The Commonwealth of Haiti is a Caribbean dependency of the United States. It occupies the western, smaller portion of the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antillean archipelago, which it shares with the Dominican Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was created in 1917, after a period of direct US rule (1915-1917).
Haiti was invaded by the US Marines in 1915, to safeguard the interests of US and preserve economic dominance. Officially the invasion was to ‘’re-establish peace and order… [and] has nothing to do with any diplomatic negotiations of the past or the future’’. The Haiti-US Treaty of 1915 establishes an informal ‘protectorate’’. Haitian government would have advisers in a series of areas and a representative of the US that would channel all relations and communications between US and Haiti. The government of Haiti would remain independent, but supervised by the advisers. A new constitution in 1918, declared legal all acts of the US government in Haiti and formalized the commonwealth status.
US marines put down an insurrection by the cacos, peasant guerrillas who were resisting US occupation and latter forced labor (corvée) and expropriation of lands. The US Marines disbanded the haitian military and established as a replacement the Haitian Constabulary (Gendarmerie d'Haïti).
The paternalist and in some cases clearly segregationist policies of the US occupation provide most of the criticism. The used of force labor alienated most of the countryside.
Internal government and US counterparts
US saw themselves as trustees of a failed state. To establish peace and a democratic government. According to the Haiti-US Treaty of 1915 the Haitian government is advised in some areas and agreement on others fields. The national defense and foreign affairs are managed by the US.
The Constitution of 1918 provides for:
- President, the head of state and government, elected by the National Assembly for a 4 year term, limited to two consecutive terms. Names and revokes the Secretaries of State. The President chairs the State Council.
- The National Assembly, a bicameral legislative body composed of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies elected every 4 years, and
- The judiciary in charge of the Tribunal de Cassation and inferior courts.
All Haitian citizens over the age of 21 years old and can read and write have political rights and vote. All black foreigners can easily acquire Haitian nationality.
However real power resides in the High Commissioner and Personal Representative of the US President. He is the chief executive of the US Administration in Haiti and in charge of the American military and civil personal. All affairs pass through his office and consultation.
The US administration also includes the Customs and Ports under the direction of the General Receiver of Customs, Treasury and National Bank headed by the Chief Financial Adviser, the Public Works Administration by the Chief Engineer of Haiti, Sanitary Service by the Surgeon General for Haiti. All named by the US President.
Haiti is divided in departments, arrondissements, communes and sections communales. The President names in each department and arrondissement a delegate (Délégué). Elected Communal Councils (conseil communal), chaired by magistrat communal, administer the communes and sectional communales.
Politics of Occupation
Although there is freedom of expression and assembly, press censorship and restrictions in labor unions are is widely implemented. The government can outlaw any organization or group of individuals that hinder or promote public disorder. It regularly disbands or disrupts trade union activities and peasant organization, and the Interior Ministry keeps under surveillance left and noiriste groups.
The old Liberal and Nationalist parties continued to function. However they became auxiliares of the US authorities. Both parties mainly represented local notables and mulatto and black political elites, lacking territorial organizations and large mass of affiliates With the establishment of nationalist parties they fused themselves in the Party of Progress and Development (Parti du progrés et développement, PPD). All presidents and governments posts are assumed by the liberals and nationals, and its successor the PPD.
The main political and social opposition to the occupation are nationalist parties. These are the Patriotic Union (Union Patriotique) and Nationalist Union (Union Nationaliste). They demanded the removal of the commonwealth status, end of censorship, free elections and withdrawal of US Marines.
Left parties also appeared in this period being the most important the Communist Party of Haiti, illegal since its founding and several socialist groups.
Also critical of the US intervention are the intellectual circles and middle class clubs grouped around noiriste ideas. Noiriste began as a critique to US occupation and later developed in an ideological and political outlook. It went further than nationalist groups and criticized the role of mulatto and black elites in the history of Haiti. It supports the political and economical empowerment of the black majority. It called for a revaluation and pride of the African elements of Haitian rural culture, such as the use of Creole in education and mass media, legalization of vodou practices and promotion of peasantry. Also the establishment of a comprehensive welfare system for peasants and workers. In the 1920s it established and promoted farmers cooperatives and unions, alphabetization in Creole, radio and newspaper in Creole, fight against the anti-superstitious campaigns of catholic church and protestant. The late 1920 saw the creation of its main political group, the People’s National party (Parti Populaire Nationale, PPN).
An offshoot of noiriste was the cultural revival of Haitian literature, arts and music. Creole started to become a literary medium. Also and interest in ethnographic research.
Education and Culture
Primary education is free and compulsory. Never the less only a fraction of the population can read and write. A comprehensive system was never developed, however, and the emerging elite who could afford the cost preferred to send their children to school in France. Roman Catholic schools essentially are nonsecular public schools, jointly funded by the Haitian government and the Vatican.
