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Haiti Table of Contents



The origins of Haiti's military lie in the country's revolution (see The Haitian Revolution , ch. 6). A decade of warfare produced a military cadre from which Haiti's early leaders emerged. Defeat of the French demonstrated Haiti's considerable strategic stamina and tactical capabilities, but Haiti's victory did not translate into a successful national government or a strong economy. Lacking a strong constitution, Haiti was usually ruled by force. The armed forces, who had been united against the French, fragmented into warring regional factions. The military very soon took control of almost every aspect of Haitian life. Officers assumed responsibility for the administration of justice and for municipal management. According to a Haitian diplomat, the country was in its earlier days "an immense military camp." Without viable civilian institutions, Haiti was vulnerable to military personalities, who permanently shaped the nation's authoritarian, personalist, and coercive style of governance.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the army either failed to protect the central government or directly caused the government's collapse. Rural insurgent movements led by piquets and cacos limited the central government's authority in outlying areas. These groups carried on war into the twentieth century; they were finally put down by the United States Marines in 1919.

Prolonged instability weakened the military. By the end of the nineteenth century, Haiti's military had become little more than an undisciplined, ill-fed, and poorly paid militia that shifted its allegiances as battles were won or lost and as new leaders came to power. Between 1806 and 1879, an estimated sixtynine revolts against existing governments took place; another twenty uprisings, or attempted insurrections, broke out between 1908 and 1915. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Haiti's political problems attracted increasing foreign involvement. France, Germany, and the United States were the major actors; the latter occupied the country in 1915 (see The United States Occupation, 1915-34 , ch. 6). During the occupation, the United States made an unsuccessful attempt to modernize Haiti's armed forces.

The United States Marines disbanded Haiti's army, which consisted of an estimated 9,000 men, including 308 generals. In February 1916, the Haitian Constabulary (Gendarmerie d'Ha´ti) was formed. United States Marine and United States Navy officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) commanded the group. The Gendarmerie attempted to secure public safety, initially by subduing the cacos; to promote development, particularly road construction; and to modernize the military through the introduction of a training structure, a health service, and other improvements.

The United States administration of Haiti (1915-34) brought order and resulted in some economic and social development. At the same time, the United States overhauled Haiti's disintegrated military infrastructure. The Gendarmerie became the Garde d'Ha´ti in 1928; the Garde formed the core of Haiti's armed forces after the United States administration ended. The United States sought to establish a modern, apolitical military force in Haiti. On the surface, it succeeded; the organization, the training, and the equipment of the Garde all represented improvements over the military conditions existing before the occupation. What the United States did not (and probably could not) reform was the basic authoritarian inclination of Haitian society, an inclination antithetical to the goal of military depoliticization.

Data as of December 1989