Caribbean Project: Review: Haiti and the United States, 1714-1938

Ludwell Lee Montague, "Haiti and the United States, 1714-1938"
Ludwell Lee Montague, "Haiti and the United States, 1714-1938"
Ludwell Lee Montague, “Haiti and the United States, 1714-1938”

Haiti

If Haiti’s apologists could ever be bothered to read this old book, they would be sorely disappointed with Ludwell Lee Montague’s Haiti and the United States, 1714-1938.

This book destroys the fanciful idea that the United States is responsible for Haiti’s poverty and underdevelopment. It traces US foreign policy toward Haiti from Saint-Domingue through the end of the US Occupation in 1934.

Here are some of the key findings:

1.) Saint-Domingue was America’s second most important trading partner and accounted for 11 percent of America’s exports.

In 1790, New England was the only section of the United States that was particularly concerned with Saint-Domingue and its sole concern had been with trade – Yankee peddlers selling “low-grade fish for cheap molasses.”

2.) By 1801, Saint-Domingue’s share of American exports had fallen to 7 percent. In 1821, independent Haiti’s share had fallen to 3 percent. In 1860, exports and imports to Haiti accounted for less than 1 percent of American trade. In 1891, Haiti accounted for a whopping 0.4 percent of American trade.

3.) In 1930, only 2 percent of Haiti’s agricultural exports were produced on plantations. Less than 1 percent of Haiti’s land had been brought under cultivation by American enterprise. The American effort to revive the colonial era plantation complex during the US occupation was a failure.

4.) In 1930, the total American investment in Haiti was 0.5 percent of total US investment in Latin America. 28 percent of American investment was in Mexico, 27 percent was in Cuba, 11 percent was in Argentina, 8.5 percent was in Brazil and 7 percent was in Chile. In spite of the US occupation, American capitalists didn’t show much interest in Haiti because of the lack of confidence in the Haitian judiciary.

5.) The United States and Great Britain signed trade agreements with Toussaint L’ouverture before Haiti had even successfully won its independence – the victorious Haitians used guns and ammunition sold by US merchants to oust the French, who were only defeated thanks to a British naval blockade in 1803.

6.) From 1806 until 1809, the US imposed an economic embargo on Haiti. This was part of Thomas Jefferson’s general embargo during the Napoleonic Wars and was ineffective because it was flouted by New England traders. The embargo expired in 1809 and trade with Haiti resumed in 1810.

7.) The US didn’t recognize Haiti until the Lincoln administration in 1862, but the only effect this had on trade between the two countries was discriminatory custom duties on American exports imposed by the Haitian government.

8.) As we have already seen, Haiti was considered as a destination for the colonization of free blacks from the United States until the failure of the Île à Vache colony.

9.) By the 1820s, Haiti had long ceased to be of any economic importance to the United States. US foreign policy toward Haiti was dominated by racial concerns (lack of diplomatic recognition) until 1862.

10.) From the 1870s through the 1930s, US foreign policy toward Haiti was dominated by strategic concerns, namely, the desire to keep the Germans out of the Caribbean and above all else to prevent European powers, particularly Germany, from establishing naval bases in the region that might threaten the Panama Canal.

This is why the US intervened and occupied Haiti in 1915. It is why the US took over Haiti’s national debt and finances. The motive was to restore stability to Haiti in order to prevent Germany from acquiring a strategic Caribbean naval base at Môle-Saint-Nicolas. This is also why the US occupied the Dominican Republic and bought the economically worthless US Virgin Islands from Denmark in order to prevent Germany from acquiring a naval base at St. Thomas.

After decades of contemplating St. Thomas, Môle-Saint-Nicolas, and Samaná Bay, the US finally acquired its own long coveted Caribbean base from Cuba at Guantánamo Bay in 1903 after the Spanish-American War.

11.) Three Haitian presidents – Sylvain Salnave, Lysius Salomon, and Florvil Hyppolite – offered at various times to cede or lease Môle-Saint-Nicolas to the United States in order to win American favor in their internal disputes. Amazingly, the Great Satan refused to take advantage of Haiti’s weakness in order to acquire a useful port.

12.) Aside from the above, the highlights of US foreign policy toward Haiti in this period include a dispute over an uninhabited guano island called Navassa, claims made by Americans who suffered property damage in Haiti’s unending revolutions and civil wars, and a joint diplomatic effort with Britain and France to thwart Emperor Faustin I Soulouque’s invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1850.

Haitians wrecked their own country. It is not our fault. The country has steadily retrograded since the demise of slavery.

Americans and Europeans weren’t allowed to own property in Haiti until 1918. Even after that provision was repealed during the US Occupation, the hostility of the Haitian judiciary to foreigners and property rights in general ensured that few Americans would take advantage of the opportunity to invest their capital there.

Haiti isn’t poor because it has been “exploited” by Americans. It is poor because it produces almost nothing of value that the rest of the world wants and suffers from chronic mismanagement by its own corrupt and incompetent leaders.

2 Comments

  1. The Nation just published an article that may of interest to you. The title says it all:
    How Slavery made the Modern World. It is by a Greg Grandin. Never heard of him.
    I think it shows where they want to go with race.

  2. http://www.thenation.com/article/178509/how-slavery-made-modern-world

    This article is full of gross factual errors and distortions:

    1.) It’s true that France refused to recognize Haiti’s independence until 1825. Of course that was because Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the first “emperor” of Haiti, exterminated every French man, woman, and child in Haiti, and expropriated all French property in Saint-Domingue. This infamous act of genocide is why the rest of the civilized world refused to recognized Haiti.

    2.) The idea of paying an indemnity to secure French recognition of Haiti’s independence was a Haitian idea. Specifically, it was Toussaint L’ouverture, Alexandre Pétion and finally Jean-Pierre Boyer who came up with the idea and proposed it to the French.

    3.) Grandin has mangled the debt history of Haiti here: the so-called French indemnity was actually paid off in 1883. It would have been paid off much earlier had it not been for chronic political turmoil in Haiti and the total collapse of the plantation economy by the 1820s.

    Haiti took out new loans, not to be confused with the French indemnity, at usurious rates in 1874, 1875, 1896, and 1910 – the usurious rates were caused by Haiti’s poor credit history. This is what happened in Haiti when corrupt new rulers like General Domingue didn’t find enough spoils to be divided in the national treasury.

    In 1922, Haiti’s national debt (a legacy of late 19th century chaos) was consolidated during the US Occupation (at which point Haiti no longer owed anything to France) and was rapidly paid off under US supervision in 1947.

    During the US occupation, the Americans built hospitals, public schools, thousands of miles of roads, cleaned up Port-au-Prince for the first time in a century, modernized Haiti’s ports, introduced electricity and automobiles into Haiti, and completely overhauled the infrastructure including a modern telephone and telegraph system.

    What’s more, ALL OF THIS was done, not with foreign aid, but with Haiti’s own taxes minus debt service. The sole reason it hadn’t been done before was the corruption, incompetence, neglect, and mismanagement of Haiti’s own leaders which was briefly eliminated by the US Occupation.

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