Haiti's New Dictatorship: The Coup, the Earthquake and the UN Occupation

Haiti's New Dictatorship: The Coup, the Earthquake and the UN Occupation

by Justin Podur


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745332574
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 10/30/2012
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Justin Podur is Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at York University, Canada. He is a writer on political conflicts and social movements, and has reported from numerous countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Haiti and Israel/Palestine. He is a contributor to Empire's Ally: Canadian Foreign Policy and the War in Afghanistan (2012).

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Haiti in the Americas from independence to today

Before starting the analysis of the post-2004 period, some historical context is necessary. Most books on Haiti include a short overview of the past, and there are several good histories. This background will emphasize the aspects of history that are important for understanding recent history: specifically, the constraints on Haiti's economic and political sovereignty, imposed from the outside.


With the Dominican Republic, Haiti is one of two countries on the island of Hispaniola, whose indigenous inhabitants came into contact with Europeans in 1492 with Christopher Columbus's first voyage to the Americas. Columbus left a settlement behind, and the devastation of the indigenous population through brutal violence, forced labour, and disease began immediately. Over the following century, the indigenous population of many of the new Spanish colonies was wiped out, reducing the forced labour pool accordingly. The Spanish then introduced African slaves in Hispaniola, as they did in Cuba and other colonies. Haiti was thus one of the first terminal destinations for the captured men and women of the transatlantic slave trade.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, European colonial powers, including Spain, the Netherlands, England, and France, fought naval battles directly and through proxies (pirates) for colonial possessions in the Americas. The Caribbean was the major site of these conflicts. France began to settle colonists in western Hispaniola in the seventeenth century, and by the end of that century the Spanish ceded the western part of Hispaniola to the French, who named the colony St Domingue.

St Domingue became France's most important colony and a major source of its wealth. St Domingue's wealth was from a variety of export crops, especially sugar and coffee, but also tobacco, cocoa, cotton, indigo, and others, produced with slave labour for European markets. In the eighteenth century the colonial capital, Port-au-Prince, was destroyed twice by major earthquakes, once in 1751 and again in 1770. By the late eighteenth century, the slave population was far higher than the white population. The slaves' resistance was constant and, in various ways, successful: they raided plantations, freed others, and, like slaves in Brazil, Colombia, elsewhere in the Caribbean, and the United States, they founded maroon societies of escaped slaves. The history of slavery and of resistance continues to have a powerful resonance in Haiti's culture today.

Unremitting slave resistance meant that the French colonists maintained power through atrocity. Described in detail in C.L.R. James's indispensable The Black Jacobins, these atrocities are also summarized in a well-known letter from revolutionary leader Henri Christophe's personal secretary and quoted in Robert Heinl's 1996 history, Written in Blood:

Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in mortars? Have they not forced them to eat excrement? And, having flayed them with the lash, have they not cast them alive to be devoured by worms, or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be devoured by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside barrels studded with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into the abyss? Have they not consigned these miserable blacks to man-eating dogs until the latter, sated by human flesh, left the mangled victims to be finished off with bayonet and poniard?

If slavery, and the atrocities required to maintain it, provided the rage needed to provoke a revolution, the vulnerability of the mercantile economy to a scorched-earth strategy and the fact that the slaves outnumbered the colonists nearly twenty-to-one provided the possibility for success.


Haiti's revolutionary leaders, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and others, were able to take advantage of this possibility. Independence was won in a bitter, brutal revolt against the French colonial masters, the only successful slave revolt in history. Despite Toussaint's willingness to make all concessions except the re-imposition of slavery, including allowing the colony to remain a part of France, the French under Napoleon ultimately decided on a genocidal campaign: if Haiti's population was not to be France's possession, it would have to be utterly destroyed. The Haitian revolutionaries, faced with complete destruction, chose a scorched-earth strategy themselves, as summarized in the instructions Toussaint wrote to Dessalines in 1802 as the French fleet, commanded by Napoleon's brother-in-law, approached:

Do not forget, while waiting for the rainy season which will rid us of our foes, that we have no other resource than destruction and flames. Bear in mind that the soil bathed with our sweat must not furnish our enemies with the smallest aliment. Tear up the roads with shot; throw corpses and horses into all the fountains; burn and annihilate everything, in order that those who have come to reduce us to slavery may have before their eyes the image of that hell which they deserve.

When the war of independence ended in 1804, Haiti was divided between two revolutionary generals, Alexandre Petion as President in the south and Henri Christophe as King in the north. Haiti was not re-united until Christophe's death in 1820.


Toussaint L'Ouverture used the language of the French Revolution (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) and suggested that the Haitian revolution was only an attempt to live up to those ideals. Similarly, Haiti might have hoped that the United States, upon becoming independent, might embrace its independent neighbour. But the new republic, although in part based also on the ideals of the French Revolution, was also a genocidal settler state and a slave society. These realities coloured the U.S.'s policy toward Haiti much more than any shared revolutionary ideals. The U.S. refused to recognize Haiti and feared the example of a successful slave revolt.

Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the former field slave who had led the final struggle for independence after Toussaint L'Ouverture was captured, declared himself Emperor upon victory, but was assassinated shortly afterward. Alexandre Petion, President of Haiti after Dessalines's assassination, helped South American Revolutionary Simon Bolivar in the fight for independence against Spain. Bolivar ended up in exile in Haiti twice, in 1815 and 1816. Haiti provided Bolivar first with sanctuary, then with material, volunteers, and transport back to the continent to resume the fight. Petion's condition: that Bolivar free the slaves in the territories he liberated. Bolivar modified the condition in the implementation, issuing a decree that slaves would be freed if they joined his army.


In 1825, France issued the Royal Ordinance, calling for Haitians to pay a massive indemnity for winning the revolt and freeing themselves. The indemnity was for 150 million francs, based on the profits that could have been earned by colonists in the period: it represented France's annual budget plus ten years of revenue from the plantations and estates that had been destroyed during the war. On top of this, French ships and commercial goods entering and leaving Haiti were to be discounted 50 per cent. The demands were delivered by heavily armed warships just off of Port-au-Prince. The French promised to recognize Haiti as an independent nation if the indemnity was paid. Haiti had fortified itself against another invasion, but was no naval power. Facing a blockade, the island economy was forced to acquiesce. A French bank loaned Haiti 30 million francs for the first instalment, deducting management fees and charging exorbitant interest: by the time payments were completed, Haiti was 6 million francs deeper in the hole. It took Haiti 122 years – until 1947 – to finish paying the indemnity debt.

The scorched earth warfare, disunity, and indemnity prevented Haiti from establishing itself economically. Haiti's post-revolutionary rulers tried to impose measures to continue commodity agricultural production, but several additional factors worked against this. The lack of international recognition impeded the re-establishment of normal trade. There was no easy way to transition from the plantation economy to an export-based economy that was not based on slavery. The monopoly of skills and organization by the colonists before the revolution meant that after the revolution, when colonists left or were massacred, the country had a shortage of skills. An additional earthquake in 1843, as well as hurricanes and outbreaks of disease, were also devastating. In this period when the U.S. and European countries were undergoing explosive industrial growth, revolutionary Haiti was excluded. Indeed, it continued to be squeezed to enrich the already wealthy with resources it needed for its own growth and development.

Haiti was only officially recognized by the United States during the American Civil War. After the Emancipation Proclamation, the U.S. had no real reason to fear the example of a republic of freed slaves. Haiti's government held a state funeral for John Brown, and allowed the U.S. Navy to operate from Haitian ports to maintain the blockade of the South.


Saddled with these crippling debts, Haiti was hardly able to move forward. The mulatto elite's Liberal Party fought the black National Party for control through the nineteenth century. There were military conflicts between rivals for power within Haiti, local revolts and rebellions, and border wars with the Dominican Republic. As U.S. economic power grew in the nineteenth century, so too did its influence in Haiti. By the 1910s, this influence was symbolized by HASCO, The Haitian-American Sugar Company. Like United Fruit in the Latin American 'banana republics', HASCO was a major player in Haitian politics and a vehicle for U.S. influence in the country.

In 1915, the U.S. Marines invaded Haiti. As always, the U.S. cited local politics and concerns for its business interests (including HASCO) as the reason for invasion. But this was a period in which the U.S. conducted several invasions in the Americas (Nicaragua was occupied from 1912 to 1933, the Dominican Republic from 1916 to 1924, Cuba since the Spanish–American war, and others). The U.S. privatized the National Bank, re-instituted forced labour, tied resistance leader Charlemagne Peralte's body to a door and circulated the photograph. When the Marines left 19 years later in 1934, the U.S. reserved a 'special role' for itself. The U.S. left behind two military forces for use against the population, the 'gendarmerie' and the National Guard, which evolved into the Haitian Army (renamed Forces Armees D'Haiti, or FADH, in 1958). In 1935, the post-occupation government of Haiti granted a 25-year banana contract to the U.S. Standard Fruit and Steamship Company.


Two years later, in 1937, the U.S.-supported Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic massacred thousands of Haitian workers there, in a systematically planned, five-day pogrom. In his history of the period, Matthew Smith argues that the Haitian government may have had sufficient force to stop the massacres from taking place, but was focused on internal threats to its own stability and not the security of its people, who had no international champions either. The Haitian government accepted an indemnity of $750,000 for the families of the victims in exchange for cancelling an independent investigation of the slaughter.

