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1888-1915 - Prelude to Intervention

Haitian politics remained unstable. From the fall of Salomon until occupation by the United States in 1915, eleven men held the title of president. Their tenures in office ranged from six and one-half years in the case of Florvil Hyppolite (1889-96) to only months -- especially between 1912 and 1915, the turbulent period that preceded the United States occupation -- in the case of seven others.

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 Mle 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. Escalating instability in Haiti all but invited foreign intervention. Simon was President in 1911, and went out on the 1st of August that year, and so on. There were seven Presidents up to the time of the American occupation in July, 1915. During that period, in riding through the country one saw very few men. They were either in the Government army or in the revolutionary army, or hiding out in the hills to escape both. The majority of them wore engaged in the latter occupation, keeping out there with their families. The cultivation, such as it was, by the women was considerably limited, and between either the revolutionary army or the Government army a great many small villages were destroyed, the houses burnt up, the people killed, and every sort of au outrage which you may imagine going with a movement of that sort.

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. General Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, who had helped to bring Leconte to power, took the oath of office in March 1915. Like every other Haitian president of the period, he faced active rebellion to his rule. His leading opponent, Rosalvo Bobo, reputedly hostile toward the United States, represented to Washington a barrier to expanded commercial and strategic ties. The Governments which followed each other were revolutionary Governments, each one getting the country into debt more deeply.

A pretext for intervention came on July 27, 1915, when Guillaume Sam executed 167 political prisoners. Popular outrage provoked mob violence in the streets of Port-au-Prince. A throng of incensed citizens sought out Guillaume Sam at his sanctuary in the French embassy and literally tore him to pieces. The spectacle of an exultant rabble parading through the streets of the capital bearing the dismembered corpse of their former president shocked decision makers in the United States and spurred them to swift action. The first sailors and marines landed in Port-au-Prince on July 28. Within six weeks, representatives from the United States controlled Haitian customs houses and administrative institutions. For the next nineteen years, Haiti's powerful neighbor to the north guided and governed the country.

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Page last modified: 02-08-2011 16:44:44 ZULU