“Yankee Imperialism,” 1901-1934

     Contents

U.S. Marines arrived in Haiti in July 1915 and remained for nineteen years

I. Introduction

IV. Case studies

  • Cuba under the Platt Amendment
  • The creation of Panama
  • Brief occupations and battles in Mexico
  • Long occupations and guerrilla wars in Haiti and the Dominican Republic
  • The Sandino war in Nicaragua, 1926-1933

Did you know?

  1. The United States covertly supported a secessionist revolt in the Panamanian province of Colombia in November 1903, in order to obtain the right to a canal zone.
  2. President Theodore Roosevelt declared in December 1904 that the United States had the right and responsibility to militarily intervene in other nations of the Western Hemisphere in order to correct “chronic wrongdoing.”[1]
  3. Between 1900 and 1930, American private and corporate investments in Latin America increased from $280 million to $5.3 billion, surpassing investments in Europe. U.S. administrations repeatedly vowed to protect these assets and open doors for more.[2]
  4. During the first two decades of the 20th century, the U.S. made “protectorates” of Cuba, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Haiti, taking control of their finances, limiting their sovereignty, and periodically sending in troops.
  5. To secure a pro-U.S. government in Nicaragua, President William Howard Taft first supported a revolution in 1909, then supported the suppression of a revolution in 1912.
  6. President Woodrow Wilson famously declared in April 1917 that the “world must be made safe for democracy,” but his message was not meant for what he called the “politically undeveloped races.”  His administration established and maintained authoritarian governments in Haiti and the Dominican Republic under U.S. military command.[3]
  7. The U.S. occupations in Haiti and the Dominican Republic sparked guerrilla wars that took the lives of 290 U.S. Marines, over 3,000 Haitians, and an unknown number of Dominicans.[4]
  8. From January 1921 to February 1923, General Enoch H. Crowder, as “special representative of the President,” ruled Cuba by decree, issuing orders from the USS Minnesota in the Havana harbor.
  9. Civil rights, peace, and progressive activists in the United States organized campaigns to end U.S. occupations in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua, working with anti-imperialist allies in Latin America.
  10. Latin Americans persistently challenged U.S. interventionism, or “Yankee imperialism,” finally persuading U.S. leaders to adopt the principle of non-intervention at the Seventh Inter-American Conference in December 1933, which became known in the U.S. as the Good Neighbor Policy.

I. Introduction

On June 20, 1898, as U.S. troops prepared to land in Cuba to “pacify” the island, Assistant Secretary of State Francis Loomis held forth on the larger implications of the U.S. intervention.  Writing to his boss, Secretary of State William Day, Loomis declared, “I think it our destiny to control more or less directly most all of the Latin American countries.”
One means to this end was economic domination.  “It is possible to attain commercial ascendancy in them in much the same way that England does in China,” wrote Loomis, “that is, by lending them money and administering their revenues.”  Another was political annexation.  “I am glad it is to fall to the lot of this administration to strengthen our country by adding to its domain the islands that we may need to sustain ourselves as one of the foremost nations of the earth and the soon-to-be leading one in every good sense of the term.”[5]

U.S. military interventions in Latin America, 1895-1930s (click to enlarge)

As the 19th century came to a close, the United States embarked on a new mission of empire-building.  It was new in the sense that it involved overseas rather than continental expansion, and that it allied with financial and commercial interests rather than land-hungry settlers.  U.S. leaders did not join the European “scramble” for African colonies, but they did vie for influence and territorial acquisitions in Asia and the Pacific, and they pursued outright dominance in the Central American-Caribbean region.

The War of 1898 against Spain provided the catalyst for an overseas empire, as the U.S. gained the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cuba as the spoils of war (see The War of 1898).  Still, the U.S. was playing catch-up in the imperial competition for colonies, markets, and spheres of influence.  By 1900, European nations had colonized 90% of Africa, the whole of the Indian subcontinent, and much of Southeast Asia.
U.S. leaders pursued dominance in the Central American-Caribbean region through economic, diplomatic, and military pressure, including military interventions and occupations.  They claimed that their goals and policies were benevolent and necessary to preserve civilized order.  Most Latin Americans, however, regarded U.S. interventionism as “Yankee imperialism.”
The era is framed by two opposing doctrines, the 1904 Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which set forth the rationales for U.S. military intervention in Latin America, and the Good Neighbor Policy of 1933, which countermanded the Roosevelt Corollary and upheld the principle of noninterventionism.
This essay tells the story of “Yankee imperialism” in the Central American-Caribbean region during the first third of the 20th century.[6]  It analyzes U.S. motives and rationales, surveys the policies and doctrines of successive U.S. administrations, and examines six case studies of U.S. occupations – in Cuba, Panama, Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua.  The final section explores what lessons might be drawn from this history.

II.  U.S. motives and rationales

U.S. motives for overseas expansion were similar to those of other imperial powers – military and geostrategic advantage, economic gain, political control, and international prestige – but U.S. leaders were disinclined toward permanent colonies and furthermore refused to admit to any imperial intentions.  The political ideology of the United States, after all, was and is directly contrary to the object of imperialism – control over other lands and peoples without their consent.  “Throughout its history,” writes the historian Jerald A. Combs, “the United States has been wary of the idea of imperialism.  Americans have prided themselves on the fact that their revolution was the first successful rebellion against European colonialism.”[7]
U.S. leaders either played down the contradiction or mischievously twisted American principles into conformity.  As an example of the latter, on July 12, 1900, as U.S. forces fought a war to suppress Filipino independence, President William McKinley told the American people that the United States was bravely engaged in the liberation of ten million Filipinos “from the yoke of imperialism.”  Again, in May 1901, he assured U.S. soldiers in San Francisco returning from the war that there was “no imperialism but that of the sovereign power of the American people.”[8]  The principles of freedom and democracy, as such, were conflated with American control, as if flying the Stars and Stripes over a foreign country made it free.

1904 Cartoon by William Allen Rogers (Granger Collection)

According to the historian William I. Cohen, the American public’s “traditional anti-imperialism required that empire be disguised and rationalized.”  U.S. leaders disguised their empire-building in Asia in part by promising “eventual independence for the Philippines, after appropriate tutelage.”  They disguised it in Latin America by employing “the concept of ‘protectorate,’ clearly not a colony, [which] facilitated American hegemony in the Caribbean.”[9]  During the first two decades of the 20th century, the U.S. made protectorates of Cuba, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Haiti.

U.S. leaders also rationalized their budding empire on the basis of race.  Woodrow Wilson, a political science professor at Princeton University before he was elected president, explained in September 1900 that the principle of the “consent of the governed” need not apply to “the affairs of politically undeveloped races, which have not yet learned the rudiments of order and self-control.”  Thus, he concluded, the “‘consent’ of the Filipinos and the ‘consent’ of the American colonists to government, for example, are two radically different things.”[10]  Wilson’s racially-tinged view of political rights was validated by the Supreme Court in Insular Cases (1901), which held that people living in subjugated territories had no guarantee of Constitutional rights.
Among the “undeveloped races,” in the view of many Anglo Americans, was the population of Latin America, a melting pot of European, Native American, and African peoples.  In 1821 Secretary of State John Quincy Adams wrote of Latin Americans that there was “no prospect that they would establish free or liberal institutions of government. . . . Arbitrary power, military and ecclesiastical, was stamped upon their habits, and upon all their institutions.”[11]  Francis Loomis, who also served as ambassador to Venezuela from 1897 to 1901, warned his colleagues in the State Department, “one thing that I have learned . . . is to place no belief in the word of a man of Latin race if he may have anything to gain by lying.  This may be laid down as a rule.”[12]  General Leonard Wood, who served as U.S. military governor of Cuba, described the Cuban people in 1900 as “a race that has steadily been going down for a hundred years.”  Hence, in his view, it would take many years of American instruction to realize “an enlightened community for self-government.”[13]

“Everyone gets his share.” French caricature of the 1884-85 Berlin Conference, with German leader Otto Bismarck dividing Africa like a cake.

U.S. leaders were not unique in framing their imperial enterprises in noble terms while depreciating the dispossessed as deserving of their fate.  Both the British and French rationalized their extensive empires as a “civilizing mission,” claiming a duty to enlighten the so-called “lesser races.”  As the cultural critic Edward Said wrote, “impressive ideological formations” were constructed that “allowed decent men and women to accept the notion that distant territories and their native peoples should be subjugated”; indeed, that the imperial nations had an “almost metaphysical obligation to rule subordinate, inferior or less advanced peoples.”[14]  Imperial governments, in other words, had to convince citizens at home that imperialism was necessary and just, irrespective of any material benefits that might be gained (which generally accrued to the wealthy).  The British novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling added a caveat in his enigmatic poem, “The White Man’s Burden:  The United States and the Philippine Islands,” published in February 1899.  He advised Americans, “Take up the White Man’s burden,” meaning imperialism, but forewarned them not to expect gratitude from their “new-caught, sullen peoples.”[15]

Three goals

One major difference between the British colonial empire and the informal, neocolonial U.S. empire was that the U.S. lacked a Colonial Office to systematize its operations and train its administrators.  U.S. interventions and occupations were haphazard and eclectic, by contrast, and often administered by military men with little understanding of the people and culture over whom they held power.  Each intervention was a new experiment involving varying degrees of control and negotiation.  The common denominators were securing U.S. geopolitical hegemony and advancing and protecting private American economic interests.  These two goals, in turn, compelled a third – securing a stable political order conducive to the first two objectives.

The Great White U.S. fleet, 1907

Regarding the first goal, U.S. geopolitical hegemony in the Central American-Caribbean region moved forward after War of 1898 with the acquisition of the Panama Canal Zone in 1903.  U.S. leaders henceforth claimed the region as an exclusive U.S. sphere of military and political influence, colloquially referred to as “our backyard.”  The degree of force employed and control exerted varied from country to country.  U.S. military forces occupied for short periods of time Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica; and for long periods, Cuba, Panama, Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic (reviewed in Section IV).  Armed resistance in the latter three countries prompted one-sided counter-insurgency wars that killed thousands and terrorized rural communities.

In countries where the U.S. retained significant control, occupational authorities also initiated beneficial projects to improve sanitation, build roads, systematize governmental operations, and reduce “corruption.”  Such projects, however, were compromised by their integration into larger schemes of bureaucratic and economic centralization that enhanced foreign control and undermined local autonomy and traditional patronage systems – typically described as “corruption” by occupational authorities.  The U.S. essentially replaced indigenous “political spoils” systems with one of its own that favored foreign interests, economic elites, and accommodating political parties.

Cuban workers harvesting sugar cane, circa 1908 (Library of Congress)

On the economic front, American corporations and investors operated in Latin America with and without the assistance of the U.S. government, although the latter always stood in the shadows, prepared to intervene if threats to American assets arose.  Between 1900 and 1909, private American investments in Latin America quadrupled from about $280 million to over $1 billion.[16]  By the end of the 1920s,” writes the historian Louis Pérez, “U.S. investments in Latin America had reached $5.3 billion, two-thirds of which were in the form of direct investment in properties and the balance in securities…. the U.S. capital stake in Latin America had surpassed investments in Europe.”[17]

Loading bananas, Puerto Castilla, Honduras, circa 1920s (United Fruit Company photo collection, Harvard University)

Foreign (U.S.) investors bought up arable land, developed large agricultural plantations and mining operations, built and owned railroads, port facilities, and public utilities, controlled banking, loans, and credit, and bought off politicians to secure their holdings.  American-owned commercial empires were created through the export of bananas from Central American republics, sugar from Cuba, and oil from Mexico.

In contrast to U.S. domestic society, where business and government frequently battled over laws and regulations, business and government interests aligned in the pursuit of American hegemony in Latin America.  Woodrow Wilson, before becoming president, argued in 1907 that the U.S. government should protect and advance American commercial and financial interests in foreign lands:

Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down.  Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process.[18]

In economics as in politics, in Wilson’s view, American expansion abroad could safely ignore “the consent of the governed.”  For reasons mentioned, however, America’s commercial imperialism needed to be disguised by “impressive ideological formations.”  The major one, an economic offshoot of the imperial “civilizing mission,” held that foreign capitalist investment would assist poor countries in developing their resources and improving the quality of life for the masses.

To the contrary, writes Jerald Combs, “Most Latin American countries began to concentrate on one or two cash crops or natural resources that might be exchanged in the United States for manufactured items and luxury goods.  The upper classes might benefit from this trade and from the American investments and loans that made possible the railroads, port facilities, and public utilities necessary to commerce; few peasants did.”[19]  In the Central American-Caribbean region, in particular, U.S. corporations such as the United Fruit Company became so powerful as to restructure whole economies to suit their interests and profits.  According to Pérez:

The exercise of hegemony created an auspicious environment for U.S. investment in the region.  Capital carried its own set of imperatives.  Investors demanded specific conditions, including access to resources, assurances of protection, and guarantees of profit.  Capital demanded, too, a docile working class, a passive peasantry, a compliant bourgeoisie, and a subservient political elite.[20]

As American corporate and financial investments increased, so did the efforts of U.S. leaders to control the governments, leaders, and policies of nations in the region, using the threat of military intervention as leverage.  U.S. control was most often exercised through alliances with strongmen, or caudillos, such as Porfirio Díaz in Mexico, Manuel Estrada Cabrera in Guatemala, and Adolfo Díaz in Nicaragua.  Sometimes the U.S. forced regime change, as in the overthrow of President José Santos Zelaya in Nicaragua in 1909.  At other times, the U.S. mediated disputes between rival political factions and organized relatively fair elections, as in Cuba in 1908 and Nicaragua in 1928.  This last option, of course, was in keeping with U.S. democratic principles.  Yet democratic governance was not the first U.S. priority and often not a priority at all.

“Uncle Sam’s new class in the art of self-government.” Harper’s Weekly, August 1898, lampoons a standard rationale for U.S. empire-building (source: Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa)

U.S. leaders often embellished their goal of political stability with democratic idealism.  Political order, it was said, would be secured through democratically elected governments that would respond to the will of the people and perhaps implement policies for the common good.  Such idealism was not necessarily insincere, but it failed to recognize the inherent contradiction of the U.S. position in seeking to impose its will on other nations while extolling the virtues of democracy.  American economic interests, moreover, were generally more comfortable with “strongmen” they could manipulate rather than democratic governments that would act in the interest of the poor majority, restricting foreign ownership and exploitation.

This is not to say that democratic governance was easy to achieve in a country, or that it would have been achieved if the U.S. had not intervened, but rather that there was a wide gap between American practices and professed principles.  For the most part, the U.S. supported strongman governments that would accommodate U.S. business and political demands.  In Cuba and Nicaragua, where the U.S. once organized elections, U.S. leaders later supported the dictatorial regimes of Fulgencio Batista and Anastasio Somoza, respectively.  Democratic idealism was nonetheless useful for eliciting domestic support for U.S. interventions, with failure blamed on the “politically underdeveloped” citizens of the countries under occupation.

The U.S. goal of political stability was never achieved in any country for any substantial amount of time.  The U.S. operational formula, it may be seen, was fundamentally flawed.  First, the compliant national leaders chosen by Washington were rarely supported by the people – one source of instability.  Secondly, the economic arrangements imposed by the U.S. favored foreigners and upper classes over the masses – a deeper source of instability.  Thirdly, the possibility of structural economic reforms through government in the interest of the masses – similar to Progressive and New Deal reforms in the United States – was discouraged, thwarted, and repressed by U.S. officials, thus making insurrections more likely.  Fourthly, occupying U.S. authorities and troops were often haughty and prejudiced, treating local populations with disdain, thus creating ill-will in social relations.  Finally, even when egos were soothed, the mere fact that foreigners had come to rule and dominate was a persistent source of resentment and rebellion.  As Combs writes:

When Americans served abroad in positions of authority as factory owners, colonial officials, teachers, and missionaries, they often aroused nationalistic hostilities.  American troops stationed in foreign countries caused special difficulties.  Most soldiers were uneducated and unsophisticated.  They regarded foreigners as strange and inferior and treated them as such.  Consequently, American military intervention often created more problems than it solved.[21]

Prior to the 20th century, it was common practice for foreign governments to send military forces to protect their nationals and their nationals’ properties in countries where civil disturbances arose.  In 1897, for instance, when a German national was arrested in Haiti, the Kaiser sent two warships to Port-au-Prince to demand not only his release but also an indemnity of $20,000 or the town would be bombarded.  The Haitians acceded to both demands.[22]  As loans from rich to poor countries increased in the late 19th century, the collection of these loans became another cause for military intervention.  Notwithstanding President Theodore Roosevelt’s reputation for “gunboat diplomacy,” he thought it wiser to take over the customhouses of indebted countries rather than bombard their port cities, as European nations were wont to do.  As American investments in the Central American-Caribbean region expanded during the first decades of the 20th century, so did the efforts of the U.S. government to control governments in the region, with some interventions turning into long occupations.

Increasing U.S. dominance over the region earned the U.S. the moniker of “the Colossus of the North” in Latin America. Most Latin Americans rejected the notion that the U.S. had the right to intervene in their sovereign nations.  Nor did they believe that the U.S. had the right to dominate the hemisphere, whether by military force or financial leverage.
Many U.S. citizens, though not a majority, were also sharply critical of U.S. interventionism in Latin America.  They assailed interventionism as contrary to American principles of freedom and democracy, inimical to the ideals of peace and international law, and of benefit to a small financial elite rather than the broad American public, let alone the invaded countries.  Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of The Nation, put the matter simply in December 1916, writing that “no man is good enough to govern others without their consent.”[23]
Due in large part to international and domestic criticism, the U.S. government formally ended its policy of military interventionism in Latin America in 1933.  According to Louis Pérez, “Three decades of intervention had provided neither political stability nor economic security.  On the contrary, intervention had created widespread hostility in Latin America.”[24]
In December 1933, at the Seventh International Conference of American States in Montevideo, Uruguay, Latin American governments proposed a convention stating that “no state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.”  Five years earlier, the U.S. had rejected a similar proposal, but this time Secretary of State Cordell Hull signed the measure, hoping to regain the trust of Latin Americans.[25]  The new Good Neighbor Policy, as it was called, did not curtail American economic influence nor lend support to democratic governance, but it did remove one major impediment to better relations with Latin America:  military interventionism.

III.  Overview of U.S. administrations

President Theodore Roosevelt

President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) was fond of quoting the West African proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick – you will go far.”[26]  He extolled the virtues of the “strenuous life” and even engaged in boxing matches at the White House.  His most notable foreign policy initiative was the use of “gunboat diplomacy” – a euphemism for coercion – to secure the secession of Panama from the Republic of Colombia in 1903, thus enabling the U.S. to build a transoceanic canal through the isthmus (reviewed in Part III).  During his time in office, Roosevelt also sent U.S. troops and naval forces to the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Cuba.

In December 1904, Roosevelt offered a broad justification for establishing U.S. hegemony in the region, known as the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.  In the excerpt below, Roosevelt asserts the right and responsibility of the U.S. to intervene in other nations:

If a nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States.  Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America [the Americas], as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.[27]

The New York Daily World, 1904, portrays Roosevelt’s “big stick” policies as trampling on international law and the U.S. Constitution

Roosevelt’s doctrine was more a contradiction than a “corollary” to the original Monroe Doctrine of 1823, if the meanings are understood.  The older doctrine warned European nations not to extend their colonial empires in the Americas while still allowing for existing colonies to remain.[28]  It thus offered rhetorical support for the sovereignty of newly formed nations in South and Central America.  The Roosevelt Corollary, in contrast, undermined Latin American sovereignty by asserting the right of the U.S. to unilaterally intervene.  Roosevelt’s claim that the U.S. would act as “an international police power” was entirely made up, a fiction, as there was no international law or institutions that supported this policeman role.  Nor did the concept of “chronic wrongdoing” have any legal legitimacy.  It was a pliable, amorphous rationale that allowed U.S. leaders to use it as they saw fit.  Under the Roosevelt Corollary, the U.S. assumed the roles of prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner, and accorded no rights to the accused.

