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Facing the Champs de Mars in Port-au-Prince, the National Palace of Haiti still serves to illuminate the country's turbulent history as it did 65 years ago. Today's U.S. involvement there is not its first.
Troops from the United States landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to restore order and protect U.S. interests. To accomplish that mission, they attempted to establish a stable democratic form of government, took control of the customs houses, levied what the Haitians considered excessive taxes on alcohol and tobacco, established a national agricultural school, and organized and trained a Haitian Gendarmerie (Garde d'Haiti). But the occupation became increasingly distasteful to the Haitians, and demonstrations, strikes, and uprisings were occurring ever more frequently, culminating with a not at the port of Cayes, on the southeast coast.
Familiar as this sounds, the year here was not 1994. This U.S. occupation of Haiti began on 28 July 1915 and did not end until August 1934. And with native Haitian patience wearing thin, the breaking point came at 1400 on Friday, 6 December 1929. A telephone call from the Garde d'Haiti outpost at Torbeck to Garde headquarters at Aux Cayes sounded the first alarm. A corporal at the outpost reported approximately 150 Haitian peasants moving toward the city. And thus began what later would be called "The Massacre at Aux Cayes."
Among the conditions that prompted this march were the peasants' desire to air grievances against the occupation, to render complaints against the alcohol and tobacco taxes, and to lend support to dock laborers on strike at Aux Cayes.' This strike was but one of many sweeping the country in protests directed against U.S. occupation and Haitian President Louis Borno. One strike, initiated by students and their professors protesting reallocation of educational funds, spread rapidly to government bureaus, in particular the customs houses supervised by U.S. troops. British Minister John Magowan reflected, "the action of the students was lauded to the skies as signifying the re-awakening of the Haytian [sic] national soul."
This "reawakening" spread to all the country's major towns and seaports. The uprisings were minor and confined at first to disfiguration of office furniture and manhandling of two U.S. customs supervisors. Although the level of violence had hardly reached a destructive state, the mood of the people was becoming more belligerent. Major General John H. Russell, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. High Commissioner to Haiti, sensed this change in mood and expressed his concern to Secretary of State Henry J. Stimson by telegram on 3 December. In addition, he requested that 500 more Marines be sent to Haiti and ordered the enforcement of martial law the following day.' In reporting this action to the Stimson, Russell stated, "Report has just reached me that two ships at Aux Cayes cannot be loaded in view of the strike of laborers."4 This strike Was the destination of the peasants when they moved through TorbeCk on the road to Aux Cayes.
When the warning of the peasants' advance reached Aux Cayes, Captain Roy Swink, U.S. Marine Corps, ordered all Americans to assemble at Garde headquarters. The total U.S. complement consisted of 63 Marines and 25 civilians-14 of whom were women and children. A Patrol of 20 Marines under the command of First Lieutenant John B. Blanchard, U.S. Marine Corps, was ordered to establish contact with the approaching peasants outside the city limits and prevent them from invading the city. His orders contained the admonishment that bloodshed Was to be avoided and no one was to fire unless ordered to do so.' Captain Swink and a Lieutenant Brown, Garde d'Haiti, proceeded in advance of the patrol to reconnoiter. The remaining 41 Marines were left at headquarters under the command of a Lieutenant Berroger, Garde d'Haiti, to protect lives and property within the city of Aux Cayes!'
The patrol of 20 men and their weapons were transported to a position approximately 200 yards outside the City limits, where they had command of a crossroads, a ravine, and a stream. Their weapons consisted of one heavy Browning machine gun, five automatic rifles, eight Springfield rifles, and nine automatic pistols—all World War I vintage. Shortly after the patrol took up its position, Captain Swink and Lieutenant Brown returned and reported that an additional 400 peasants had joined the marchers and new participants were joining at an alarming rate. Lieutenant Blanchard told his patrol that if the mob entered the city it would create a serious situation and that they were to prevent this and send the invaders home. He again admonished his men that there was to be no bloodshed. No one was to fire unless ordered to do so.'
Shortly before 1600 the mob, which had increased to an estimated 1,500, arrived at the outskirts of Aux Cayes. Its leaders demanded permission to enter the city and join the strikers. Lieutenant Brown, who spoke the peasant dialect, informed them that the recent strike of customs employees and dock laborers was over and they should disband and go home. But the mob leaders insisted that they receive instructions from the strike leaders. Finally, two of the mob leaders were permitted to enter, with the understanding that all other members of the group would remain beyond the stream.
