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Haiti: The power of perseverance and the virtue of courage

peralteCSMS Magazine Staff Writers

A country which shuns its past, it is bound to repeat the dreaded mistakes that curve its history. By all accounts, Haiti is a great nation with a glorious past that many of its neighbors could only dream of. Throughout the nineteen century, isolating Haiti was a pivotal point in colonial politics.  In geopolitics, however, Haiti set an example that helped reshape colonial ambitions among European powers. Alliances and misalliances were built based on a premise of containment, for restraining Haiti was first and foremost their holy sacrament from which dissents were quelled. The indigenous populations of the Americas were at a crossroads.

Early on, the Haitian upper class turned its back on its historical responsibility, embracing an awkward eurocentrism that led to capitulations and to the many calamities that went on to befall the masses at several times in history. President Jean-Pierre Boyer instituted a mulatto gerontocracy that lasted more than 20 years. The masses rose up and ultimately overthrew him in 1843.

Also in 1843, the Haitians poor demanded agrarian reform and a fair distribution of wealth. They received neither. Successive governments that came thereafter did little to alleviate the deplorable conditions of a population yearning for social justice, paving the way for a crisis that lasted more than 60 years, right up to the US occupation. This had exacerbated the suffering of the Haitian masses.

Despite years of inflicted pain against our brothers and sisters, we should not lose hope. Haiti will survive. Against the backdrop of a bloody history, through the years, the first black in the hemisphere had produced great men that humanity recognizes as one of its own. Obviously, a country that brought to bear beautiful minds like Jacques Roumain, Jacques Stephen Alexis, Anténor Firmin, Gérald Bloncourt CANNOT bloat out of existence. The struggle for Human rights in Haiti will not be won overnight for it requires perseverance and courage.

Below is a detailed account of atrocities committed against the disenfranchised masses during the US military occupation of Haiti. We warn you, some of the scenes are graphically gruesome. The occupying forces brought in marines originated from the American South, naturally racists, to offer no mercy to the resistance led by Charlemagne Péralte (seen in the picture above).  This account is an excerpt from Jean-Philippe Belleau’s book titled Massacres perpetuated in the 20th century in Haiti.



1915-1934: The United States Army occupied the country

1915-1920: Several thousand civilians were killed by the US occupying forces, along with the Haitian gendarmerie commanded by US officers, who were fighting an insurrection of armed peasants, the Cacos, mainly in the rural areas of the center and Northeast of the country. The Caco rebellion constituted the main armed challenge to the US occupation and had been organized and led by Charlemagne Péralte, who was killed on October 31, 1919 and later became a heroic national figure. The total number of victims remains unknown.

Executions, most of which probably occurred during periods of open resistance to occupation, from July to November 1915 and again in 1919, seem very much alive in Haitian collective memory. In 1918 and 1919, many Caco prisoners were systematically executed once they had been disarmed, following explicit, written orders (in Gaillard, 1981: 32-39, 49, 214, 307). Torture of Cacos or alleged Cacos by the Marines was also common practice; this included the hanging of individuals by their genitals, forced absorption of liquids, and the use of ceps, simultaneous pressure by two guns on both side of the tibia bone.  In addition to executions and violence against unarmed combatants, the US Army and its Haitian auxiliaries (the gendarmerie) allegedly committed massive killings and acts of violence against the civilian population.

According to oral testimony gathered by historian Roger Gaillard (1981b, 1983), these included summary executions, rapes, setting houses on fire after gathering their inhabitants inside them, lynchings, and torching civilians alive; one local public figure was buried alive. The names, in Créole, of the US officers who committed acts of violence against civilians, are still present in collective memory in the affected areas: Ouiliyanm(Lieutenant Lee Williams), Linx (Commandant Freeman Lang) and Captain Lavoie (Gaillard, 1981: 27-71). H.J. Seligman (in Gaillard, 1983), a US journalist who investigated the occupation, asserted that US soldiers practiced “bumping off Gooks,” (shooting civilians) as if it were a sport or a shooting exercise.

