Haiti’s economic, political, and military centralization

Haiti, State Against Nation: The Origins and Legacy of Duvalierism

Michel-Rolph Trouillot

New York: Monthly Review Press, c1990


Speak softly and carry a big stick


A proverb advising the tactic of caution and non-aggression, backed up by the ability to do violence if required.


1 Nationalism and Dependency: The Genesis of Sate and Nation Ostracism and Profits


  • “The birth of an independent state on the ashes of a Caribbean colony was seen as a major threat by racist rulers in Western Europe and in the United States.” (50)
  • “The two international powers that did the most to isolate Haiti until the second half of the nineteenth century were the Vatican and the United States.” (51)
  • “By 1822, the United States had formally recognized all the  countries of the Americas that had liberated themselves from Spanish tutelage. But a succession of congressmen, senators, and presidents had vehemently argued against recognition of the Haitian state.” (51-52)
  • “Both abuses and pressures by European governments and foreign merchants of diverse origins, directed at Haiti and Haitians throughout the nineteenth century, must be seen in that context.” (53)
  • “By 1851 Haiti’s imports from the United States surpassed in value those of Mexico, and U.S. trade with Haiti was greater in volume than U.S. commerce with most Latin American states.” (53)
  • “In retrospect, then, Haiti at the turn of the century was a country poorly fitted into the world system, torn by its dual and fragmented dependence on France and the United States, both of which where, at the same time though for different reasons, unable and unwilling to integrate it fully within their spheres of influence.“ (56-57)
  • “Despite formal achnowledgement of its indepdendence, the menance of foreign warships continuously reminded its citizens of their impotence on the world scene.”  (57)
  • “..Haiti could not fully benefit from its hard-gained independence in a world that was not ready to accept the implications of its existence.” (58)
  • “The class relations that lie at the roots of the current Haitian crisis—and those that therefore underlay the Duvalierist state—can only be understood against this backdrop of political ostracism and commercial dependence.”  (58)

Ostracism:  a general refusal to include someone as part of a social group

  • France and United States pulled a: “YOU CANT SIT WITH US.” – Regina George


2 A Republic for Merchants
  •  Political injustice, country suffered.
  • Economic dependence that limited its option.
  • Limits imposed by forge in powers.

On the Coffee Tax and Other Injustices

  • Bonnet’s tax package
  • Set tone for Haiti’s economic policy
  • for next 200 years

“Thus, the new law was clearly shifting the burden of state financing from the major planters, producing sugar, to the peasants and small farmers, producing coffee.” (60)

“By 1887 the entire government budget depended on customs duties, and by 1909 more than 95 percent of government revenues came from multiple taxes collected at the various ports on a single crop, coffee.” (61)

“The state was spending, but it was the peasant who was footing the bill.” (61)

“The fact of the matter was that the state had chosen to live at the expense of the nation—and in this choice lay the seeds of future divisions.” (64)

  • Presidencies: Petion, Boyer
  • granted land to peasants
  • heavily taxed its products
  • opted for wasteful expenditures
  • increased dependence.
  • merchants were prime beneficiaries of these choices.

“The moral of the story is clear: the foreign trader has always operated in Haiti with the assurance that he can call in a foreign power if necessary. When the protection of one power has appeared doubtful or insufficient, he had not hesitated to seek the aid of anoth. 1823 true, 1903 still true: Levantine merchants threatened to use military power of France and US to settle their disputes with the government.” (67)

Power and Profit

  • “Social mobility outside the state structure remained marginal, and the state was permanently weakened by its inability to unite political and civil society.” (71)
  • “Merchants fed on the political, financial, and military instability of the state, and had an objective interest in the rate of political succession, since every regime offered them a new and greedier clique of customers.” (72)

The Defeat of the Landlords

  • Code’s proclamation in 1826
  • militarized agriculture.
  • “The subdivision of poverty has displaced welfare” (Ardouin n.d.)