Captain Swink and Lieutenant Brown escorted them into the city, where they conferred with the strike leaders and verified the cessation of the strike. The two leaders and Lieutenant Brown, accompanied by four leading Haitian citizens of the city, returned to inform the mob that the strike was indeed over. Captain Swink remained behind to instruct the Marines being held in reserve at Garde headquarters. The mob was not content that the strike was over and demanded release of three strikers who had been arrested during the course of the uprising. Lieutenant Blanchard refused this demand, and Lieutenant Brown crossed the river with the four Aux Cayes citizens to plead with the mob to go home. One of the citizens, Maitre Joseph V. Delenne, dean of the lawyer's association, took the names of the three arrested strikers and promised the mob that action for their release would be taken.' But this offer did not appease the mob, which was beginning to cross the stream and flank the Marine patrol. Lieutenant Blanchard ordered a volley of machine gun fire over the heads of the peasants, and for a short time they ceased their advance." Maitre Delerme and the other three citizens took this opportunity to return to the city."
At approximately 1700 Captain Swink returned and took charge of the patrol. Concurrently, the mob began to advance again, crossing the stream and passing into the cane fields to flank the patrol. Cries to storm and loot the city from the mob preceded a second volley of machine gun fire over their heads—to no effect.' The mob surrounded the patrol completely and began throwing stones. At the first physical contact, Captain Swink ordered the patrol to fire for effect. The results were immediate. The mob dispersed, as one Haitian observer described it, "in a stampede to leave the area." The Marines retired to Garde headquarters and spent a nervous but quiet night. The dead, dying, and wounded remained on the road, in the ravine, and between the canes until medical help arrived the next morning."
The first report from General Russell stated that five Haitians were killed and 20 were wounded." His subsequent report stated that 12 were dead and 23 were wounded.16 The casualty list published by the Haitian press in January listed 24 dead and 51 wounded.17 One Marine suffered a superficial wound, having been bitten on the leg by one of the rioters. The Marine patrol had expended 600 rounds of ammunition, including the two warning volleys fired over the heads of the mob.1' A report from a Haitian eyewitness—a local judge by the name of Leon—to President Borno listed six Haitians as having been killed outright and four who died later in the hospital at Aux Cayes.19
The following day, a crowd of approximately 2,000 surrounded the Garde outpost at Chantel in the Aux Cayes district, and an additional 1,000 people gathered at Tor- beck, threatening to kill the corporal of the guard for having warned the Marine detachment at Aux Cayes. In both locations the mobs were chanting the increasingly familiar cry: A bas Borno!” (Down with Borno!).211 In both locations the mobs dispersed without violence.
By 8 December, General Russell was reporting, “All quiet throughout Haiti.”21 Conditions improved daily, and on 17 December he lifted the curfew and suspended martial law. The crisis had passed. “Order is good and spirits calm, wrote British Minister Magowan.22
The impact of the tragedy at Aux Cayes was immediate. It was a violent catalyst to a governmental process, already under way, that would lead to complete self government in Haiti. The tragedy was not an isolated independent act of reactionary violence. It was the culmination ot a long series of reactionary demonstrations triggered by a student strike at the Central School of Agriculture at Damien on 31 October. Recognizing the growing gravity of the situation, President Herbert Hoover had expressed his desire to get out of the Caribbean country in his annual message to Congress on 3 December 1929.23 As conditions worsened, he sent a separate message to Congress on the 7th, requesting a $50,000 appropriation to fund a fact-finding commission on Haiti. This action by
President Hoover and the favorable reception shown to it by Congress, plus a strong reaffirmation by the State Department that Borno was not a candidate for reelection, did much to restore order.
National and international public sentiment was vociferous. Under Secretary of State J. P. Cotton referred to the Marine patrol as a “firing squad.”25 The French news- ' paper Liberte asked the question, “What has happened in this island to the right of self determination of peoples?”26 J Editors of The Nation sent a telegram to President Hoover, . calling for immediate withdrawal of the Marines stating, “Our every act in Haiti has been a denial of American principles and ideals.”27 La Prensa of Argentina was especially critical of U.S. presence in Haiti, calling for immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces and referring to the occupation as a police mission.28 The Russian newspaper
U.S. MARINE CORPS
Izvestia published a cartoon depicting a bound Haitian with one hand of an unseen captor above his head holding an American flag, while the other hand held a pistol to his head.29 The London Times took a kinder view, stating that although much of the foreign press was accusing | the United States of abrogating freedom of the press, the > truth was that the occupation force had requested all Haitian newspapers to continue publication without censorship, but three of them refused.'"
