Eyewitness to Chaos: Personal Accounts of the Intervention in Haiti, 1994

Eyewitness to Chaos: Personal Accounts of the Intervention in Haiti, 1994

by Walter E. Kretchik
Eyewitness to Chaos: Personal Accounts of the Intervention in Haiti, 1994

Eyewitness to Chaos: Personal Accounts of the Intervention in Haiti, 1994

by Walter E. Kretchik


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In September 1994 a large U.S. invasion force converged on Haiti. Years of diplomatic efforts, secret government planning, and military rehearsals on the parts of the United States and the United Nations had failed to restore to office Haiti’s democratically elected, junta-deposed president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and now invasion was imminent. Poised for action and mere minutes from striking, President Bill Clinton stunned military commanders when he announced a drastic change of plan: a peaceful cooperation with an illegal government.
In Eyewitness to Chaos Walter E. Kretchik retells the experience of this unprecedented and convoluted operation through the voices of its participants. Synthesizing accounts from a cross section of military officials, Kretchik unveils the little-known inner workings of government and military planning and the real-world quandaries of operational execution faced by those involved. The thirty-seven interviewees provide insight into the many facets of the operation: strategic and operational planning; intelligence gathering; multinational force design; medical and legal complications; communication concerns; contracting and logistics; ethnic, cultural, and historical considerations; mission execution; and language barriers. What emerges is a new perspective on this attempt to secure a brighter future for Haiti’s people.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781612348667
Publisher: Potomac Books
Publication date: 12/01/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 240
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Walter E. Kretchik is professor emeritus of history at Western Illinois University. He is the author of U.S. Army Doctrine: From the American Revolution to the War on Terror.
Walter E. Kretchik is professor emeritus of history at Western Illinois University. He is the author of U.S. Army Doctrine: From the American Revolution to the War on Terror.

Read an Excerpt

Eyewitness to Chaos

Personal Accounts of the Intervention in Haiti, 1994

By Walter E. Kretchik


Copyright © 2016 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61234-866-7


Haitian Culture and Military Power

"Believe me, the day the Army really intervenes, then there'll be complete silence."

— Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, Haitian army chief of staff

Before intervening in foreign lands, preventive diplomacy advocates should consider how the recipient populace views military power. In the case of Haiti, interceding militarily through Operation Uphold Democracy and the United Nations Mission in Haiti meant fathoming Haitian culture and centuries-old societal attitudes concerning the role of various military or paramilitary units. Haiti was born through war but the island's inhabitants had experienced violence long before taking up weapons against their colonial masters. From the revolution onward, regular and irregular armed forces, both domestic and foreign, benefited and harmed Haiti's people. The result was a citizenry possessing disparate views of what military power was all about, particularly when a military junta deposed democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in September 1991.

Conflict and War in Spanish Hispaniola, 1492–1697

Prior to contact with Western European empires in the late-1400s, Caribbean Basin inhabitants engaged in frequent intertribal warfare. The Carib people in particular conducted ferocious raids to capture male prisoners for enslavement, ritual sacrifice, and cannibalistic consumption. Their incursions affected the Taino people who occupied the island of Ayiti (land of high mountains), as Haiti was then known. While scholars have considered the Taino to be peaceful, they nonetheless defended themselves with wood and stone clubs, axes, daggers, and other dual-purpose implements used for warfare as well as agriculture and hunting.

In December 1492 Christopher Columbus spotted Ayiti and called it "La Isla Española" (Little Spain Island), which later became Hispaniola. After the Santa Maria became stuck upon a reef and was wrecked, the salvaged wood became a tower and fort near present-day Cap-Haïtien.

Columbus left a small garrison on Hispaniola in January 1493 and eventually returned to Spain. In November he returned to find the fort destroyed and his men dead from disease, starvation, or violence at the hands of the Taino's Jaragua tribe. Columbus chose to avoid further confrontation with the inhabitants by moving inland. His fifteen-hundred-man force constructed yet another fort that eventually led to a small colony with its capital, Santo Domingo, in what is now the Dominican Republic.

