366. Memorandum From the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Coerr) to Secretary of State Rusk1


  • Our Policy toward Haiti subsequent to President Duvalier’s “Inauguration” May 22


  • My draft memorandum of May 22 from Mr. Bowles to Mr. Berle2


The reference memorandum (Tab A) describes the decision we took on May 18 to be represented at Duvalier’s “inauguration” on May 22 by our Charge.3 The New York Times today correctly reported our action as a “snub” to the Duvalier regime. Having thus established our position on the dictatorship, we must now attempt to cut our losses by re-establishing adequate working relations with the Duvalier Government. Ambassador Newbegin is at present in Washington on consultation.

We took the difficult decision of May 18, to respond to Duvalier’s action with a moderated sign of disassociation, as a calculated risk. To reduce the consequent damage to our foreign policy objectives in Haiti, we must amend our relations with the Government of Haiti in a similar moderate manner. We should try to re-establish effective working relations with the Duvalier regime which is headed by an irrational man who has almost totalitarian power over the island.

I list below with comment the following lines of action that Mr. Berle has told me today he is contemplating:


He has proposed to you that we send a Departmental officer, Mr. John Hoover (FSO-2) to Haiti on a fact-finding mission.

Comment: Mr. Berle and I have agreed on our need for increased information about the situation within Haiti but we have further agreed [Page 753]that we should at this time make no attempt to get it which would be conspicuous. For us to send a Departmental officer to Haiti now, and before Ambassador Newbegin returns, would, Mr. Berle and I agree, be conspicuous, and Mr. Berle has withdrawn his suggestion.


Mr. Berle was due to leave at 1 p.m. for New York today where he is making a speech this evening. He told me this morning of the possibility that he might be in touch with Haitian exiles, who have quite a colony in New York, with whom Mr. Berle and other interested individuals have maintained an informal contact for some time. He had a supper meeting with a group of Haitian President Duvalier’s opponents in New York on March 4.

Comment: It is possible that, although we have no firm evidence to prove it, news of Mr. Berle’s March meeting with President Duvalier’s enemies in New York has reached Duvalier. If so, this development could account for a series of subsequent actions of the Government of Haiti such as the Haitian delegate’s absenting himself from the Cuban debate at the UN and the Haitian President’s decision to consolidate his hold on the Government by transforming himself from President to dictator two years before the expiration of his presidential term. Regardless of whether Duvalier has, in fact, heard of Mr. Berle’s past meeting or meetings, since he became Chief of the Latin American Task Force, with his exiled opposition, there is no doubt that his reaction would be most adverse should he now hear of such a meeting subsequent to the snub that the U.S. Government administered to him on the occasion of his “inauguration” of May 22.

I pointed out to Mr. Berle that I had assumed a heavy responsibility in recommending the moderated course of action which resulted in our being represented only by our Chargé, that in so doing we assumed the obvious risks of antagonizing the Duvalier regime, with the consequent risks of goading him into excluding the U.S. presence from and facilitating the Castro-Communist penetration into Haiti. I told Mr. Berle I thought that for him or any other easily identified U.S. official to meet under present conditions with the Haitian exiles in New York would be distinctly dangerous. I also told him that should he do so I could not assume any responsibility for subsequent U.S. policy toward Haiti. Mr. Berle said he thought we had to make our stand on dictatorship clear and that he would “take note” of my position.


That you instruct Ambassador Newbegin to return to Haiti quietly on or about May 26.4
That you telephone, or authorize a ranking officer of the Department, or myself, to telephone Mr. Berle today in New York instructing him not to renew contact with the Haitian exiles.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 738.00/5-2361. Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Coerr, cleared by U. Alexis Johnson, and sent via Bowles.
  2. The attached draft explained to Berle that the decision to send the U.S. Charge to Duvalier’s unconstitutional “self-coronation” represented the middle ground between Berle’s contention that non-attendance would demonstrate U.S. support for democracy in Haiti and make a favorable impression within the Western Hemisphere, and Coerr’s view that the Ambassador should attend in light of U.S.-Haitian relations and the reaction his absence would cause inside Haiti. These conflicting viewpoints are outlined in memoranda from Coerr to Bowles, May 16 and Coerr to U. Alexis Johnson, May 17, and from Berle and Hoover to Achilles, May 16; ibid., 611.38/5-1616, 611.38/5-1761, and 611.38/5-1761, respectively.
  3. In this memorandum U. Alexis Johnson noted that, as the invitation was addressed to the U.S. Charge, he and ARA believed that this was a good “out,” and that Ambassador Newbegin should remain in Washington until after Duvalier’s inauguration. (Ibid., 738.11/5-1861)
  4. Rusk approved this recommendation.
  5. According to a note on the source text, Rusk “decided not to intervene here.”