Another contradiction of the Roosevelt Corollary was that United States’ interventions did not always support law and order, the usual role of a policeman.  On a number of occasions, before and after the doctrine was announced, the U.S. intervened in other countries to assist rebellions of the overthrow existing governments – in Cuba in 1898, Panama in 1903, Nicaragua in 1909, and Mexico in 1914.  As with the principle of democracy, U.S. leaders enforced “law and order” when it served their perceived interests.
The announcement of the Roosevelt Corollary was catalyzed in part by the need to justify recent U.S. actions in the Dominican Republic.  In January 1904, Roosevelt ordered U.S. Marines to Santo Domingo, the capital of the country, and two other cities, citing a need “to protect American life and property.”  There were disturbances in the streets, to be sure, but the main purpose of the intervention was to prevent European creditors from enforcing their financial claims against the Dominican government.  The Dominican Republic was $32 million in debt to foreign creditors, with the largest amount owed to the New York-based Santo Domingo Improvement Company.  Two years earlier, Germany, Britain, and France had pressured Venezuela to repay loans by blockading Venezuelan ports and sinking some gunboats.  Roosevelt sought to avoid similar actions against the Dominican Republic, while establishing U.S. dominance.
In July 1904, Washington officials designated the Santo Domingo Improvement Company as the financial agent over the Dominican Republic’s customhouses, the main source of national income (import duties).  Of the money collected, 45 percent was slated for the Dominican Republic’s governmental expenditures and the rest for foreign creditors.  The U.S. thus acted as an agent for all creditor nations even as it asserted its dominant role.  A majority of the Dominican population opposed the U.S. takeover of customhouses, according to American minister Thomas Dawson, but the republic’s president, Carlos Morales, went along with the plan in exchange for U.S. support for his leadership.  To deter any disruption, U.S. naval ships patrolled the Dominican waters.[29]

The Taft administration

President William Howard Taft

President William Howard Taft (1909-1913) placed more emphasis than his predecessor on promoting American economic interests.  He publicized his program as substituting “dollars for bullets,” but his main goal was to substitute American dollars for English pounds, German marcs, and French francs.  His administration sought to replace European capital with American capital, thereby attaining financial dominance in the region.  In 1914, the total nominal value of foreign investments in Latin America was $8.5 billion, divided as follows:  Great Britain $3.7 billion; United States $1.7 billion; France $1.2 billion; Germany $0.9 billion; and others $1.0 billion.[30]  Taft’s de facto alliance with large New York banks prompted the New York World to anoint his policy “dollar diplomacy” in 1910.[31]

U.S. soldiers from the USS Denver rest beside a railroad in Nicaragua, circa 1912

The Taft administration did not forego gunboats and bullets.  The major military intervention under Taft’s watch took place in Nicaragua.  In 1909, he ordered U.S. Marines into the country to support a Conservative rebellion against the Liberal Zelaya government that had failed to follow U.S. dictates.  The U.S. subsequently established a customs collectorship modeled after that of the Dominican Republic and facilitated a $1.5 million loan that gave Wall Street banks ownership of the Nicaraguan national bank, the national railroad, and a steamship company.  In 1912, U.S. Marines were sent once more, this time to protect the Conservative, pro-U.S. Díaz government from a Liberal rebellion.  Now the protector of law and order, Taft characterized the rebellion as “sheer lawlessness on the part of the malcontents.”[32]  A 100-man Marine guard remained in Nicaragua until 1925 to prevent further challenges to the U.S.-supported government.

In his final address to Congress on December 3, 1912, President Taft characterized his administration’s foreign policy as “one that appeals alike to idealistic humanitarian sentiments, to the dictates of sound policy and strategy, and to legitimate commercial aims.  It is an effort frankly directed to the increase of American trade upon the axiomatic principle that the Government of the United States shall extend all proper support to every legitimate and beneficial American enterprise abroad.”[33]

Senator Robert La Follette

Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin was among those who questioned the presumed benefits of American investments in foreign lands.  A leader in the progressive reform movement, La Follette challenged corporate prerogatives both at home and abroad.  According to the historian Padraic Kennedy:

La Follette argued that extensive overseas investment drained necessary capital from the United States; raised interest rates to the disadvantage of the average businessman and ultimately, therefore, to the consumer; necessitated too large and expensive an army and navy; led to armed intervention and international strife; crushed democratic movements in backward nations and reduced their peoples to economic servitude. In short, La Follette held that the profits enjoyed by the “special interests” were absolutely no justification for economic imperialism since they brought neither equitably higher wages, lower prices, nor a better standard of living to the common people either at home or abroad.[34]

The progressive reform movement was strong enough to push back against corporate prerogatives on the home front, but much weaker in challenging the business-government collusion in foreign policymaking.  The so-called “legitimate commercial aims” of the Boston-based United Fruit Company, to take one example, included purchasing large amounts of land in Guatemala, Honduras, and Costa Rica, developing railroads and ports mainly for the export of bananas and coffee, establishing low-wage, non-union labor systems, and maneuvering to influence the government of these so-called “banana republics.”  According to the historian Paul J. Dosal, “Once United invested millions of dollars in plantations, railroads, and wharves, it was understandably reluctant to withdraw until it recovered its investment.  United’s lobbyists therefore cultivated close relations with the political establishment, offering the bribes and entertainment that local politicians demanded in return for their ongoing support of the banana industry.”[35]

The Wilson administration

President Woodrow Wilson

President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) expanded U.S. interventionism in deference to both geopolitical concerns and American economic interests.  He is best known for his uplifting rhetoric, dubbed “missionary diplomacy,” which framed U.S. interventionism in the most benevolent of terms.  Only a week in office, Wilson issued a statement announcing that “the chief objects of my administration will be to cultivate the friendship … of our sister republics of Central and South America, and to promote in every proper way the interests which are common to the peoples of the two continents.”[36]  He went on to declare his earnest desire for cooperation, mutual respect, lawful and honest government, and peace.

Beyond platitudes, however, Wilson offered no major policy changes.  He continued Taft’s financial policies, despite criticizing them, seeking to pry open doors for American entrepreneurs and enforce loan collections.  Wilson proved even more zealous than his predecessors in employing military force, dispatching U.S. troops to Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Panama, Honduras, and Nicaragua.  According to the historians Lester D. Langley and Thomas Schoonover, “Wilson tightened the nation’s economic and political grip over its tropical empire, even as he denounced imperialism.”[37]
On April 2, 1917, President Wilson spoke before a joint session of Congress seeking a declaration of war against Germany.  The immediate cause was the sinking of American merchant vessels trading with Great Britain by German submarines.  Wilson sought to buttress his case by appealing to American idealism, famously proclaiming that the “world must be made safe for democracy.”  Americans, he said, would “fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts – for democracy . . . for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.”[38]

Women’s suffrage was also left out of President Wilson’ democratic idealism. National Woman’s Party members picket in front of the White House, 1916 (National Park Service).

Wilson’s message of freedom and democracy was designed to rouse the American people against the semi-authoritarian German state.  It was not meant for the so-called “politically undeveloped races.”  Indeed, the Wilson administration was at that very time operating authoritarian governments in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, replete with martial law, censorship, and repression.  One American living in the Dominican Republic, John Vance, wrote in 1920, “The Dominicans have not had the slightest instruction in self-government.  On the contrary, they have had a very strong lesson in government by force, something they were already well schooled in.”[39]  Under Wilson, the gap between American idealistic rhetoric and foreign policy practices widened to a chasm.

Critics in Latin America, writing in journals such as El Repertorio Americano of San José, Costa Rica, and in newspapers such as El Tiempo of Bogotá, El Universal of Mexico City, and La Prensa and La Nación of Buenos Aires, assailed U.S. interventionism for both its violations of national sovereignty and its abusive conduct.[40]  Dana G. Monro of the Latin American Division of the State Department wrote in 1918, “Our Caribbean policy had aroused much unfriendly feeling toward the United States in other parts of the Continent…. Moreover, they bitterly resented what they described as our pretension to the hegemony of the Western Hemisphere.”  Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson, however, acknowledged no errors on the part of the United States, only ruing the bad publicity the U.S. was getting.  Each U.S. intervention, he wrote, “has been used by the enemies and critics of the United States as proof positive that we are an imperialistic people prone to use our power in subverting the independence of our neighbors.  And these accusations, however unjustified, have damaged our good name, our credits, and our trade far beyond the apprehension of our own people.”[41]

The Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations

The cataclysmic Great War (World War I) took the lives of ten million people worldwide, including 116,000 Americans.  In its aftermath, the public mood shifted toward antiwar, anti-imperialist, and isolationist sentiments.  Many citizens viewed imperialism as a major cause of the war and a growing number suspected “imperialistic motives” behind U.S. interventionism in Latin America.[42]  Scott Nearing and Joseph Freeman offered evidence for the latter in their book, Dollar Diplomacy: A Study in American Imperialism (1925).  The authors described how private business investments in other countries had led the U.S. government to extend its sovereignty “over populations that had expressed no desire for its presence.”[43]  American citizens were picking up the tab for these overseas operations while capitalist investors were enjoying the benefits.
The growing strength of arguments against U.S. interventionism was complemented by the weakening of arguments for it.  The geopolitical argument that the U.S. needed to protect the Central American-Caribbean region from European encroachment virtually evaporated after the war, as the U.S. held clear military dominance.  The argument that new markets abroad would increase prosperity at home had yet to be proven and was furthermore challenged by the progressive idea that prosperity at home could be increased by building a larger middle class through better wages and a more equal distribution of income and wealth.  Some still believed in the American “civilizing mission,” but the “natives” were rebelling in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and the mission had become one of grim and bloody repression, revealed in Senate hearings between August 1921 and June 1922.

Among the notable critics of U.S. interventionism in the 1920s was Samuel Guy Inman, secretary of the Committee on Cooperation in Latin America, based in New York City.[44]  His article, “Imperialistic America,” published in the July 1924 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, suggested that the U.S. was no better than the Old World empires.  “North America’s imperialism in the Caribbean may shock some readers,” he wrote:

In the smaller countries of the South, controlled by our soldiers, our bankers, and our oil kings, we are developing our Irelands, our Egypts, and our Indias….. Run your eyes rapidly down the map and note the countries where the United States is now in practical control.  And remember that this control always brings resentment and enmity among the people, though their officials may approve it…. Out of the twenty Latin-American republics, eleven of them now have their financial policies directed by North Americans officially appointed.  Six of these ten have the financial agents backed by American military forces on the ground…. Four of the remaining half of these Southern countries have their economic and fiscal life closely tied to the United States through large loans and concessions, giving special advantages to American capitalists…. We are piling up hatreds, suspicions, records for exploitation and destruction of sovereignty in Latin America…. Only in the United States do the press and the people ignore how our economic imperialism is eliminating friendships and fostering suspicions.[45]

Inman’s article “had a massive impact throughout Latin America,” according to the historian Alan McPherson, so great that the U.S. State Department assigned Sumner Wells of the Latin American division to respond in the same magazine.  In an article titled, “Is America Imperialistic?” published in September 1924, Welles argued that U.S. interventions were necessary in countries that had yet to develop “a firm tradition of orderly, constitutional government,” and that U.S. troops would leave once this mission was accomplished, citing Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic as examples of countries where U.S. troops were departing at that time.[46]  Welles thus maintained the assumption, contained in the Roosevelt Corollary, that U.S. had the right and responsibility to judge whether other nations had proper governments and, if not, to militarily intervene to set things right without the consent of the governed; and that the primary motive of the U.S. was indeed the cultivation of democratic institutions rather than the advancement of U.S. economic and geopolitical interests.

Although enthusiasm for U.S. interventionism waned under Presidents Warren Harding (1921-23), Calvin Coolidge (1923-29), and Herbert Hoover (1929-33), it was not readily discontinued.  From the point of view of U.S. officials, the problem was how to exit occupied countries without sacrificing American economic interests or U.S. prestige as a great power.  In 1922, Harding’s Secretary of State, Charles Evan Hughes, assured the National Chamber of Commerce that the government would continue to protect overseas investments.  “The Department is carrying the flag of the 20th century,” he said.  “It aims to be responsive in its own essential sphere to what it recognizes as the imperative demands of American business.”[47]
During the Harding administration, a lobbying campaign backed by Latin American states successfully pressed an agreement to end the U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic, resulting in the departure of U.S. troops in July 1924.  In Haiti, however, the U.S. occupation continued, due in part to American white prejudice toward the black and mulatto population – deemed incapable of self-government without U.S. tutelage – and in part to American bondholders having a large stake in the Haitian national bank and wanting to maintain financial control.
In Nicaragua, meanwhile, a new U.S. intervention began in December 1926, followed by a lengthy counterinsurgency war.  Fighting had broken out between Liberals and Conservatives, and the Coolidge administration sent the Marines to restore order.  Perhaps learning from past interventions, Washington did not prop up one side against the other, but sent diplomats to mediate a truce between the belligerents, followed by supervised elections.  One liberal general, Augusto César Sandino, however, rejected the truce and rebelled against the presence of U.S. Marines in his native land.  Following the supervised elections in November 1928, President Coolidge might have withdrawn the Marines, but instead he chose to continue the counterinsurgency war against the “bandit” Sandino. The Marines scoured the rugged countryside without success. Sandino, meanwhile, became a heroic icon among those struggling against imperialism around the world (see Section IV, case study).

President Hoover (center left) arriving in Honduras, Nov. 26, 1928, to meet with President-elect Vicente Mejía Colindres as part of a goodwill tour

Following the election of Herbert Hoover as president in November 1928, the president-elect undertook a seven-week good-will tour of nine countries in Latin America.  Attempting to counter widespread criticism of U.S. interventionist policies, he used the phrase “good neighbor” to describe U.S. intentions in the region.  Speaking in Argentina, he flatly stated, “No intervention policy predominates or will prevail in my country,” notwithstanding the fact that U.S. troops remained in Nicaragua and Haiti.  Further exciting hope for a change in policy, Hoover indicated in his first State of the Union address on December 3, 1929, his intention to withdraw U.S. troops from Nicaragua, Haiti, and China, saying “We do not wish to be represented abroad in such a manner.”[48]  U.S. troops nonetheless remained in Nicaragua for another 25 months, and in Haiti for much longer (see Section IV, case study).

The Franklin Roosevelt administration

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45) sought to turn a new page in U.S.-Latin American relations with his Good Neighbor Policy.  The policy nullified the old Roosevelt Corollary and enshrined the principle of non-interventionism.  In practical terms, the Roosevelt administration negotiated new agreements with Cuba, Haiti, and Panama that reduced but did not end U.S. control.

The Good Neighbor Policy entailed re-imaging Latin Americans as equals

One reason for the change in policy was that Roosevelt wanted Latin American states to ally with the U.S. should another world war break out, as war clouds were already looming over Asia and Europe.  Another reason was that Washington could hardly condemn aggression elsewhere in the world as long as it practiced strong-arm tactics in Latin America.  Indeed, Japan had already adopted the American hegemonic model, proclaiming a “Monroe Doctrine of the Orient” in order to justify its colonization of Korea, takeover of Manchuria, and creation of an exclusive sphere of influence in East Asia.  In the words of Japanese delegates at a League of Nations conference on February 21, 1933, “Japan is responsible for the maintenance of peace and order in the Far East.”[49]

This was the inverse of the golden rule.  If the U.S. had the right to dominate Latin America, and if the British and French had the right to colonize Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, how could Japan be denied the “right” to a sphere of influence in East Asia?  Indeed, how could Nazi Germany be denied its pursuit of lebensraum (living space) in Eastern Europe and beyond?  Empire-building, whether formal or informal, was hardly the mechanism for establishing a stable world order.

IV.  Case studies

This section examines in more detail six U.S. interventions during the first one-third of the 20th century – in Cuba, Panama, Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua.  Each was unique, with different measures of geopolitical-military, economic, and political motives, different levels of resistance, and different outcomes.

Cuba under the Platt Amendment

Following the defeat of Spain in the War of 1898, the U.S. militarily occupied Cuba for more than three years, preventing Cuban insurgents from achieving the independence for which they had fought.  The Teller Amendment, which had been attached to the U.S. declaration of war, promised to leave Cuba in the hands of Cubans after “pacification” was complete; but the McKinley administration turned this mandate on its head and asserted the right to militarily occupy the island until a political order acceptable to the U.S. was established.  In 1901, Washington insisted that the Cuban legislature adopt the Platt Amendment into its Constitution.  Named after Senator Orville Platt of Connecticut, the amendment gave the U.S. permission to militarily intervene in Cuba at will, control Cuba’s national debt and treaty-making, and establish U.S. naval bases and coaling stations on the island.

General Leonard Wood

The Cubans were not deceived.  They recognized the disappearance of their long-sought independence and demonstrated in the streets against the adoption of the Platt Amendment.  U.S. military governor General Leonard Wood denigrated the protesters as “trouble makers” and “the element absolutely without any conception of its responsibilities or duties as citizens.”  Wood, the foreigner, thus presumed to define the meaning of Cuban citizenship.  The new Cuban legislature initially refused to accept the Platt Amendment, but Washington made it clear that the military occupation would continue until the amendment was approved.  Faced with this ultimatum, the legislature adopted the amendment by a bare majority in June 1901, then formally appended it to the Cuban Constitution in December.  General Wood privately acknowledged, “there is … little or no independence left in Cuba under the Platt Amendment.”[50]  Having succeeded in relegating Cuba to the neocolonial status of a “protectorate,” U.S. military forces departed in May 1902.

Second intervention

The second intervention followed from the Platt Amendment but was quite different in nature.  Rather than impose its unwanted demands upon the Cuban people, the U.S. acted as the paternal caretaker and set out to resolve a political breakdown and rebellion within the country, applying coercion but avoiding violence.

Tomás Estrada Palma

The political breakdown originated with fraudulent elections in December 1905 and a massive purge of Liberal governors, mayors, and administrators by the government of President Tomás Estrada Palma.  A Liberal rebellion ensued, beginning in August 1906 with an attack against a Rural Guard post in Pinar del Rio, at the southwestern tip of Cuba.  Sugar interests were threatened, prompting U.S. chargé d’affaires Jacob Sleeper to cable Washington on September 4, “It is persistently reported that unless some peace arrangement is made before the 15th of this month, the rebels will begin burning foreign property.”[51]  Estrada Palma appealed to President Theodore Roosevelt for assistance in putting down the rebellion.  Roosevelt was not eager to intervene militarily.  He expressed his frustration with the whole affair in an internal memorandum dated September 13, 1906:

At this moment, I am so angry with that infernal little Cuban republic that I would like to wipe it off the face of the earth.  All we have wanted from them was that they would behave themselves and be prosperous and happy so that we would not have to interfere.  And now, lo and behold, they have started an utterly unjustifiable and pointless revolution and may get things into such a snarl that we have no alternative [but] to intervene.

The following day, Roosevelt reiterated, “We must act in such a way as to protect American interests by fulfilling American obligations to Cuba.”[52]  He ordered two battalions of Marines at Philadelphia and Norfolk to prepare “for expeditionary service in tropical waters.”[53]  At the same time he sent a peace commission to Havana, led by Secretary of War William H. Taft and Assistant Secretary of State Robert Bacon, to mediate a political settlement.  Once there, Taft and Bacon became aware of the extent of Estrada Palma’s abuses.  “The Government seems to have abused its powers outrageously in the elections and this [rebellion] is a protest against that,” wrote Taft.[54]  Taft and Bacon produced a compromise plan, but Estrada Palma would have none of it.  He resigned instead; and the Cuban Congress, dominated by his Moderate Party refused to convene, thus leaving the administration of the Cuban government to the U.S. in accordance with the Platt Amendment.

U.S. troops arrived in Cuba in October 6, 1906.  The presence of more than 5,000 U.S. soldiers, named the Army of Cuban Pacification, had the desired effect of persuading an estimated 25,000 rebels to cease their fight to overthrow the government.  On October 10, Taft, as provisional governor, proclaimed a general amnesty “covering the offenses of rebellion, sedition, or conspiracy.”  The rebels were even allowed to keep their stolen horses.  The greatest danger to U.S. soldiers in Cuba was disease.  One out of ten was treated for venereal disease, indicating perhaps a thriving prostitution business.[55]

Charles E. Magoon

The second occupation was run by Charles Magoon, a lawyer, judge, and diplomat from Nebraska who had previously served as governor of the Panama Canal Zone.  He was brought in on October 12 to replace Taft.  Lawyer that he was, he set about revising Cuba’s legal code even as he ruled by decree.  Under him were 56 U.S. Army officers who served in various capacities.  Magoon petitioned President Roosevelt to create a permanent U.S. mission in Cuba, with positions to be held by U.S. military officers and administrators, but Roosevelt rejected the idea.

During his time as provisional governor, Magoon strengthened the Rural Guard and Cuban army so as to prevent further insurgencies, initiated road building and sanitation projects, and organized national elections set for November 1908.  The U.S. Army, according to Army historian Bruce A. Vitor, “was careful not to provoke violence from potential insurgents, avoiding confrontations and potentially controversial social reform.”[56]  Following the election, the U.S. handed the reins of government back to a newly elected legislature and President José Miguel Gómez in late January 1909.  By April 1, all U.S. forces were withdrawn.