Power to the Landlords

  • “Confronted by the peasants’ refusal to furnish surplus through ground rent, many of the light-skinned landlords chose to tie themselves to the foreign merchants.” (75)
  • “As time passed landlords became rulers—and often nothing but rulers.” (76)
  • “First, some landlords continued to draw part of their income from the ownership or control of land.” (76)
  • “Others refused to sell at all” (76)

A Nation Divided

  • This socioeconomic organization divided the nation sharply into two markedly distinct groups: the agricultural producers and the urbanites clustered around the alliance of rulers and merchants.” (80)
  • “The danger of taking Haiti for a caste society lies not in the observations upon which that analysis is based– Haiti is undeniably a society split in two- but focusing on the split between elites and masses, rural and urban, mulatre and black, French and Creole, or Christian and Vodoun believer, we run the risk of masking the exchanges and contacts underling these oppositions.” (81)
  • “Suffice it to say here that the complexities of this cultural terrain did not conceal the fact that the structures of the merchants’ republic divided the nation and reinforced the peasantry’s political isolation.” (82)
 3 The Recurring Crisis
  • Central Social imbalance
  • Chronic Political Instability

The Limits of the system

  • “At the bottom of the social scale, bit vital important for the entire nation, was a peasantry divided into several strata: landless people, sharecroppers, small proprietors, and rich peasants.” (83-84)
  • “The touchstone of Haiti’s socioeconomic system has thus been a peasantry that worked more and more but produced less and less, as population increased and the availability of fertile land decrease.” (84)

The Primacy of the Executive

  • “The state is the source of their daily bread, and they fight for the state, against the state, or within the state in order to have their place in the state.” (91)
  • “The civilian state apparatus, like the military machine, puts politics in the foreground of urban life.” (91)
  • “one one side, the political marginalization of the peasantry, a marginalization that paralleled its sociocultural isolation; and on the other, the coalescence of all the urban strata in the political sphere.” (91) …..”In Haiti, we reduce all the problems of society to political problems…However, the state is not the society.” (Laroche 1908)

The Main Springs of the System

  • “The key difference between the two centuries is the nineteenth-century presence of corrective forces, of social and economic mechanisms that limited the intensity of the structural crisis and channeled the ways in which it manifested itself.” (92)


  • “The divisions among generals reflected, in addition to conflicts over power, oppositions between spatially differentiated groups of landowners and rich peasants. For example, sharecropping was more common in the North and an independent yeomanry more evident in the South.” (95)


  • “Geographical isolation greatly contributed to the economic and political autonomy of the regional pram ids. Haiti’s rugged terrain had placed limits on centralization since colonial days by impeding the completion of a national road system.” (97)

 Cracks within the Alliance

  • “The dominant alliance’s political and economic control was limited by pressures that: (1) Prevented the homogenization of either of the two groups within it; (2) limited their capacity to accumulate power, alone or jointly; and (3) limited their capacity to use their power according to a united strategy.” (98)

The US Invasion

  • The official reason for the occupation was that the obvious political anarchy in Haiti gave the United States the moral duty of protecting the lives of feigners, including its own citizens. ” (100)
  • invasion took place exactly one year after beginning of WWI
  • US embassy was increasingly nervous about German influence on Haitian politics.
  • Sept. 16, 1915, they imposed a Convention (Agreement) that gave them the right to police the country and to control public finances for ten years.

 Unhealed Sores

  • Marines presence temporarily ended military coups
  • Beyond….occupation’s main effect was damaging because it exacerbated the contradictions embedded in the socioeconomic structure, reinforced traditional conflicts, and  broadened the dimensions of the crisis by centralizing the system.” (102)
  • increased economic dependence by enlarging the role of coffee as export
  • “increased the injustice inherent in the fiscal system by raising the share of the value of imports and exports sucked up by the state through customs duties. ” (102)
  • Tax burden on the peasantry and the lower classes was heavier under the occupation than it had been during the 19th Century. (102)
  • Reinforced the country’s most important economic problems: dependence and the extraction of a massive quantity of peasant surplus by non producers.”  (103)
  • occupation accelerated Haiti’s economic, military, and political centralization, leaving the rest of the country unable to restrain the hegemonic tendencies of the “Republic of Port-au-Prince.” (104)





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