367. Memorandum for the Record1

SUBJECT

  • White House Conference on Haiti
  • A meeting under the Chairmanship of Mr. Richard Goodwin of the White House Staff was held in the conference room of the White House at 9 A.M. on May 26, 1961. The following were the participants:
  • Ambassador Robert Newbegin, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti
  • Mr. Adolph A. Berle, Department of State
  • Mr. Theodore C. Achilles, Department of State
  • Mr. Wymberley Coerr, Department of State
  • Mr. Daniel M. Braddock, Department of State
  • Mr Forest E. Abbuhl, Department of State
  • Mr. John P. Hoover, Department of State
  • [name not declassified], Central Intelligence Agency
  • Mr. Maurice J. Mountain, Department of Defense

Mr. Newbegin outlined the situation in Haiti saying that the U.S. interest in that country was chiefly because of its strategic geographic location and that commercial interests in the area were not too important. He said it was desirable from the U.S. standpoint that affairs in Haiti remain quiet at this time so as not to make our general Caribbean situation more difficult than it now is. He said the Duvalier government is stable by Haitian standards and that it appears to be in complete control, [Page 755]though it remains so by brutal methods. He said that the Duvalier government at the present time is not doing the United States any harm although it is not doing any good either. There is no democratic replacement for this regime in sight. The population of Haiti is 90% illiterate and while some democracy may be possible among the small literate group, it is probable that their concern would be with the assumption of power and the personal gain to be made by taking over the government.

Ambassador Newbegin said that there was some degree of Communist infiltration. The Minister of Information is undoubtedly a Communist. The Minister of Finance was trained in Rumania and during some time spent in France possibly had Communist associations; he is not now a member of the Party but is an opportunist who would rejoin the Communists if he thought they could win. The Minister of Commerce has leanings toward the Communists. There is believed to be no other serious Communist infiltration. Among the masses Communists are few although one estimate of questionable validity reports it at 4,000.

Mr. Goodwin asked if Castro could cause trouble since Cuba is only 30 miles away. There was general agreement that Castro could cause trouble not through a military invasion but through infiltration of small groups designed to establish a base for subversion. Mr. Goodwin asked about the possibility of patrols of the Haitian coast and whether the United States should try to undertake surveillance against infiltration movements from Cuba. The Department of Defense was asked to look into this matter.

The question of discontent among the Haitian people was discussed. Ambassador Newbegin said that land reform was not an issue. Mr. Berle said that the chief objection the Haitians have to the Duvalier government is its brutality and the point of danger will be reached when the people get sufficiently fed up with being “banged over the head” to take action.

[less than 1 line of source text not declassified] of CIA said that intelligence within Haiti was very difficult to obtain since the people were too terrified to talk. A large part of their information comes from Haitian exiles. It is, therefore, uncertain as of now what the Communists have done or are doing within the country. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] pointed to the experience in Venezuela at the time of the fall of Jimenez where a considerable Communist apparatus suddenly appeared though its existence had been discounted prior to the fall of Jimenez. Mr. Goodwin asked that CIA see what could be done to increase our intelligence of Communist or Castro activities within Haiti.

Ambassador Newbegin said that any action taken with regard to Haiti should be very carefully considered since it was clear there would be a reaction forthcoming from Duvalier. He mentioned the fact that Duvalier had been deeply offended by the absence of the U.S. Ambassador [Page 756]at his recent inauguration. This absence was intended to demonstrate U.S. disapproval of the sham through which Duvalier got himself elected to a second six year term. However, none of the Latin American Ambassadors were absent from the inauguration; only the U.S. Ambassador was missing. As a result Mr. Newbegin said he felt the chances were 60 to 40 that Mr. Duvalier would retaliate by declaring Ambassador Newbegin persona non grata. Similar affronts to Duvalier are almost certain to cause reactions which we may not desire. If we become increasingly tough with him, we may drive him toward the Castro-Communist camp. In Mr. Newbegin’s judgment we have not identified anyone or any group competent to form a replacement government. Until we do he suggests that we get along with Duvalier as best we can.

Mr. Goodwin said he had learned that the head of the Marine Mission to Haiti was a very able officer and he would like to have him brought to Washington for a few hours of consultation about U.S. relationships with the Haitian military. He suggested Thursday, June 1, or Friday, June 2. Mr. Newbegin said he would like to hold up on this because it too could lead to difficulty with Duvalier if he knew that this officer was being called back. In the discussion which followed it was agreed that Colonel Heinl, USMC, could go to Guantanamo for two or three days of medical check-up during which period he could be flown to Washington. It was agreed that the Department of Defense would arrange this, consulting if necessary [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] for appropriate cover arrangements.

The meeting ended on the note that contingency plans for the Duvalier government continuing in power would not be implemented but that plans for all other contingencies would be kept ready.2 Another meeting will be held next week.3

Maurice J. Mountain
Deputy Director, Policy Planning Staff
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 64 A 2382, Haiti, 1961, 000.1—. Secret. Drafted by Maurice J. Mountain, Deputy Director of the Policy Planning Staff, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, on May 29. Copies were sent to Bundy, Rowan, and Captain Ryan at the White House.
  2. At the 483rd meeting of the National Security Council, May 5, the Council requested the preparation of contingency papers on Haiti and the Dominican Republic given the emergencies that seemed to be developing there. (Memorandum from Coerr to Rusk, June 26; Department of State, Central Files, 738.00/6-2661) The Haitian contingency plan, drafted by Hoover and Abbuhl on May 26 and dated May 29, under cover of a memorandum to McGeorge Bundy, is attached but not printed. The contingencies contemplated included Duvalier remaining in power, an impasse in U.S.-Haitian relations, Duvalier’s replacement by death, incapacity, or overthrow, and finally subversion or invasion from without. The Department of State provided recommendations for each contingency. The Department of State copy is ibid., Latin America Task Force Files: Lot 61 D 298, Berle, Task Force Material, Basic Documents.
  3. No record of this meeting has been found. Mountain wrote this last sentence by hand.