"Péralte and the Cacos" by Yveline Alexis, Ph.D.

Alexis is Presidential Post-Doctoral Fellow at Rutgers University. Her dissertation is titled "Nationalism and the Politics of Historical Memory: Charlemagne Péralte’s Rebellion Against the U.S. Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1986" (2011).

Charlemagne Péralte was born in 1885 to seamstress Marie-Claire Emmanuel and General Remi Massena Péralte, in Hinche, a small city in the island’s interior. Upon earning his education at the prestigious Saint Louis Gonzague in Port-au-Prince, Péralte followed in his paternal family’s footsteps and became politically active by holding posts in the DominicanRepublic and Haiti. When the United States occupation commenced in 1915, he was serving as the commander of Léogane, a position of influence, previously held by Cincinnatus Leconte, Oreste Zamor, and President Vilbrun Sam.

While most historians who have written on Péralte fixate on his leadership of the cacos, we should note that he also resisted the presence of the United States Marines as a member of the Revolutionary Committee which relied mostly on intellectual means to protest the occupation. For example, he and the Committee endorsed Rosalvo Bobo, a presidential candidate disliked by the United States administration.

At first, Péralte utilized tactful and non-aggressive means to oppose the occupation, as was evident in his communications to the United States Marines and, later, President Woodrow Wilson, whom he instructed to leave Haiti with God. After serving time in prison on charges drawn up by the United States Marines, Péralte was aided by a prison gendarme, Lucsama Luc, who was an undercover caco and helped Péralte’s escape on 3 September 1918.

While a comprehensive history of the cacos remains unwritten, their actions are remembered well by those in Haiti. They were active during the Haitian Revolution and reappeared throughout the twentieth century whenever the state pursued policies that threatened Haiti’s economic or political security. During the United States occupation, the cacos recalled the Haitian Revolution. They articulated an agenda to restore the nation’s sovereignty. And they used this message to recruit new members, black and mulatto, rich and poor, to physically resist the United States Marines. Under Péralte’s leadership, the cacos increased attacks in and around the capital city. They collaborated with sympathizers. And they wrote to leaders in the United States, Britain, and France to win support to end the occupation.

In the end, the United States Marines and their Haitian allies were able to infiltrate Péralte’s camp. And on 3 October 1919, they killed him and many other cacos. The Marines displayed Péralte’s body in public to discourage opposition to the occupation. Nevertheless Haitians continued to resist the occupation until it ended in 1934. And Péralte and his struggle are still remembered till this day.