U.S. and World Politics

Haiti: A History of Imperialist Domination Continues

By Chris Kinder

The assassination of President Jovenel Moise of Haiti in July looks to the U.S. news media like a mystery lover’s “who dunit” paradise. A president is killed in his bedroom by mercenaries from Columbia, apparently with connection to a doctor in Florida, in a heavily-guarded compound in which there is only one road in; yet there was no one there to stop five mysterious cars driving in, or the shooters from getting straight to the president’s bedroom at 2:00 A.M.

Police are arresting dozens, but do not have any real answers. Was the Florida-based Haitian doctor, Christian Sanon, really part of the plot? “Columbian officials” have identified a former Haitian intelligence official as the one who gave the order for the murder.1 But who are the financiers behind the gang of mercenaries? The president’s wife, who was also shot and left for dead but survived, says the real culprits haven’t been found yet. Is she hiding their identity, or is she really just a victim?

The hidden culprit

Despite all the confusing details and conflicting theories, there is one murderous agent lurking in the background that none of the Haitian investigators, nor most of the media want to mention, but which is well known to every Haitian alive, and that is the U.S. The most recent chapter in this sad saga lies in how Jovenel Moise, and his party, the PHTK (Haitian Tet Kale Party,) came to power in the first place.

PHTK rule began with the fraudulent election of Michel Martelly in 2010, which was assured by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who detoured from her trip to the Middle East at the height of the Arab Spring events to put him in office.2 This election, and that of Moise in 2016, were blatantly fraudulent. The tricks of fake elections are well established in Haiti by the ruling elite there, who protect their wealth and that of their overseer, U.S. imperialism. Elections are rigged by such methods as changing polling places at the last minute, so that voters from certain neighborhoods have their votes thrown out for voting in the wrong place. Ballots have been found in dumpsters throughout Haiti.

Electoral coup d’etats

The “elections” of Martelly and Moise were both held under the UN occupation of 2005 to 2017. These frauds were called “electoral coup d’etats” by the Haitian people; and they have risen up in protest against them, as they have many times before. And with Moise’s extension of his rule past the end of his term—with the excuse that he was deprived of a year at the beginning because of challenges to his bogus election—the demonstrations exploded. These protests continued despite the Moise government’s brutal reprisals.

Moise’s attacks on the people included the worst massacre in decades, which occurred in La Saline, in 2018. Over 14 hours, gangsters “carried out a vicious attack on the community...the assailants systematically extracted victims, including children, from their homes and executed them at gunpoint and with machetes.” Reports like this also came in from the neighborhoods of Bel-Air, and Cite Soleil, in 2019 and 2020. These atrocities were carried out by gangs organized by officials of Moise’s government working with a gang leader, Jimmy Cherizier, alias “Barbecue.” Cherizier, with other criminal miscreants, developed a gang called G9. This is the basis of the news reports of “gangs” in Haiti, which are portrayed as something separate from the government. They are not. All of this was well documented and reported in a Harvard Law School report issued in April 2021.3

Congress’s complaints
go nowhere

This Harvard Law School report was just one of several signs that the U.S. “political class,” representing the ruling class, was getting fed up with Moise’s inability to maintain control in Haiti. Congress members were complaining. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont said, “The message that we send by standing by these people [i.e., Moise’s government] is that we think they are the legitimate representatives of the Haitian people. They are not.” Is that right? So, Senator Leahy, we ask: Is the legitimate representative of the Haitian people the U.S. government, which put Martelly and Moise in power in the first place?

Despite complaints by some 60 or so Congress persons, the Biden regime stuck with Moise to the end, including by endorsing the first replacement, Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who was soon dumped for someone else. Biden, however, refused the call from Haiti to send in U.S. troops.

It’s interesting that some members of the Haitian elite immediately wanted U.S. military intervention, and the U.S. refused, but it doesn’t alter the balance of power. This assassination was an inside job, involving clique struggles within the elites of Haiti. It’s likely it was a move by opponents of the PHTK, who didn’t like Moise’s abuse of power to expand his own personal holdings and land grabs in the country. These opponents want these privileges for themselves of course. The U.S. could not care less about which puppet runs the country, as long as U.S. interests are maintained.