In both urban and rural elementary and secondary schools, followed a classical curriculum, which emphasized literature and rote learning. This curriculum remained unaltered until the United States occupation, that established vocational schools.
The University of Haiti (l'université d'Haiti or UH) is the only institution of higher education. It was created on the union of several schools and faculties. A technical institute, the Institut national des sciences appliquées et agriculture (INSAA) was created on a grant of the US government and technical assistance from France and the Pan-American Organization for the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Advancement and Cooperation. The enrollment to the INSAA is by mean of national competitive exams.
Two languages are spoken in Haiti are Creole (Kreyòl) and French. The social relationship between these languages is complex. Nine of every ten Haitians speaks only Creole, which is the everyday language for the entire population. The constitution states that French is the national and official language in all state and educational institutions.
Haiti has large percentages of Vodou believers. The difference between Vodou and Roman Catholicism is that Roman Catholicism is more visible and official; However, Vodou is unofficial and secretive. Even though there are great a number of Haitian who claim Christian status, many Haitians practice Vodou rituals Christian-Vodou relations have been marked by political conflicts and syncretism.
The Catholic Church has put pressure upon the government to outlaw and disband Voodoo. In 1896, 1913, and again in 1920 the church led its anti-superstitious campaigns to fight against Voodooism. During the campaigns, hundreds of Ounfos and ritual paraphernalia were destroyed and burned.
The main sports is football (Soccer). Local championships and national team are organized and ruled by the Haitian Federation of Soccer (Fédération Haïtienne de Football).
The main economic output of Haiti are agricultural products. The main cash crops, and also exports, are coffee, sugar, Cacao, sisal, essential oils, and cotton. Thought food crops are also important. Peasants cultivated a variety of cereals for food and animal feeds, notably corn, sorghum, and rice. Important are also tubers (manioc or cassava, yams, taro, called malangá in Haiti and several kinds of beans. Most peasants possessed a few farm animals, usually goats pigs, chickens and cattle. Few holdings, however, were large, and few peasants raised only livestock.
Most Haitians owned at least some of their land. Complex forms of tenancy also distinguished Haitian land tenure. Moreover, land owned by peasants often varied in the size and number of plots, the location and topography of the parcels, and other factors. The three major forms of land tenancy in Haiti are ownership, renting (or subleasing), and sharecropping.
The exclusive ownership of property by Haitians and prohibition of foreign ownership is relinquishes by the Constitution of 1918. The American Technical Assistance Service provide wide range of studies and proposals for the improvement of agriculture and local industries.
The leading industries in Haiti produce beverages, butter, cement, detergent, edible oils, flour, refined sugar, soap, and textiles.Important companies are the Haitian American Sugar Company (HASCO, 1912) an American business venture which produces and sell sugar and other goods in Haiti and the United States.
The National Bank of Haiti (Banque Nationale d'Haïti, BNH), until then the nation's only commercial bank and government treasury was reorganized and supervised by the US as a central bank. Its directory was integrated by 2 representatives named by the Haitian Government and 3 by the Chief Financial Advisor.
Communications and Transport
The mass media in Haiti expanded remarkably during the US occupation, radio leading the way. The transistor radio brought news and information to previously isolated rural areas. Most of the radios are private owned with the exception of the national broadcaster, Radio Nationale D'Haïti.
Newspapers and magazines are printed and sold in the major urban centers. Haitian Creole has made its way in printed media and the radio, despite lack of official support and prohibition of its use in the educational system and state institutions.
The country's road system was the most important part of the transportation system. The Public Works Corps, employing forced labor, have built and maintain roads and bridges. Port-au-Prince is the leading commercial port, followed by Cap-Haïtien, which handled most cruise and cargo ship traffic.
The nation’s only international airport is at Port-au-Prince. Flight services, airship and airplanes, are served by Pan-Am Airways and Cubana de Aviación. The Compagnie Nationale de Chemin de Fer d'Haïti as acquired and reorganized all passenger and also industrial railways serving coffee and sugar plantations. The CNCFH was nationalized in 1916 on demand of the US Marines.
The US Marines stayed in order to maintain internal peace and train and advise the Haitian Constabulary (Gendarmerie d'Haïti) that replace the disbanded Army of Haiti. For naval patrol a Haitian Coast Guard (Garde Côtière Haïtienne) was created. The US Marines keep the control of air force. US marines put down an insurrection by the cacos, peasant guerrillas who were resisting US occupation and latter forced labor (corvée) and expropriation of lands.
The Gendarmerie attempted to secure public safety, initially by subduing the cacos; to promote development, particularly road construction; and to modernize the military through the introduction of a training structure, a health service, and other improvements.