The United States occupation of Haiti, enforced by the U.S. Marines, officially began on July 28, 1915 after six months of military engagement ostensibly to protect their citizens from civil unrest at the time, and lasted until 1934. The occupation marked the end of Haiti’s long period of independence dating from the 1804 Haitian revolution against the French colonizers. Camille Chalmers, a renowned social movement leader, intellectual and advocate for community-led development from Grassroots International partner the Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development, recently explained to Grassroots International what the 100th anniversary of the occupation means for Haitians. The following is an excerpt from that conversation. What does 100th Anniversary of the 1915 US Invasion and Occupation of Haiti mean for Haitians?It’s an extremely important date for Haitians. It’s a moment of looking back at all that has happened, a moment to reflect on the impact on Haiti since the occupation. It is especially relevant and important today to look at and understand the links between the 1915 occupation and the current occupation by MINUSTAH [the UN military force currently occupying Haiti] which is now reaching its 11th year. The US occupation has been an integral reason for the violence, massacres and destruction that Haiti has experienced over the last 100 years. It is behind the decisions to thwart the full development of Haitians and Haiti. One could say that since 1915, Haiti has entered into a period of neo-colonialization by the Americans which has in effect remained in place ever since. So it is a time for collective reflection across the country, a reflection which has the potential to inspire an awakening of patriotism, of how we see ourselves as a nation, so that we can work towards becoming autonomous and sovereign again. Is the US occupation of 1915 continuing today?Absolutely! We have experienced the MINUSTAH occupation, the introduction of the cholera epidemic by the UN soldiers, rights violations at all levels – human, economic, civil, cultural. And we are seeing a situation of foreign domination where all key national decisions are being made completely from outside the country. So we’re still stuck in a pattern of domination that began and has not stopped since 1915. This has had extremely negative consequences for the country. What are some of the consequences you mention?One huge consequence of the occupation is the diverting of the economy and agriculture towards food production for export. This has devastated the land and the soil. Haiti is severely deforested now. In one case of ‘economic development,’ they cut down 300,000 trees to make way for a rubber plantation to export rubber. This is only one of many examples. Another consequence is migration. Before the occupation, there wasn’t any Haitian migration to other countries. It was a relatively stable population. But migration was organized and encouraged by Americans after the occupation. They provided the boats and organized the boat rides for Haitians to Cuba. From 1915 to 1931, 400,000 Haitians emigrated to go work in Cuba on sugar cane plantations. That’s 400,000 out of a population of 2.6 million Haitians! This migration led to a food and economic crisis, causing tremendous suffering on the population, and forcing many people to migrate to the Dominican Republic. This was culminated in the massacre of 1937 [the indiscriminate butchery by the Dominican army of an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Haitians migrant workers on the Dominican side of the Massacre River]. This has strong parallels with the current crisis in the Dominican Republic where the government has stripped citizenship from all the Haitian descendants living in the Dominican Republic [forcing tens of thousands to flee the Dominican Republic even if they have lived there for generations or decades]. Biography for Camille ChalmersCamille Chalmers is the Executive Director of the Haitian Advocacy Platform for an Alternative Development (PAPDA), a coalition of farmer movement organizations organizing for social justice and alternative, more equitable policies for all Haitians. He is also a professor at the State University of Haiti. A long-time organizer for social justice, Mr. Chalmers was imprisoned and tortured for his role in organizing to end the Duvalier military dictatorship in Haiti. PAPDA is supported by Grassroots International.