Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Friday, January 22, 2010

Meanwhile back in US Occupied Haiti

[From The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers (1931) by George Padmore]

For over 15 years [since 1915] Haiti has been under the political domination of the United States, which maintains a military dictatorship over the island. During these years several revolts against American imperialism have broken out among the Haitian workers and peasants, but these have all been ruthlessly suppressed. It has been estimated that over 3,000 Haitians have been murdered by the United States’ marines during their occupation of the country.

Because of the position of Haiti proper, which overlooks the Panama Canal and the proposed canal through Nicaragua, the island is considered the most valuable strategic base for the United States navy in the Caribbean, as well as a fertile field for the investment of finance-capital in the development of tropical products, such as coffee, cotton, tobacco, cocoa, sugar, etc., etc. These are the principal factors which dictated the military annexation of the island in 1915.

On the occasion when the first batch of American marines landed their leader, Admiral Caperton, was instructed by the United States State Department to impose a treaty with the following conditions upon the Haitians:

1. That the mining, commercial and agricultural resources of the country be developed exclusively by American financial interests.

2. That the United States was to provide a general receiver and financial adviser to the Government and thereby assume complete control over revenue.

3. That Haiti would not float any new loans or change her tariff unless first approved by the United States.

4. That Haiti would neither lease nor cede territory to any foreign power.

5. That the United States should supply officers for the Haitian gendarmerie (police force).

Since the American occupation the conditions of the 2,500,000 Haitians, especially the workers and peasants, have become terrible.

Land Robbery

Nearly all the fertile lands held by the peasants since the establishment of the republic in 1804 have been appropriated by the imperialists and turned into large plantations controlled by foreign corporations. As a result of this policy most of the Haitians are now a landless proletariat and are compelled to become wage-earners on the plantations and in the factories of foreign corporations.

So intense has been the policy of exploitation and its effects upon the living standards of the toiling masses, that spontaneous revolts have broken out throughout the island from time to time. All these manifestations of the workers for liberation have been ruthlessly stamped out. The marines have spread a network of terrorism throughout the country. They have muzzled the press, abolished freedom of speech and assembly, and either exiled or thrown into prison all who dared to champion the cause of national independence.

In order effectively to carry out this programme of subjugation the United States State Department maintains naval rule under the direct supervision of a High Commissioner, General John H. Russell. This marine officer is the real dictator of Haiti. He operates through a puppet president, Louis Bruneo, and a Council of State. This council is a small committee or cabinet selected by the “president” from among his henchmen, who in turn select the “president.” Both the council and the “presidents” must be approved of by the High Commission, who in turn is responsible to the United States Government in Washington. Thus the Haitians have absolutely no voice in the Government.

All of the large plantations, railroads, street railways, electric and gas companies in Haiti are owned by American bankers. Thousands of natives are employed as unskilled labourers in these concerns. The average wage of a Haitian worker is between 20 and 30 cents a day. Wherever they are employed, whether on the plantations or in the factories, they are forced to work long hours, and are most brutally treated by the American superintendents and managers, who are some of the most cruel slave-drivers to be found in the colonies.

The Tipinor and the Reginier-Pinerd Companies, which own some of the largest coffee plantations in the island, have the reputation of being the most brutal exploiters. They employ over 10,000 Negroes, who are supposed to get one dollar a day; but out of this a tax of 75 cents is collected and turned over to the Government, in order to meet its interest on foreign loans. The balance goes to the workers, who are expected to provide themselves with food, clothing and shelter during the period of their contract.

Exclusive of the agricultural and transport workers, there are about 5,000 stevedores employed by European and American steamship companies at Port-au-Prince, the national capital. The rate of wage is between 40 and 50 cents for loading and unloading ships. These workers are unorganised, and as a result their labour-power is being exploited to the maximum. The stevedores, together with the railroad and factory workers in the sugar refineries, form the bulk of the industrial proletariat of Haiti.

Thousands of women and children are also employed as agricultural labourers on the coffee and tobacco plantations. These workers are even more viciously exploited than the men. The average wage for women is 15 cents per day and children 10 cents. Like the men, women and children work from 10 to 15 hours under the most awful conditions, especially during the rainy season of the year, when malaria is very prevalent. The low standard of living among the Haitian toilers due to small wages and the rationalisation of the American capitalists contribute to the high mortality. The majority of Haitian agricultural workers suffer from hookworm and other tropical diseases...

These high-handed methods of imperialist exploitation, perpetrated against the Haitians, especially the peasantry, were the underlying factors which led to the revolt in November, 1928, which was drowned in blood by the machine guns of the United States marines.

The Revolt

The underlying factors of the 1929 Haitian revolt against American imperialism, like the uprising in Nigeria, were (I) the worsening of the conditions of the peasantry, due to the world crisis which has caused a falling of the prices of agricultural products, especially coffee; (2) the expropriation of lands for the development of industrialised agriculture by American capitalists, and (3) the attempts on the part of the imperialists to force the natives to contribute labour for road building without pay.