Imperial domination goes back to the beginning

This deadly regime of U.S. flunkies is just the current manifestation of imperialist tyranny in the island. The oppression began with the first voyage of Cristoforo Columbo,4 who landed on an island of the Taino people. They were almost wiped out by him and his colonialist successors. Claimed by Spain as its first colony in the “new world,” the island, called St. Domingue, was divided when the French acquired the western portion of the island. This became the most profitable colony in the world, producing 30 percent of the sugar and half of the coffee, both of which were coveted by the European elite. Due to the colony’s rich, well-irrigated soils, St. Domingue’s production of sugar and other crops was roughly double that of all the British West Indian Islands put together.

French colonists imported kidnapped Africans to work the plantations under very harsh conditions. Branded by their owners, the slaves were forced to work in production of sugar as well as the injury-prone harvesting of crops. Estimates are that five to ten percent of the slave population died every year from being over worked, accidents or disease. This meant that deaths outpaced births, so captive Africans were continually imported. Slave numbers soon became nine-tenths of the population.5

The slaves rise up

In 1791, a small group of slaves rose up in revolt, determined to fight for freedom, to the death if necessary. Just a few at first, they were soon joined by the masses. The rebels burned down the mansions of the plantation owners, and killed many of them. The rest fled to the cities, where most of the white settlers and free people of color—some of whom were slave owners themselves—resided. Soon the rebellion encompassed all of the colony’s eight thousand plantations. Tousaint L’Overture, a former coachman and slave who had been freed by his owner, emerged as the very savvy military and political leader.6

This revolt caused panic throughout the world of slavery-based mercantile imperialists. In Virginia, an “Act against divulgers of false news” was passed to keep the slaves ignorant of the revolt, but they quickly learned of it anyway. France was involved in revolution itself at the time, but the Rights of Man didn’t include freedom for slaves. In three years however, after abolition of slavery was a fait accompli in the colony, the Jacobin government announced freedom for all slaves in French colonies. Meanwhile, as the French Revolution began to cause chaos in the colony’s elite—some French republicans supported slave freedom—the slave owning refugees in the cities revered George Washington, among others. They understood that the U.S. war of independence against Britain stood for keeping slaves, not freeing them.

The invasion of the British

The first imperialist army to invade with the intent of defeating the slaves was the British. With the French empire in turmoil, the English lords relished the possibility of grabbing this super-profitable colony for themselves. They sent the largest overseas invasion fleet that had ever left their shores to St. Domingue. But they used the same antiquated tactics to this colony as they had in the 1776 rebellion in North America. They faced the same guerrilla warfare tactics as they had in the future nation to the north, but this time they were in the tropics. Wearing regulation flannel uniforms and underwear, British troops dropped dead from heat exhaustion and disease more than they did at the hands of Tousaint’s bare-footed guerrillas. They left the island in retreat, having lost 60 percent of their numbers.

In 1794, during the radical period under the Jacobins, France became the first country to declare freedom for all slaves throughout its empire. Soon however, there was a political counter-revolution, and Napoleon Bonaparte took power. Napoleon’s attack on what was soon to become Haiti was the next imperialist attempt to defeat the former slaves in the colony. In 1802, the French sent the largest invasion force that had ever left their shores, as had the British. At first it seemed as if they were winning, but then a secret statement by Napoleon, that he was planning to restore the system of slavery in all French colonies—thus repealing the Jacobin decree of abolition—was revealed. This galvanized Tousaint’s former-slave army into action like never before, and led to a decisive defeat of the French.7

Jean-Jacques Dessalines

Tousaint had been captured and sent to France, where he died in prison, but Jean-Jacques Dessalines had successfully taken the reins of his army. Soon thereafter, in 1804, the independence of Haiti was a fact: the only country ever to achieve a successful slave rebellion, and independence from imperialist domination as well. While Haiti had some corrupt rulers over the years, including some who introduced a form of serfdom on the former slaves, the new country was steadfast in its opposition slavery. Haiti offered aid to Simon Bolivar in his campaign to free the Spanish colonies in South America on the condition that he liberate all the slaves. Haiti also fought to free the slaves of its Spanish-owned neighbor, Santo Domingo.

But ever since the day of independence of Haiti, the imperialist powers have never forgotten to take revenge for the loss of the slaves and this profitable property. The U.S., under the slave-owner Jefferson, refused, along with most other imperialist powers, to recognize the new nation. Britain recognized Haiti in 1833, as it abolished slavery in its empire. Only the departure of the Confederate states in the Civil War prompted the U.S. to reverse course, and recognize Haiti, in 1862.