The reaction of Latin American countries was officially , noncommittal. On 20 December 1929 the State Department sent a telegram to all diplomatic missions in Latin America, except Port-au-Prince, asking what effect current events in Haiti had on relations between the United States and the country of the addressee. All missions reported no discernable change in relations, and only missions in Argentina, Cuba, Peru, Salvador, and Uruguay reported unfavorable comment by the press.31
Reaction among lawmakers in Washington, D.C., generally followed party lines. Typical from the Democratic side was the oft-repeated comment of Representative George Hudleston (D-AL) that “an imperialism abroad » cannot remain a democracy at home.”32 On the Republican side, Senator William E. Borah (R-ID), an outspoken opponent of U.S. imperialism, rallied behind Presi- i dent Hoover. Debating the Senate resolution that would send a commission to Haiti, Senator Borah remarked
BOTH U.S. NAVAL INSTITUTE COLLECTION
that he had, “reason to believe that the President desires to get out of Haiti, but it is a rather difficult task to get out in view of the circumstances which surround us at the Present time.”33 A joint resolution finally Passed both Houses in early February 1930, and President Hoover on 7 February appointed a commission of five “to review and study the matter in an endeavor to arrive at some more definite policy than at present.”34 The authors who covered the massacre VVere unanimous in crediting the clash at Aux Cayes as having precipitated President Hoover’s message to Congress on 7 December 1929. This is doubtful. An analysis °f the message indicates that it was probably written and in the process of delivery Prior to receipt of information concerning the clash at Aux Cayes. Although the State department showed receipt of the information from General Russell at 0227 that day,
?ts transfer would have had to be expedited in an extraordinary fashion to allow sufficient time for it to influence the President’s message to Congress. The contents indicate no knowledge of the tragedy. The President noted that, since his annual message to Congress on 3 December, subsequent disturbances had emphasized the need for immediate investigation into future action.
“resident Hoover referred to Aux Cayes only m the same context as he referred to condi- [ions at Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitian. The disturbances he specifically refers to for those locations he dates as having occurred pn 4 December.36 It appears, then, that the immediate impact of the clash at Aux Cayes p'as to focus attention both nationally and internationally on the long-standing U.S. occupation of Haiti.
The President’s fact-finding commission arrived in Port-au-Prince on 28 February '930. According to Henry P. Fletcher, one 0( the commission members, “The opposi- h°n practically monopolized the public hearings.”37 Most of the closed hearing proceedings—includ- lng the testimony of General Russell—had never been made public. The commission finished its work on 15 Bareli, left the following day, and submitted its report to the President on 26 March. President Hoover announced °n 28 March 1930 that he had adopted the recommendations of the commission as the policy of the United States toward Haiti.
Those parts of the recommendations that could be considered germane to the clash at Aux Cayes are as fol- 0Ws: The United States will interpose no objection to a moderate reduction of the customs duties, especially those 'mposed on alcohol and tobacco; the United States will recognize the temporary President, when elected, who will replace President Borno; at the expiration of General Rush's tour of duty as High Commissioner, he would be replaced with a nonmilitary minister; immediate with-
Illustrating improvements made in Haiti during the U.S. occupation, these before-and-after photographs taken in 1927 show the dramatic results after the diversion of the Ravine du Sud and completion of a new drainage project and bridge on the Rue de la Concorde in Aux Cayes. Despite these and other major improvements, native Haitians grew impatient with U.S. intervention and staged a revolt in this district. Garde d’Haiti headquarters there received word on 6 December 1929 of the impending uprising.
drawal of Marines would not be undertaken, but a gradual withdrawal would be undertaken in accordance with arrangements to be made in the future. The commission also praised General Russell’s “painstaking efforts to bring order out of chaos.”38
The reaction by the Haitian press to the commission’s recommendations and the President’s acceptance of them was favorable. George N. Leger, spokesman for the federated patriotic groups, expressed overall satisfaction with Hoover’s decision and only mild disappointment that the Marines would not be moved immediately.39 All political factions within Haiti expressed confidence that Haiti would be completely self-governing by 1936.
The hopes expressed during those days of expectation were not overly optimistic. The occupation came to an end on 15 August 1934, two years ahead of schedule. It is impossible to determine the actual influence the Aux
Cayes tragedy had on the cessation of U.S. occupation. But it did capture the attention of the Western Hemisphere and a portion of the rest of the world, and directed this attention toward a small backward country that had lost its right of self determination.
In their book, Written In Blood (Boston: Little, Brown, 1978), Robert Debs Heinl and Nancy Gordon Heinl suggested a similarity between the “Aux
U.S. MARINE CORPS
A Presidential Commission—W. C. Forbes, H. P. Fletcher, E. Vezina, J. Kerney, and W. A. White—arrived 28 February 1930 in Port-au-Prince to review conditions in Haiti. President Herbert Hoover adopted its recommendations to recognize a temporary successor to President Borno, replace Russell with a nonmilitary minister, and reduce customs duties on alcohol and tobacco.
peasants at Aux Cayes realized that they were seeking a restoration of their right to self determination. The colonists knew only that they wanted the redcoats out, and the peasants knew only that they wanted the United States out. Neither succeeded immediately, but both did eventually.
