VIII. 1915 to 1934

When in 1915 Haiti’s new president, Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, was killed by a mob provoked by the execution of political prisoners, the United States sent its military to occupy Haiti, like it had already done in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, the Philippines and, by 1916, the Dominican Republic. The United States chose a senator, Sudre Dartiguenave, over a fiery politician and medical doctor, Rosalvo Bobo, to become Haiti’s president. Dartiguenave endorsed a treaty that allowed the United States to build a new Gendarmerie to police the nation. The United States also imposed on Haiti a new constitution that permitted non-Haitians to buy and own land. By 1917 the United States was at war with Germany in Europe. Hence over twenty of Haiti’s German residents were placed in an internment camp. Other Haitians were forced to labor on the corvée, which built new roads. As opposition mounted, a provincial leader, Charlemagne Péralte, mobilized a peasant army, which the American military tried to suppress. By 1922, numerous reports of atrocities committed by American soldiers prompted a United States Senate hearing, which was barely critical, but nonetheless led to a new strategy in Haiti. Later that year a new president, Louis Borno, and an American high commissioner were installed. They oversaw investment in public health, as well as vocational education, over which there was extensive debate.

The occupation reawakened Haitian nationalism. Many intellectuals denounced imperialism, and several like Jean Price-Mars looked to Haiti’s peasantry and Vodou to build a new national identity. Americans were interested in Vodou, too, but more as an exotic commodity, at least outside of the anthropological community. In Haiti there was a movement to incorporate peasant culture into music, poetry, and novels. Meanwhile, intellectuals and politicians united to create the Union Patriotique, which opposed the occupation with support from sympathetic African Americans. However, it was not until students went on strike and American soldiers killed a dozen protesters in Les Cayes, a city in the south, that the United States decided it would leave Haiti. In 1930, Haiti’s National Assembly selected a new president, Sténio Vincent, to oversee the transition that would end the occupation. Vincent appointed Haitians to take over public works, the Gendarmerie, renamed the Garde d’Haïti, and the new vocational education system. Finally in 1934 the United States withdrew and Vincent proclaimed Haiti’s second independence.