The success of the second U.S. occupation in restoring political order was not matched on the economic front.  The period coincided with an economic depression that produced much hardship.  According to Louis Pérez:

The cost of living in Cuba was high and rising, and Cubans everywhere were experiencing a decline in their material well-being.  Work was still hard to come by.  By 1907 more than 525,000 persons were without any work whatsoever.  Included among the half million unemployed were some 35,000 veterans, most of whom passed the early years of the republic in conditions between deprivation and destitution.[57]

The U.S. occupation did not cause the depression, of course, but it did reinforce an economic status quo that favored foreign interests over all classes of Cubans.  In the decade following the War of 1898, a medley of U.S. corporations and land speculators acquired title to hundreds of thousands of acres of land; North Americans invested in mines, transportation, utilities, and cattle ranching; and the American Sugar Company and the Tobacco Trust became dominant in the export business, aided by U.S. tariff reductions established in the Reciprocity Treaty of 1903.  The value of American investments in Cuba grew from $50 million in 1896 to $220 million in 1913.[58]

Third intervention

Times were particularly hard for Afro-Cubans.  They had played a major role in the Liberation Army and were promised political positions and social equality, but neither was realized.  “Now more than a decade after the victory they were still second-class citizens,” writes the historian Ivan Musicant.  Moreover, in the Oriente Province where Afro-Cubans were concentrated, the economic situation had worsened.  According to Musicant:

Oriente Province was overrun with speculators.  Smallholdings were gobbled up in complicated land tenure suits.  Huge parcels were bought by the railroads.  Sugar plantations and mining interests rapidly expanded, and the farmers and peasants quickly lost control of the land.  Every piece converted to cash crop sugar meant less for subsistence agriculture.  In the fields, factories, and mines, foreign workers displaced the locals.  The world of the black Cubans was collapsing around them.[59]

Independent Party of Color – founder Evaristo Estenoz in the center in white jacket and mustache

To redress their grievances, Afro-Cubans organized the Independent Colored Party in 1907.  Led by Evaristo Estenoz, the new political party offered a full slate of candidates for national, provincial, and municipal offices.  In 1910, however, the Cuban government outlawed the party and harassed and arrested its leaders.  Estenoz and company turned to the United States for help, sending a petition in early 1912:

Pray tell President Taft to accept our most solemn protest in the name of the ‘Independent Party of Color’ against the outrages against our persons and our rights by armed forces of the Cuban government.  We protest to civilization, and ask for guarantees of our lives, families, interests, rights, and liberties.[60]

“Native Soldiers, Cuba,” circa. 1910–1915 (Bain News Service image, Library of Congress)

Estenoz wanted the U.S. to intervene on their behalf under the provisions of the Platt Amendment, but the Taft administration was not interested.  The U.S. would only intervene to protect U.S. property on the island, which placed the U.S. on the side of the government. Estenoz and his lieutenants began planning for coordinated uprisings across Cuba.  On May 23, 1912, President Gómez issued a formal request for U.S. aid to quell the uprising.  The Taft administration immediately mobilized U.S. Marines and gunboats for action.  The rebellion, as it turned out, was sustained only in the Oriente Province, where about 10,000 Afro-Cubans joined in the revolt.  The rebels attacked some American-owned property, robbed a railway station, and torched the town of La Maya on June 2.

That same day, the Marines went ashore.  Numbering nearly 2,800, they fanned out across the countryside, occupied cities and towns, and left guard units to protect American-owned copper mines, sugarcane plantations and mills, and railroads.  This freed the Cuban Army to suppress the rebellion, which it did with ruthless abandon.  “In the end,” writes Musicant, “more than 6,000 blacks were exterminated by the Cuban Army, and the Oriente Province was hideously pocked with mass, nameless graves.”[61]  Estenoz was shot in the back of the head on June 27 and the last holdouts were captured or killed in mid-July.  The Marines departed on August 2, 1912, having succeeded in their mission.

Fourth intervention and occupation

The fourth occupation from 1917 to 1923 evolved quite differently from the previous ones, although its main purpose was still to protect American properties in the face of political disorder.  It has also been called the “Sugar Intervention.”  The political disorder originated in the elections of November 1916, when Liberal leaders charged that Conservative President Mario García Menocal had rigged his re-election.  By early 1917, the Liberals had begun to organize an insurrection, ironically led by former president José Miguel Gómez who had snuffed out the Afro-Cuban rebellion.  The Wilson administration hoped that the Cuban parties would work out their differences “by law instead of by arms,” as Secretary of State Robert Lansing put it, but this was not to be. [62]  The rebel army grew to perhaps 30,000 men, buttressed by defectors from the Cuban Army and Rural Guard.  American sugar plantation owners sent an urgent plea to Washington for protection.

On February 13, Lansing issued a warning that the United States would support only constitutional governments in Cuba, meaning the government in power.  Unlike the second intervention (1906-1909), Washington did not send an investigative commission or organize new elections.  Instead, the Wilson administration shipped 10,000 rifles and 2 million cartridges to the Menocal government.  U.S. Marines began arriving on February 12 and quickly “assumed responsibility for the protection to foreign holdings in Camagüey and Oriente,” according to Pérez.  “Throughout the early spring, U.S. forces assumed garrison duty on the sugar plantations, at the mines, and along the principle rail lines.  In so doing, they released Cuban Army units to fight the rebels.”[63]  The rebellion fizzled out that year, but the Marines stayed on.  With U.S. entry into the Great War in April of 1917, sugar was deemed an essential commodity and the American base at Guantanamo became the hub for naval patrols.

The occupation continued and took a new turn in 1920.  Nothing had been resolved between Conservatives and Liberals since the last contested election.  Hence, in March, Liberal party leader Faustino Guerra asked the U.S. to organize and monitor the upcoming elections slated for November 1, 1920.  U.S. officials were reluctant but willing, given the fact that the U.S. had twice intervened to pick up the pieces of disputed elections (in 1905 and 1916).  Conservative President Menocal insisted on maintaining control of the election process, allowing the U.S. only to monitor them – which meant receiving and compiling complaints without the power to act on them.  The Conservatives, as expected, engaged in significant intimidation and unsavory electoral practices leading up to election day.  The results of the balloting were inconclusive and highly contested.  Allegations of fraud abounded.  In late December, with no resolution in sight, U.S. officials made the decision to take over the government of Cuba.  As Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby explained, “experience in the past has shown very plainly that free and honest elections are essential ‘to the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty,’” quoting the Platt Amendment.[64]

General Enoch H. Crowder

The protection of U.S. economic interests had required political order and now the quest for political order required the U.S. to rule Cuba by decree.  On January 6, 1921, General Enoch H. Crowder arrived in Havana aboard the battleship Minnesota as the “special representative of the president.”  Crowder’s long career included participation in the military campaign to capture Geronimo in 1886, service in the Philippines as a judge advocate during the U.S.-Filipino War, legal duties in Cuba during the 1906-1909 U.S. occupation, and representing the U.S. at the Fourth Pan American Conference in Buenos Aires in 1910.  His new role in Cuba was akin to a king in a constitutional monarchy.  Cuban representatives could approve laws and Cuban presidents could sign them, but nothing would happen without his approval.  All official business was conducted aboard the Minnesota during the next year.

General Crowder’s first mission was to resolve the election dispute.  Working with the Cuban Election Board and courts, fraud charges were examined in 250 voting districts, representing 20 percent of the total.  On March 15, 1921, new elections were held in those districts, resulting in the election of Alfredo Zayas as president.  Zayas led the recently formed Popular Cuban Party, which had broken off from the Liberal Party.  Had Crowder gone home at this point, having organized a fair election and prevented another outbreak of violence between Liberals and Conservatives, the fourth U.S. intervention might have ended on a more positive note with the Cuban people; but Crowder had a more ambitious agenda.
Crowder’s second mission involved reordering the Cuban federal budget and, to a large extent, the Cuban economy.  The temporary collapse of sugar prices in 1920 sent the Cuban economy reeling, depriving the government of revenue and causing Cuba to default on its foreign debt payments for the first time.  Crowder ordered drastic cuts in government expenditures in order to reduce the deficit and pay off loans.  As a result, civil servants were laid off, pensions were cut, and public works were halted.  In the fall of 1921, a $5 million loan from J. P. Morgan and Company was arranged with the stipulation that “constructive measures” continue to be taken that “will insure fiscal stability in Cuba.”[65]
Popular dissatisfaction with Crowder’s austerity budget was joined by growing economic discontent.  Workers sought better wages, improved work conditions, and the right to unionize, and they were willing to push these demands.  “In 1922, the U.S. Department of Labor estimated that strikes and work stoppages in Cuba resulted in a loss of some $200 million to U.S. investors,” writes Pérez. “The growing strength of labor and increasing success of unions were not thus matters of trivial importance to U.S. capital.”  Nor were such concerns trivial to Crowder and U.S. officials in Washington.  Crowder claimed a clause in the Platt Amendment authorizing “the protection of property in the country” required the U.S. to take “a direct interest in labor conditions,” although he specified no actions.[66]  The “mandate” of the Platt Amendment thus continued to expand from ensuring political stability to reordering the federal budget and now to preventing disruptions in the economy.

Two casinos were located near the Oriental Park Racetrack, Havana, 1921

There was still more to come.  Crowder’s third mission was to purge the Cuban government of “graft, corruption, and immorality.”  In March 1922, he announced the first of fifteen edicts designed to reform the Cuban government and Constitution.  Dubbed the “moralization program,” Crowder demanded that all significant appointments to governmental positions be run through his office.  Dishonest public servants were to be dismissed and honest ones appointed, with Crowder acting as the ultimate judge of character.  Crowder’s own autocratic rule was not subject to scrutiny; nor the alignment of the U.S. administration with foreign property owners, corporations, and banks.[67] Ironically, as Crowder sought to purify Cuba, U.S. prohibition laws had the effect of turning Havana into an outpost for drinking and gambling as well as a giant warehouse for smuggling liquor into the U.S.

By the end of the year, the Harding administration decided that Crowder had done all he could.  On February 10, 1923, by an act of Congress, Crowder stepped out of his imperious role and became the first U.S. ambassador to Cuba.  With this change, the fourth major intervention ended without fanfare.  Reflecting on his efforts, Crowder wrote in early 1923, “The object of my efforts here is to save the United States from a costly military intervention and the loss of prestige incident to failure of the experiment of Republican government in Cuba, which by Treaty stipulation is placed under the guardianship and protection of the United States.”[68]  Of course, a true republic is not under the “guardianship and protection” of another nation-state.

Final phase

The transfer of power back to Cuba was accompanied by a chaotic mix of reform movements and ambitious quests for power among the political elite.  President Zayas replaced Crowder’s “honest cabinet” with his own men while amassing a personal fortune from public funds.  The “magnitude of corruption that returned to government generally,” writes Pérez, “offended the sensibilities of even those long inured to such excesses.”  The Veterans and Patriots Association, the heroes of the Cuban Revolution, protested the corruption and called for the “Regeneration of Cuba.”  Zayas, in turn, issued a presidential order in October 1923 that prohibited the Association from meeting.  When the veterans defied the order, government authorities arrested and imprisoned the leadership.[69]

While some U.S. officials expressed disappointment with this turn toward authoritarianism, American investors showed little concern, as they eagerly expanded their holdings in the sugar industry, railroads, public utilities, real estate, mines, commerce, and tobacco.  According to Pérez:

North American capital interests in Cuba had swollen to sums estimated in 1925 as ranging from $1.1 billion to $2 billion, distributed through every key sector of the Cuban economy.  Two-thirds of the 1926 sugar crop was produced by U.S. mills.  U.S. interests owned 22 percent of all Cuban land and supplied 90 percent of electrical power.  Eight banks – five North American and three British – controlled 75 percent of the banking interests.[70]

In the 1924 presidential elections, Gerardo Machado y Morales, former general in the Cuban War for Independence and mayor of Santa Clara, presented himself as a champion of reform with his “Platform of Regeneration.”  He also assured Ambassador Crowder prior to the election that he would protect American economic interests on the island.  Crowder, in turn, spoke highly of him to his superiors.

President Calvin Coolidge attended the Pan American conference in Havana, arriving in the harbor aboard the battleship Texas, January 1928

Once in power, Machado ruthlessly suppressed political opposition, beginning with the Communist Party (formed in 1923), then proceeded to manipulate the Constitution and election laws so as to ensure his re-election.  On the eve of the November 1, 1928, election, the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Cuba, C. B. Curtis, reported that “President Machado has developed into a Latin American dictator of a type not far removed from the worst.”  Curtis provided detailed accounts of government terror, assassination, and press censorship.[71]  Running unopposed, Machado secured a new six-year term.

U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and first lady Grace Coolidge (left), and Cuban President Gerardo Machado and his wife, Elvira Machado, at the presidential estate in Havana, January 19, 1928. (AP)

Machado’s authoritarianism caused some consternation in Washington, but not enough to withdraw U.S. support.  Machado continued to welcome and protect foreign investments and profits, and also kept a lid on leftist dissent.  The U.S. government quietly vouched for more bank loans to the regime. In January 1928, President Calvin Coolidge traveled to Havana to attend the Sixth Pan American Conference,  Notwithstanding his arrival on a huge battleship, he opened the conference with a keynote speech that urged the nations of the Western Hemisphere to embrace peace and democracy.  The time had come to “beat our swords into plowshares,” the president said. “The smallest and the weakest speak here with the same authority as the largest and the most powerful.”[72]

In the early 1930s, as the global Great Depression enveloped the country, Machado’s repression grew even more extreme. Rebellions broke out and some American properties were attacked. With the failure of Machado to maintain order – that is, to sufficiently suppress dissent – Washington officials came to view him as a liability and privately requested that he retire from office.  When Machado refused, U.S. officials publicly aired their request.  The Cuban army used this as an opportunity to oust Machado and establish a new government on August 12, 1933.  In another turnaround, on September 5, Sergeant Fulgencio Batista instigated what became known as the “Revolt of the Sergeants,” which led to yet another government headed by Ramón Grau San Martín.
For the next four months, the Grau government instituted a host of economic and social reforms, including the right to vote for women, and unilaterally proclaimed the abrogation of the Platt Amendment.  It was a heady time for progressive reform and short-lived.  In the view of U.S. Ambassador Sumner Welles, Grau’s reforms were “communistic” and “irresponsible.”  Welles judged that “American properties and interests are being gravely prejudiced and the material damage to such properties will in all probability be very great.”  Sumner’s replacement, Jefferson Caffery, similarly reported to the State Department on January 10, 1934, “I agree with former Ambassador Welles as to the inefficiency, ineptitude and unpopularity with all the better classes in the country of the de facto government.  It is supported only by the army and the ignorant masses who have been misled by utopian promises.”[73]
The U.S. was committed to keeping the Cuban government in the hands of leaders who would protect the interests of the “better classes” and foreign investors (also of the upper class).  U.S. officials in Cuba maneuvered to gain the confidence of Batista, who in turn led a coup against the Grau government in mid-January.  A new government friendly to the United States was then installed, led by Carlos Mendieta.  The successful conspiracy gave U.S. officials confidence that they could maintain leverage over Cuba without the Platt Amendment, shutting down leftist reforms that challenged capitalist prerogatives.  As the Platt Amendment was widely viewed in Latin America as an imperial anachronism, its abandonment would provide a welcome boost in public relations.  The U.S. negotiated with the Mendieta government a new Cuban-American Treaty of Relations, signed on May 29, 1934, that nullified the Platt Amendment except for the section allowing the U.S. to operate the Guantanamo naval base.
With tacit U.S. support, Batista ruled Cuba as a strongman from 1934 to 1944, and as an outright dictator from 1952 to January 1959, when he was overthrown by revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro.

*          *          *

The creation of Panama

The United States had long been interested in building a canal across Central America, either through the southern part of Nicaragua or the isthmus of Panama.  During the 1850s, a U.S. firm built the Panama Railroad across a 48-mile stretch between Colón, on the Caribbean coast, and Panama City on the Pacific side, providing an alternative to the hazardous voyage around the tip of South America.  During the 1880s, a French company began building a canal through the isthmus, but tropical diseases and bankruptcy halted the project in 1889.
In January 1903, after deciding on Panama rather than Nicaragua for the building of a canal, and clearing diplomatic hurdles with Great Britain, U.S. Secretary of State John Hay and Colombian Foreign Minister Tomás Herrán signed a treaty that gave the U.S. a 99-year lease on a six-mile wide canal zone in exchange for $10 million and annual payments of $250,000.[74]  The U.S. Senate ratified the pact on March 17, but the Colombian Senate rejected it on August 12, concerned that Colombia would lose sovereignty over the leased canal zone and that payments were too low.

“Panama or Bust,” New York Times cartoon, 1903; Roosevelt’s wagon tramples over treaty, international law, Colombian protest, and precedent

“Treaty-making,” notes the historian Thomas D. Schoonover, “involves a series of steps:  negotiation, signing, legislative approval, executive ratification, and exchange of ratified treaties.  Any sovereign state has the right to interrupt the process before the completion of the fifth and last step.”[75]  Yet Roosevelt was not going to allow Colombia’s legal right to reject the treaty stand in the way of his quest to obtain an isthmian canal.  “Those contemptible little creatures in Bogotá,” he wrote to Hay, “ought to understand how much they are jeopardizing things and imperiling their own future.”[76]  That fall, the Roosevelt administration supported a secessionist rebellion in Colombia’s Panamanian province, after which a new canal treaty was concluded.  The plot was carried out in utmost secrecy, as neither international law (treaties) nor national law (Congressional approval) allowed for such subterfuge.

The 1903 insurrection

Colombian authorities were not surprised to learn that a rebellion was brewing in their Panamanian province.  Panama was geographically distinct from the main body of Colombia in South America, separated by dense tropical forests and accessible mainly by water.  Many residents were of the view that Panama should be independent from Colombia; and movements for independence had been started and quelled in the past.  What surprised and appalled the Bogotá government was that the United States would support a secessionist rebellion.  The U.S. had always sided with the Colombian government in previous times of turmoil and the U.S. was obliged by the Mallarino-Bidlack Treaty of 1846 to uphold the sovereignty of Colombia, which meant subduing rather than fomenting rebellions.  According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, U.S. Marine units went ashore eight times between 1856 and 1902, to both protect the railroad and quell civil disturbances.  Those civil disturbances included coups d’etats, rebellions, and civil wars between Liberal and Conservative political factions.[77]
In 1884-1885, for example, the Cleveland administration sent eight warships and landed 600 troops to protect the railroad and aid the Colombian government in putting down a Liberal rebellion.  Again, in the fall of 1902, the Roosevelt administration dispatched warships and Marines to squelch another Liberal revolt.  U.S. naval officers at that time showed great respect for Colombian military officers.  On October 16, for example, Colombian General Nicholas Perdomo was welcomed aboard the battleship Wisconsin with full military honors, including a thirteen-gun salute.[78]  Only one year later, however, U.S. military forces returned with a very different agenda.
The secessionist movement in Panama was led by a rather elite group associated with the Panama Railroad and its corporate owner, the Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama (New Panama Canal Company), which also owned significant real estate assets.  Unable to rekindle its canal building project, the French company was eager to sell its rights and properties to the U.S., which it eventually did for $40 million.  While the Colombia Senate debated the ratification of the Hay-Herrán Treaty, the company’s legal counsel, William Nelson Cromwell, openly suggested the idea of secession in an article published in the New York World on June 14, 1903, perhaps to prod the Colombian Senate into approval:
Information also has reached [Washington, D.C.] that the State of Panama … stands ready to secede from Colombia and enter into a canal treaty with the United States…. In return the President of the United States would promptly recognize the new Government … and would at once appoint a minister to negotiate and sign a canal treaty.[79]
In late July, Cromwell invited a number of guests to his country estate outside Panama City to discuss the real possibility of secession.  Most were associated with the Panama Railroad, including José Augustin Arango, an attorney for the railroad who later became president of the provisional government.  Others included United States Consul General Hezekiah Gudger, William Murray Black of the U.S. Army, and General Rubén Varón, commander of the Colombian gunboat Padilla, who would later switch sides.  According to Gudger, “Plans for the revolution were freely discussed.”[80]

Dr. Manuel Amador Guerrero

The two most important conspirators were Dr. Manuel Amador Guerrero, an aging physician who had worked for the Panama Railroad and sincerely believed in the cause of independence; and Philippe Bunau-Varilla, a French military engineer, former executive of the Compagnie Nouvelle, and a major stockholder in the company.  Bunau-Varilla played the key role in convincing U.S. officials that a Panamanian revolution could succeed, and convincing Panamanian secessionists that the U.S. would back their revolt with superior military force.  On August 26, two weeks after the Colombian Senate rejected the Hay- Herrán Treaty, Amador traveled to the U.S. to secure funds and support.  He met Bunau-Varilla at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York on September 24.  Amador had to be convinced that the plan would work before he would commit to it.  The key question was whether the Roosevelt administration would back the revolt with military force.[81]

