To put the history of Haiti in context, we turn to the 1992 documentary Haiti: Killing the Dream produced by Hart and Dana Perry of Crowing Rooster Productions and narrated by Ossie Davis. In this excerpt, the film looks at the nearly twenty-year occupation of Haiti by US Marines beginning in 1915.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go now to an excerpt of a documentary that, actually, my colleague here at Democracy Now!, co-host Juan Gonzalez, wrote the screenplay, if you will, or rather the script for, because it is not—it is a documentary. To put history of Haiti in context, we’re going to go to Haiti: Killing the Dream, that was produced by Hart and Dana Perry of Crowing Rooster Productions. This is just an excerpt. I think it demonstrates what you are laying out. Thank you so much, Danny Glover.
OSSIE DAVIS: Haiti is located on the western part of the island, Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. The French turned it into their most profitable slave colony. But in 1791, the slaves revolted. By 1804, the slave armies defeated Napoleon’s legions, making Haiti the first independent black republic in the world. Fearing the example would spread, the United States refused to recognize Haiti, beginning an uneasy relationship between a country founded by slaves and one founded by slave owners. At the turn of the century, America’s view of Haiti was summed up by Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, who said, “Dear me, think of it? Niggers speaking French.”
RAMSEY CLARK: You know, more than two years before we entered World War I, we decided we had to control Haiti.
NEWSREEL: Here’s Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1915, chief city of an island nation torn by internal troubles. Behind these scenes of peace and semi-tropic tranquility, there’s uneasiness and unrest.
OSSIE DAVIS: The US government wanted to control the strategic windward passage between Haiti and Cuba, the major shipping route to the Panama Canal and the Pacific. So, they created a pretext to justify a military intervention.
NEWSREEL: And then in 1915, United States Marines land in Haiti to battle Haitian bandits threatening destruction of American properties, and native bandits quickly head for the hills. This puts immediate end to troubles in populated areas, but Marines prepare to drive into interior and rout the insurgents out.
RAMSEY CLARK: The arrogance with which we went about it, when you think of a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as an Assistant Secretary of the Navy, bragging—I can see him there bobbing on the deck now. And he’s writing the constitution for the free people of Haiti. There can’t be a more imperialist mentality than that. These people are too dumb to write their own constitution; I have to do it for them.
NEWSREEL: Haiti’s own Dartiguenave is elected provisional president, and the riot-ridden republic begins to function as a nation once again. Here are troops of the Palace Guard, but United States Marines are ever-present.
NOAM CHOMSKY: It was a murderous, bloody intervention which destroyed the constitutional systems, reinstated slavery. The Marines stayed there for twenty years. What they left behind them was a military force, a national guard, which essentially took over and has been running—and ran it under one or another dictatorship since.
OSSIE DAVIS: In 1957, the United States propped up the regime of Haiti’s most feared president, François Duvalier. Known as Papa Doc, he was a country doctor who became a despot. To ensure he would not be overthrown by the army like his predecessors, Papa Doc built up his own vigilante militia, the infamous Tontons Macoutes. Volunteers for the Macoutes were paid by having free license to steal and extort from the people they tortured, raped and murdered. Toward the end of his life, Duvalier cemented his ties to Washington and arranged for his son, Jean-Claude, to succeed him. After Papa Doc’s death in 1971, nineteen-year-old Baby Doc took over as president for life. Baby Doc plundered the national treasury and, with army support, turned Haiti into a major drug trans-shipment stop.
In 1986, a popular uprising ended the three decades of Duvalier dictatorship. Baby Doc was flown into exile aboard a US government jet, taking a vast fortune and leaving behind a devastated, but relieved, country. After years of living in fear, the Haitian people exploded, taking revenge on the most abusive Tontons Macoutes in the Dechoukaj, or uprooting of the Duvalier oppression. Some Macoutes who committed capital crimes suffered the popular justice called “Père Lebrun,” or necklacing: a tire filled with gasoline was placed around their bodies and burned.
HOWARD FRENCH: The transitional government that was named after Duvalier, Jean-Claude Duvalier, fell was an army-led government, the CNG. And the army hasn’t shown little willingness to stay out of political affairs since then. There have been seven or eight coups since 1986, and the army has been involved in every one of them.
OSSIE DAVIS: They sing, “Nothing has changed. Things are still the same. The soldiers have become Macoutes and are breaking heads.”
Despite signs of deepening army entrenchment, the country tried to hold elections in 1987. They were destroyed by the military and the Macoutes, who slaughtered voters as they tried to cast their first ballots. At the same time, a young Catholic priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, began drawing attention for his outspoken criticism of the army and foreign domination of the country. Inspired by the Latin American Church’s liberation theology, Aristide was dedicated to helping the poor. He worked for years with orphans in the vast shantytown La Saline, where he was affectionately called Titide.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of the 1992 documentary Haiti: Killing the Dream, narrated by Ossie Davis. It was written by Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez.