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Bloody History Looms over Haitian Crisis

Making sense of American policy in Haiti over the decades — driven at times by economic interests, Cold War strategy and migration concerns — is vital to understanding Haiti’s political instability, and why it remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, even after an infusion of more than $5 billion in U.S. aid in the last decade alone.

A bloody history of American influence looms large, and a century of U.S. efforts to stabilize and develop the country have ultimately ended in failure.

The politics of slavery and racial prejudice were key factors in early American hostility to Haiti. After the Haitian Revolution, Thomas Jefferson and many in Congress feared that the newly founded Black republic would spread slave revolts in the United States.

For decades, the United States refused to formally recognize Haiti’s independence from France, and at times tried to annex Haitian territory and conduct diplomacy through threats.

It was against this backdrop that Haiti became increasingly unstable. The country went through seven presidents between 1911 and 1915, all either assassinated or removed from power. Haiti was heavily in debt, and Citibank — then the National City Bank of New York — and other American banks confiscated much of Haiti’s gold reserve during that period with the help of U.S. Marines.

Roger L. Farnham, who managed National City Bank’s assets in Haiti, then lobbied President Woodrow Wilson for a military intervention to stabilize the country and force the Haitian government to pay its debts, convincing the president that France or Germany might invade if America did not.

The military occupation that followed remains one of the darkest chapters of American policy in the Caribbean. The United States installed a puppet regime that rewrote Haiti’s constitution and gave America control over the country’s finances. Forced labor was used for construction and other work to repay debts. Thousands were killed by U.S. Marines.

Read entire article at New York Times