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1897-1918 - German Interests

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. 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.

In 1897 Haiti was greatly disturbed by a difficulty into which it fell with Germany. Early in the fall of 1897 a young man named Leuders, the son of a German father and a Haitian mother, was arrested by the Haitian authorities at Port au Prince on the charge of resisting officers of the law (who were attempting to arrest his servant) and was sentenced to pay a fine of $500 and undergo a year's imprisonment. The severity of the penalty is explained by the Haitians on the ground of a second offense. The German minister to Haiti intervened and on October 17 went to President Sam and demanded that Leuders be set at liberty and that an indemnity be paid amounting to $1,000 a day for every day Leuders had spent in prison - 23 in all; he added that a further indemnity of $5,000 a day would be claimed for every subsequent day he should be confined. Haiti refused to comply with the demand and the German minister broke off diplomatic relations with the republic. Great excitement was roused in the island by the proceedings and United States Minister Powell, in order to relieve the tension, made request that Leuders be released out of courtesy to the United States. His request was granted and Leuders was immediately sent to New York and thence to Germany.

On 06 December 1897 two German cruisers entered the harbor of Port au Prince and an ultimatum was delivered to Haiti which led that government to accede immediately to the demands of Germany. It is understood that the terms imposed were that Haiti should apologize to Germany, pay Leuders $30,000 and permit him to return to Haiti and live there without danger, and that the president of the republic should graciously receive Count von Schwerin, the German chargl d'affaires at Port au Prince.

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. This included the seizure of arms, etc., on hoard the German merchant steamer Markomannia, and the subsequent sinking of the Haitian insurgent (Firminist) gunboat Crete-a-Pierrot by the German cruiser Panther. The German press generally reviewed the incident quietly, and expressed considerable satisfaction at the manner in which it was commented upon in the American press. The opinion was general that the summary punishment given by the German vessel was to the advantage of all nations having commercial interests in South and Central America and the West Indies, and that the incident showed that the Monroe doctrine did not mean that the United States would object to the proper protection of its commercial interests by a European power.

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 Hatien 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.

Continued revolutionary turmoil had brought increases in the foreign debt until large sums in the form of bonds bearing stiff interest were in the hands of German and French bondholders, and English investors were fast acquiring the later issues bearing interest as high as 18 per cent. The financial troubles of Haiti multiplied after 1900 at an alarming rate, and, despite claims to the contrary, interest was defaulted. Foreign governments began to press Haiti for a change in methods of finance. Some interest payments were collected by force.

The Hamburg-American Line dominated the entire island trade. They practically made the rates for the whole Caribbean, for all the American lines and all other lines. With headquarters at St. Thomas, where they had a big coaling station; they served Venezuela. Panama. Jamaica, and Haiti. They laid out a certain district, which they monopolized to themselves and fixed rates.

Foreigners could not own any land. That was prohibited. Some of the Germans married Haitian women in order to get land, but the amount of land they acquired was relatively small, and was of no importance. They bought the products of the country and exported them, and they imported cotton goods, eatables, etc. They did their own banking business. They were not landowners, in the proper sense of the word. Through a nmrriaze or some association with a Haitian woman they would own a few houses in one town or another. They speculated in gourdes, and they made considerable profit out of financing revolutions.

Finally, Germany made overtures in 1912 to the then existing Haitian regime for a cession of Saint Nicholas Mole as a German coaling station, for German control of Haitian customs, and for preferred port rights, all to be based on a German loan of $2,000,000. When this negotiation became known at Washington, Germany was called upon for an explanation. The charge was denied in 1914, but at that time Germany stated that no scheme of reorganization or control in Haiti could be thought of unless European nations were permitted to exercise the same rights as the United States. This German statement constituted nothing less than a challenge to the Monroe Doctrine. When reports reached Washington that Berlin was considering setting up a coaling station at the Mle 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. If the Island meant anything in terms of the Monroe Doctrine before the completion of the Panama Canal, it meant everything thereafter.

Before a complete agreement could be ratified, the whole matter was upset by a revolution in Haiti. On 15 June 1915 American hands were forced by the landing of French Marines at Cape Haitien, which was threatened by a revolutionary army. This action by the French brought up the Monroe Doctrine, and the US Government decided to act. On July 27, at Port-au-Prince, the Haitian President, Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, from his refuge in the French legation, ordered the execution of 160 prisoners and members of prominent families. The officer who carried out the orders was later hacked to pieces. On the 28th, the President himself was taken from the French legation and cut to mince-meat. Following these terrible deeds the English and French consuls requested warships and American Marines were landed.

In early 1917, when the United States went into the war, Haiti declared war also on Germany, and the Germans were forced to leave the island. Their property was conscripted by the Haitian Government and placed in liquidation. Germany eventually severed diplomatic relations with Haiti in June, 1917, after the West Indian republic had protested against Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare and had demanded compensation for losses to Haitian commerce and life. On July 14, 1918, the Council of State of Haiti, acting in accordance with the legislative powers given it under the new Haitian Constitution, unanimously voted a declaration of war against Germany as demanded by the President of the Republic. President d'Artiguenave, in a message to the Haitian Congress had recommended a declaration of war against Germany, in consequence of the deaths of eight Haitians on the French steamship Montreal, when that vessel was torpedoed by a German submarine. The declaration was not passed at that time, however, the commission appointed to study the question having reported that there was not sufficient reason for passing it.

After the Wwar the ban was lifted and practically all the Germans were back in Haiti, they resumed their old business, and the property and funds which were taken from them then were being returned to them, their buildings, lands, stores, together with some $2.000.000 cash, which was realized from the sale of certain goods taken from their stores.




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