Philippe Bunau-Varilla

On October 10, Bunau-Varilla met with President Roosevelt at the White House in a meeting arranged by Assistant Secretary of State Francis Loomis.  No official records were kept, in deference to plausible deniability, but Bunau-Varilla later wrote that he predicted a revolution in Panama, to which the president acted surprised, or at least feigned surprise.  According to Roosevelt’s account, given off-the-record ten years later, Bunau-Varilla asked the president directly whether the United States would prevent the landing of Colombian troops, then added, “I don’t suppose you can say.”  Roosevelt replied that he could not.[82]

Three days later, Bunau-Varilla met with Amador in New York again.  According to Ivan Musicant, “He handed Amador a revolutionary kit containing the junta’s military operations, cable codes, a declaration of independence … and a new flag designed and sewn by Mme. Bunau-Varilla.  To finance the revolt, he personally negotiated a $100,000 loan from a consortium of European banks.”  Amador would need the money – and more – to buy off Colombian officials, officers, and soldiers, and perhaps purchase guns, although it was hoped that the latter would not be needed.  Bunau-Varilla promised Amador the presidency after the revolution.  Amador, in turn, promised that Bunau-Varilla would be appointed Minister Plenipotentiary – a foreign minister with full powers to act on behalf of the new republic.[83]  Cromwell, meanwhile, abandoned the project after being discovered by the Colombian embassy.  He left for France.
Bunau-Varilla returned to Washington on October 15 to meet with Secretary of State John Hay at Hay’s home.  Bunau-Varilla stated that a revolution was in the making and suggested to Hay, “You must take your measures, if you do not want to be taken yourself by surprise.”  Hay responded, “Yes, but we shall not be caught napping.  Orders have been given to naval forces on the Pacific to sail towards the Isthmus.”  U.S. officials were not napping, of course.  The following day, President Roosevelt confidentially received two U.S. officers, Captain Chauncy Humphrey and Lieutenant Grayson Murphy, who had just returned from a four-month military intelligence assignment.  The officers reported that they were convinced “beyond question that … a revolutionary party was in course of organization having for its object the separation of the State of Panama from Colombia.”  In their written report, they provided detailed assessments of military logistics, including the best positions for artillery to command Colón and Panama City.[84]
On October 19, Bunau-Varilla traveled back to New York to meet with Amador once more.  He told Amador that the revolt must take place on November 3, as U.S. warships would arrive by that time to prevent a Colombian response.  The next day, Amador boarded a ship for Colón.  The plan was falling into place.  Amador and other conspirators made quick progress in either persuading or buying off key individuals.  Among the converts were newly appointed Governor José Domingo de Obaldía, a native Panamanian with separatist sympathies; Colonel Esteban Huertas, the commander of the Colombia Battalion, who was promised a substantial sum and who also bribed most of his officers and men to switch sides; General Rubén Varón, who agreed to turn over his gunboat for $35,000 in silver; Porfirio Meléndez, police chief of Colón, and Colonel James Shaler, general superintendent of the Panama Railroad.  The great fear among the insurrectionists was that U.S. warships would arrive too late to prevent Colombian forces from suppressing the revolt and perhaps hanging them as traitors.[85]

USS Nashville

Toward the end of October, President Roosevelt began mobilizing U.S. naval forces and Marines for an unnamed mission.  To maintain secrecy, the Navy command ordered U.S. warships to proceed, not to the Isthmus of Panama, but to other destinations within striking distance.  The cruiser Boston was directed to San Juan del Sur on the southwest coast of Nicaragua.  U.S. newspapers reported the arrival of the Dixie at Guantánamo, Cuba, and the Nashville at Kingston, Jamaica.  On October 30, Acting Secretary of the Navy Charles Darling sent a cable to the commander of the Nashville, John Hubbard:  “Proceed at once to Colón…. Your destination is secret.”  Other warships, nine in all, were similarly ordered to either Colón or Panama City, although only one arrived before the appointed hour of insurrection.[86]

The Nashville entered the harbor of Colón in mid-afternoon on November 2.  At midnight, the Colombian ship Cartagena steamed into the harbor carrying 500 troops under General Juan Tobar.  There was no clash, as the Colombians were unaware of the true nature of the U.S. mission.  The Colombian troops disembarked the following morning before Commander Hubbard received a directive from Secretary Darling:  “Secret and confidential…. Prevent landing of any armed forced with hostile intent, either government or insurgent….”  To U.S. officers also unaware of the true nature of their mission, this was a curious order, as calm prevailed across Panama.  “One puzzled naval officer at Panama,” writes Schoonover, “wanted to know by what authority he should keep Colombian troops from landing on Colombian soil (in peacetime and in the absence of a civil disturbance).”[87]
General Tobar was ready to take his troops on the train to Panama City on the morning of November 3.  Railroad officials, however, devised a clever deception to separate Tobar from his troops.  Encouraged by U.S. officers, Tobar and fifteen staff members made the journey across the isthmus while his troops stayed behind, waiting for a train that never came.  When Tobar and his aides arrived in Panama City at 11:00 a.m., they were given a hearty welcome by Governor Obaldía and Colonel Huertas, then taken around the city to inspect fortifications and troops.  Suddenly, at 5:00 p.m., Huertas’ men arrested Tobar, utterly baffled and fooled.  An hour later, the insurrectos proceeded to the Cathedral Plaza and declared an independent Republic of Panama.  The only violence occurred when a Colombian gunboat commander, demanding General Tobar’s release, ordered the shelling of the city for half an hour, resulting in one civilian death.  A shore battery returned fire and the gunboat retreated.
Meanwhile in Colón, Colombian forces led by Colonel Eliseo Torres remained in a standoff with a smaller U.S. force backed by the Nashville’s huge guns for two days.  No shots were fired.  The situation was resolved when the Dixie arrived, having been delayed by mechanical problems, which made fighting out of the question for the Colombians.  With the release and return of General Tobar and an $8,000 bribe paid to Torres, the Colombian troops departed aboard a British Royal Mail steamer.  On November 6, 1903, U.S. Major William Murray Black was handed a new Panamanian flag to hoist over the public square in Colón amid shouts of “Viva la República!” and “Vivan los Americanos!”  That same day, the Roosevelt administration recognized the new Republic of Panama.[88]

A new canal treaty

Secretary of State John Hay and Panama Minister Philippe Bunau-Varilla sign a canal treaty, Nov. 18, 1903

Over the next two weeks, Panamanians formed a provisional government led by José Augustin Arango and appointed Philippe Bunau-Varilla as Minister Plenipotentiary.  Bunau-Varilla and Secretary of State John Hay immediately went to work hammering out a canal treaty.  The provisional Panamanian government sent instructions to the Frenchman that he should obtain assurances from the U.S. to uphold “the sovereignty of Panama” and its “territorial integrity,” and that he should not conclude a treaty without consulting Dr. Amador and Federico Boyd, who were on their way to Washington.  These instructions did not reach Bunau-Varilla in time before he and Hay signed the treaty on November 18.  Indeed, the foreign minister worked feverishly through the night to prepare the document and sign it before his compadres arrived.  When Amador and Boyd reached Washington three hours after the signing, Bunau-Varilla presented the treaty as a fait accompli.   “Bunau-Varilla met them at Union Station, showed them the pact, and Amador nearly fainted on the train platform,” notes the historian Walter LaFeber.[89]

The Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty maintained the same financial terms as the previous unratified treaty with Colombia – $10 million plus annual payments of $250,000 – but it contained provisions that severely restricted Panamanian sovereignty.  The treaty gave the U.S. “all the rights, power, and authority within the [canal] zone,” which now extended ten miles in width instead of six, and it did so in “perpetuity.”  Article II gave the U.S. the right to occupy and control any land and water bodies outside the Canal Zone deemed necessary for building and maintaining the canal.  Article VII provided the U.S. with the power of eminent domain over lands, buildings, and water sources in the cities of Colón and Panama City, as well as the authority to create and enforce sanitary regulations in the two cities.  Finally, the treaty allowed the U.S. the right of military intervention without the consent of the Panamanian government.  According to LaFeber, “These provisions made Panama a potential colony of the United States.”[90]

Panama Canal Zone (click to enlarge)

The new Panamanian government protested “the manifest renunciation of sovereignty” in the treaty, but to no avail.  Gratitude quickly turned to resentment toward the U.S. for having forced its will on Panama.  Still, with no viable alternative, the Panama national assembly ratified the treaty on December 2, 1903.  Secretary of State Hay candidly admitted in 1904 that the treaty was “vastly advantageous to the United States, and we must confess, with what face we can muster, not so advantageous to Panama.”[91]

Adding insult to injury, Washington insisted that its right of intervention be written into Panama’s Constitution, similar to the Platt Amendment in the Cuban Constitution.  On January 15, 1904, Panama convened a national Constitutional Convention to establish the ground rules for the Panamanian government and select the nation’s first official president – which was Amador by unanimous consent.  U.S. minister William Buchanan demanded that the convention delegates adopt Article 136, which affirmed the right of the United States to “intervene, in any part of Panama, to reestablish public peace and constitutional order.”  Despite criticism from Panamanian newspapers and people in the streets, the delegates approved the measure 17-14.[92]  Panama thus became the second protectorate of the United States, after Cuba.
U.S. actions in Panama did not go over well with other states in Latin America.  The U.S. had acted as a rogue nation rather than a policeman of civilized order.  “Mexican President Porfirio Díaz and Foreign Minister Ignacio Mariscal considered the U.S. government a threat to the independence of every Latin American state,” writes Schoonover.  “The United States had covertly aided a revolutionary movement against a friendly government solely and selfishly to obtain a secure and favorable canal treaty.”[93]  The Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío captured the feeling of many Latin Americans in his 1903 poem, “To Roosevelt,” which declared, “You are the United States.  You are the future invader.”[94]
President Roosevelt did not appear concerned with such criticism from abroad, but the popular president did not want his reputation tarnished at home.  Hence, in characteristic fashion, he used the “bully pulpit” to present his case to the American people.  Roosevelt erroneously asserted that Americans had been in danger in Panama, denied that his administration had anything to do with the rebellion, and wrapped the whole affair in a paean to America’s presumed civilizing mission.  In his third annual message to Congress on December 7, 1903, Roosevelt stated that the U.S. had acted in Panama on behalf of “the civilized world whose commercial rights we are safeguarding and guaranteeing by our action.  We have done our duty to others in letter and spirit, and we have shown the utmost forbearance in exacting our own rights.”[95]

Senator George Hoar of Massachusetts

Senator George Hoar, the aged Republican from Massachusetts who had led the fight against U.S. empire-building in the Philippines, sought more information about U.S. involvement in the Panamanian revolution.  With the ratification of the Hay-Bunau-Vanilla Treaty on the Senate agenda, he spoke on December 9:

What we want to know is this:  Whether our Administration, knowing or expecting beforehand that a revolution was coming, so arranged matters that the revolution, whether peaceable or forcible, should be permitted to go on without interruption, and only took measures to stop the Republic of Colombia from preventing it…. Did we, in substance, say to Colombia: “We will not allow you to prevent a revolution in your province of Panama by moving your forces there” before it broke out?[96]

On December 14, Representative James Beale of Texas quoted a line from the president’s earlier address, “No man is above the law and no man is below it,” then remarked, “How hollow and insincere these words seem in the light of the flagrant violation of the law by the President himself.”  Beale then challenged the president’s depiction of events:

Mr. Roosevelt and his Administration were not ignorant of the events that were transpiring, nor were they disinterested spectators of what was occurring.  It was known to the conspirators against Colombia that if the United States lived up to its treaty obligations the revolution would fail…. Indeed, it has been current in the press that a prominent promoter of the revolution had the audacity to visit the Secretary of State before the revolution occurred to discuss with him coming events.  It was an open secret for weeks and months that a revolution was coming as soon as the plotters in the United States and France were ready for it, and it was openly proclaimed that it would have the moral support of the Administration.[97]

President Theodore Roosevelt, 1904 (Boston Public Library)

In a Special Message to Congress on January 4, 1904, Roosevelt responded to the accusations.  He revealed some of his administration’s communications and preparations made in relation to the Panamanian revolt, but argued that, rather than supporting the revolution, the U.S. had merely maintained order and prevented bloodshed in halting any Colombian response.  He stated that “no one connected with this Government had any part in preparing, inciting, or encouraging the late revolution on the Isthmus of Panama.”  Roosevelt added to this sleight-of-hand his assurance that the goal of building the canal justified the means:  “I confidently maintain that the recognition of the Republic of Panama was an act justified by the interests of collective civilization.”[98]  In the end, the president carried the day in the Senate.  The treaty was ratified by a vote of 66-14 on February 23, 1904.

The protectorate of Panama

Internal conflicts continued to plague Panama after independence.  In late 1904, rumors swirled of an incipient Liberal revolt led by General Esteban Huertas against the Conservative government led by President Amador.  The Roosevelt administration dispatched Secretary of War William Howard Taft to tell the rebels in no uncertain terms that the U.S. would not allow an insurrection.  The U.S. was once again on the side of law and order.  U.S. Marines remained in Panama from November 1903 to January 1914, ranging in number from 200 to more than 1,000 during civil disturbances, which occurred in 1906, 1908, 1911-1912, and 1915.  U.S. troops were deployed for the purpose of keeping order, but at times their presence incited disorder.  On July 4, 1912, for example, an anti-Yankee riot in Panama City left one U.S. sailor dead and nineteen wounded.

Workers from Barbados arriving in Panama, September 2, 1909

One positive contribution of the American presence was a concerted effort to wipe out yellow fever, malaria, and other major diseases by installing pure water supplies and sewage systems in the cities.  This was essential if the massive Panama Canal project was to succeed, as tens of thousands of workers had died from disease in the earlier French attempt.  Most of the construction work on the canal was done by black laborers imported from the English-speaking Caribbean islands.  For these chombos, as they were called, U.S. officials created segregated accommodations, including separate drinking fountains, toilet facilities, and public services.[99]

American racial prejudices were also evident toward Panamanians, the majority of whom were mestizo or mulatto.   Almost all of the administrative, professional, and supervisory jobs in the Canal Zone were filled by some 5,000 U.S. citizens.  “The overall thrust of U.S. policy,” according to the historian Lars Schoultz, “was to get the Panamanians out of the way so that the canal could be built by U.S. personnel and laborers imported from the Caribbean islands.”  On August 15, 1914, the first ship made a complete passage through the canal. [100]

Panama Canal opening, August 1914

The international benefits of the canal for travel and trade purposes did not mollify Latin American anxieties regarding “Yankee imperialism.”  In 1912, the U.S. minister to Colombia, James Du Bois, wrote insightfully to Secretary of State Philander Knox that, “by refusing to allow Colombia to uphold her sovereign rights over a territory where she had held dominion for eighty years, the friendship of nearly a century disappeared, the indignation of every Colombian, and millions of other Latin-Americans, was aroused and is still most intensely active…. And the maleficent influence of this condition is permeating public opinion in all Latin-American countries.”[101]

In an effort to heal relations with Colombia and improve relations with all of Latin America, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan signed a treaty with his Colombian counterpart in April 1914 expressing “sincere regret that anything should have occurred to interrupt or mar the relations of cordial friendship that had so long subsisted between the two governments.”  The treaty provided for a $25 million indemnity payment to Colombia.  The U.S. Senate, however, blocked ratification after being goaded by former president Roosevelt who called the treaty “an attack upon the honor of the United States.”  Seven years later, a new treaty was signed and approved, again with a $25 million price tag, but this time with no expression of regret on the part of the United States.[102]
Panamanian resentment toward the U.S. simmered over the years, periodically rising to the surface.  During the early 1930s, it rose significantly, impelled by the hardships of the Great Depression.  “As unemployment grew,” writes LaFeber, “race relations worsened between the Zone’s inhabitants and the people of Colón and the capital city.”  All three leading candidates in the presidential race of 1932 called for an end to Panama’s neocolonial status.  The elected president, Harmodio Arias, met with President Franklin Roosevelt in October 1933.  The two agreed that the right of U.S. intervention and other offensive clauses in the 1903 treaty should be terminated.

Yet the implementation of Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy proved difficult in relation to Panama.  Roosevelt was pressured by the War Department and influential members of Congress to retain America’s “rights” in the Canal Zone.  The president pushed ahead nonetheless, judging that better relations with Panama would serve the larger goals of hemispheric security and trade; hence, after extensive negotiations, the Hull-Alfaro Treaty was signed on March 2, 1936.  The treaty ended the right of the U.S. to militarily intervene and contained other measures that gave Panama more control over business contracts and immigration policies in the Canal Zone.  The Panama National Assembly immediately ratified the treaty, but the U.S. Senate demurred – for three years; and before the Senate ratified the treaty on July 25, 1939, it added a diplomatic note stating that the U.S. would retain the right to unilaterally intervene in Panama in emergency situations.  The note effectively nullified the most important provision of the treaty.  According to LaFeber:

Panamanians were embittered that they had received less than had been promised in 1936.  Their hopes for the treaty were finally reduced to the belief that at least the United States recognized their sovereignty over the entire Isthmus…. The North Americans meanwhile simply assumed they held total control.”[103]

*          *          *

Brief occupations and battles in Mexico

U.S. interventions in the Mexican Revolution (click to enlarge)

The Mexican Revolution that began in 1910 disrupted the convenient alliance between General Porfirio Díaz, who ruled from 1877 to 1911, and American investors, who had acquired substantial assets in Mexico – land, mines, oil wells, railroads, telegraph and telephone industries, and more.  However dictatorial and repressive, Díaz had always protected these American assets.  Following his overthrow by Francisco Madero in May 1911, the U.S. became actively involved in influencing the outcome of the power struggle that ensued.

U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson, who served under President Taft, believed that Madero failed to appreciate “the material benefits which American intelligence and energy and American capital had bestowed on Mexico.”  Hence, when the time was ripe, Wilson conspired with General Victoriano Huerta to oust Madero in February 1913.[104]  Huerta’s men subsequently executed Madero.
Upon assuming the presidency in March 1913, Woodrow Wilson rebuked and recalled Ambassador Wilson (no relation) and refused to recognize the Huerta government.  The president appeared genuinely upset about Huerta’s thuggery.  Yet the overriding issue was how the Mexican government would treat American investments in Mexico.  Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels wrote in his diary after a cabinet meeting in April, “What to do with Mexico is the great problem and was discussed at length.  The general opinion in the cabinet was that the chief cause of this whole situation was a contest between English and American oil Companies to see which would control [Mexico].”[105]  The British government, which immediately recognized the Huerta government in deference to its need for Mexican oil, was willing to allow the U.S. to take the lead.

“Woodrow Wilson, the school teacher.” C. R. Macauley cartoon quotes a line from Wilson’s address on Aug. 27, 1913

The Wilson administration developed a plan to remove Huerta from power by supplying arms to Venustiano Carranza, who was organizing a “Constitutionalist” revolt in northern Mexico, and by preventing arms from reaching Huerta.  The latter would be accomplished by blockading and perhaps occupying the Caribbean port cities of Veracruz and Tampico.  In a special address to Congress on Mexico on August 27, 1913, President Wilson prepared the public for subsequent U.S. actions by declaring that the selfless goal of the United States was to ensure “honest constitutional government” in Mexico.[106]

On April 9, 1914, a pretext for U.S. military intervention occurred when Huerta’s troops arrested several U.S. sailors ashore in Tampico.  Although the sailors were quickly released, Admiral Henry T. Mayo demanded that Mexican officials formally apologize, punish the arresting officer, and “that you publicly hoist the American Flag in a prominent position on shore and salute it with 21 guns.”  His demands were endorsed by President Wilson.  The Huerta government apologized but rejected the 21-gun salute as “equivalent to accepting the sovereignty of a Foreign State to the derogation of national dignity and decorum.”[107]

On April 21, U.S. warships arrived at Veracruz with 500 U.S. Marines and 300 U.S. Navy personnel.  The Marines took the port without resistance, but as they moved into the city, Commodore Manuel Azueta encouraged cadets of the Veracruz Naval Academy to take up the defense of the city.  The were joined by citizens and about 50 Mexican soldiers.

Bombarding Veracruz from a U.S. battleship

Three U.S. warships in the harbor, the Prairie, San Francisco, and Chester, let loose their guns, bombarding the city and killing indiscriminately.  In all, 22 Americans and 126 Mexicans lost their lives. Newspapers across Mexico denounced the American invasion and some called for vengeance against the “pigs of Yanquilandia.”  In several Mexican cities, angry mobs attacked U.S. consulates.[108]

Damaged entryway to a high school in Veracruz

Commodore José Azueta in recovery, May 1914

Carranza, despite President Wilson’s support, demanded that U.S. troops be withdrawn.  Wilson’s adviser Colonel Edward House, however, counseled the president “to stand firm … If Mexico understand that our motives were unselfish, she should not object to our helping adjust her unruly household.”[109]  U.S. military forces continued to occupy Tampico and Veracruz until November 1914, three months after Carranza triumphantly entered Mexico City.

