against the black satrapy and overthrow it, whereas they can do nothing against the white dictatorship so strongly supported by the bayonets of the Marine Corps, the bombs of the aviators of the United States Army and the cannon of American cruisers.

By the methods of government that they have employed and by the failure of most of their enterprises in Haiti since 1915, the Americans have struck a deadly blow not only at the prestige of the United States, but at that of the whole white race. The great mass of the Haitian people had kept as a heritage of the colonial regime a faint belief if not in the superiority of the white race at least in its efficiency. This belief has disappeared. They fear the American because he carries in his belt a deadly Browning, but they have ceased to consider him as a man of loft intelligence and ideals. The American action is Haiti is in bankruptcy.

Dantes Bellegarde, “Haiti Under the Rule of the United States,” Trans. Rayford Logan. Opportunity 5 no. 11 (December 1927): 354-57.

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