By 1512 Spain's colony had grown to about four thousand Spanish inhabitants who forced the native people to labor in colonial mines or farms under the encomienda system. Brutal conditions diminished the workforce and initiated the introduction of black slaves. Hispaniola nonetheless generated far less wealth than what Aztec and Inca laborers produced in Mexico and South America. Less output meant less wealth for Spain but also that the lightly defended island was unimportant to foreign empires.

Over time, ships carrying vast wealth to Spain passed by Hispaniola, and its location became strategically valuable. Without a substantial military force to defend the island's 18,704 square miles (slightly smaller than West Virginia), sixteenth-century French pirates from nearby Tortuga plundered and burned the Spanish settlement of Yacanagua in 1543. Pirate raids reflected rising international interest in the island's affairs, a circumstance that dragged the inhabitants into foreign wars. In 1585 England's Queen Elizabeth I supported Dutch separatists fighting against Spain in what became the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648). Hispaniola entered the conflict when a Crown-directed foray by the Englishman Sir Francis Drake pillaged Santo Domingo on January 1, 1586. The Spanish paid twenty-five thousand ducats (equivalent to about $20 million in 2015) in ransom for the city's return, a move that made Spain appear weak in protecting its overseas colonies. That notion was reinforced on May 27, 1592, when Christopher Newport and his 110-man English naval force torched the ill-fated settlement of Yacanagua for a second time. In 1605 the town was attacked again, in this case through a very brief "civil war." Spanish troops acting under Crown orders destroyed it and hauled off its inhabitants to halt an unauthorized salt trade between Dutch merchants and Spain's Dominican colonists.

The Spanish military action against itself proved to be the colony's ultimate undoing. The soldiers forcibly relocated colonists from several northern and western villages to Santo Domingo, where they could be controlled. Although some colonists fled into the jungle or escaped aboard passing Dutch ships, more than 50 percent of them died in the so-called Devastaciones de Osorio. Thousands of cattle were abandoned and many slaves escaped. Well into 1606, Spanish troops methodically obliterated five of the existing thirteen colonial settlements, including two in what is now Haiti: Bayaja, founded in 1578, and La Yaguana, a former Taino village.

French Military Power in Saint-Domingue, 1697–1789

Spain's use of military power to punish economically opportunistic colonists proved a significant blunder. By 1625 Hispaniola was in chaos and the western portion was virtually abandoned. Pirates from Tortuga, also called flibustiers or boucaniers, intercepted passing ships from their island settlement about one mile northwest of Hispaniola, part of present-day Haiti. Gradually some of them moved to western Hispaniola, calling it Saint-Domingue.

Many pirates were of French origin, from nearby islands such as Martinique, so France claimed authority over them to justify seizing the area. In 1664 France's West Indian Company took control and Bertrand D'Ogeron, a former boucanier, became governor. The French navy used the pirates to attack Spanish garrisons and treasure ships transiting from the New World to the Old World, all the while encouraging immigrants to acquire land, buy slaves, and grow crops.

Between 1679 and 1704 four slave conspiracies occurred in which the object was the extermination of white masters. Although quickly squelched, the incidents nevertheless established that some of the island's population accepted violence as a means of social change; this view would eventually become entrenched within Haitian culture. These incidents aside, in 1697 two centuries of Spanish domination of Hispaniola ended with the Treaty of Ryswick, validating French claims to the western portion of the island. The area was organized into the partie du Nord (northern part), partie de l'Ouest (western part), and partie du Sud (southern part). A capital was established at Cap-Français in 1711, present-day Cap-Haïtien.

The French colony soon became the "pearl of the Antilles," the richest colonial possession of any empire in the New World. Saint-Domingue alone produced 50 percent of all French commodity exports, which soon attracted the eye of rival powers such as Britain. By midcentury France's government had secured its most precious overseas possession with substantial military force. During the War of Austrian Succession (1740–48), French naval vessels from Saint-Domingue patrolled the Caribbean and protected French shipping from British and other foreign attacks.

