History haunts US Haiti policy

AS THE Haitian crisis deepens and the Clinton administration watches its options dwindle, warnings are increasing about the dangers of invasion. Taking the country would be easy, say critics; getting out again, anything but. The fact is the United States has been this way before: that time it took nearly 20 years to get disentangled.

But signs of impending military action abound. A force of 2,000 Marines is to arrive in Haitian waters this weekend, ostensibly standing by in case American citizens on shore need rapid evacuation. And at the G7 summit of leading industrialised nations in Naples on Friday President Clinton gave his clearest indication yet that military intervention is very much an option.

The problems created by the exodus of Haitian refugees continue to worsen. As an average of 2,400 flee the country in small boats every day, the US capability is being stretched to the limit. Panama's retraction on Thursday of its offer to accept 10,000 refugees has drained Washington's patience further.

But history offers President Clinton a compelling warning against invasion. In 1915, after a succession of brutal coups and counter-coups in Port-au- Prince, President Woodrow Wilson dispatched an expeditionary force of 330 Marines to invade the small state.

The operation was successful - initially. But it was meant to be quick-strike action aimed only at ending the strife (and also preventing occupation by European governments, notably Germany and France, owed large sums by Haiti). The US presence lasted 19 years until withdrawal finally in 1934. Nor was the occupation an easy one. In the first five years, a policy of so-called 'pacification' was imposed to put down periodic resistance. An estimated 2,250- plus Haitians were killed in a series of insurrections.

International opprobrium over the US action was fuelled by suspicions of blatant racial abuses by the American commanders. Among those making the allegations was a British diplomat, RSF Edwards, who suggested that most of the US soldiers deployed to Haiti had been recruited from the South, because they knew best how to 'handle coloured people'.

Communications from the leader of the original expeditionary force, a Colonel Littleton Waller from Virginia, do nothing to dispel the impression. 'I know the nigger and how to handle him,' he wrote to one superior officer. Later, he was to observe: 'There are some fine, well-educated, polished men here but they are real nigs beneath the surface.'

The US withdrawal left Haiti with improved infrastructure and a more centralised political system. The country was subsequently ruled by a series of military-backed regimes that remained beholden to the US. Then in 1957 began the longest period of political 'stability' in Haiti's modern history - the 29-year reign of terror under Francois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier and, from 1971 until 1986, his son Jean-Claude or 'Baby Doc'.

The goal of an invasion today would be to oust Lieutenant-General Raoul Cedras, and reinstate Jean-Bertrand Aristide as democratically elected leader. But no one in Washington is under any illusion that Haiti's political instability, or the suffering of its masses, can be resolved overnight.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies