365. Memorandum Prepared in the Department of State1


Prior to Ambassador Newbegin’s departure for Haiti in mid-October 1960, United States-Haitian relations had reached a low point due primarily to the character and uncooperative attitude of the Duvalier government. Following a thorough review of the situation, it was determined that it would be in our interest to avoid creating at this time a political vacuum into which Castro or Trujillo might be tempted to move. Accordingly, in an effort to break the impasse in United States-Haitian relations and contribute to the stability of the Duvalier government, Ambassador Newbegin was authorized to offer an integrated economic aid package intended to demonstrate our intention of carrying on an effective assistance program and even increasing our assistance, subject to the restoration of a satisfactory relationship with the Haitian Government.

In the few months since the Ambassador’s arrival, progress has been made in restoring at least ostensibly good relations. However, during this same period President Duvalier’s heavy-handed suppression of a student strike, expulsion of a number of Roman Catholic church officials, and arrest and maltreatment of anyone thought to be opposed to [Page 751]his regime have increased his unpopularity and resulted in an increasing tendency on the part of the general public to blame the Embassy and the United States Government for “support” of a “despised tyrant.”

The Ambassador emphasizes that we are faced with two “sorry alternatives.” There is no one on the scene now who gives any promise of being able or willing to establish a decent constructive government.2 Should Duvalier fall, there is a decided danger of chaos and a struggle for power among individuals in whom we would have little ground for confidence. Such a situation might well tempt Castro or Trujillo to intervene in such a way as to jeopardize our national interests, possibly even forcing military intervention. Therefore, unless we are willing to take radical steps (including military intervention, if necessary, after Duvalier’s removal), we have little choice but to follow our present course of maintaining friendly and helpful relations with the Duvalier government. This is not an easy task nor one which the Ambassador particularly relishes under present circumstances, but he is perfectly willing to undertake it and believes it to be the less dangerous of two unhappy alternatives.3

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Haiti, 1/61-6/62. Secret. The Department of State’s copy of this memorandum indicates that it was drafted by Abbuhl and was based on despatch 304 from Port-au-Prince, January 30. (Department of State, Central Files, 611.38/1-3061) A copy of the despatch was attached to a March 23 covering memorandum from Battle to Dungan. (Ibid., 611.38/3-2361)
  2. In a February 14 memorandum to Rusk, Berle informed him that it was the conclusion of the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency that “the present Haitian Government may linger along for awhile, but it might dissolve into anarchy almost any time.” Berle proposed to make contact with the principal members of the Haitian opposition on a cautious basis, making no commitments. (Ibid., Latin America Task Force Files: Lot 61 D 298, Haiti)
  3. In despatch 420 from Port-au-Prince, April 11, Ambassador Newbegin objected to Berle’s meeting with Haitian exiles in early March on the grounds that the exiles would assume that the meetings constituted support for Duvalier’s overthrow. Newbegin reiterated that the Haitian opposition to Duvalier was so disorganized, disunited, and ineffective that any coup attempt would fail or lead to anarchy. (Ibid., Central Files, 738.00/4-1161) In telegram 274 to Port-au-Prince, April 24, Berle assured Newbegin that his discussions were meant only to establish good relations and guide exile leaders who might eventually play a role in a democratic Haiti. (Ibid.) No other record of Berle’s meeting with the exiles has been found.