The revolution was still not over.  Francisco (Poncho) Villa led a rebellion against Carranza in the north, while Emiliano Zapata, who demanded the redistribution of land to peasants, pushed from the south.  Poncho Villa’s targets included Americans, evidently because the U.S. government had allied with his enemy, Carranza.  His men killed sixteen Americans working in Chihuahua, then crossed the border and attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico, on March 16, 1916, resulting in the death of another seventeen Americans and more than 100 of Villa’s troops.

Pancho Villa (center) and followers

Against the protest of Carranza, Wilson ordered a Punitive Expedition of 7,000 soldiers led by General John J. Pershing into northern Mexico to capture or kill Villa.  Villa remained elusive, however, and U.S. forces instead clashed with Carranza’s troops in the town of Carrizal on June 21.  The U.S. cavalry lost 50 men and 24 were taken prisoner, while Mexican forces lost 27.  The New York Times erroneously reported the battle as a Mexican ambush.[110]

In Washington, meanwhile, Senator La Follette charged that American investments were leading the United States into an all-out war with Mexico.  In an exhaustive seven-hour speech in July 1916, he provided a detailed list of private investments in Mexican railroads, mines, smelters, timber lands, factories, oil, rubber, and national bonds.  “American capitalists,” he charged, “are desperately trying to have the flag follow their investments.  They who own Mexico, are the ones who want war.”[111]  William Randolph Hearst, who owned 800,000 acres of land in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, was among those who demanded that President Wilson pursue and capture Pancho Villa.  Yet the loudest voices for war were nationalists either demanding revenge or seeking to expand U.S. hegemony in the region.  “The Republican senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts,” notes George Herring, “preferred all-out-war, military occupation of Mexico, and even a protectorate.”[112]

President Venustiano Carranza

Peace advocates and progressives were pulling in the opposite direction, attempting to calm national war fever.  According to the historian John Whitehill Chambers, the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) “obtained a firsthand account of the Carrizal battle from an American officer that showed that the U.S. cavalry, not the Mexican troops, had initiated the fighting… Encouraged by this new information and by a flood of antiwar telegrams, Wilson reversed his initial judgment and worked to avoid a major conflict, as did Venustiano Carranza, the Mexican chief of state.”[113]  In February 1917, with the possibility of war against Germany looming ahead, the Wilson administration withdrew General Pershing’s forces from Mexico.

Relations between the U.S. and Mexico remained tense for another decade.  U.S. investors were aggrieved that the Mexican Constitution of 1917 established that all land and subsoil resources were the property of the Mexican nation, and allowed for the expropriation of foreign properties.  In December 1919, Senator Lodge, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, began discussing the possibility of making Mexico a protectorate of the United States, similar to Cuba.[114]  Instead, U.S. and Mexican diplomats worked an agreement in 1923 that validated foreign (U.S.) land titles before 1917, which seemed to end the crisis.  In 1924, however, a new Mexican administration declared the agreement invalid and began expropriating American properties.  Talk of war stirred the air, and peace organizations once again rallied their supporters to promote a negotiated solution.

Dorothy Detzer

In January 1927, representatives from a dozen nongovernmental organizations formed the Committee on Peace with Latin America (CPLA).  With the support of numerous religious, peace, and women’s groups, including the National Council for the Prevention of War and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, CPLA initiated a nationwide letter-writing and lobbying campaign.  The campaign gained the backing of mainstream religious, labor, and civic groups, a number of newspaper editorial boards, and some members of Congress, but the Coolidge administration was unmoved initially.  The U.S. War Department announced plans to hold a military demonstration in May along the U.S.-Mexican border.

The Peace with Mexico campaign ultimately prevailed, as many Americans were ill-disposed toward war at that time.  The memory of the Great War was still fresh; the idea of fighting a war to protect U.S. oil interests was not appealing; and the U.S. would surely be condemned by its Latin American neighbors.  Dorothy Detzer, secretary of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, played a key role in translating public anxiety into political pressure to avoid war.  President Coolidge softened his stance, stating on April 25, 1927, “We do not want any controversy with Mexico.”  In September, he appointed veteran diplomat Dwight Morrow as ambassador to Mexico.  Morrow worked out an agreement which resolved the issue on terms generally favorable to American oil companies.[115]  The Morrow-Calles Agreement validated foreign titles to oil-lands before 1917 and allowed for leases up to 50 years on oil-lands obtained after 1917.

*          *          *

Long occupations and guerrilla wars in Haiti and the Dominican Republic

Haiti occupies the western half of the island of Hispanola

The nineteen-year U.S. military occupation of Haiti began on July 28, 1915, when 330 U.S. Marines and Navy sailors disembarked from the USS Washington in Port-au-Prince, their official mission being to restore order.  The previous day, President Guillaume Sam, in office less than five months, had been murdered in the streets, literally torn to pieces by an enraged mob after Sam’s henchmen had executed 167 political prisoners in cold blood, many of them from elite families.  Newspapers reported that two U.S. soldiers were killed by Haitian snipers, but subsequent military reports disclosed that they had been accidently shot by their own nervous comrades in the night.

To be sure, there was much disorder in Haiti, but this was hardly new.  “From 1888 to 1915 no Haitian president served a complete seven-year term,” writes the historian Hans Schmidt, and “ten were either killed or overthrown, seven of them during the chaotic period after 1911.  The main prize for the successful revolutionaries was control of the customhouses, which accounted for all government revenues.”  U.S. Navy warships visited Haitian ports to “protect American lives and property” in 1857, 1859, 1868, 1869, 1876, 1888, and 1892; and eleven more times between 1901 and 1914.[116]

Open air market in Haiti, 1910

The warships did not stay long as there were few American nationals in the country and little American property to protect.  In 1913, American investments in Haiti amounted to only $4 million, as compared to $800 million in Mexico and $220 million in Cuba.  That $4 million constituted less than one-half of one percent of total American investments in Latin America.[117]

American investments were mainly in the National Railway of Haiti, the Haitian American Sugar Company, and especially the Banque Nationale de la Republiqué, the country’s leading commercial bank which also served as the government treasury.  A long-standing Haitian law prohibited foreign ownership of land, but the National Railway, which was purchased by American investor James P. MacDonald in 1910, obtained from the Haitian government exclusive control over a twelve-mile-wide swath of land on either side of the railway line, resulting in the expulsion of many small farmers.  The fury of the dispossessed was one cause of the unrest and regime changes that enveloped Haiti from 1911 to 1915.[118]
Given the limited amount of American investments in Haiti and the turmoil in the streets just prior to the intervention, one might reasonably conclude that establishing political order was the main U.S. goal.  Yet a deeper examination of developments leads to a more nuanced conclusion:  political stability was not the primary motive but rather a tertiary motive following economic and geopolitical objectives.

U.S. Marines in Port-au-Prince, 1915

The U.S. intervention of July 1915 was actually planned months in advance.  In November 1914, the Navy Department drew up a detailed “Plan for Landing and Occupying the City of Port-au-Prince” that outlined measures needed to take control of the country; and also set forth the official public rationale:  “solely for the establishment of law and order.”[119]  That rationale sufficed for the immediate intervention, which President Wilson ordered without consulting Congress; but within a few days, Secretary of State Robert Lansing was searching for another rationale that would justify keeping the troops in Haiti.  On August 3, he wrote to President Woodrow Wilson:

We have no excuse of reprisal as we had at Vera Cruz [Mexico], to take over the city government and administer the offices.  There would appear to me to be but one reason which could be given for doing so, and that is the humane duty of furnishing means to relieve the famine situation.  If our naval authorities should take over the collection of customs on imports and exports these might be expended on the ground of dire necessity for the relief of the starving people.[120]
A key economic objective was revealed in Lansing’s letter:  “our naval authorities should take over the collection of customs on imports and exports.”  The U.S. had taken over the customhouses of the Dominican Republic in 1907, of Honduras in 1909, and of Nicaragua in 1911.  Haiti was next in line.  Through such control, the U.S. could replace European creditors with American ones in the Banque Nationale and also manage the Haitian government’s finances.  Control over the latter, in turn, would give the U.S. leverage to persuade the Haitian national legislature to revoke the constitutional ban on foreign land ownership, thereby opening the way to U.S. investment and economic penetration.  The economic goal, as such, was not to protect existing foreign assets in the country, which were not in danger, but to prepare the way for the future; or to paraphrase Woodrow Wilson in 1907, to batter down doors closed to American investors “even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process.”

Secretary of State Robert Lansing

Secretary of State Lansing explained the matter more delicately.  “Haiti should appreciate,” he wrote in 1915, “that means for economic and industrial development cannot come from within and that foreign capital must be sought and secured, and this cannot be expected unless there is reasonable assurance against internal dissensions.”[121]  The Haitian legislature’s rejection of this ostensible path to economic progress prompted U.S. military intervention.  According to Schmidt:

When it became clear that the Haitians would not agree to a negotiated customs receivership and that military force was necessary to achieve American ends, the only missing detail in the military invasion plans was an appropriate Haitian revolution that would justify United States intervention on the customary pretext of protecting American lives and property.  In fact, there was no record of any American life having been lost or property destroyed prior to the intervention.[122]

The battering down of doors began in 1909, with the reorganization of the Banque Nationale.  French capital was replaced with majority American capital from the National City Bank of New York City.  Roger L. Farnham became the vice-president of both banks as well as the president of the National Railway of Haiti in 1913.  Farnham lobbied the Haitian legislature to give the Banque (controlled by the New York bank) the customs receivership, but the legislature repeatedly refused.  His efforts failed, according to Schmidt, “because no Haitian government, no matter how desperate its financial or political situation, could afford to surrender national sovereignty.”  In 1914, Farnham and Banque officials took “a decisive step toward the financial strangulation of the Haitian government” by withholding distribution of government income until the end of the year instead of on a monthly basis, thus leaving the government with no funds for operating expenses.  The Haitian government survived the crisis by taking out high-interest loans from European governments, which Farnham unsuccessfully tried to block.[123]

Both the Taft and Wilson administrations backed Farnham and the Banque in their disputes with the Haitian government.  When, in December 1914, Farnham became concerned that the Haitian government would use the Banque’s reserves to pay for its operating expenses in the wake of his “financial strangulation” strategy, the Wilson administration sent the USS Machias and a detachment of Marines to remove $500,000 worth of gold belonging to the Haitian government from the vaults of the Banque for transport to the National City Bank of New York.[124]  The removal of Haiti funds, writes the historian Laurent DuBois, “can only be described as an international armed robbery…. The raid was the culmination of a process that, over the previous years, had place Americans firmly in charge of Haiti’s national bank.”[125]
Geopolitical concerns centered on the small German community in Haiti which had successfully developed commercial businesses and become integrated into the larger Haitian society, in part through mixed-race marriages.  An internal State Department memorandum dated May 13, 1914, warned ominously that Germans were seeking “almost complete control of the financial and commercial affairs of the island”; were planning to build a coaling station for ships at Môle-Saint-Nicolas under the guise of a general commercial store; and were trying to buy the National Railway.[126]  Once the Great War broke out in August 1914, these rumors (of intentions and ostensible plans) were taken seriously, despite a lack of evidence, as the very possibility that Germans in Haiti could threaten U.S. interests was sufficient to regard the German presence as a threat.  Farnham fanned the flames of possible threats in order to push the U.S. into intervention.

View of Port-au-Prince with U.S. naval fleet in the harbor, 1917

In planning the July 1915 intervention, U.S. officials gave little consideration to Haitian national sovereignty, rights, and sensibilities, including racial sensibilities.  The French foreign minister in Port-au-Prince reported to his government in April 1915 that “for the Haitian, the Americans are the Whites, and among the Whites those who have the most insulting contempt for Blacks.”[127]

Haitian perceptions of white Americans were not amiss.  Assistant Secretary of State William Phillips, for one, wrote in an internal memorandum in August 1914:  “The facts all point to the failure of an inferior people to maintain the degree of civilization left them by the French, or to develop any capacity of self-government entitling them to international respect and confidence.”  That Haiti was the second oldest democratic republic in the Western Hemisphere did not enter into Phillips’ view; nor the fact that Haiti was the first to outlaw slavery.  Secretary of State Robert Lansing, appointed in June 1915, found the black race so unredeemable as to guarantee the failure of the American civilizing mission in Haiti:

The experience of Liberia and Haiti show that the African race are devoid of any capacity for political organization and lack genius for government.  Unquestionably there is in them an inherent tendency to revert to savagery and to cast aside the shackles of civilization which are irksome to their physical nature.  Of course there are exceptions to this racial weakness but it is true of the mass, as we know from experience in this country.  It is that which makes the negro problem practically unsolvable.[128]

Whether or not racism was a cause of the U.S. intervention in Haiti, it was a contributing factor, and it most certainly undermined efforts to gain the Haitian people’s acceptance of the American occupation.  Racism was thriving within the U.S. at the time, with the revival of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915, the re-segregation of executive departments under President Wilson (a native born Virginian), and extrajudicial lynching in the South which the federal government did nothing to stop.

U.S. Marines and Haitian guide in search of Cacos, circa 1919 (U.S. National Archives)

How was political stability to be established in a nation so prone to disorders and rebellions?  Admiral William B. Caperton, the commanding officer, decided that the key lay in destroying the power of the Cacos.  The Cacos were part-time guerrillas who followed different local strongmen and had been instrumental in forcing changes in government leadership over the last fifty years, often through revolutions.  On August 2, only five days after the landing, Caperton telegrammed Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels:  “Cacos are feared by all Haitians and practically control politics.  About fifteen hundred Cacos now in Port-au-Prince…. Stable government not possible in Haiti until Cacos are disbanded and power broken.  Such action now imperative [in] Port-au-Prince if United States desires to negotiate treaty for financial control [of] Haiti.”[129]

The historian Mary A. Renda judges that the admiral was right in his assessment of the influence of the Cacos on Haitian politics, but wrong in believing that the Cacos were feared by all Haitians.  “At that early stage of the occupation,” she writes, “the admiral’s intelligence was largely limited to certain elite sources in Port-au-Prince.  That some urban elites feared the Cacos was no doubt accurate, but Caperton’s attribution of this fear to ‘all Haitians’ was pure fiction.”  Many peasants and farmers in the countryside viewed the Cacos’ “revolutionary activity as an effective lever against the excesses of the national government,” a kind of balance of power arrangement.  The U.S. not only took over the national government of Haiti, but also sought to centralize its functions, depriving local communities of authority and funds.  “With the advent of the occupation,” writes Renda, “the Cacos’ revolt was now squarely aimed at the new central power in Haiti, the U.S. Marines and their client government.”[130]

U.S. occupation of Haiti

Although Haitians offered no resistance to the initial landing of U.S. troops in Port-au-Prince, the longer the soldiers remained, imposing night curfews and other restrictive orders, the more resentment and resistance grew.  U.S. soldiers on patrol had to march down the middle of streets in order to avoid being showered with household waste dropped from second-story windows.  U.S. authorities won some measure of respect by offering the services of Navy doctors to the sick and by helping relieve the acute food shortage in the cities.  Some Haitians, particularly elites, also appreciated the security provided by the presence of U.S. soldiers.  But acceptance wore thin as U.S. troops proceeded to occupy every major town, take over customhouses, administer local governments, assume authority over coastal trade, and most insultingly, take over the Haitian national government.

Admiral WiIliam B. Caperton

Admiral Caperton moved quickly to control the nation’s political machinery.  He chose Philippe Sudre Dartiguenave, president of the Haitian Senate, to “lead” the country and arranged for his “election” by the Haitian legislature on August 12.  Navy Secretary Daniels later stated that Dartiguenave “was undoubtedly not the choice of the mass of the Haitian people but only those who felt that intervention by America was essential.”  The new Haitian president, for his part, promised “to do everything the U.S. wishes,” according to one U.S. officer.  Dartiguenave agreed to give the U.S. the desired customs receivership and financial control over the government’s budget.  To protect Dartiguenave from rivals and rebels, Caperton provided him with a constant military guard.[131]

Nationalist leader George Sylvan

Less than three weeks into the occupation, Admiral Caperton noted the growing resentment among the population in a cable to Secretary Daniels and President Wilson on August 16:  “U.S. has now actually accomplished a military intervention in affairs of another nation.  Hostility exists now in Haiti and has existed for a number of years against such action.  Serious hostile contacts have only been avoided by prompt and rapid military action which has given U.S. control before resistance has had time to organize.”[132]  On September 3, Caperton declared martial law, thus allowing the U.S. to arrest alleged “troublemakers” and to try them in U.S. military courts.  The same edict censored Haitian newspapers:  “The publishing of false or incendiary propaganda against the Government of the United States or the Government of Haiti, or … [any] matter which tends to disturb the public peace will be dealt with by the military courts.”[133] Lawyer George Sylvan, educated in Paris, founded two nationalist periodicals, La Patrie and, in 1922, l’Union Patriotique, that consistently opposed the occupation and were often censored.

To put a stamp of legality on the military occupation, the Wilson administration decided that a formal treaty should be signed between the two nations.  The proposed treaty placed the U.S. in control of Haitian customhouses, finances, government, and public works for the next twenty years, and created constabulary (police force) known as the Gendarmerie d’Haiti.  The Haitian Senate was pressured into ratifying the treaty in November 1915.  The U.S. Senate did so in February 1916.  The Gendarmerie was formally established and funded in December 1915, becoming to a 2,400-man force of Haitian recruits led by 100 white U.S. officers.

U.S. military officer inspects the Haitian Gendarmerie

The Wilson administration had one more legal conquest to make – striking the alien landholding clause from the Haitian Constitution.  Haiti had rewritten its Constitution sixteen times in the past and each one had prohibited foreign landownership.  Feelings ran deep on this issue, as control over land was synonymous with personal independence for Haiti’s peasant farmers, and with national independence for Haiti’s leaders.  For such reasons, the Haitian National Assembly refused to pass an American-drafted Constitution that allowed for foreign ownership when it was presented in the spring of 1917.

U.S. authorities responded by issuing a decree signed by President Dartiguenave that dissolved the National Assembly.  The Haitian legislature did not meet again until 1929.  The contradiction to President Wilson’s stated democratic principles was now complete, as the U.S. authorities simply got rid of democratic procedures that stood in the way of their economic objectives.  Secretary of State Lansing furthermore blamed the dissolution of democratic governance on the Haitians themselves, writing to President Wilson on June 23, 1917, “You will observe that the Haitian Government is wholly responsible for the recent dissolving of the National Assembly.”  To gain approval of the American-drafted Constitution, U.S. occupational authorities arranged for a public plebiscite to be held in June 1918.  The desired results were achieved through intimidation, deception, and fraud; according to official records, 98,225 votes in favor and 768 votes opposed.[134]

The removal of the offending barrier to foreign land ownership was rationalized in Washington under the capitalist development theory, expressed by a State Department official in 1927:

It was obvious that if our occupation was to be beneficial to Haiti and further her progress it was necessary that foreign capital should come to Haiti, in order to establish new industries and stimulate agricultural production in the country.  Americans could hardly be expected to put their money into plantations and big agricultural enterprises in Haiti if they could not themselves own the land on which their money was to be spent.  For this reason the United States Government caused the provision prohibiting the ownership of land by foreigners to be omitted from the new [1918] Constitution of Haiti.[135]

U.S. occupational authorities also confiscated German properties and shut down German businesses during the war years, thus eliminating rivals to American businesses.  American sugar investments increased from $7 million in 1919 to $8.7 million in 1929, and the Haitian American Sugar Corporation acquired 11,000 acres near Port-au-Prince; but other ventures, such as cotton and pineapple plantations, failed to prosper, and few factories were started.  The “investment climate” was still not quite right.  While promoting economic development, U.S. authorities also rejected some corporate proposals that went too far in demanding concessions from Haiti.  In 1923, for example, the State Department rejected a proposal from the Sinclair Oil Company for exclusive rights for petroleum exploration.[136]

One of the American civilizing missions that went awry in Haiti was a road building project that began in August 1916.  The deplorable condition of roads in the rural areas presented a problem for American control of the countryside.  To obtain the requisite work crews for this project, U.S. authorities employed an 1864 Haitian law that required labor on local roads in lieu of a road tax.  Known as the corvée system, the conscripted men were supposed to be paid, fed, and only made to work in the vicinity of their homes, but U.S. Marine officers in charge frequently ignored these conditions.  The French Consul René Delage commented on the abuses:

Desirous of building roads quickly, the Americans stopped people, peasants tilling fields or going to market, servants, etcetera, and made them work … not around their village, but wherever the new authorities wished, locking them at night in enclosures under the watch of gendarmes [Haitian national guardsmen under the command of U.S. officers], feeding them poorly and forcing them to work beyond their abilities.  Many who had given the required number of days saw their paper guarantees torn and they were forced to begin anew.  Many peasants, to avoid this forced labor, fled to the mountains and joined the cacos.[137]

According to Laurent DuBois, “In 1917, a Haitian town council objected to the use of local residents, but the marines arrested the mayor and forced him, under armed guard to round up the workers.  After being released, the mayor traveled to Port-au-Prince to complain about the actions of the marines, but to no avail.”  A later investigation conducted by Lieutenant Colonel Richard C. Hooker reported that the corvée system contributed to an American “reign of terror” in the countryside.[138]  It was officially abolished in August 1918.