In 1749 the town of Port-au-Prince was founded, and it became the new capital in 1770. Military forces increased during this period; by 1775 the army comprised several metropolitan regiments of infantry, voluntary grenadiers, voluntary chasseurs (light infantry) of free blacks and mulattoes, and a loose militia of free blacks and mulattoes. An impressive naval fleet of at least twenty-five ships-of-the-line (fifty guns or more each), fifteen smaller ships, and numerous trade and supply vessels called Cap-Français home.

Some of the island's military forces participated in the American Revolution (1775–83). In March 1778 France's government signed the Treaty of Alliance with the Americans and agreed to provide military support and armament. On July 31, 1779, a 3,750-man French force was transported by sea from Saint-Domingue to Savannah, Georgia. Free men of color in French military service fought under the command of French general Charles Hector, the Comte d'Estaing. Future Haitian rebels such as Henri Christophe learned firsthand about American revolutionary ideas, military organization, and contemporary tactics.

Black slave participation in America's revolt also inspired calls for further use of such troops. France had been defeated in Canada, India, and Louisiana at a high cost in soldiers, and thus black colonial troops seemed a reasonable way to fill the ranks. But racial prejudices hindered such initiatives; some deemed mulattoes and blacks incapable of mastering more than mundane military tasks. Moreover, black slaves made up 90 percent of the population of France's Caribbean holdings. Given a history of several unsuccessful slave revolts in Saint-Domingue alone, arming slaves was considered to be foolish. Still, many trusted slaves learned to use firearms to hunt game for their masters' tables, a skill that would prove useful in the future for other purposes.

Mulattoes, free men of color, could and did serve in the maréchaussée, a rural police force led by a seneschal that had roots dating to the French Middle Ages. In Saint-Domingue, the maréchaussée was established in 1721 to control the population. White officers led black conscripts, and by 1733 the enlisted component was entirely of African ancestry. Although mostly leveed into service, many members joined for pay. Serving also meant societal uplift and increased status. Members attained social and economic privileges and owned property, land, and slaves. The black policemen wore ornate uniforms and carried weapons, prestige symbols that not only fed the ego but also reflected personal wealth. The troops embraced their roles with enthusiasm, a mission that included hunting down bandits and marrons (runaway slaves), protecting towns and villages from lawbreakers, and upholding state power.

The maréchaussée enlisted men commanded a certain respect within the free black and slave communities. However, the mulatto police and slaves also despised each other, for the constabularies advanced their own social status by keeping slaves in line. Moreover, their loyalty was to those who paid them. This sixteenth-century mind-set resulted in an established Haitian cultural value that military fidelity comes from money, not a sense of civic-mindedness. This viewpoint was significant during and after Operation Uphold Democracy, when foreign nationals attempted to reform the Haitian police according to Western law enforcement norms.

By 1789 centuries of warfare among the Taino and Caribs, the presence of Spanish garrisons and militias, pirate occupancy and raids, international and domestic wars, slave uprisings, and the participation of Frenchmen and mulattoes in military and police forces meant that Saint-Domingue was well on its way toward becoming militarized. A robust armed force allowed the French colony's seven thousand plantations to produce 40 percent of France's foreign trade, nearly double the production of all British colonies combined. The harbor of Le Cap was one of the busiest in the world.

Saint-Domingue's Slave Uprising

France's celebrated colony was productive, but societal tensions threatened to destroy over ninety years of French-dominated life. In 1790 the colony's social hierarchy was partially maintained by armed forces, including French colonials, black militias, and the maréchaussée. However, the news that the Bastille had been stormed in Paris along with the issuance of the Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen (Declaration of the rights of man and citizens) propelled the island into revolutionary fever. The militia organization was abolished. Whites and mulattoes formed a national guard and adopted the tricolor cockade. Mobs lynched individuals who failed to support calls for freedom. As mulattoes pressed for equal political power, white colonial troops were caught between keeping civil order and taking sides.