A 1922 internal US army report recognized and justified the execution of women and children, presenting them as “auxiliaries” of the Cacos (in Gaillard, 1983: 259). A confidential memorandum of the Secretary of the Navy (in Gaillard, 1981: 238-241) criticized these “indiscriminate killings against natives during several weeks.” In July 1920, H.J. Seligman estimated the number of innocent victims (men, women and children) at 3,000. Gaillard (1983: 261), adding innocent victims and Cacos killed in combat throughout the occupation, reached the number of 15,000. 

In addition to the repression of the rebellion, between hundreds and thousands of civilians died or were killed during forced labor operations called corvée, mainly the construction of roads throughout the country. According to Trouillot (1990: 106), 5,500 people died in forced labor camps. Some civilians who had attempted to flee were killed. Others, who slowed down their pace of work, were killed with machetes (Gaillard, 1982).  The racism of the US Marines, most of whom were from the South of the United States (particularly Louisiana and Alabama), has been presented as a factor in the indiscriminate killings of “niggers who pretend to speak French” (in the words of a US general).  ** (Gaillard, 1983: 186-190, 237-241, 259-262; Trouillot, 1990: 102-107; Manigat, 2003: 71-74)

1916 (June 4): Caco General Mizrael Codio and 10 of his men were executed after they were captured at Fonds-Verrettes (Northeast of Port-au-Prince, by the border with the Dominican Republic) by US Marines.  ** (Gaillard, 1981: 82-88)

1919 (January): 19 Caco prisoners were executed in Hinche on US Captain Lavoie’s orders. In 1920, during hearings held by the US Navy, Lavoie was accused of this by other US officers. However, since no material evidence had been brought to the commission, no charges were brought against Lavoie.  * (Gaillard, 1981: 33)

1919 (November): At least two US planes bombed and shot at the civilian population of two villages of Thomazeau, in the southeastern region of the central plateau, and allegedly killed half of their inhabitants. The “bombs” may have been handmade or grenades thrown from the planes. Men, women, children and elderly people were killed. The survivors, hiding in the woods and terrified, wrote to a French priest residing nearby to ask for his protection.

This letter constitutes the sole written testimony of the acts committed against them. Geographic (and cultural) isolation of the rural population in the center of the country impeded the flow of information and testimony on acts of violence committed in these areas. In rural areas, these attacks against civilian populations, starting in 1919, are still present in collective memory. According to US journalist Harry Frank (in Gaillard, 1981: 208), US pilots did not verify what “type of gathering” (a Caco camp, an open farmers’ market, or peasants on their way to church) they were attacking. Furthermore, on December 5, US air forces bombed the port of the city of Les Cayes, in the South of the country, one day before the December 6 killing, in order to intimidate the population. These attacks may have been the first ever carried out by air on civilian populations.

From 1919 on, the US airforce in Haiti was composed of at least three planes and used five airports (that it built) throughout the country. In 1920, the US Navy investigation commission interrogated occupying officers regarding allegations of acts of violence committed by the air force, but the commission did not deliver any condemnations, or even make any formal accusations.  * (Gaillard, 1983: 40-42, 152 and 282; Gaillard, 1981: 205-213)

1929 (December 6): In Marchaterre, in the vicinity of Les Cayes (in the South of the country), the US Marines opened fire on a peaceful demonstration of peasants, killing between 12 and 22 of them.  *** (Castor, 1988: 173-175; Gaillard, 1983: 282; Renda, 2001: 34)


Jean-Philippe Belleau, Massacres perpetrated in the 20th Century in Haiti, Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, [online], published on 2 April 2008, accessed 11 May 2015, URL : http://www.massviolence.org/Massacres-perpetrated-in-the-20th-Century-in-Haiti, ISSN 1961-9898 

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  1. Whoaa and why aren’t those information in the history book taught in Haiti school, I wonder.

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