Depiction of the battle of Fort Rivière (U.S. Marine Corps Art Collection)

The abusive corvée system was one reason why rebellion erupted in the mountainous north, where revolutions led by Cacos were traditionally bred.  Another was the U.S. attempt to centralize government functions in Port-au-Prince to the detriment of local communities and leaders.  A third, most importantly, was that American Marines went into the countryside, rifles in hand, looking for the Cacos.

U.S. authorities initially sought to head off rebellion by paying money for surrendered guns and, to some extent, bribing Cacos leaders.  When this strategy failed, Admiral Caperton decided that the rebels needed a “severe lesson” and ordered Marines to begin “search and kill” missions in the rugged terrain of the north.  The largest battle took place at Fort Rivière, an old masonry fort built atop the steep Montagne Noire, in November 1915.  It was held by over 200 Cacos armed with rifles, machetes, swords, and knives.  U.S. Marine Captain Smedley Butler led three 24-man companies in a surprise attack that killed 51 rebels, with only one Marine wounded.

Captain Smedley Butler

In another instance, Captain Butler recalled being trapped in a nighttime ambush.  The following day, Butler later wrote, “The Marines went wild after their devilish night and hunted the Cacos like pigs,” killing about 75 of them.  No prisoners were taken.  Butler’s company suffered only one man wounded.  Upon return, field commander Colonel Eli K. Cole praised Butler’s performance, saying, “the only way to do the job is by a systematic cleaning up of the place.”[139]

Suspecting civilian support for the guerrillas in every community and having no knowledge of the language (Creole or French), the Marines terrorized Haitian rural communities at the slightest provocation.  Captain Chandler Campbell recorded in his company log in the fall of 1915:  “Through their women, I have tried to communicate to the Cacos the fact that, if in the future a single shot is fired by them, or if they … create any disturbance, we would return and burn all their houses and completely destroy their crops.”  Other entries in the log confirm that these tactics were repeatedly used.  According to Mary A. Renda, “By early November, marine patrols had burned down villages through the areas in which the Cacos operated; marines had killed scores of Cacos and wounded many more.”[140]

Photo of Charlemagne Péralte’s corpse

The major part of the fighting took place in 1919 and 1920.  Caco leader Charlemagne Péralte claimed to have 30,000 to 40,000 followers and vowed to drive the Americans into the sea.  His weapons, however, were primitive – machetes, knives, a few pistols, and a few hundred rifles – and were no match for the well-armed Marines.  The Marines also employed airplanes to bomb areas where Cacos were thought to be hidden.  According to Alan McPherson, “In Haiti, about 1,000 U.S. troops along with 2,700 gendarmes, or Haitian constabularies, fought thousands of cacos in 131 engagements from April to October 1919, the bulk of the fighting.  The pace dropped significantly after the death of caco leader Charlemagne Peralte and then ended almost completely after the killing of his successor Benoit Batraville on May 19, 1920.”[141]  As a warning to others, U.S. authorities tied Péralte’s corpse to a door in a semblance of crucifixion, then photographed it and distributed posters of the disturbing image.  Marine Corps month-to-month casualty records for the period from March 1919 to November 1920 list a total of 3,071 Haitians killed.  Other military records list 146 U.S. Marines killed during the occupation. “The process of pacification,” writes the historian Arthur S. Link, “which had begun so easily soon became almost a war of extermination.”[142]

News of alleged American atrocities, Oct. 13, 1920

When U.S. Marine Brigadier General Ivan W. Miller was later asked if he had ever witnessed American brutality in Haiti, he replied, “You have to remember that what we consider brutality among people in the United States is different from what they considered brutality.  Those people, particularly at the time there, their idea of brutality was entirely different from ours.  They had no conception of kindness or helping people.”  John Russell, the high commissioner of the U.S. occupation in Haiti, concurred in 1929, writing that the “Haitian mentality only recognizes force, and appeal to reason and logic is unthinkable.”

It would appear that the American occupiers had to negate the humanity of the Haitian people in order to justify their own brutality.  Smedley Butler, who later rose to the rank of Major General, had a profound change of heart regarding his past deeds, writing in his 1935 memoir, War is a Racket, “I served in all commissioned ranks from second lieutenant to Major General.  And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers.  In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.  I suspected I was just part of the racket all the time. Now I am sure of it.”[143]

U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic

There were many parallels and some differences between the U.S. occupation of Haiti and that of the Dominican Republic.  The main differences were that the guerrilla war in the Dominican hinterland went on longer and ended in a stalemate; and that the Dominicans managed to organize a more effective transnational lobbying campaign that resulted in an end to the occupation in 1924 rather than 1934.

U.S. troops in Santo Domingo, 1916

In May 1916, nine months after taking charge of Haiti, the U.S. Navy established complete control over the Dominican Republic, ruling the Spanish-speaking nation by decree for the next eight years.  The impetus for the intervention was political infighting coupled with some concern for German influence.  The U.S. was already in control of the nation’s customhouses, and American sugar plantations dominated the landscape, hence political stability was deemed necessary to secure economic interests and restore the proper “investment climate.”

As in Haiti, animosity toward the occupiers increased over time, which in turn led to increased repression.  “By October,” writes McPherson, “incidents of harassment multiplied as marines took over policing duties.”  Some of these incidents mushroomed into battles, as in the village of Villa Duarte on October 24, when two Marines were killed.  The Marines exacted revenge the next day by conducting an assault in which “100 marines occupied Villa Duarte, breaking down doors, detaining anyone looking suspicious, and burning down homes.”[144]  On November 29, 1916, Admiral Harry Knapp issued a “Proclamation of Occupation,” which banned the possession of firearms, imposed censorship of the press, and cancelled all elections until further notice.  There was not even the pretense of democratic procedures through a puppet government.
Rebel groups began organizing in the eastern part of the country.  Resentment against foreign intrusion was palpable as American sugar corporations had bought up large swaths of land and displaced peasant farmers.  “But overshadowing all other factors,” according to the historian Bruce J. Calder, “was that of personal hatred and fear of the Marines and the Marine created and controlled Guardia Nacional Dominicana (National Guard).  The Marines, as they fought to exert control over the eastern Dominican Republic, frightened, insulted, abused, oppressed, injured, and even killed hundreds of Dominicans, combatants and noncombatants alike, who lived and worked in the area of hostilities.  No more effective agent existed for the guerrilla cause.”[145]

The guerrilla war in the east lasted from 1917 to 1922.  Led by leaders such as Ramon Natera and Vicente Evangelista, the guerrillas enjoyed considerable support from the population.  Unlike Haiti, the Marines never succeeded in pacifying the region.  “The outcome of the six-year-long irregular war,” writes Calder, “was a stalemate and finally a negotiated conditional surrender by the guerrillas in 1922, a capitulation at least partially predicated on the then impending withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the republic.”[146]  The conduct of the counterinsurgency war in the Dominican Republic was reminiscent of the U.S.-Filipino War at the turn of the 20th century; and the same unlearned lessons would extend to the U.S.-Vietnam War fifty years later.  According to Calder:

As the guerrilla war progressed, the insurgents became more and more indistinguishable from the rest of the populace…. The incorporation of women and sometimes whole families into guerrilla life, and the establishment of permanent villages, made it all the more difficult to distinguish guerrillas from refugees and other ordinary inhabitants of the rural areas…. As the Marines began to grasp the situation, they came to treat everyone as the enemy.  In the process, they created more guerrillas and guerrilla supporters from among the previously uninvolved…. Numerous incidents occurred in which people who could not or would not reveal information concerning the guerrillas were beaten, tortured, and killed, or, if they were more fortunate, imprisoned.  As a result of all these circumstances, the whole central area of the east became, in the words of a Marine commander, “a scene of desolation and long abandoned homes … a sad and pitiful spectacle.”[147]

Also very common and often recorded, but only occasionally punished, were serious crimes such as the well documented case of Altagracia de la Rosa.  As this teenage peasant woman prepared dinner one evening in December 1920, four armed Marines entered her house in Ramon Santana, raped her, and then took her and her mother prisoner and held them for 10 days. No charges were brought against the Marines involved.[148]

Occupational authorities did create a system for reporting abuses via provost courts, but few Dominicans used it.  Otto Schoenrich, a North American writer well acquainted with the Dominican Republic, wrote that:  “the provost courts have gained the reputation of being unjust, oppressive and cruel, and seem to delight in excessive sentences. These provost courts, with their arbitrary and overbearing methods, their refusal to permit accused persons to be defended by counsel, and their foreign judges, foreign language and foreign procedure, are galling to the Dominicans, who regard them with aversion and terror.”[149]

On the diplomatic front, the Dominicans utilized their Hispanic connections in the hemisphere to develop an effective transnational lobbying network in support for U.S. withdrawal.  In early 1917, Manuel Morillo, the Dominican chargé in Havana, circulated an international petition that accused U.S. Marines of “assassinating old men, women and children and razing innocent populations,” and called on other American republics to denounce U.S. “crimes that affront modern civilization.”[150]  According to Alan McPherson, “Numerous Latin American and European organizations responded favorably to the Dominicans’ pan-Hispanic rhetoric and to postwar notions of international solidarity and self-government…. About sixty Latin American and Spanish newspapers reproduced the pamphlets of the Santo Domingo-based Dominican Nationalist Union (UND), many also editorializing in its favor.  They paid special attention to cases of torture.”[151]

Francisco Henríquez y Carvajal

Former Dominican president Francisco Henríquez y Carvajal, who was booted out of office in December 1916 to make room for the U.S. Navy, led the diplomatic offensive.  In September 1919, he was belatedly granted a meeting with Secretary of State Lansing in which he presented his case for withdrawal:

The situation in which the Dominican people finds itself is unjust from the legal point of view, intolerable in practice, unnecessary for any end that may be pursued, illogical in its results, and absolutely discordant with the ethical and legal principles of international life which prevail today…. The time is ripe to undertake there a number of institutional reforms which may insure the stability of its national government and the progress of its people.[152]

Turning the tide  

Anti-occupation pamphlet

Lobbying efforts were also undertaken on behalf of the Haitian people.  The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) denounced violations of human rights in Haiti from the outset.  NAACP cofounder W. E. B. DuBois, whose grandfather was from Haiti, authored articles and called on African Americans to write the president.  The response in the African American community was tepid during the war years, as it was in the rest of the nation.  The mood of the country began to shift after the war, partly in response to more active organizing.  Moderate groups such as the American-Haitian Benevolent Club, based in New York City and consisting of Haitian emigrants and descendants, protested not the occupation as a whole but the conduct of white Marines.[153]

The separate quests to end U.S. occupations in Haiti and the Dominican Republic were joined together through the Haiti-Santo Domingo Independence Society, housed in the New York headquarters of The Nation.  Conferences on Haiti and the Dominican Republic were held in the spring of 1920 at Clark University and New York’s Hotel Commodore, drawing international scholars and activists.  Among those in the U.S. promoting the cause of liberation were African American civil rights leaders James Weldon Johnson, A. Philip Randolph, Madam C. J. Walker, Mary Church Terrell, and Mary McLeod Bethune; peace activists Jane Addams, Dorothy Detzer, and Emily Green Balch; Samuel Guy Inman and the Committee on Cooperation in Latin America, Moorfield Storey, the last president of the Anti-Imperialist League, Scott Nearing and the Anti-Imperialism Committee of the American Fund for Public Service, Oswald Garrison Villard and Ernest Gruening of The Nation, and Senator Robert La Follette and a handful of progressive senators. NAACP field secretary James Weldon Johnson, who was fluent in French and had a great-grandmother from Haiti, traveled to Haiti in March 1920 and stayed two months. He met with leaders of the Patriotic Union, the Haitian equivalent of the Dominican Nationalist Union, traveled to the interior to talk with peasants, and “talked, too, with U.S. marines, who spoke casually of rape, killing, and torture,” according to Mary A. Renda, then parlayed these stories into a series of exposés published in The Crisis and The Nation.[154]

James Weldon Johnson

According to the Haitian historian and diplomat Dantés Bellegarde, Johnson strongly insisted upon the “necessity for Haitians to organize, without distinction as to parties, a national association for the defense of their interests,” which activist lawyer Georges Sylvain pursued in Haiti.  By the early 1920s, Haiti had twelve anti-occupation newspapers that worked around censorship in part by quoting American sources of information such as The Nation.[155]

As a member of the Republican National Advisory Committee, Johnson met with Republican presidential candidate Warren Harding on August 9, and apparently had some influence. Less than three weeks later, on August 28, Harding referred to the “the rape of Haiti and Santo Domingo” in a campaign speech in Marion, Ohio.  He accused the Wilson administration of hypocrisy in empowering “an Assistant Secretary of the Navy to draft a constitution and jam it down the throats of a helpless people at the point of bayonets held by American Marines.”  It was payback time as the Republican Party had heretofore been branded “imperialist” by the Democrats.  “Talk about self-determination! Talk about American ideals! Talk about equal rights for small nations!” cried Harding, driving the point.  “Congress has not been informed. The people are kept in ignorance. But gradually the torch of truth is illuminating those dark places.  Practically all we know now is that thousands of native Haitians have been killed by American Marines, and that many of our own gallant men have sacrificed their lives.”[156]
Another public relations bomb was dropped on the Wilson administration prior to the November 1920 election.  On October 13, the Navy Department made public a letter written by Marine Corps Major General George Barnett that confirmed allegations of American atrocities in Haiti.  Commenting on reports from the field the previous year, Barnett concluded that “practically indiscriminate killing of natives has gone on for some time.”  Barnett nonetheless thought that the U.S. occupation should continue, as he believed that Haitians could not govern themselves, but his phrase “indiscriminate killing” was picked up by newspapers around the country, some of which decried the “slaughter” and “shameful abuse of power” of the U.S. occupation in Haiti.

Two days later, after hearing from travel writer Henry A. Franck, the New York Times editorialized:

How American marines, largely made up of and officered by Southerners, opened fire with machine guns from airplanes upon defenseless Haitian villages, killing men, women, and children in the open market places; how natives were slain for “sport” by a hoodlum element among these same Southerners; and how the ancient corvee system of enforced labor was revived and ruthlessly executed, increasing, through retaliation, the banditry in Haiti and Santo Domingo, was told yesterday by Henry A. Franck, the noted traveler and authority on the West Indies.[157]

The Wilson administration was obliged to investigate, even as Navy Secretary Daniels was determined to stonewall and whitewash the issue.  In November, the Navy Department created a special court of inquiry to examine allegations of abuse of power.  Invited to testify was Haitian President Philippe Sudre Dartiguenave, who could cite no instances of indiscriminate killing of natives by Marines.  The court ultimately ruled that General Barnett had no grounds for his comments.  The issue nonetheless continued to reverberate in the public arena, in part because of efforts by activist groups.
Senate hearings began on August 5, 1921, focusing on both occupations, and continued through June 1922.  Testimony was heard from the Haiti-Santo Domingo Independence Society, the Patriotic Union of Haiti, and the NAACP, among others.  Former Marine Frederick Spear revealed unlawful firing squads and the execution of wounded insurgents. The committee was inundated with reports and documents describing incidents of “tortures, destructions, humiliations, and misery” inflicted upon Haitians and Dominicans. The hearings were well covered in the U.S. press and received international attention as well.  Advocacy groups were strengthened in the process.  “The testimonies,” writes McPherson, “prompted coverage from the U.S. press, advocacy groups such as the NAACP, and the occupied press [newspapers in Haiti and the Dominican Republic], which printed almost every word of the hearings.”[158]
On June 14, 1921, Admiral Samuel S. Robison, the military governor of the Dominican Republic, announced a plan for U.S. withdrawal, although hardly independence.  His plan left the U.S. in effective control of the government’s finances and required that U.S. military officers be in charge of the national guard, among other intrusions.  Dominican leaders and citizens united in protest against the plan.  Five days after the announcement, 3,000 marched to the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Santo Domingo to protest.  A series of counterproposals and negotiations ensued.  In May 1922, Dominican lawyer Francisco Peynado went to Washington and negotiated the Hughes–Peynado Plan, which stipulated immediate establishment of a provisional government pending elections, approval of all laws enacted by the U.S. military government, and the continuation of the 1907 treaty that allowed U.S. control over customs revenue until all foreign debts had been settled.  The U.S., in short, would retain its economic power while loosening political controls.  Elections were held on March 15, 1924, and a new Dominican government came into being.  On July 12, a jubilant Dominican crowd cheered as the U.S. flag was lowered over Fortress Ozama in Santo Domingo and U.S. military forces departed.[159]

Emily Green Batch

In Haiti, the U.S. occupation continued for another ten years, due in large part to racial prejudice.  One State Department official explained in July 1921 that it was necessary “to distinguish at once between the Dominicans and the Haitians.  The former, while in many ways not advanced far enough on the average to permit the highest type of self-government, yet have a preponderance of white blood and culture.  The Haitians on the other hand are negro for the most part, and, barring a very few highly educated politicians, are almost in a state of savagery and complete ignorance.  The two situations thus demand different treatment.”  Wellesley economics professor Emily Greene Balch offered a counterpoint view in her book, Occupied Haiti, published in 1927, which suggested that so-called “good government” being “forcibly imposed” by American outsiders was the main problem. Balch served as secretary for the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946.[160]

The U.S. occupation continued in Haiti as if by inertia.  In the fall of 1929, a series of strikes and demonstrations prompted an overreaction by U.S. authorities.  On December 6, a contingent of U.S. Marines fired point-blank into a crowd, killing and wounding dozens.  The massacre sparked outrage in Haiti and across Latin America, and increased anti-imperialist agitation in the U.S.  Senator William Borah of Idaho complained to a New York Times reporter that the U.S. had “completely disenfranchised” the Haitian people by dissolving the Haitian National Assembly “by force of arms” twelve years earlier.  “The United States Government ought to be ashamed to stand before the world at this time, with all our professions of peace and against military power, in the attitude of keeping a military heel upon a helpless people.”[161]  In part to defuse the crisis, the U.S. government allowed Haitian National Assembly elections to take place in October 1930.  In a testament to the failure of the U.S. to win hearts and minds, not one pro-American candidate was elected.
In 1933, with President Franklin Roosevelt in the White House, U.S. officials sought an exit strategy that would still allow the U.S. to continue to control Haitian finances.  After much diplomatic wrangling, an Executive Agreement was signed on August 7 that promised the withdrawal of U.S. troops the following year while continuing substantial U.S. financial supervision until the Haitian foreign debt was fully paid.  A U.S. fiscal representative would control customs revenue, set limitations on Haitian government spending, and ensure the repayment of foreign bondholders.  The departure of the Marines on August 15, 1934, was celebrated in Port-au-Prince with a ceremony that attracted a crowd of 10,000 people who applauded wildly as the U.S. flag came down.  The following week, Haitians held a “Festival of the Second Independence.”[162]

*          *          *

The Sandino war in Nicaragua, 1926-33

In 1856, Tennessee native William Walker declared himself president of Nicaragua.  He had come with a band of American mercenaries to help the Liberals defeat their Conservative rivals.  After accomplishing this mission, Walker unexpectedly took control of the government.  In his first decree, he legalized slavery, hoping to attract American settlers from the South.  The Pierce administration extended recognition to the Walker government but did not back him up when neighboring Central American republics organized an army and ended Walker’s reign.  Walker was executed by a firing squad in 1860.
During the 19th century, U.S. leaders kept an eye on Nicaragua as a potential site for a transoceanic canal.  They periodically sent warships to Nicaraguan ports to protect American interests and fostered U.S. business investments under the strong-man rule of President José Santos Zelaya (1893-1909).  When Zelaya began courting European suitors for the building of a canal and otherwise welcomed European business investments, U.S. leaders began looking for a new leader, disparaging Zelaya as “a tyrannical, self-serving, brutal, greedy disturber of Central American peace.”[163]

President Adolfo Díaz

In 1909, the Taft administration dispatched U.S. military forces to aid a rebellion led by General Juan José Estrada, forcing Zelaya into exile.  The following year, a pact was signed with the Estrada government making Nicaragua a U.S. financial protectorate, similar to the Dominican Republic.[163]  In 1912, U.S. military forces were sent again, this time to suppress a Liberal revolt against the Conservative government of Adolfo Díaz, heir to Estrada.  In November, Díaz ran unopposed in a presidential “election.”  His “victory” was celebrated with a reception aboard the U.S. warship California.[164]  To deter further challenges, some 100 U.S. Marines remained behind as a legation guard.

