372. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Brubeck) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1


  • The Situation in Haiti

As background information for the meeting with the President on Haiti, which is scheduled for Thursday, August 9,2 the enclosed memorandum on the current situation in that country has been prepared by the Department and concurred in by the Central Intelligence Agency.3

E.S. Little4
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In a country that has had many autocratic, corrupt and incompetent governments, the Duvalier regime ranks among the worst. It maintains itself in power primarily by terrorism, by graft and venality, by the constant removal and rotation of officials who attain any independent stature, and by the President’s highly developed ability to ferret out intrigue and play off one group against another. It has consistently demonstrated duplicity in its lip service to constitutional practices, democratic principles and human rights. It frequently indulges in excesses, including harassment, capricious arrest, brutal treatment or summary expulsion of persons thought to oppose it, whether they be church offcials, foreigners or Haitian citizens. It has shown no capacity for or interest in improving the lot of the Haitian people.

Since the regime assumed power five years ago, the political situation has deteriorated steadily and the chronically stagnant economy has been further depressed. A partisan civil militia has been developed from among the poorest, and in some cases, worst elements of the population. This militia, which is highly susceptible to political manipulation, may eventually become powerful enough to neutralize the US-trained and oriented regular armed forces, a circumstance which would open the way to a takeover by unscrupulous activists and extremists, including Communist or pro-Communist elements. A small group of ultra-nationalistic and racist advisers, all opportunistic and some receptive to strong Marxist if not Communist influence and some with Communist backgrounds, has gradually consolidated its position within the regime and is exercising a dangerously increasing influence. This group is believed to be trying to expand its authority within the Government and militia, in the hope of taking over when Duvalier goes.

While it is estimated that the strength of the Communist Party has not yet reached dangerous proportions, there can be no doubt but that the continuance in power of Duvalier’s brutal, corrupt regime, which despite its propaganda is indifferent to the social and economic welfare of the people and either unaware of or indifferent to the possibility of ultimate Communist rule, is highly conducive to the growth of Communist strength and potential.

On the basis of our experience to date in dealing with the regime, we are convinced that it is hopeless, so long as Duvalier remains in power, to make any further attempt to establish a practical basis of cooperation with it or to carry out successfully the type of aid programs essential to the development of the country and of more enlightened and responsible government.

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Accordingly, our present policy is: (a) to look toward the replacement of Duvalier by a more efficient, enlightened and friendly government, but (b) to avoid a premature showdown which might result in failure, elimination or neutralization of the political opposition or the assumption of power by elements no less, or perhaps more, inimical to United States interests than he. Although Duvalier is attempting through unconstitutional means to perpetuate himself in office at least until May 15, 1967, the term for which he was constitutionally elected expires May 15, 1963. The latter date offers special opportunities for pressure and maneuver on our part and is considered a target date for Duvalier’s departure.

Since, in our opinion, Duvalier cannot remain in power for any extended period without United States economic and military assistance, these two levers are being used to bring carefully measured pressure to bear on the regime and to influence internal political developments in furtherance of objectives (a) and (b) above.

The decision has been made to phase out quietly two important United States financed regional development projects, which have not succeeded primarily because of the lack of Haitian cooperation, and to reduce over the next several months the range and cost of all other AID activities to about half their present level. It has also been decided to proceed with one rather than both of two pending loans in order to avoid either strengthening Duvalier unduly or provoking him to intemperate action. We are going ahead with a loan to construct a jet-capable airport which will meet a United States military requirement, but not a highway construction loan, approval of which would make it difficult, if not impossible, for us to continue opposing two pending IBRD loans.

On the military side, our Missions are exercising a useful influence on the United States-oriented regular armed forces, but this influence is being offset by Duvalier’s deliberate and successful efforts to undermine the armed forces in favor of the potentially dangerous civil militia. At the moment Duvalier appears still to need our Missions and military assistance program as proof of United States support of his regime, but the continued buildup of the militia as the principal instrument for the support of his regime progressively reduces the possibility of using our military assistance to arrest or preferably reverse this unfavorable trend. Consequently, MAP shipments have been temporarily suspended while we still have this leverage, in an effort to elicit improved cooperation from the regime in implementing the Missions’ recommendations which are designed to prevent the power balance from changing in favor of the militia.

There are definite indications that awareness on the part of Haitian officials and the public that Duvalier apparently no longer enjoys unqualified United States support has weakened the regime and has helped to stimulate dissident civilian elements, military officers and [Page 769]even former Duvalierists to plot against Duvalier more actively than heretofore. An increasing volume of reports on plots against Duvalier has been received, but the plotting appears to be based largely on wishful thinking and to be vague and uncoordinated. Approaches have been made to us recently by one dissident civilian element for assistance and by a military group (with perhaps some civilian associates) for assurances that the Untied States would not interpose itself against a military coup directed against Duvalier. A spokesman for a pro-American group of former and current Haitian military and civilian officials told our Ambassador as recently as August 1 that they were plotting to overthrow Duvalier not later than October of this year.5

While the latter group, which apparently includes some reputable individuals such as the Army Chief of Staff, represents possibly a cohesive and potentially effective challenge to Duvalier, the various currents of opposition activity generally have not yet made any efficacious attempt to organize or agree on future programs or a candidate, and are floundering in little groups out of fear, self-interest and uncertainty. On the basis of present evidence, it appears that the mistrust, treachery and opportunism which are chronic in Haiti make the prospects of Duvalier’s overthrow in the near future problematical at best. A cool public posture and occasional mild acts of hostility toward Duvalier by the United States will maintain and probably increase current ferment, but effective opposition action will, in our opinion, probably require at a minimum firm assurances of United States support. Opposition elements at all levels invariably stress that only the United States can come to their relief.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Haiti, 7/62-8/62. Top Secret. The Department of State copy indicates that the memorandum was drafted by Abbuhl and approved by Martin. (Department of State, Central Files, 738.00/8-862)
  2. The meeting with the President took place at the White House from 10 to 10:55 a.m. McGeorge Bundy, Edwin Martin, Crimmins, Goodwin, Graham Martin, J.C. King, Richard Helms, and Frank Sloan attended. (Kennedy Library, President’s Appointment Book)
  3. No memorandum of conversation of this August 9 meeting has been found, but it was discussed at the White House Daily Staff meeting of August 10. According to Colonel J.J. Ewell’s notes of the staff meeting: “State and the White House are, of course, concerned about the situation in Haiti. Someone in State, I think Martin, is for suspending military assistance but Goodwin is against it. He seems to think we had better play this by ear until the situation develops one way or another. He evidently thinks that Duvalier can probably ride this one out and if we have chopped at him, he would then give the U.S. a very hard time. A small Navy/Marine task force is on the alert in the general area.” National Defense University, Taylor Papers, White House Daily Staff meetings, May-Sept, 1962) See also Document 373.
  4. Little signed for Brubeck above Brubeck’s typed signature.
  5. As reported in telegram 56 from Port-au-Prince, August 2, Thurston estimated that “this movement of disaffected former Duvalierists represents most cohesive and effective challenge to Duvalier that has yet come to our attention.” (Department of State, Central Files, 738.00/8-262)