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To Peter Shawn Taylor (Globe & Mail) re Haiti

#1 Guest_Emersberger_*

  • Group: Guests

Posted 02 February 2010 - 01:14 AM

RE: What we can learn from the US Occupation of Haiti? Feb 1, 2010 by Peter
Shawn Taylor (full article below my note)

Mr. Taylor.

You describe the US occupation of 1915-1934 as a "Golden Age" in Haitian
history. You cite U.S Marine Colonel Robert Heinl to back up your claim. I
wonder if you've read Heinl's book "Written in Blood: The story of the
Haitian people 1492-1995." (co-authored with Nancy Heinl) I suggest you read the
chapter on the US occupation if you haven't already. Though the Heinls
bent over backwards to put the best face they could on the occupation, the
facts they presented cannot help but expose it as brutal and backward period
that no one should refer to as a "golden age".

US troops and their Haitian collaborators killed between 3,000 to 15,000
Caco rebels in order to pacify the country (while sustaining only about 98
killed and wounded themselves) The "infrastructure" - which the Heinls and
other apologists always mention - was built by re imposing the "corvee"
(slave labour) which had not been used since 1863. The Heinls defended the
practice by noting that it was a long unused Haitian law (though they conceded
that the US disregarded other Haitian laws that conflicted with US
interests). The Heinls argued that "some" peasants didn't mind their turn at slave
labor - a familiar apologetic for slavery that I won't bother to refute. We
are, after, all in the 21rst century. However, the Heinl's admit that
slave labour led to "widespread resentment". The Heinl's do their best to
deflect blame for the "widespread resentment" away from US troops and onto their
Haitian collaborators. Good slave masters are hard to find.

If you turn to books not determined to gloss over a brutal occupation, for
example, Paul Farmer's Uses of Haiti, you can learn more. North American
firms grabbed 266,000 acres of Haitian land - displacing (i.e. robbing) 50,
000 peasants of their land in the north of Haiti alone.

The US occupation also left behind what Haitian intellectual Patrick Elie
called a "poison gift" - the modernized Haitian army which would
effectively continue the US occupation after it was officially over.

You also make completely unjustified assumptions about noble intentions on
the part of Canada and the US towards Haiti today. Both countries have gone
out of their way to crush democracy in Haiti at the cost of thousands of
lives. Have you read Canadian author Peter Hallward's book "Damming the Flood" or
"Canada in Haiti" by Yves Engler and Anthony Fenton?

Joe Emersberger

What can we learn from the U.S. occupation of Haiti?
by Peter Shawn Taylor; Globe & Mail, Feb 1, 2010

It will take at least a decade to fix Haiti, according to last week's international conference in Montreal. In fact, it will take far longer than that. History has already proven that 19 years is too short a time to build both the infrastructure and democracy that Haiti needs.

If any period might be considered a "golden" era of development and modernization in Haiti, it must be the U.S. occupation from 1915 to 1934. While by no means a resounding triumph, colonial rule by the Americans did have its successes. And it provides a convenient frame of reference for what the rest of the world can expect as it tries to rebuild the benighted country.

In July, 1915, a mass execution of political opponents by Haitian president Vilbrun Guillaume Sam – and Sam's subsequent dismemberment in the streets of Port-au-Prince – prompted U.S. president Woodrow Wilson to send 2,000 marines to seize control of the country. Further motivation for Wilson's gun-boat diplomacy was concern that if he didn't step into the vacuum, Germany might.
Once in control, the U.S. found Haiti to be almost entirely lacking in modern infrastructure, much as it appears today after the earthquake. There was no telephone service, no intercity roads, no public health care, no public school system, no working harbours. Corruption was endemic and the administration entirely dysfunctional. These problems were fixed when the Americans left in 1934.
A report by the American High Commissioner to Haiti reported a substantial list of achievements during the first 14 years of occupation. Among the accomplishments, the Americans built 12 hospitals, 147 rural clinics, 210 bridges, 12 lighthouses, nine wharves, along with irrigation, sanitation, municipal water and technical education systems. In 1929 alone, clinics provided 1.3 million health-care treatments, a blessing for a country racked by syphilis, malaria, hookworm and yaws.

There were virtually no automobiles in Haiti when the marines arrived. By 1929, there were 3,000 cars, trucks and buses. A telephone system with 1,200 subscribers also appeared from the ether as the Americans single-handedly brought the country into the 20th century.

The occupation government also operated without accusations of corruption, in contrast to previous domestic administrations. Despite many critics watching closely, there was not a whiff of financial scandal. And neither did the U.S. appear to exploit its control for commercial gain. In 1923, the State Department refused a monopolistic concession to the Sinclair Oil Co. due to lack of sufficient benefits for Haiti.

If the world wishes to create a functional system of public works for Haiti, then the period of U.S. control provides a successful template.

And yet there is more to making Haiti work than providing it with the necessary modern conveniences. It also requires a democratic tradition and a competent bureaucracy. And the evidence suggests this will take a commitment much longer than 10 years.
In 1929, the U.S.'s client president in Haiti, Louis Borno, announced he was cancelling elections. This, combined with the beginnings of the Great Depression, new taxes and reduced government spending, led to the widely reported "Cayes Massacre," in which U.S. marines killed 12 Haitian demonstrators. Immediately thereafter, president Herbert Hoover began looking for an exit strategy.
A presidential commission the next year recommended a swift end to U.S. occupation to solve the political crisis at home. Even so it was entirely pessimistic about Haiti's fate. "The commission is under no delusions as to what may happen in Haiti after … the complete withdrawal of the United States forces," it warned. "Any government formed in these circumstances is liable to become an oligarchy."

