In 1915, a contingent of three hundred odd Marines from the United States of America landed on the shores of the island of Hispaniola on the Haitian side. This was the first vestiges of an American Occupational force that was to effectively rule the Caribbean nation for just shy of twenty years, until 1934. What were the reasons behind this First Occupation of Haiti by the United States, and why did it continue through the First World War and almost to the next?
By the turn of the twentieth century, the United States was rapidly becoming an Imperial power. For all the fuss American Statesmen often made about the evil of Empires, America was rapidly becoming one herself. Just seventeen years earlier, the United States signed a treaty with Spain that ceded them the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Hawaii would become a U.S. Territory in 1900. The Panama Canal Zone would follow in 1903, and the Islands of St. John, St. Croix, and St. Thomas would be purchased from the Danish in 1917. This does not even include other holdings and interventions that would take place in the Pacific or Latin America around the same time.
Initially, the First Occupation of Haiti was facilitated under the guise of stabilizing the country. Much like today, Haiti in the early 1900's was in a dire political and economic situation. After the success of the Haitian Revolution that ended in 1804, France had levied massive reparations onto the fledgling nation which would be nearly impossible for it to repay. However, it did attempt to pay that debt, which, among other factors, caused the Haitian people to live in abject poverty attempting to eke out subsistence farming on the once fertile plains of the country. The murder of President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, killed by his own subjects who were outraged at the murders of his political opponents, would be the spark to this particular powder keg, and so the official occupation would begin July 28, 1915.
Throughout their stay, United States Marines and Navy personnel would continuously be harassed by, and seek to destroy the Haitian Rebels, the Cacos. They would also do such Nation-Building activities as they do today such as building roads, bridges and schools, as well as train the Haitian Police force, the Garde d'Haiti. However, this is largely overshadowed by anti-American sentiment for the invasion of the country, as well as the unabashed racist tenancies shown by the white Marines and Sailors toward their Haitian charges. Many Haitians also resented the United States because of the obvious economic reasons behind the Occupation: especially the revising of the Haitian Constitution to remove a clause that forbade foreigners to own land.
In conclusion, the United States Occupation of Haiti from 1915 - 1934 was touted as a stabilization mission by the American Government, but a nineteen year "mission" that often had somewhat more obvious undertones. It can and should be viewed as an act of colonialism by the Americans during a time that the United States was often considered on the World Stage to be "isolationist." However, it should be noted that the United Stated would be back in Haiti in 1994, for a very similar reason.