The United States would not be the country it is without #Haiti. Napoleon would have never done the #LouisianaPurchase without the #HaitianRevolution.
United States occupation of Haiti
The United States occupation of Haiti began on July 28, 1915, when 330 United States Marines landed at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on the authority of President of the United States Woodrow Wilson to establish control of Haiti’s political and financial interests.
The invasion and subsequent occupation was promoted by growing American business interests in Haiti.
The July intervention took place following years of socioeconomic instability within Haiti that culminated with the murder of President of Haiti Vilbrun Guillaume Sam by insurgents angered by his ordered executions of elite opposition.
The occupation ended on August 1, 1934, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt reaffirmed an August 1933 disengagement agreement.
The last contingent of marines departed on August 15, 1934, after a formal transfer of authority to the American-created Gendarmerie of Haiti.
Two major rebellions occurred during this period, resulting in several thousand Haitians killed and numerous human rights violations – including torture and summary executions – by Marines and the gendarmerie. Corvée labor was utilized for massive infrastructure projects that resulted in hundreds to thousands of deaths.
Under the occupation, most Haitians continued to live impoverished lives while the United States re-established power into the hands of a select minority of Haitians, the wealthy French-cultured mulatto Haitians.
American financial interests
Haiti’s large debt – which was 80 percent of its annual revenue– was held by three nations; France, followed by Germany, then the United States. However, the United States had become Haiti’s largest trade partner at the time, replacing France, with American businesses expanding their presence in Haiti.
Due to the influence of Germans within Haiti, they were regarded as a threat to American financial interests, with businesses ultimately advocating for policies of invading Haiti. In an effort to reduce German influence, the United States Department of State between 1910 and 1911 backed a consortium of American investors, headed by the National City Bank of New York, to acquire investor control of the Banque Nationale de la République d’Haïti(BNRH).
This was the country’s sole commercial bank and served as the Haitian government’s treasury.
In 1914, National City Bank and BNRH began to plan the destabilization of Haiti to pressure the United States to intervene.
John H. Allen of BNRH stated that if the United States permanently occupied Haiti, he supported National City Bank acquiring all shares of BNRH, believing that it would “pay 20% or better”.
Officials of the Wilson administration were not knowledgeable of Haiti and often relied on information from American businessmen.
United States Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan relied on an executive and lobbyist of National City Bank, Roger Farnham, for information regarding Haiti. Farnham persuaded Secretary Bryan to have the United States invade Haiti during a telephone call on January 22, 1914.
Farnham argued that Haiti was not improving due to continuous internal conflict, that Haitians were not interested in the revolts occurring and that American troops would be welcomed in Haiti.
Farnham even convinced Secretary Bryan that France and Germany – two nations then at war with each other – were plotting in cooperation to obtain the harbor of Môle Saint-Nicholas in northern Haiti.
The businessman concluded that Haiti would not improve “until such time as some stronger outside power steps in”.
On January 27, 1914, Haitian President Michel Oreste was deposed in a coup. Two generals, Charles and Oreste Zamor, seized control. In response, the USS Montana sent a marine detachment on January 29 into Port-au Prince to protect American interests.
On February 5, 1914, military forces from the French cruiser Conde and British HMS Lancaster also landed troops. These units agreed to leave the city and boarded their ships on February 9, 1914.
BNRH’s Allen telegrammed the State Department on April 8, 1914 requesting that the U.S. Navy sail to Port-au-Prince to deter possible rebellions.
In the summer of 1914, the BNRH began to threaten the Haitian government that it would no longer provide payments.
Simultaneously, Secretary Bryan telegrammed the United States consul in Cap-Haïtien, writing that the State Department agreed with invading Haiti, telling the consul that the United States “earnestly desires successfully carrying out of Farnham’s plan”.
American bankers raised fears that Haiti would default on debt payments despite consistent compliance by Haiti with loan conditions, calling for the seizure of Haiti’s national bank.
National City Bank officials – acting on behalf of Farnham – demanded the State Department to provide military support to acquire Haiti’s national reserves, with the bank arguing that Haiti had become too unstable to safeguard the assets.
Urged by the National City Bank and the BNRH, with the latter of the two already under direction of American business interests, the United States Marines took custody of Haiti’s gold reserve of about US$500,000 – about $13 million as of 2020 – on December 17, 1914.
The Marines transported the gold onto the USS Machias and transferred it to the National City Bank’s New York City vault on 55 Wall Street.The confiscation of the gold provided the United States with a large amount of control over the Haitian government, though American businesses demanded further intervention.