Which is exactly what happened. The quick withdrawal of U.S. forces without any commitment to leaving behind a sustainable democracy doomed Haiti to generations of dictatorships under the repressive Duvalier clan.
Moreover, the country's infrastructure rapidly disintegrated due to incompetence and corruption. In 1958, U.S Marine Colonel Robert Heinl returned to Haiti and found most of what he had left behind gone. The telephone system no longer worked, roads were non-existent and the ports silted up and crumbling. Donkeys were once again the main mode of transportation. "Curiously, the only effective survivor of the occupation's infrastructure benefits is the modest network of grass air-strips unchanged since 1934," Heinl wrote. Today, these are being used for tent cities.

Over the next 10 years, Canada and other developed countries plan to spend billions building hospitals, roads, ports and airports for Haiti, just as the Americans did from 1915 to 1934. But if we don't make an equally massive commitment to leave behind a real democracy – and Haiti remains one of the world's most corrupt and dysfunctional countries – then it will all be for naught.

#2 Guest_Emersberger_*

  • Group: Guests

Posted 02 February 2010 - 10:14 PM


Hi Mr. Emersberger,

Thanks for the long reading list. However, I wonder if you actually read my article.

I think I was rather clear that the ‘Golden Era’ for Haiti to which I was referring was in regard to the amount of infrastructure built during the US occupation, especially compared with what was there previously. Since this is what the current rebuilding of Haiti appears to be focusing on, I think it is instructive to observe that the Americans did leave behind a lot of modern infrastructure and it mostly disappeared once they left. I believe my article was also rather clear in stating that the US did not leave behind a functional democracy in Haiti when they left. I was thinking of mentioning your point about the gendarmerie, but ran out of space.

Again, if the main criteria for rebuilding Haiti is to construct a modern infrastructure, the US occupation was truly a golden era. Can you suggest any time period in which more rapid development and modernization occurred in Haitian history?



Peter Shawn Taylor
Editor at Large
Maclean's Magazine


Mr. Taylor:

You ask

"Can you suggest any time period in which more rapid development and modernization occurred in Haitian history?"

Yes, under democratic rule between 1994-2000 more schools were built in Haiti than between 1804–1994[1] By 2003 literacy campaigns reduced the illiteracy rate from 85% to 55%., infant mortality declined from 125 deaths per 1000 to 110. The Haitian army was abolished. All of tha just scratches the surface of what was achieved despite the efforts of the US over this period (with Canada's enthusiastic help over the past several years) to crush democracy in Haiti.

You article clearly suggests that the US set out to build democracy in Haiti during the occupation. You wrote

"History has already proven that 19 years is too short a time to build BOTH [my empahasis] the infrastructure and democracy that Haiti needs."

Nineteen years being the length of the US occupation.

You wrote

"The quick withdrawal of U.S. forces without any commitment to leaving behind a sustainable democracy doomed Haiti to generations of dictatorships under the repressive Duvalier clan."

No, what doomed Haitians was decisive US support for those dictatorships. You can learn that even by reading apologists like the Heinls.

You wrote

"If the world wishes to create a functional system of public works for Haiti, then the period of U.S. control provides a successful template."

The "template" involved slave labor and tens of thousands murdered and driven off their land as I already pointed out. Why not look to the template of what Haitians achieved, against formidible foreign opposition, when they were given a limited opportunity to govern themselves?

Joe Emersberger

[1] See

195 new primary schools and 104 new public high schools, including a brandnew
high school in Cité Soleil.

#3 Guest_Emersberger_*

  • Group: Guests

Posted 03 February 2010 - 08:16 PM


Hello again Mr. Emersberger,

Thanks for your second note.

With respect to which period of time has seen more development in Haiti, I
think we are at a stalemate. You cite some impressive evidence on building
schools from a pro-Aristide group document, however even this paper shows
that the American-era saw the construction of more hospitals and clinics.
And I believe the Americans out-built the Aristide administration with
respect to ports, airports, bridges, roads and municipal services as well.
So I guess the declaration of which time was Haiti's "golden" era comes down
to a matter of opinion.

And I never said that the Americans "clearly" set out to build a democracy
in Haiti. That is your rather reckless interpretation of one line in my
story. I thought I was clear that the Americans left at the earliest
opportunity once it became politically expedient to do so.

This is obviously a topic you feel passionate about. However you have not
pointed out any factual errors in my story that require correction and I
continue to stand behind it. You may disagree with by perspective, but
again, that is a matter of opinion.

Best wishes.



Mr. Taylor:
I don't see a "stalemate" when you consider that between 1994-2003 the Haitian governments (under both Aristide and Preval) were freely elected and did not resort to the murder and dispossession of tens of thousands of people or to the use of slave labour - all of which the US did during the occupation.

It is shocking to have to make this point - again - to a writer in the 21rst century with access to a large audience.

It comes down to values. A writer who glorifies a brutal occupation through lies of omission does not appear to value basic human rights or democracy.

Joe Emersberger

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