Following the departure of the Marines in August 1925, a new conflict arose between Liberals and Conservatives.  By December 1926, the two factions had set up rival governments in León and Granada, respectively.  The Conservative government, led once again by Díaz, requested U.S. intervention to secure its rule.  The Coolidge administration recognized the Díaz government.

Juan Batista Sacasa

Mexico, however, recognized the Liberal government of Juan Bautista Sacasa, which U.S. officials considered an affront to U.S. hegemony.  Secretary of State Frank Kellogg warned of a “Mexican-fostered Bolshevist hegemony intervening between the United States and the Panama Canal.”[165]  On December 23, with Congress in recess, President Calvin Coolidge ordered U.S. warships and Marines to Nicaragua.  Undersecretary of State Robert Olds candidly explained the reason for this intervention in a memorandum dated January 2, 1927:

There is no room for any outside influence other than ours in this region. . . . Until now Central America has always understood that governments which we recognize and support stay in power, while those which we do not recognize and support fall. Nicaragua has become a test case.[166]

Public rationales were quite different.  On January 10, President Coolidge told Congress that “disturbances and conditions” in Nicaragua “seriously threaten American lives and property, [and] endanger the stability of all Central America.”[167]

U.S. Marines land in Corinto, Dec. 22, 1926

The Boston Globe was skeptical.  In an editorial on the same day titled “Why?” they noted widespread criticism of the U.S. intervention across Latin America and remarked, “The painfully developed prestige, the tradition of American disinterestedness toward and support of small nations in their rights to sovereign independence, has received a blow from which it will require years to recover.”[168]

Two days later, the editors of the New YorkDaily News noted that the U.S. intervention “deeply angered the peoples of Latin America, who see their liberties menaced by their great and powerful neighbour,” and also “excited the contemptuous comment of European newspapers as providing a glaring example of the hypocrisy of American moral philosophy in international relations.”[169]  Such denunciations were partly aimed at preventing the Coolidge administration from undertaking a similar intervention in Mexico.
Perhaps learning a lesson from the past, instead of choosing one side over the other, President Coolidge sent emissary Henry Stimson to forge a compromise between the warring parties.  The mediation strategy succeeded, more or less, as the parties agreed to a ceasefire, the disarming of combatants, and elections scheduled for November 1928.  “The civil war in Nicaragua is now definitely ended,” cabled Stimson to Washington on May 15, 1927.[170]

Augusto César Sandino (center)

One Liberal general, however, did not sign the agreement.  Augusto César Sandino and a small group of followers kept their arms and retreated to Nueva Segovia, vowing to fight the Yankee invaders.  Some of his Liberal allies were furious with him for undermining a legitimate avenue to power and for provoking the “Colossus of the North.”  Other Liberals covertly supported his mission.  In any case, Sandino’s targets included Conservatives aligned with the U.S. who had wielded dictatorial power for the previous sixteen years.  “Conservative abuses,” writes McPherson, “made Sandinista recruitment easy.”[171]

Sandino’s Army for the Defense of the National Sovereignty of Nicaragua (EDSNN) drew heavily from poor farmers, artisans, miners, workers, and indigenous groups in the northern provinces, with the province of Nueva Segovia being home base.  In addition to demanding independence from foreign influence, Sandino appealed for social justice.  This meant ending the monopoly of large coffee farms owned by U.S. and British interests, generally increasing wages, and restoring expropriated Indian lands, among other reforms.  The first battle took place on July 16, 1927.  Sandino and some 400 men attacked a Marine base at Ocotal, near the Honduran border.  The Marines, numbering less than 100, held out with the aid of airplanes fitted with machine guns and bombs.
The war quickly turned into a cat-and-mouse game, with U.S. troops and the U.S.-trained Nicaraguan Guardia Nacional going out on search missions, and Sandino and his men eluding them and occasionally ambushing them.  By mid-April 1928, the number of U.S. Marines had grown to nearly 5,700 and twenty-one had been killed.  That month, Sandino’s army emerged on the Caribbean Coast and blew up two American-owned mines known for treating their workers poorly.  The U.S. press began describing the intervention as a war rather than a police operation, and some questioned the official view of Sandino as a “bandit” rather than a “patriot” or “revolutionary” with genuine political grievances.[172]

Marine DeHaviland plane bombs Sandino camp near El Chipote, 1927

According to Bill Gandall, a young Marine in Nicaragua, U.S. troops were ordered by their superiors to obtain information about Sandino “by any means possible,” resulting in civilian abuses.  “We committed a lot of atrocities, of which I was a part,” he reflected years later.[173]  Official regulations prohibited the mistreatment of civilians and prisoners, but these rules were not necessarily followed in the field.  U.S. airplanes added to civilian casualties when pilots bombed what they believed were Sandinista camps.  U.S. soldiers were also accused of assaulting and raping Nicaraguan women, although the U.S. command kept no records of such.  A Nicaraguan newspaper article in 1930 titled “Marines who Abused Countrywomen” described how groups of Americans demanded “obscene services from the women folks for which reason many of them ran away.”[174]

The war involved atrocities on both sides.  Some of Sandino’s men were known to torture and execute civilians suspected of helping the enemy.  Sandino’s seal on his correspondence featured the beheading of a Marine.  Although Sandino instructed his men to treat campesinos with dignity, as his army’s survival depended on their support, he seems not to have concerned himself with extrajudicial killings.  “Who began the atrocities?” Sandino asked rhetorically.  “No matter.  What matters is that the Marines are more guilty for considering themselves educated and civilized and for being the intruders.”[175]

U.S. Marines pose with captured Sandino flag

On November 4, 1928, national elections took place under the watchful eye of U.S. Marines.  A turn-out of 88% of the registered voters produced a clear victory for the Liberals, winning 57% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate, and electing José María Moncada to the presidency.  The Coolidge administration, at this point, could have pulled out of Nicaragua, its mission to restore orderly government completed, but it had become invested in defeating Sandino and thus the Marines remained.  Sandino, for his part, was prepared to lay down his arms as soon as the Marines left.

U.S. domestic opposition and withdrawal

The domestic opponents of U.S. intervention in Nicaragua kept up a steady drumbeat for withdrawal.  Almost as soon as the U.S. troops had departed for Nicaragua, Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana demanded their return along with the dismissal of Secretary of State Kellogg.  Two bills were introduced in the Senate calling for the removal of U.S. troops from Nicaragua.  They failed by votes of 22-52 (April 25, 1928) and 32-48 (Feb. 23, 1929).[176]

Senator George Norris

When Secretary of the Navy Curtis Wilbur asserted in April 1928 that “there was no bombing of civilian population and there was no destruction of any large number of civilians, Senator George Norris of Nebraska replied that the Coolidge administration “has used the armed forces of the United States to destroy human life, to burn villages, to bomb innocent women and children from the air.” Senator William King of Utah added, “in the case of those poor, defenseless people in Nicaragua we send our armies down there and our airplanes, and we drop bombs upon their little villages and hamlets and destroy and kill and wound and burn.” Notwithstanding such criticism from elite lawmakers, Senator William Bruce of Maryland decried critics of the administration as extremists, a well-worn tactic through the ages, saying, “about the only elements in the country that do not approve of the action of our Government in relation to Nicaragua are the extreme pacifists and the radicals.”[177]

Those pressing for U.S. withdrawal included Latin American solidarity groups such as Samuel Guy Inman’s Committee on Cooperation in Latin America, religious and women’s peace groups, socialists, communists, and at least a dozen progressive senators led by Wheeler and Norris.  Two religious peace groups, the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the American Friends Service Committee, attempted to mediate the conflict by arranging for Episcopal minister John Nevin Sayre and a small group of Americans to meet with Sandino in Nicaragua.  Sayre was unable to make direct contact with him but left a message with his wife, which read in part, “We wish you to know that we are against imperialism and in favor of independence, freedom, peace and happiness for Nicaragua.[178]  Carleton Beals, a reporter for The Nation, did find Sandino and interviewed him. The interview was published in a six-issue series in February-March 1928, providing Sandino with a forum to speak directly to the U.S. public.
The Communist Party USA formed the All-American Anti-Imperialist League in 1928.  Based in New York City, the group raised money for Sandino and organized speaking tours for his half-brother, Sócrates Sandino, a carpenter by trade and resident of Brooklyn since 1926.  Outside the U.S., the Communist International promoted Augusto Sandino as an exemplary anti-imperialist, making him known to revolutionary groups and national liberation movements worldwide.[179]
Anti-interventionists put forth a number of arguments to sway public opinion and members of Congress.  They charged that the intervention was illegal, as Congress had not properly authorized it; that the situation in Nicaragua was not a national security issue and thus required no military intervention; that the U.S. was creating antagonists rather than friends in Latin America; that the U.S. was flouting international law, especially the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 that outlawed war except in cases of national defense; and that the war itself was being conducted with unnecessary brutality, exemplified by the use of warplanes.  Sayre expressed his anguish over the affair in a letter to Senator Norris in 1928, writing, “I cannot understand how any intelligent, patriotic citizen can remain silent without protesting, while our President is carrying on an unauthorized and indefensible war against Nicaragua. . . . for certainly, if the President of the United States can carry on war in Nicaragua, without the consent of Congress, he can do the same thing with many other countries.”[180]

President Herbert Hoover

Ending the U.S. intervention in Nicaragua proved frustratingly slow.  President Herbert Hoover tacitly acknowledged international and domestic criticism in his first State of the Union address on December 3, 1929, declaring his intention to withdraw some 1,600 U.S. troops from Nicaragua.[181]  Yet he hesitated to do so before the U.S.-trained Guardia Nacional was ready to take over.  This national police force, it was thought, would allow the U.S. to maintain its influence in Nicaragua regardless of which party was in power.

On January 5, 1931, five days after eight Marines had been killed in an ambush, the Senate gave the president a push by approving a non-binding “sense of the Senate” resolution calling for American forces to be immediately withdrawn from Nicaragua.  One year later, with still no withdrawal, Congress passed a bill prohibiting the administration from transporting additional U.S. troops to Nicaragua.  The following year, Congress cut off funds for monitoring the 1932 elections.  The Hoover administration finally got the message and withdrew all U.S. troops in January 1933.  On January 1, the same day Sacasa was inaugurated as the new president of Nicaragua, U.S. officials turned the Guardia Nacional over to their chosen commander, Anastasio “Tacho” Somoza García, a graduate of Pierce Commercial College in Philadelphia.  All told, the war cost the lives of an estimated 3,000 Nicaraguans and 136 U.S. Marines.[182]
With the departure of the Marines, Sandino quickly negotiated a peace agreement with the newly elected Sacasa government.  Although the fighting had ceased, animosity remained between Sandino and Somoza.  In February 1934, just after Sandino had dined with President Sacasa, Somoza’s men seized and executed Sandino and his top commanders.  There followed a massacre of Sandino’s men at a farm cooperative where they lived.  Unpunished, Somoza maneuvered his way into the presidency in 1936, the beginning of a 43-year family dynasty in which political power was passed from father to son to brother through a series of manipulated elections and coups.  The U.S. never wavered in its support.
In the end, the idea of fostering political stability through democratic elections was abandoned in favor of an older pattern of supporting strongman, such as José Santos Zelaya and Adolfo Díaz in the past.  The Guardia Nacional, envisioned by Secretary of State Robert Olds as the “cornerstone of stability for the whole country for years to come,” became instead the cornerstone of a repressive and authoritarian state under Somoza. Once in power, notes the historian Jeremy Kuzmarov, Anastasio Somoza “doubled the revenues accorded to the Guardia and made it an instrument of his control, using it to spy on opponents, systemize graft, and suppress dissent, shooting officers at the slightest hint of insubordination.” The last in line in the Somoza family dictatorship, Anastasio “Tachito” Somoza DeBayle, was overthrown in 1979 by rebels bearing the name of Sandino, the Sandinista National Liberation Front.[183]

V.  Lessons and legacies

The lessons to be gleaned from this era of “Yankee imperialism” depend in large part on the perspective taken.  American nationalistic historical accounts, prevalent in American popular culture and politics, generally conflate America’s rise to power with the spread of freedom, democracy, security, and progress.  The implication for the future is that America’s role as preeminent global power should continue.  On the other end of the spectrum are critical, progressive-minded accounts, of which this is one, which generally attach to principles of fairness and justice, rather than national identity, insofar as such principles can be divined in a given situation.  Such critiques typically call attention to U.S. aggression and hypocrisy in the interest of reform.  Walter LaFeber, for one, writes of the era under study:

The Roosevelt Corollary triggered the most ignoble chapter in United States-Latin American relations.  Believing, as TR [Theodore Roosevelt] said, that a “civilized nation” such as the United states possessed the right to stop “chronic wrongdoing,” North Americans sent troops into a half-dozen Caribbean nations during the next twelve years, and within two decades dominated at least fourteen of the twenty Latin American countries through either financial controls or military power – and, in some instances, through both.[184]

George Herring’s comprehensive study of U.S. foreign relations, From Colony to Superpower, takes from both of these perspectives, framing the era in the context of the United States’ successful rise to world power, while recognizing the downsides of U.S. economic and military penetration in Latin America.  “Rampant U.S. economic intervention destabilized a region where Americans professedly sought order,” he writes.  “The almost reflexive military interventions further damaged U.S. long-term interests and left an enduring and understandable legacy of suspicion among Latin Americans of the ‘Colossus of the North.’”[185]  This negative blowback, however, does not intrude upon Herring’s overall assessment of U.S. foreign policy.  The United States, he judges:

has been spectacularly successful in its foreign policy.  To be sure, like all countries, it has made huge mistakes and suffered major failures, sometimes with tragic consequences for Americans – and other peoples as well.  At the same time, it has sustained an overall record of achievement with little precedent in history.  In the space of a little more than two hundred years, it conquered a continent, came to dominate the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean areas, helped win two world wars, prevailed in a half-century Cold War, and extended its economic influence, military might, popular culture, and ‘soft power’ through much of the world.”[186]

The essential question here is how to evaluate national power.  Is America’s rise to power to be praised regardless of how that power has been gained and used, morally speaking?  Is the conquest of a continent an achievement?  Is being dominant in the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean areas cause for praise?  By analogy, does a person’s strength merit praise regardless of whether that person conducts himself as a bully, intimidating and beating up others?  Arguably, the answer is “no” to all of the above.

The negative results of U.S. interventionism were evident enough by the early 1930s to impel a change in policy.  The Good Neighbor Policy of 1933 arguably did create better neighbors as well as hemispheric security during World War II.  Although it was abandoned with the onset of the Cold War, the principles of non-interventionism and nonaggression nonetheless found a place in international agreements, institutions, and law.  Written into the United Nations Charter of 1945 is the statement:  “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state….”  The principle of non-intervention was furthermore written into the 1948 Charter of the Organization of American States:

No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State.  The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference or attempted threat against the personality of the State or against its political, economic, and cultural elements.[187]

Irrespective of enforcement, these prohibitions against aggression and military interventionism have achieved the status of international law and become the common norms by which the conduct of nations may be judged.  The idea that Great Powers have the right and responsibility to intervene in other nations has been negated, at least in theory.  In practice, national leaders have found ways around these prohibitions.

In evaluating the means by which the United States rose to power in the 20th century, it is clear that important lessons from the era of “Yankee imperialism” were not learned.
Within two decades of the Good Neighbor Policy, U.S. interventionism in Latin America resumed.  The U.S. instigated the overthrow of a democratic reform government in Guatemala in 1954, after which it installed a repressive military regime.   Following a full-scale U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson announced a new doctrine that paralleled the old Roosevelt Corollary.  Instead of preventing “chronic wrongdoing,” he declared that the U.S. would henceforth prevent the establishment of communist governments in the Western Hemisphere (after Fidel Castro had come to power in Cuba).  U.S. leaders loosely applied the “communist threat” to any person, group, or party that challenged corporate prerogatives and U.S. hegemonic interests.  During the Cold War, U.S. proclamations in support of freedom and democracy went beyond those of Woodrow Wilson, and yet U.S. leaders still preferred strongmen and repressive regimes that protected American economic interests and aligned with the U.S. in foreign policy matters.
The U.S. experience with counterinsurgency wars in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua was unfortunately replayed in the Vietnam War.  U.S. soldiers once again found themselves in hostile territory and incapable of distinguishing between guerrillas and civilians.  The rural population was again terrorized by invading U.S. forces, even more so by massive U.S. air power that burned and destroyed villages on an immense scale, even as U.S. administrators attempted to win Vietnamese hearts and minds through civic programs.  The use of military force to establish political order, especially when that order is imposed by a foreign nation or fundamentally unjust, remains highly overrated.
Little was learned from the experience of giving big corporations such as the United Fruit Company free reign in countries to the south.  The illusion that corporations operating in their own self-interest will produce benefits for the masses in other countries – or in the U.S. – remains all too prevalent, thwarting efforts to establish measures of economic democracy.
Theodore Roosevelt’s subterfuge in Panama, Woodrow Wilson’s military occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and Calvin Coolidge’s undeclared war in Nicaragua may be seen in hindsight as lead-ins to the “imperial presidency.”  Later presidents extended the powers of the executive branch, conducting covert interventions and secret foreign policies through the Central Intelligence Agency and, more recently, employing armed drones to assassinate suspected terrorists residing in nations with which the U.S. is not at war.
It has been said that “truth is the first casualty of war.”[188]  If so, truth can also be the first avenue to peace, exposing hypocritical claims that typically accompany the use of force, and dissecting the “impressive ideological formations” that allow decent men and women to accept the notion that their nation has the right to dominate others.

*          *          *

About the author

Roger Peace is a diplomatic historian, coordinator of this website, former community college instructor, and author of A Call to Conscience: The Anti-Contra War Campaign (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012). Contributors include Ann Jefferson, History Lecturer at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Marc Becker, Professor of Latin American History, Truman State University, and readers Anne Meisenzahl and Erin Meisenzahl-Peace.

