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Intervention in Haiti (1914)

By 1912 escalating instability in Haiti all but invited foreign intervention. The country's most productive president of the early twentieth century, Cincinnatus Leconte, had died in a freak explosion in the National Palace (Palais National) in August 1912. Five more contenders claimed the country's leadership over the next three years.

During 1914, US naval forces intermittently protected American nationals in a time of rioting and revolution in Haiti - January 29 to February 9, February 20 to 21, October 19.

Although domestic unrest helped pave the way for intervention by the United States, geostrategic concerns also influenced events. The United States had periodically entertained the notion of annexing Hispaniola, but the divisive issue of slavery deterred the nation from acting. Until 1862 the United States refused to recognize Haiti's independence because the free, black, island nation symbolized opposition to slavery. President Ulysses S. Grant proposed annexation of the Dominican Republic in 1870, but the United States Senate rejected the idea. By the late nineteenth century, the growth of United States power and the prospect of a transoceanic canal in either Nicaragua or Panama had increased attention given to the Caribbean. Annexation faded as a policy option, but Washington persistently pursued efforts to secure naval stations throughout the region. The United States favored the Môle Saint-Nicolas as an outpost, but Haiti refused to cede territory to a foreign power.

The French and the British still claimed interests in Haiti, but it was the Germans' activity on the island that concerned the United States most. The small German community in Haiti (approximately 200 in 1910) wielded a disproportionate amount of economic power. Germans controlled about 80 percent of the country's international commerce; they also owned and operated utilities in Cap Haďtien and Port-au-Prince, the main wharf and a tramway in the capital, and a railroad in the north. The Germans, as did the French, aiming to collect the nation's customs receipts to cover Haiti's outstanding debts to European creditors, also sought control of the nearly insolvent National Bank of Haiti. This kind of arrangement was known technically as a customs receivership.

Officials in Washington were especially concerned about Germany's aggressive employment of military might. In December 1897, a German commodore in charge of two warships demanded and received an indemnity from the Haitian government for a German national who had been deported from the island after a legal dispute. Another German warship intervened in a Haitian uprising in September 1902. It forced the captain of a rebel gunboat (that had waylaid a German merchant ship) to resort to blowing up his ship--and himself--to avoid being seized.

Reports reached Washington that Berlin was considering setting up a coaling station at the Môle Saint-Nicolas to serve the German naval fleet. This potential strategic encroachment resonated through the White House, at a time when the Monroe Doctrine (a policy that opposed European intervention in the Western Hemisphere) and the Roosevelt Corollary (whereby the United States assumed the responsibility for direct intervention in Latin American nations in order to check the influence of European powers) strongly shaped United States foreign policy, and when war on a previously unknown scale had broken out in Europe. The administration of President Woodrow Wilson accordingly began contingency planning for an occupation of Haiti.



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