By Vania André
When the United States invaded Haiti a century ago, the idea was to rebuild and turn the troubled Caribbean nation into a “model” nation, said Alain Martin, director and writer of the documentary film, “The Forgotten Occupation.”
“They assumed we were savages, “ said Martin.
So this month to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States invasion of Haiti, Martin is releasing his film.
Through narration, interviews with those who lived through the occupation, photographs, and archival footage, the documentary covers the two-year period of the Corvee, where U.S. forces forced Haitians into unpaid labor. Corvee is a practice where unpaid labor is imposed by the state on a certain group of people to perform work on public projects.
“The U.S. wanted to attract investors, but needed to have an infrastructure in place in Haiti,” Martin said, “they didn’t have the money or manpower to do so they implemented a corvee.”
“They promised to “protect” us from our government,” Martin said. “But what actually happened is far different than what the U.S. had promised.”
The Forgotten Occupation explores the U.S. Marines Corps invasion and puts many of Haiti’s problems, particularly with the D.R., into perspective.
“Haiti’s issues, including the current mass-deportation of Haitians from their neighboring country the Dominican Republic, are rooted in very complex dealings, many of which that can be traced back to the U.S. occupation 100 years ago,” the Haitian-American director said.
“Why do you think they were there in the first place?” he said. “It wasn’t by accident.”
“In the beginning of the twentieth-century, the deterioration of Haitian agriculture and the availability of Dominican land and jobs lured Haitians across the border,” Dr. Jemima Pierre, a professor at UCLA of African Diaspora Studies & an editor for Black Agenda Report said during a podcast.
Much like in Haiti, the U.S. had economic interests in the D.R. because of their robust sugar industry. The budding international power had invaded Haiti’s neighbor in 1916.
“With the rebirth of the plantation system in Haiti, many Haitian peasants were forced to the Dominican sugar plantations for employment,” Pierre said. “The Americans saw Haitians as a good labor source because they were close at hand and already under the United States control.”
Sugar corporations set up land deals in the D.R. and recruited Haitian workers to cut cane. The U.S. sugar companies created makeshift settlements around the sugar cane plantations for workers in the Dominican Republic. Their remnants are the bateys.
“Once the corporations left in the 30s, people had nowhere to go,” Pierre said. They stayed there, and created lives for themselves.
“They’re children are born there, and they don’t know anything about Haiti.”
“Peasants loss their land and were forced to work in other countries,” Martin said. “The backbone of our economy was taken and because of it our regional economy suffered.”
Haitians found themselves segregated and reduced to second-class citizens in their own nation, he said. American corporation seized their land and the Haiti national bank was turned over to Citibank.
“When Haitians tried to resist, they were gunned down, beaten, and imprisoned. By the time the occupation ended, Haiti’s political course had been forever altered.”
The occupation was a strategy to expand and secure western interests on Hispanola, Martin says. It’s important that this generation doesn’t forget about this time in history because its lasting effects are seen even today.
“I didn’t find out about the occupation until I was 22,” he said. “It’s completely changed my perception of Haiti and its economic problems.
“All my life I believed that Haiti was this poor unstable country. Now I see that’s not the truth.”
The film also delves into the occupation’s background, America’s mission to become a leading power player on the global stage, and corporations such as Citibank that looked to profit from the occupation. The film also implicates the Haitian elite “who aligned themselves with American businessmen.”
“The reason it’s critical to understand the U.S. Occupation is because many of the problems that Haiti has today, are actually of much more recent origin, they’re 20th century problems,” said Laurent Dubois, author of Haiti: The Aftershocks of History.
Many times people refer to the Haitian Revolution as a failed one because of our history of foreign-mediated instability, Martin said. I don’t agree.
“Judge the revolution based on its goal, which was to eradicate slavery, and prevent it from ever coming back.”
To support the film, CLICK HERE