1914 Paris was all aquiver over Haitian ‘revolt’ but not for the reason you think


General Zamor, who had chaotic time as President of Haiti from February 8, 1914 to October 27, 1914

Someone tweeted this fragment from the past, an International Herald Tribune story of January 9, 1914, on how the “Haitian revolt” had caused consternation in Parisienne business circles. It was all about Paris’s emotional response at the Haitian people having the temerity to rise up “when the coffee harvest is at its height, threatening the loss of a large part of the crop”. (Okay, so I exaggerate just a tad but anyone who reads the IHT story themselves, from the link or right below this blogpost, can draw their own conclusions.)

In that anodyne (dare I say unsighted) story, is a reference to General Zamor, the ill-fated president who had a short and chaotic time in office, managing to nark off a number of powerful interests, leading to still more civil strife and his eventual execution in 1915. The New York Times’s report from its archives is available here.

Both news stories offer little in the way of insight but it was probably hard to predict how those events would change (and shape for good or ill) Haiti’s history and mindset. But they were crucial. In 1914, the Wilson Administration sent marines into Haiti to remove $500,000 from the Haitian National Bank for “safekeeping” in New York. Thus, the US gained control of the Bank. In 1915, the US invaded properly, in line with the sort of for-your-own-good interventionist policies popular in the early 20th century. As the State Department website blandly says, “President Woodrow Wilson sent the United States Marines into Haiti to restore order and maintain political and economic stability in the Caribbean after the assassination of the Haitian President in July of 1915. This occupation continued until 1934.” And it goes on, “The United States Government had been interested in Haiti for decades prior to its occupation. As a potential naval base for the United States and other imperialist powers, Haiti’s stability was of great interest to US diplomatic and defense officials who feared instability might result in foreign rule of Haiti.”

The official account handsomely admits to US meddling and the great power politics played out in Haiti. But in the end, I suppose, as post-independence Haiti  (and 17th-century India)  learnt to its cost, you’re a locale for the great game if you can’t keep your house in order. With seven Haitian presidents assassinated or overthrown between 1911 and 1915, Haiti was a ‘good’ candidate for foreign intervention that cast itself as benign.



Haiti Revolt Threatens Coffee: Considerable emotion has been caused in business circles in Paris having relations with Haiti by the news that another revolution has broken out in the ‘‘Black Republic,’’ particularly in view of the fact that the uprising has taken place when the coffee harvest is at its height, threatening the loss of a large part of the crop. At the present moment the towns of Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien have not been affected by the revolution, but, on the other hand, Valières has risen and is in the hands of General Zamor, who possesses considerable local influence.

Fragment from The New York Times, July 28, 1915 – First the sensational headlines and then the story:

HAITI MASSACRE; PRESIDENT FLEES; ZAMOR EXECUTED; Gen. Oscar, Governor of Port au Prince, Has ex-President and 160 Prisoners Slain. IS SHOT LATER BY A MOB Severe Fighting in the Capital, Which Is Now Held by the Revolutionist. PALACE IS PARTLY BURNED President Guillaume and His Family in the French Legation, Which Is Threatened by the Rebels.

PORT AU PRINCE, July 27. — A revolution, more terrible in the toll of life thus far taken than any even in the days of Nord Alexis, flamed out in the Haitian capital today. It was an offshoot of the movement to the north, where the adherents of Dr. Rosalvo Bobo, twice expelled from Haiti, have been striving for several months to break the power of the President, General Vilbrun Guillaume.