In 1941, the Société Haitiano-Americaine de Développement Agricole, or SHADA, was created with a $5 million grant from the U.S. Export-Import Bank. This megaproject, which came to control 100,000 hectares in Haiti, was motivated by the need to produce rubber for the Allied war effort in World War II. By 1944, the project had failed to produce much rubber, left no sustainable infrastructure, and forcibly displaced peasants from their land. The economic failures were accompanied by repression and surveillance: 'A government law insisted on the presence of a police officer at all meetings of workers associations.'

In 1946, a popular movement including workers and students mobilized to oust the undemocratic regime that had ruled Haiti since 1941. The National Guard struck first, ousting the President and promising new elections under a Military Executive Council. In many respects, these events were similar to the 1986 overthrow of the Duvaliers (see below), also accomplished because of popular mobilization but which also ended with the military in charge. The outcome of the elections that followed months later, possibly tampered with by the military regime, were unfavourable to the popular movement. The regime responded to the ensuing protests with further repression. The eventual winner, Dumarsais Estimé, was not the favourite. Elected by the legislature to 'surprise and disbelief' in Port-au-Prince, he found that people 'shouted threats and slurs at him, while many women were, according to one observer, 'on their knees wailing miserably'. Estimé used patronage to win a degree of popular support, brought some socialists associated with the popular movement into his government, and initiated a degree of economic planning. When this caught U.S. attention, Estimé removed the socialist ministers from his cabinet, while attempting a modest programme of reform, including increasing minimum wages, an income tax, new labour laws, labour inspectors, cooperatives, school rehabilitation, and a rural development campaign. U.S. corporations, SHADA and HASCO, labelled Estimé's administration communist; U.S. banks denied the government debt relief and new loans. Estimé successfully waged a public campaign to raise domestic funds to pay off a $5 million loan, but was again rebuffed in most of his efforts to get new loans from the U.S. A poorly planned attempt at nationalizing the banana industry harmed Haiti's market share, its economy, and its government's finances. He was removed in a coup by the National Guard, which he had renamed the Haitian Army (Armée D'Haiti) in 1950.

The post-coup regime of Philip Magloire repaired any strains in relations with the U.S. and created an anti-communist dictatorship allied with Trujillo's Dominican Republic and Batista's Cuba. Like these Caribbean neighbours, Magloire emphasized the tourist industry in his economic plan. But tourism remained ultimately an insignificant contributor to the national economy. The major economic sector, agriculture, declined, subject to boom-and-bust cycles because of over-reliance on a single crop (coffee) and vulnerability to hurricanes. Corruption and nepotism devastated the limited public sector services in the cities; foreign loans and relief funds passed through Haiti without any lasting benefit to its people. Magloire's government facilitated – through massacres in Port-au-Prince, including slums like Bel Air – the rise of presidential candidate François 'Papa Doc' Duvalier, who came to power in 1957.


Papa Doc, who had campaigned on a platform of economic equality and improvement of the country's devastated infrastructure, was a repressive dictator. He kept the Forces Armees D'Haiti (FADH) divided and under his control, created a parallel personal militia, the 'Volontaires de la Securite Nationale-VSN', or the 'Tonton Macoutes', and crushed the labour movement. This latter act, as well as his anti-communism, kept Papa Doc in favour with the United States, which had been suspicious of his closeness to the reformer Estimé. The U.S. came to Papa Doc's aid in 1959 when some Haitian exiles mounted an insurrection against the dictator. The U.S. Marines and Navy deployed to help defeat the rebels and end the insurrection.

Papa Doc held elections in 1961 and had eliminated all effective opposition by 1964, naming himself President-for-life in the Constitution and granting himself the right to name his successor (his son, Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier). By the time Papa Doc died in 1971, the regime had killed 30,000–60,000 people (the Haitian population at the time was 3–4 million), tortured and exiled many more, and embezzled $10 million from the small treasury for Papa Doc's personal use. Baby Doc's regime was no different in its abuses or its U.S. support. By the 1980s, however, Baby Doc was facing insurrections, which he viciously suppressed. In 1986 an uprising in Gonaives sparked rural revolts all over Haiti, which eventually reached the capital. By February of that year Baby Doc fled to France on a U.S. Air Force jet, leaving Haiti to the military yet again. Haiti's development was in a disastrous state, symbolized by the fact that there was, at the time of his departure, one school to every 35 prisons.


Excerpted from "Haiti's New Dictatorship"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Justin Podur.
Excerpted by permission of Pluto 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


1. Historical Context - Haiti in the Americas from Independence to Today
2. Narratives, Media Strategies, and NGO Stories
3. The Coup Begins: 2000-2004
4. The Slaughter on US Watch: to June 2004
5. Internationalizing the Occupation: The summer 2004 Transition
6. Occupation Year Two - 2005
7. The Electoral Game of 2006
8. The Preval Regime 2006-2010
9. The Earthquake and Haiti's Politics of Disaster, 2010/11
10. The 2011 Elections and Michel Martelly
11. Conclusion – Replacing Dictatorship With Sovereignty


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