ENDNOTES

[1] Theodore Roosevelt, “Fourth Annual Message to Congress,” December 6, 1904, The American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29545.
[2] Sidney Lens, The Forging of an American Empire (London: Pluto Press, 2003), p. 80; and Louis Pérez, Cuba Under the Platt Amendment, 1902-1934 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986), p. 254.  The word “American” is used throughout this essay to refer to United States citizens and nongovernmental groups (the U.S. government is referred to as the United States); and citizens of other nations in the Americas are referred to as “Latin Americans.”  Both terms are imprecise but conventionally used:  “American” can be defined more broadly to include all persons who reside in the Western Hemisphere, and the latter include not only Latin Americans but also indigenous cultures and the English speaking Caribbean.
[3] “Wilson’s War Message to Congress,” April 2, 1917, https://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Wilson’s_War_Message_to_Congress.
[4] Hans Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995), p. 103; and “Americans Killed in Action,” American War Library, http://www.americanwarlibrary.com/allwars.htm.  Schmidt cites 146 Marine deaths in Haiti; and the American War Library cites 144 Marines killed in action in the Dominican Republic.
[5] Richard Hume Werking, The Master Architects: Building the United States Foreign Service 1890-1913 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1977), p. 264; and Lars Schoultz, Beneath the United States: A History of U. S. Policy Toward Latin America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998) p. 182.
[6] The dates of this era of “Yankee imperialism” are not written in stone.  The 1901-1934 time period marks the years in which the Platt Amendment was in operation in Cuba, allowing the U.S. to intervene at will.  Some historical accounts mark the beginning of this interventionist period with the Venezuela border crisis of 1895; others with the War of 1898.  The period may also be seen to extend into the 1940s if financial protectorate status is taken into account.
[7] Jerald A. Combs, The History of American Foreign Policy, Volume I: to 1917 (New York: McGraw Hill, 1997), p. 174.
[8] Robert E. Hannigan, New World Power: American Foreign Policy, 1898-1917 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), p. 10; and Stuart Creighton Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”: The American Conquest of the Philippines,1899-1903 (New Haven:  Yale Univ. Press, 1982), p. 174.
[9] Warren I. Cohen, Empire Without Tears: American Foreign Relations 1921-1933 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1987), p. 10.
[10] Woodrow Wilson to Allen Wickham Corwin, September 10, 1900, in Hannigan, New World Power, p. 11.
[11] Walter LaFeber, The Panama Canal: The Crisis in Historical Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 8.
[12] Schoultz, Beneath the United States, p. 189.
[13] Hannigan, New World Power, p. 24.
[14] Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage Books, 1993), pp. 9-10.
[15] Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands,” published in McClure’s Magazine, February 1899, online: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/Kipling.asp.
[16] Lens, The Forging of an American Empire, p. 80.
[17] Pérez, Cuba Under the Platt Amendment, p. 254.
[18] Woodrow Wilson, “Education and Democracy,” May 4, 1907, quoted in Niels Aage Thorsen, The Political Thought of Woodrow Wilson, 1875-1910 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), p. 179.
[19] Jerald A. Combs, The History of American Foreign Policy from 1895 (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2012), p. 51.
[20] Pérez, Cuba Under the Platt Amendment, p. xv.
[21] Combs, The History of American Foreign Policy, Volume I, pp. 175-76.
[22] Laurent Dubois, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2012), pp. 196-97.
[23] Alan McPherson, The Invaded: How Latin American s and Their Allies Fought and Ended U.S. Occupations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 172.
[24] Louis Pérez, Cuba Under the Platt Amendment, p. 253.
[25] Howard Jones, Crucible of Power: A History of American Foreign Relations from 1897 (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Books, 2001), pp. 137-38.
[26] Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses (New York: Century, 1902), p. 288.
[27] Theodore Roosevelt, “Fourth Annual Message to Congress,” December 6, 1904, The American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29545.
[28] “The Monroe Doctrine, December 2, 1923,” http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/monroe.asp.
[29] Hannigan, The New World Power, p. 33; and Lens, The Forging of an American Empire, pp. 204-05.
[30] Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, p. 41.
[31] Hannigan, New World Power, p. 44.
[32] McPherson, The Invaded, pp. 5-6; and William Howard Taft, “Fourth Annual Message,” December 3, 1912, The American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29553.
[33] “Taft’s Final Annual Address to Congress,” December 3, 1912, in Roger Matuz, Bill Harris, and Thomas J. Craughwell, eds., Presidents Fact Book Revised and Updated!:  The Achievements, Campaigns, Events, Triumphs, and Legacies of Every President from George Washington to Barack Obama (New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2009), p. 431.
[34] Padraic Colum Kennedy, “La Follette’s Foreign Policy: From Imperialism to Anti-Imperialism.” The Wisconsin Magazine of History 46, no. 4 (1963): 287-93.
[35] Paul J. Dosal, Doing Business with the Dictators: A Political History of United Fruit in Guatemala, 1899-1944 (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Books, 1993), p. 7.
[36] Woodrow Wilson statement, March 12, 1913, in “President Wilson and Latin America.” The American Journal of International Law, vol. 7, no. 2, 1913, pp. 329–333.
[37] Lester D. Langley and Thomas Schoonover, The Banana Men: American Mercenaries & Entrepreneurs in Central America, 1880-1930 (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1995), p. 141.
[38] “Wilson’s War Message to Congress,” April 2, 1917, https://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Wilson’s_War_Message_to_Congress.
[39] McPherson, The Invaded, p. 193.
[40] Richard V. Salisbury, Anti-Imperialism and International Competition in Central America, 1920-1929 (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Books, 1989), pp. 100-101.
[41] Pérez, Cuba Under the Platt Amendment, p. 255.
[42] McPherson, The Invaded, pp. 180, 193.
[43] Scott Nearing and Joseph Freeman, Dollar Diplomacy:  A Study in American Imperialism (New York: B. W. Huebsch and the Viking Press, 1925), p. 195.  Other critical works of this era include Harold Norman Denny, Dollars for Bullets:  The Story of American Rule in Nicaragua (New York: Dial Press, 1929); Rafael de Nogales, The Looting of Nicaragua (Robert McBride & Co., 1928, republished, New York: Arno Press, 1970); Emily Green Balch, Occupied Haiti (New York: The Writers Publishing Company, 1927; reprinted by Negro Universities Press, 1969); and Charles David Kepner, Jr. and Jay Henry Soothill, The Banana Empire: A Case Study of Economic Imperialism (New York: Vanguard Press, 1935).
[44] “Inman, Samuel Guy (1877-1965),” Boston University School of Theology, http://www.bu.edu/missiology/missionary-biography/i-k/inman-samuel-guy-1877-1965.
[45] Samuel Guy Inman, “Imperialistic America,” Atlantic Monthly, July 1924: 107-116.  See also, Inman, Through Santo Domingo and Haiti: A Cruise with the Marines (New York Committee on Cooperation in Latin America, 1919).  See also, Ramon Oliveres, El Imperialismo Yanqui en America: La dominación política y económica del Continente (Buenos Aires, 1952), pp. 51-52.
[46] Sumner Welles, “Is America Imperialistic?” Atlantic Monthly, September 1924: 412-23, quoted in McPherson, The Invaded, pp. 180-81.
[47] Pérez, Cuba Under the Platt Amendment, p. 184.
[48] President Herbert Hoover, “State of the Union Address, Dec. 3, 1929,” The American Presidency Project, www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=22021; and McPherson, The Invaded, pp. 211-12..
[49] George H. Blakeslee, “The Japanese Monroe Doctrine,” Foreign Affairs, July 1933, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/japan/1933-07-01/japanese-monroe-doctrine.
[50] Pérez, Cuba Under the Platt Amendment, p. 33; and Schoultz, Beneath the United States, p.151.
[51] Pérez, Cuba Under the Platt Amendment, p. 95.
[52] Ibid., pp. 97-98.
[53] Ivan Musicant, The Banana Wars: A History of United States Military Intervention in Latin America from the Spanish-American War to the Invasion of Panama (New York, MacMillan Publishing Co., 1990), p. 61.
[54] Pérez, Cuba Under the Platt Amendment, pp. 98-99.
[55] Musicant, The Banana Wars, pp. 65, 67.
[56] Bruce A. Vitor II, “Under the Shadow of the Big Stick: U.S. Intervention in Cuba, 1906-1909,” School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, 2009, pp. 16-17.
[57] Pérez, Cuba Under the Platt Amendment, p. 89.
[58] Ibid., pp. 70-71; and Paterson et. al., American Foreign Relations: A History to 1920, pp. 242-43.
[59] Musicant, The Banana Wars, p. 68.
[60] Pérez, Cuba Under the Platt Amendment, p. 151.
[61] Musicant, The Banana Wars, p. 71.
[62] Ibid., pp. 73.
[63] Pérez, Cuba Under the Platt Amendment, p. 170.
[64] Ibid., pp. 181, 188.
[65] Ibid., pp. 155, 203.
[66] Ibid., pp. 154-55.
[67] Ibid., pp. 208-209.
[68] Ibid., p. 211.
[69] Ibid., pp. 241-43.
[70] Ibid., pp. 258-59.
[71] Ibid., pp. 259, 278.
[72]Calvin Coolidge, “Address Before the Pan American Conference at Havana, Cuba, January 16, 1928,” The American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=443.
[73] Pérez, Cuba Under the Platt Amendment, pp. 322-24; and “Timetable History of Cuba,” www.historyofcuba.com/history/time/timetbl3.htm.
[74] In 1850, the U.S. and Great Britain negotiated the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty in which each promised to not build a canal without the other’s approval. In 1901, the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty rescinded that stipulation, allowing the Roosevelt administration to begin negotiations with Colombia for a canal zone. Note: The Spanish spelling and pronunciation of Panama is Panamá.
[75] Thomas D. Schoonover, The United States in Central America, 1860-1911 (Durham, NC: Duke University press, 1991), p. 98.
[76] Musicant, The Banana Wars, p. 116.
[77] “The Panama Canal: An Army Enterprise,” (Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, DC, 2009), p. 75, https://history.army.mil/html/books/panama/panamacanal/CMH-70-115-1-PanamaCanal.pdf; and Sandra W. Meditz and Dennis M. Hanratty, eds., Panama: A Country Study (Washington: Government Printing Offices for the Library of Congress, 1987), section on “Spillover from Colombia’s Civil Strife,” http://countrystudies.us/panama/7.htm.
[78] LaFeber, The Panama Canal, p. 26; and Musicant, The Banana Wars, pp. 88, 110.
[79] Musicant, The Banana Wars, pp. 110, 118.
[80] Ibid., pp. 116-17, 11.
[81] Ibid., p. 117.
[82]Congressional Record, Proceedings and Debates of the First Session of the Sixty-Seventh Congress, also Special Session of the Senate of the United States of America, Vol. LXI, Part 1, March 4 to March 15; April 11 to May 4, 1921, p. 230 (quoting Bunau-Varilla’s The Great Adventure of Panama, 1914, p. 192); and David McCullough, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1977), pp. 351-52.
[83] Musicant, The Banana Wars, pp. 120-21.
[84] Ibid., p. 121; Gabriel J. Loizillon, The Bunau-Varilla Brothers and the Panama Canal (Lulu.com, 2008), p. 253; and McCullough, The Path Between the Seas, p. 355.
[85] Musicant, The Banana Wars, pp. 121-22, 123, 125; and McCullough, The Path Between the Seas, p. 363.
[86] Musicant, The Banana Wars, pp. 121-22, 124-25; and McCullough, The Path Between the Seas, p. 367.
[87] Musicant, The Banana Wars, pp. 121-22, 124-25; McCullough, The Path Between the Seas, p. 367; and Schoonover, The United States in Central America, pp. 102-103.
[88] Musicant, The Banana Wars, p. 135.
[89] LaFeber, The Panama Canal, pp. 36-37, 38.
[90] Ibid., pp. 42-46.
[91] Ibid., pp. 44-46, 38; and Schoultz, Beneath the United States, p. 152.
[92] LaFeber, The Panama Canal, p. 42.
[93] Thomas Schoonover, Uncle Sam’s War of 1898 and the Origins of Globalization (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2003), p. 104.
[94] Ruben Dario, “To Roosevelt,” 1903, https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/roosevelt.
[95] Theodore Roosevelt, “Third Annual Message,” December 7, 1903, American Presidency Project, www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29544.
[96] Marion Mills Miller, Great Debates in American History: Foreign Relations, Vol. 3, part 2 (New York: Current Literature Publishing Company, 1913), pp. 421-22.
[97]Congressional Record, Vol. 38 (December 7, 1903 – April 28, 1904), December 14, 1903, p. 216.
[98] Theodore Roosevelt, “Special Message,” January 4, 1904, American Presidency Project, www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=69417.  See also, Schoultz, Beneath the United States, p. 170.
[99] Richard W. Van Alstyne, “The Panama Canal: A Classic Case of Imperial Hangover,” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 15, No. 2, 1980, p. 305; and LaFeber, The Panama Canal, pp. 65, 71.
[100] Meditz and Hanratty, eds., Panama: A Country Study, “Building the Canal” section, http://countrystudies.us/panama/10.htm; and Schoultz, Beneath the United States, p. 171.
[101] Schoultz, Beneath the United States, p. 174.
[102] Ibid., p. 174.
[103] LaFeber, The Panama Canal, pp. 78-79, 88, 89.
[104] H. L. Wilson letter to Secretary of State Philander Knox, Aug. 28, 1912, cited in Schoultz, Beneath the United States, p. 239.
[105] Schoultz, Beneath the United States, p. 244.
[106] Woodrow Wilson, “Address to a Joint Session of Congress on Mexican Affairs,” August 27, 1913, American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=65371.
[107] Schoultz, Beneath the United States, pp. 245-46.
[108] George C. Herring, From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 393.
[109] Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution: Volume Two, Counter-revolution and Reconstruction (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), p. 153.
[110] Combs, The History of American Foreign Policy, Volume I, pp. 65-68; Thomas G. Paterson, J. Garry Clifford, and Kenneth J. Hagan, American Foreign Relations: A History to 1920 (New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2000), pp. 248-51; and “Wilsonian Missionary Diplomacy – Intervention in Mexico,” Encyclopedia of the New American Nation, http://www.americanforeignrelations.com/O-W/Wilsonian-Missionary-Diplomacy-Intervention-in-mexico.html.  See also (text and photos of Veracruz attack), “United States Occupation of Veracruz,” http://www.wikiwand.com/en/United_States_occupation_of_Veracruz.
[111] Kennedy, “La Follette’s Foreign Policy.”
[112] Herring, From Colony to Superpower, p. 393.
[113] John Whiteclay Chambers II, The Eagle and the Dove: The American Peace Movement and United States Foreign Policy, 1900-1922 (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1991), pp. l-li.
[114] Clifford W. Trow, “Woodrow Wilson and the Mexican Interventionist Movement of 1919,” The Journal of American History, Vol. 58., No. 1 (June 1971): 46-72.
[115] Threkleld, Pan American Women, pp. 139-40; and Kepner and Soothill, The Banana Empire, p. 344.
[116] Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, pp. 31, 41.
[117] Ibid., p. 41.
[118] Dubois, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, pp. 208-209.
[119] Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, pp. 64-65.
[120] Ibid., p. 67.
[121] Lansing, 1915, quoted in Lloyd Gardner, “A Progressive Foreign Policy, 1900-1921,” in William Appleman Williams, ed., From Colony to Empire: Essays in the History of American Foreign Relations (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1972), p. 236
[122] Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, p. 65.
[123] Ibid., pp. 51-52, 61.
[124] Ibid., p. 61.
[125] Dubois, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, pp. 204-205.
[126] Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, pp. 51-52.
[127] Ibid., p. 63.
[128] Ibid., pp. 63, 62 (Lansing to J. H. Oliver, governor of Virgin Islands, January 30, 1918).
[129] Mary A. Renda, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915-1934 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), p. 141.  The name “Cacos” derives from a fiesty red bird in Haiti, and the red patches of clothing worn by Haitians revolutionaries fighting the French at the turn of the 19th century.
[130] Ibid., pp. 141-42.  For background, see DuBois, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, Chapter 5.
[131] Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, p. 74.
[132] Ibid., p. 68.
[133] Ibid., pp. 74-75.
[134] Ibid., pp. 98-99.
[135] Ibid., pp. 96-97.
[136] Ibid., pp. 171, 169.
[137] Delage letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs, Port-au-Prince, March 7, 1919, quoted in McPherson, The Invaded, p. 66.
[138] Dubois, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, p. 240; and Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, p. 102.
[139] Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, p. 85.
[140] Renda, Taking Haiti, p. 143.
[141] McPherson, The Invaded, p. 59.
[142] Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, p. 103; “Americans Killed in Action,” American War Library,http://www.americanwarlibrary.com/allwars.htm; and Renda, Taking Haiti, p. 151.
[143] Dubois, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, p. 237; and “Full Text of War is a Racket” by Major General Smedley Butler, https://archive.org/stream/WarIsARacket/WarIsARacket_djvu.txt.  See also, Greg Grandin, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2006), p. 21.
[144] McPherson, The Invaded, p. 46, 45.
[145] Bruce J. Calder, “Caudillos and Gavilleros versus the United States Marines: Guerrilla Insurgency during the Dominican Intervention, 1916-1924,” The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vo. 58, Issue 4 (November 1978), p. 662.
[146] Ibid., pp. 117, 137.
[147] Ibid., pp. 123-24 (Eastern District Commander dispatch to Commanding General, Jan. 25, 1922).
[148] Ibid., p. 122 (Marine Corps dispatch, Mar. 17, 1922).
[149] Otto Schoenrich, “The Present American Intervention in Santo Domingo and Haiti,” in George H. Blakeslee, ed., Mexico and the Caribbean (New York, 1920), p. 212, cited in Calder, “Caudillos and Gavilleros,” p. 125.
[150] McPherson, The Invaded, p. 47.
[151] Ibid., p. 165.
[152] Ibid., p. 162.
[153] Ibid., p. 169; and Renda, Taking Haiti, p. 265.
[154] McPherson, The Invaded, pp. 169-70, 167; and Renda, Taking Haiti, pp. 190-91.
[155]Bellegarde quoted in Rayford W. Logan, “James Weldon Johnson and Haiti,” Phylon, Vol. 32, No. 4 (1971), p. 396; and McPherson, The Invaded, pp. 134, 170-71.
[156] “Speeches of Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio, Republican Candidate for President, from His Acceptance of the Nomination to October 1, 1920,” issued by the Republican National Committee, https://archive.org/stream/speechesofwarren00hard/speechesofwarren00hard_djvu.txt.
[157] Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, p. 119.
[158] Alan McPherson, ed., Encyclopedia of Military Interventions in Latin America, Vol. 1 (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2013), p. 659; and McPherson, The Invaded, pp. 176, 196.
[159] McPherson, The Invaded, pp. 186-91.
[160] Ibid., p. 180; and Emily Green Balch, Occupied Haiti (New York: The Writers Publishing Company, 1927; reprinted 1969 by the Negro Universities Press), p. 14.
[161] Schoultz, Beneath the united States, pp. 293-94.
[162] Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, pp. 226-30.
[163] Schoonover, The United States in Central America, p. 85.
[164] Michel Gobat, Confronting the American Dream: Nicaragua Under U.S. Imperial Rule (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005); and Hannigan, The New World Power, p. 45.
[165] “Coolidge Sends More Ships and Marines to Nicaragua; Seeks Democrats’ Support; Urges Senate to Unite,” New York Times, Jan. 7, 1927, p. 1.
[166] Undersecretary of State Robert Olds, Memorandum, January 2, 1927, quoted in David F. Schmitz, Thank God They’re on Our Side:  The United States & Right-Wing Dictatorships, 1921-1965 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of N. Carolina Press, 1999), pp.  50-51.
[167] President Calvin Coolidge, “Intervention in Nicaragua,” Interwar documents, 1927, entered in the Congressional Record, 69, 2nd Session, 1324-1326, http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/interwar.htm.
[168] McPherson, The Invaded, p. 108.
[169] David C. Hendrickson, Union, Nation, or Empire: The American Debate over International Relations, 1789-1941 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas), pp. 346-47.
[170] McPherson, The Invaded, p. 75.
[171] Ibid., p. 82.
[172] Ibid., pp. 80, 195.
[173] Donald Caswell and Rick Campbell, “Touring Nicaragua:  A Soldier’s Story,” Zelo Magazine (Winter Park, FL), Summer 1988, Wisconsin Historical Society archive, Veterans for Peace files, box 1, folder 6; Garry Duffy, “Peace Advocate Recounts Events that Led Him to His Current Beliefs,” Green Valley News, June 1, 1988, 1, 9, ibid.; and Michael Greenwood, “After a Night in Jail, Gandall is at UConn,” The Daily Campus (Univ. of Connecticut), Feb. 28, 1989, 1, ibid.
[174] McPherson, The Invaded, p. 100.
[175] Ibid., pp. 88-89.
[176] The 3,000 figure is cited in Charles F. Howlett, “Neighborly Concern: John Nevin Sayre and the Mission of Peace and Goodwill to Nicaragua, 1927-28,” The Americas, Vol. 45, No. 1 (July 1988), 20. Regarding the 136 U.S. Marines who died in Nicaragua, Neill Macaulay, in The Sandino Affair (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1967), notes that only 47 were killed in the fighting; the remainder died from accidents, airplane crashes, murders, and suicides.
[176] Robert David Johnson, The Peace Progressives and American Foreign Relations (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1995), pp. 217, 337. See also, “Coolidge is Assailed in Both Houses for Policy in Mexico and Nicaragua,” New York Times, Jan. 9, 1927, p. 1; and Anne Regis Winkler-Morey, “The Anti-Imperialist Impulse: Public Opposition to U.S. Policy toward Mexico and Nicaragua (Winter of 1926-27)” (M.A. thesis, Univ. of Minnesota, 1993).
[177]Quoted in Schoultz, Beneath the United States, pp. 268, 267.
[178] Howlett, “Neighborly Concern,” p. 34.
[179] Macaulay, Sandino Affair, 112-13.
[180] Howlett, “Neighborly Concern,” 38-39.
[181] President Herbert Hoover, “State of the Union Address, Dec. 3, 1929,” The American Presidency Project, www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=22021.
[182] The 3,000 figure is cited in Charles F. Howlett, “Neighborly Concern: John Nevin Sayre and the Mission of Peace and Goodwill to Nicaragua, 1927-28,” The Americas, Vol. 45, No. 1 (July 1988), 20. Regarding the 136 U.S. Marines who died in Nicaragua, Neill Macaulay, in The Sandino Affair (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1967), notes that only 47 were killed in the fighting; the remainder died from accidents, airplane crashes, murders, and suicides.
[183] Jeremy Kuzmarov, Mocernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation-Building in the American Century (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012, pp. 48, 51.
[184] LaFeber, The Panama Canal, p. 53.
[185] Herring, From Colony to Superpower, pp. 2, 377.
[186] Ibid., pp. 8-9.
[187] United Nations Charter, Article 2, Section 4; and Charter of the Organization of American States, Article 19 (signed in Bogotá in 1948 and since amended by protocols in 1967, 1985, 1992, and 1993), http://www.oas.org/en/sla/dil/docs/inter_american_treaties_A-41_charter_OAS.pdf.
[188] The quote has been attributed to Greek playwright Aeschylus (5th century BC).  The Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins, edited by Julia Cresswell (Oxford University Press, 2010), notes the first verifiable instance of its use was by British politician Arthur Ponsonby in 1918: “When war is declared, Truth is the first casualty” (p. 460).