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Capture Land: Jamaica, Haiti, and the United States Occupation

Smith, Matthew

Matthew Jordan Smith

Journal of Haitian Studies




Jamaica Haiti History American occupation


The possibility of United States intervention had hovered over Haitian politics for several years prior to the occupation. But Haiti’s allies in Jamaica had reasoned that with the right sort of leadership it could be averted. The question above all was what the US military troops would do in Haiti. A Jamaica Times editorial sounded a dismal warning that under US control “it will be very hard for Hayti ever again to emerge as an independent state.” Yet even if this was so, the paper argued, the results would be to Haiti’s benefit: “Hayti must become a very different country to that which is at present breaking the heart of all those who really love her, shocking and disgusting the sensibility of the civilized world.”The “civilized world,” however, had never been kind to Haiti. A Jamaica Times journalist in 1915 was correct in stating that Haiti had fared better at the hands of sympathetic Jamaican reporters than at those of writers outside the Caribbean. This was in large measure a result of the frequency of exile of prominent Haitians in the island, which facilitated enduring associations. But the events of July 1915, when Haitian president Vilbrun Guillaume-Sam was publicly and brutally killed by rival forces, presented a new circumstance unlike anything that had prevailed before. Some Jamaicans had previously advocated some form of foreign control to take Haiti out of its quagmire of short-term governments. Where Haiti would go, now that US marines were on the ground, was undeterminable. Over the next two decades Jamaican observances and commentaries on the US occupation of Haiti reflected a particular British West Indian view. While some US commentators—especially within the African American community—would grow increasingly oppositional to their government’s military control of the republic, the response of Jamaicans was less consistent. They were guided in various ways by racial and regional solidarity but their public statements about occupied Haiti also implied their own conflicted perceptions of empire. Over the nineteen years of US rule in Haiti, Jamaican elites would reflect some of the contradictions of their Haitian counterparts as they contemplated the marine presence, Haiti’s future, and the role of US imperialism in the Caribbean.

–Special Issue on the U.S. Occupation of Haiti


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