France imposes debt on young Haiti

France did the U.S. one better, for the time being anyway, when in 1825 it sent a flotilla of war ships to Haiti, and successfully extracted a payment of 150 million francs for their loss of property (plantations and slaves,) in exchange for recognizing the new nation. The enforced payments hampered Haiti’s economic growth, and it was made worse when Haiti borrowed from Western countries at high interest rates, including the U.S. By 1900, Haiti was losing 80 percent of its gross national product to debt. The payments only ended in 1947.

Out of all the excruciating punishment imposed by imperialist powers on independent Haiti, perhaps the worst was the U.S. military occupation of the country from 1915 to 1934. By the turn of the Century, the U.S. held some of Haiti’s debt, and had also become Haiti’s chief trading partner, replacing France. Not only that, but U.S. financial interests had gotten control of Haiti’s national bank, and the U.S. seized Haiti’s gold reserves in a gunboat-diplomacy action in 1914.

U.S. invasion and occupation

The following year, President Woodrow Wilson—the most racist U.S. president of modern times—found an excuse to do a full-scale invasion.8 A popular uprising against a Haitian president who had ordered the execution of 167 political prisoners led to an uprising, and to his lynching. Financiers in the U.S. saw these developments as a threat to their interests, despite Haiti’s record of payments on its debt.

But the reasons for the occupation went deeper. Following its independence in 1804, Haiti under Dessalines had enshrined in its constitution that foreigners could not own land in Haiti. Wilson wanted to rewrite Haiti’s constitution so that U.S. financiers could invest in land ownership to exploit resources in Haiti, from minerals to other business opportunities.

The occupiers inserted a president of their choosing; and Franklin D Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, wrote a new constitution which specifically allowed foreigners to own property in Haiti. This was long considered an anathema to Haitians. The Haitian legislature rejected it, so the U.S. ordered the puppet president to abolish it, which he did. Haiti remained without a legislature until 1929. The occupiers also created the Gendarmerie of Haiti to serve their interests in policing. This is now known as the Garde d’Haiti, and it hasn’t changed much.

The Caco Wars. Charlemagne Péralte, Presente!

Meanwhile, the U.S. Marines fought against Haitian rebels in the Caco Wars, which began almost immediately. The Cacos were men, originally slaves, but also refugees from corvee (forced) labor detachments that were imposed during the U.S. occupation, mainly to build roads. Some corvee workers were forced to work while in shackles, and without pay. The main purpose of road building was to provide an easy way for the U.S. military to get around in suppressing insurrections. The similarity to the chain gangs and other Jim Crow methods in the U.S. South at the time is stark.

The Cacos formed guerrilla armies in the mountainous areas separating Haiti from San Domingo to fight the U.S. Marines, and free the corvee laborers. The Marines eventually defeated them in the First Caco War, and tortured and killed their leader, one Charlemagne Péralte. But that wasn’t enough. The occupiers took a picture of the dead leader, after he was strung up and hung on a door, and distributed it widely, expecting this to terrify Haitians into submission. It had the opposite effect: Charlemagne Péralte’s gruesome picture looked to many like the crucifixion of Christ, and inspired more Caco rebellions. Charlemagne Péralte remains revered as a hero to this day.

A long, brutal occupation

The puppet government of Haiti could do absolutely nothing without U.S. approval, and U.S. operatives controlled many of the ministries. The occupation of Haiti was long, brutal and dictatorial; and the racism was blatant. Most of the soldiers sent there were from the South, and they showed it, including the officers. At first, the brass and their wives mixed with the mostly mulatto Haitian elite in social gatherings, but soon, they excluded anyone of color from their gatherings.

In 1920 the NAACP published a report on conditions in occupied Haiti, written by James Weldon Johnson. Johnson reported that there were “...needless killings of natives by marines,” and that, “some marines had cut a notch in their rifles for each native killed.” The author also managed to sit in on some social gatherings among the elites and U.S. military brass. These officers established elegant homes in the hills above Port au Prince, and acted as if they owned the place (which they did, basically.) Most had more servants than they could ever afford at home. Johnson reported that one such officer commented that “...some of these people with a little money and education think they are as good as we are.”