As soon as the uprising occurred, martial law was proclaimed by Colonel Richards Coots, the American officer commanding marines in Port-au-Prince. The troops were immediately got in readiness, and bloody attacks were made against all those who participated in the uprising.

The first stage was a strike among the students of the National University. They held parades through the principal streets of Port-au-Prince, protesting against the educational bureaucracy saddled upon them by President Borneo and his American educational advisors. In order to cut down national expenses, the Government recently made a sweeping reduction in the education budget. So incensed are all sections of the population against the present fascist dictatorship that no sooner had the students walked out of their classes than the native staff in the Customs Department joined in the strike. The clerks attacked the American officials with ink bottles, parts of typewriters and other office accessories, chasing them out of the building. The dock workers also declared a general strike, and within a few hours the entire business life of the city of Port-au-Prince was at a standstill.

Thousands of Haitian workers gathered before the Government administration building and the President’s palace, shouting “DOWN WITH BORNEO!” “DOWN WITH AMERICAN IMPERIALISM!”

The most serious manifestations, however, took place in the country districts. Because of their impoverished condition the peasants showed the most militancy. Immediately after learning what had taken place in the city they organised their forces and began a march on the capital.

Thousands of them gathered at a place called Aux Cayes, an important agricultural settlement. An advance guard of about 150 men and women armed with machetes (long knives used for cutting sugar canes) and sticks, marched ahead of the demonstrators. They were bent upon driving the American officials and their puppet, Borneo, out of Port-au-Prince.

As the column advanced on the capital, shouting “DOWN WITH BORNEO!” “DOWN WITH FREEMAN!” (who is the most vicious agent of American imperialism on the island, enjoying a salary of $10,000), they were met by a regiment of marines armed with every device of modern warfare.

The soldiers demanded that the peasants halt and return to their villages, which they refused to do. The marines then opened fire, killing five and wounding twenty. Despite the overwhelming superiority in numbers and equipment of the American forces, the natives fought heroically, making successful counter-attacks upon the military outposts at Chatel and Torbecks. By bringing up their reinforcements the peasants were able to break into the national guard-house at St. Michael, where they inflicted a severe assault on Lieutenant George Bertein, a Haitian petty-bourgeois renegade in the service of the American imperialists.

As the struggle increased more marines as well as American business men, who volunteered their services as a special fascist corps, were hurried off in armoured cars to various sections of the island to suppress the insurrection which was spreading from village to village.

While all this was taking place in the outskirts of the city, General Russell, the then High Commissioner, telegraphed to President Hoover informing him of the uprising. The American “dictator,” who is fast adopting to himself the mantle of Mussolini, ordered the cruiser Galveston, then at its naval base in Cuba, to proceed to Haiti. The bombing plane, Wright, with 500 more marines, was also dispatched on its mission of “peace and goodwill.”

With this formidable array the revolt was crushed with the same ruthlessness which characterised the marine campaigns in Nicaragua.

The reaction that has followed has created an atmosphere of widespread terrorism. Workers are afraid to express opposition sentiments for fear of being thrown into jail or murdered by the soldiers.

These outrages have aroused such world-wide protests among the working class and toiling masses of the colonies, especially in Latin-America, where Yankee imperialism rules supreme, that the Wall Street controlled Government in Washington was forced to dispatch a commission to “investigate” conditions. The Commissioners will merely carry out in the commission the instructions of their masters and whitewash the marine murderers of their bloody crimes, as has been done in the past.

The Haitian toilers know this only too well, and on the occasion of the arrival of the Commission at Port-au-Prince organised boycott demonstrations, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the marines and the abolition of the present dictatorship. The masses are still in a fighting mood. This was demonstrated when 5,000 workers and peasants shouting “LONG LIVE LIBERTY!” held a protest meeting before the Government buildings.

Since this incident a number of minor skirmishes have occurred between the toilers and the police in different parts of the island. The Haitian toiling masses will carry on the struggle until their country is freed from marine rule and foreign domination.

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At 2:46 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so astoundingly incorrect in both your words and perceptions of Haiti and its people.
One, be a responsible adult and ensure your facts are in the realm of "approximate" at least.
Second, have you ever been to Haiti? Have you spoke with the people about there views on the United States?
How about how they feel about MINUSTAH or the U.N.?
Have you been to the recently erected IDP cmaps or watched your friends be too scared to sleep in their homes and instead construct makeshift shelters on the street?
Howabout talking to the children of Carrefeur?
Have you helped lift the bodies of dead children out of flattened schools around PaP?
I have.
These people are thankful for and love the U.S.
On many occasions, they have expressed their desire to be absorbed by the U.S. or France, although we are trying to get them to regain their comfidence in their own government, in order to strengthen their own country internally.
You, friend, are misguided and uneducated in that which you speak. I pray you try to stop talking and listen before you spew more poison and ignorance.
God Bless.


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