Cayes Massacre” and the “Boston Massacre.40 Both confrontations were between military personnel and civilians, and in both the military were outnumbered by a very large margin. In both affairs the civilians were unarmed, except for clubs and stones snowballs in Boston and machetes in Haiti. Both military groups showed initial restraint, from 30 minutes to an hour. In both cases the military units were being physically overwhelmed before the firing began. At Aux Cayes the Marines were ordered to fire; at Boston it happened against the orders of the officer in charge.41 Both military units were absolved of blame. A colonial jury absolved the Boston group, and the Haitian group who opposed the occupation forces expressed regret that the strikes had grown out of control. Members of the group stated that they had never intended for it to develop into a situation of such gravity. The Marine patrol at Aux Cayes was vindicated of wrongdoing, and its commander received the Navy Cross for, “commendable courage and forbearance.” General Russell received a eg,rn^ fr°m Secretary of State Stimson on 31 Decem- i Cl. , j, exPress’nS praise for the manner in which he had handled the uprisings. Dana G. Munro, Chief of the lvision of Latin American Affairs, in a memorandum to Assistant Secretary of State Francis White wrote:
When the situation became acute in Haiti we were inclined to feel that General Russell had been precipitate in declaring martial law. More complete information, however, makes it very clear, in my opinion, that he did not take this action until it was absolutely necessary to prevent an outbreak which would have cost many lives.44
The academic difference between the two uprisings lies in their categorization. In their article for Comparative Politics, Vigilantism: An Analysis of Establishment of Violence,” H. Jon Rosenbaum and Peter C. Sederberg stated that, Violence aimed at the redistribution of values may be identified as either ‘revolutionary’ or ‘reactionary.’”45 By their definition, revolutionary violence is creative violence, while reactionary violence is restorative. Of course, the colonists at Boston did not know that they were being creative any more than the
'Robert Debs Heinl and Nancy Gordon Heinl, Written in Blood (Boston: Little, Brown, 1978). p. 496.
2Ibid., p. 494.
’United States, Department of State, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of \ the United States (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1929, Volume III), p. 188.
4Ibid., p. 189.
5The New York Times, 10 December 1929.
^The full names of Lieutenants Brown and Beuoga are not available. Both men were enlisted personnel in the U.S. Marine Corps but held commissions in the Garde d’Haiti.
’’The New York Times, 10 December 1929.
9L. J. de Bekker, “The Massacre at Aux Cayes,” The Nation, March 1930, 309-10- "The New York Times, 10 December 1929. ^
"de Bekker, The Nation, March 1930, pp. 309-310. l2The New York Times, 10 December 1929.
I3de Bekker, The Nation, March 1930, pp. 309-310.
15Foreign Relations, p. 195.
'ibid., p. 201.
I7de Bekker, The Nation, March 1930, pp. 309-310.
18Foreign Relations, p. 195. l9Miami Herald, 12 December 1929.
20Heinl and Heinl, Written in Blood, p. 496 ’’Foreign Relations, p. 196.
22Heinl and Heinl, Written in Blood, p. 497.
2iCongressional Record, 71st Cong., 2nd Sess., Vol. 72, Part 1., p. 21.
2ibid., p. 232.
25Hans Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934, (New Brunswick j* publishers, 1971), p. 200.
26The New York Times, 10 December 1929.
2ibid., 14 March 1929 .
28Ibid., 11 December 1929.
i0London Times, 9 December 1929.
}'State Department Decimal File, National Archives, Record Group 59, 83 8.00/2653 A.
’’Schmidt, Occupation of Haiti, p. 232.
33Congressional Record, 71st Cong., 2nd Sess., Vol. 72, Part III, p. 2850.
’ibid., Part I. p. 21.
35Foreign Relations, p. 195.
36Congressional Record, Part I, p. 232.
37Henry P. Fletcher, “Quo Vadis, Haiti?”, Foreign Affairs, VIII, No. 4 (July 1930). j , pp. 533-48.
’"Report of the President’s Commission, as found in Arthur C. Milispaugh, Haiti \ Under American Control 1915-1930, (Westport, 1931) pp. 242-49. i9The New York Times, 30 March 1930. I *
'“’Heinl and Heinl, Written in Blood, p. 496.
"'Hiller B. Zobel, The Boston Massacre, (New York: 1970), pp. 180-205.
*2Foreign Relations, pp. 201 and 204.
"’Schmidt, Occupation of Haiti, p. 201.
"5H. Jon Rosenbaum & Peter C. Sederberg, “Vigilantism, An Analysis of Estab- j lishment Violence,” Comparative Politics, (27 January 1970), pp. 541-70.
Mr. Dodge is a retired engineer living in Florida. He worked on several U.S. Navy programs, most notably the sound surveillance system known as SOSUS.