Johnson’s report compared the U.S. in Haiti with the South at home. “The man who is Superintendent of Public Instruction was formerly a schoolteacher in Louisiana. It seems like a practical joke to send a man from Louisiana, where they do not have good schools even for white people, down to Haiti to organize schools for Black children.” He also concluded that imposing southern conditions in the U.S. on Haiti was intentional. “Americans have carried American prejudice to Haiti. Before their advent, there was no such thing in social circles as race prejudice.” “These Southerners have found Haiti to be the veritable promised land of ‘jobs for deserving democrats.’”9

Congress to U.S.—stay in Haiti

A Congressional “investigation” began during the occupation, sparked in part by a military officer who admitted to the “indiscriminate killing and ill treatment of Haitians by native gendarmerie under the direct command of officers of the United States marine corps.”10 This “investigation” turned instead into a defense of the occupation, and warned of “anarchy, barbarism and ruin” if the U.S. left.

The devastating and racist occupation of Haiti—lasting 19 years—had a profound effect on Haiti’s future as a virtual colony of the U.S. After the U.S. departure there was a series of short-lived presidencies including U.S. puppets. But the U.S. occupation had also created a sense of Black nationalism in the country. Twenty-three years later, in 1957, this contributed to the election of Francois Duvalier (called “Papa Doc,”) who promoted Black people into the elite and was initially popular. But he declared himself “President for Life,” and created a private army of brutal enforcers of his dictatorship called the Tonton Macoutes. This gang of lawless thugs was the precursor of all the private gangs employed by subsequent autocrats such as Martelly and Moise, with his G9 “gang.”

Ever since its occupation, the U.S. imperium has ruled in Haiti. Twice, in 1991 and 2004, U.S.-backed military coups to remove Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the only genuinely democratic president of Haiti in modern times. Among other things, Aristide tried to get 21 billion in reparations from France as compensation for the debt the French had imposed on Haiti.

The lesson to be drawn today from the assassination of Moise is clear: U.S. hands are all over it. Will we ever learn who the real culprits were? Of course, there will be “patsies,” as Lee Harvey Oswald claimed he was for the killing of Kennedy. Will we ever know who really “dunit” in that case? Probably not. But in that case and this, we know who was really behind the scenes, pulling the strings. We also know that the Haitian working people, like the rebellious slaves and Cacos before them, will never stop fighting for their liberation.

NOTE: A powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on August 14th, leaving devastation in its wake. At this writing, almost 2000 people have been killed, with more expected to be found. In 2010, a 7.0 earthquake killed 300,000, and left millions in tent cities.

Centered on Haiti’s southern peninsula, the earthquake severely damaged the cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie. Hospitals in the area are overwhelmed. And, to make matters even worse, a tropical storm hit Haiti two days later, with a second storm on the way.

The Haiti Emergency Relief Fund is asking for help. Every dollar received will go directly to grass roots community organizations on the ground in Haiti. As you read this, help will still be much needed and appreciated.

Please send donations to:

Haiti Emergency Relief Fund

c/o East Bay Sanctuary Covenant

2362 Bancroft Way

Berkeley, CA 94704

1 “Haitian Ex-Intelligence Officer Gave Order to Kill President,” New York Times, July 17, 2021

2 “The Assassination of Jovenel Moise, What Next for Haiti,” Seth Donnelly, Counterpunch, July 13, 2021, is also available on

3 “Killing with Impunity: State Sanctioned Massacres in Haiti,” Harvard Law School Report, April 2021.

4 Cristoforo Columbo was the given name of the Italian adventurer who sailed in 1492 for the King of Spain in search of gold, also known as Christopher Columbus.

5 See Laurent Dubois, Haiti, the Aftershocks of History, New York, 2021, for an excellent history of the country and its experience.

6 Tousaint made sure the slave owner who had freed him managed to get away safely before he joined the revolt. See Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains, Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, New York, 2005, for an excellent narrative on the slave revolt in St. Domingue and other colonies.

7 Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo is recorded as his most important defeat, but in terms of its social and cultural significance, his defeat by ex-slaves in Haiti is a much more important historical marker.

8 One of Wilson’s first acts was to fire all the Black help in the White House, and fire all the Black Post Office officials in the country.

9 “The Truth About Haiti: An NAACP Investigation,” Crisis, 5, September 1920. Available at

10 Merced Sun-Star, October 1921.