Many slaves expected to be freed due to the French revolutionaries' profound views of human rights. However, they waited as Haiti's colonists and the French government debated liberating them. Civil unrest permeated the island. Fearful of a slave uprising, the French government sent a naval squadron with two army regiments to Saint-Domingue, arriving in March 1791. Soon thereafter, the Port-au-Prince colonial regiment mutinied, beheading their colonel and parading his pate on a pole.

On May 15, 1791, the French National Assembly voted to award French citizenship to free men of color provided that certain conditions, such as loyalty, were met. Free blacks were hopeful of becoming French citizens but soon discovered that the law would either be delayed or not enforced. In June and July 1791 armed whites and free blacks fought each other in the streets of Port-au-Prince. By August some mulattoes and slave leaders had succeeded in stirring up the masses through the use of vodun, the local religion that combined Roman Catholicism with African spiritualism. Slaves roamed the northern countryside slaughtering white men, women, and children and burning plantations in their quest for liberty. By August, upwards of fifty thousand northern slaves were in rebellion. Some had firearms or swords; others fought with sticks or bare hands. Still, the motley insurgent force withstood the colonial army and volunteers.

By September 1792 French negotiators such as Léger Félicité Sonthonax attempted to crush the rebellion. In Sonthonax's case, he commissioned and promoted free blacks while appointing some to administrative jobs. Social tensions increased nonetheless, even as international events once more involved the island's inhabitants. On January 21, 1793, the French national convention executed King Louis XVI, provoking war with England and Spain. These countries held Caribbean possessions, and a Continental war spread to Saint-Domingue. Spanish colonial leaders secretly supplied French slaves with weapons and commissioned former members of the slave armies. One individual who became a Spanish officer was the freed man Toussaint Louverture, born in Haut-du-Cap in 1746. He would prove to be one of Haiti's greatest generals.

Meanwhile, the British navy arrived to intercept French ships traveling to the Caribbean. In the midst of this mayhem, France sent a new governor to the colony, Thomas François Galbaud du Fort. Many whites supported him, a planter's son, rather than Sonthonax, who had aligned with free blacks. Sonthonax arrested Galbaud for undermining his authority, sparking an armed uprising in Le Cap by Galbaud's supporters.

Needing troops, Sonthonax offered amnesty to rebel forces if they fought his adversaries. Several thousand rebellious slaves agreed. A bloodbath ensued in Le Cap, forcing several thousand whites and their slaves to flee to North America. On July 11, 1793, with Le Cap quelled, Sonthonax offered freedom to all who fought for France. The proposition was expanded in September 1793, when British troops from Jamaica landed at Môle Saint-Nicolas at the invitation of counterrevolutionary colonists. Local whites greeted the British soldiers as liberators, and the French Eighty-Seventh Regiment joined them. The combined force spread into western and southern Saint-Domingue as, on February 4, 1794, the French national convention ended slavery in all French territories. After several years of fighting, Saint-Domingue's slaves were both free and French citizens, although racial divisions persisted.

In 1795 the Second Treaty of Basel ceded two-thirds of Hispaniola to France. Spanish troops, however, lingered temporarily because tens of thousands of British troops occupied portions of the newly French colony. French forces could not occupy the entire island without removing the lethal but weakened British, who were suffering from the "black vomit," their term for yellow fever.


Excerpted from Eyewitness to Chaos by Walter E. Kretchik. Copyright © 2016 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
List of Abbreviations,
1. Haitian Culture and Military Power,
2. Preventive Diplomacy and Military Intervention,
3. Planning a Military Intervention,
4. Conducting a Military Intervention,
5. Intervention under the Blue Beret,
6. Aftermath,
Appendix: Oral History Interviewees,
Selected Bibliography,

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