Germany, Mole Saint Nicholas and the United States occupation of Haiti in 1915

Posted by on Tuesday, February 23, 2016 Under: World War I
America had been watching very closely the relationship between Germany and Haiti; some 50 years after Haiti had gained its independence, German interests on the half island had grown considerably.

Haiti in the late 1800s had a small German population of around 250, which was in control however of 80% of the country's wealth. 

They maintained, operated and controlled all utilities in Port-au-Prince as well as in Cap-Haitian. They operated the ports, the tramway in the Capital, and the extensive railroad system in the north. The small German community was also in charge of collecting tax duties through a "Customs Receivership"agreement, they had control of the National Bank of Haiti and, unsurprisingly they were also versing huge amounts to some other European countries.
Payments for "Haiti's debt to France." is an example. 

Jean Jacques Dessalines, father of the newly independent Haiti had passed a law forbidding the holding of land titles by foreigners, in fear of french return.

Most of the German businessmen bypassed the law by marrying Haitian women so that they could get land titles, and be able to own houses in any part of the country. 

Together with their new found Haitian allies, the Germans mercenaries controlled everything with little opposition from government officials; even then president Jean Louis Pierrot was a figurehead put in place by the elites.

Luders Affairs

In the fall of 1897, the relationship between Haiti and Germany was plunged into a new low over the arrest of a young man named Emile Luders, under the presidency of Tiresias Simon Sam.

Born in Haiti, Luders was the son of a German father and a Haitian mother, he was thrown in jail for assaulting officers of the peace who intervened during a dispute between him and his servant. Luders was subsequently fined $500 and sentenced to a year in prison for battery on a soldier.

The German ambassador to Haiti, Count Schwerin, immediately contacted the Haitian president over the matter and expressed his government disapproval of what Germany viewed as an unfair sentence. 

President Sam explained to the German representative that the sentence was harsh because it was Luders' second offense, and that he had no right to intervene in a judicial case.

The ambassador protested and demanded that Emile Luders be set free immediately, and be compensated $5.000 for each day spent in confinement.

Haiti refused to comply with the demand, so the German ambassador broke off diplomatic relations with Haiti.

Fearing further escalations, the United States intervened and asked the Haitian government to release the young man to the US as a gesture of goodwill. The request was granted and Luders was sent to New York, then to Germany.

Two months later, on December 06 1897, two German war vessels entered the harbor of Port-au-Prince, the SMS Charlotte and the SMS Stein. The German captain,Thiele, handed an ultimatum to the Haitian Government. 

Haiti was asked to apologize to the German government, make a 21 gun-salute to the German flag, pay Emile Luders $30.000 for the six days spent in jail and, allow him to return to Haiti and live peacefully as a citizen. The Germans also asked the Haitian government to raise a white flag over the National Palace as a sign of surrender, and to "graciously accept" the return of Count Schwerin, the same ambassador who broke off diplomatic relations in the first place; all within 4 hours against an immediate invasion.

The Luders affairs remains one of the most embarrassing moments in Haiti's history.
Haitians rose up against the president following the incident and President Tiresias Simon Sam resigned as a result.

The diplomatic relationship between Haiti and Germany remained very tense in the years following the Luders Affairs, but the tiny German community still remained the most powerful financial force in the country.

The Monroe Doctrine 

Although the United States played leading role in the release of Luders, it became extremely concerned at how Germany asserted its military might and forced the Haitian government to comply to its humiliating demands.

The United States through the Monroe Doctrine, had been extending its sphere of influence in Latin America as well as in the Caribbean basin. Working with its ally Great Britain, the US ensured that no other European power comes in. As for the french, they were already firmly established in Haiti by virtue of historical ties, but the success of a German community in one of the most populous Caribbean states was of great concern to Washington, especially since tensions between Germany and its neighbors in Europe were degenerating into wars.

The United States soon realized that Germany, this nascent and aggressive imperial power, was its chief rival in the Caribbean.

Panama Canal, Mole Saint Nicholas and World War I

The strategic importance of Haiti lays in its location along the Windward Passage; the 50 miles wide strait between Haiti and the Island of Cuba is the most important sea thoroughfares in the Western Hemisphere. Ships from almost every country in the world traverse these waters. It is classified by the United States as an "essential" foreign trade route.

The United States and Germany have had long interest in Mole Saint Nicholas. Then American president Woodrow Wilson, wanted Mole Saint Nicholas as a potential coaling station and naval base. Wilson had even approved the plan for the construction of a naval base 20 miles long and 10 miles wide. The residents were to be given the options of either selling their lands to the United States or become American citizens if they wished to remain.

In 1912, Germany offered the Haitian Government $2 millions for the lease of Mole Saint Nicholas. The Germans intended to turn it into a coaling station; a new commercial port was also going to be build in exchange for preferential port rights and reduced custom fees.

Washington always suspicious of Germany's ambitions to build a naval base in Haiti but had no proof; once the Mole Saint Nicholas lease offer had been confirmed, US president Woodrow Wilson immediately summoned the German ambassador to Washington for a formal explanation. The ambassador essentially denied the allegations and said, that Germany had no intention to control Haiti or any other Caribbean country, but should be able to exercise same rights as the United States.

Washington continued to lobbied Haitian officials on Mole Saint Nicholas for the same perpetual lease they had at Guantanamo with Cuba.

The State Department dispatched two special commissions to Haiti in early 1915, in continued efforts to negotiate a receivership, but it was becoming apparent that diplomatic efforts would not succeed. Commissioner Paul Fuller reported in June, 1915, " Haitian politician could afford to sign such an agreement, he would be accused of selling the country to the United States." He went on to explain that armed interventions was the only way to carry out American policy.

Before militarily intervening in Haiti, US president Woodrow Willson took different steps to gain some influence in the country. He agreed that the United States should act to protect the Americans against the French and especially the Germans from taking over Haiti. 

Since Washington could not get a hold of Mole Saint Nicholas, it threatened the Haitian Government with war if it did not sign an agreement promising not to sell nor lease Mole Saint Nicholas to any other country and, to sell to the US the French shares of the National Bank of Haiti.

Washington was the dominant power in Latin America as well as in the Caribbean; It had a naval base in Guantanamo,Cuba, it owned Puerto Rico and its ambitious Panama Canal project was underway. Outside interference was the least it wanted.

Robert Lansing from the State Department, made the position of the United States very clear: "... the prevention by all means in our power of German influence becoming dominant in any nation bordering the Caribbean or near the Panama Canal." 

The United States began with plans to invade Haiti, and extinguish German influence there. A terrible event that happened in Port-au-Prince, on July 28th 1915, gave the United States the perfect excuse it was looking for to take over Haiti.

United States Occupation of Haiti

Then Haiti's president Villebrun Guillaume Sam was the fifth president in five tumultuous years. In office for about 6 months, and already they were wide discontent against his administration. The majority of the population opposed his growing commercial and strategic ties with the United States. President Sam responded harshly to his critics; on July 27,1915, he ordered the summary execution of 167 political prisoners including former president Oreste Zamor. The entire population of Port-au-Prince rose up against him as the news of the executions reached them. President Sam fled to the French embassy in Port-au-Prince where he was immediately granted asylum; the enraged population broke into the French embassy in the early morning of July 28th 1915, dragged the president out, beat him to death, then spiked his dead body on the embassy's iron fence.

In response, US president Woodrow Willson ordered the USS Connecticut which was stationed near by, to take over Haiti. The same day, in the afternoon, under the command of Major Butler, some 800 US marines disembarked in Haiti. The occupation would last 19 years.

In : World War I 


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