373. Letter From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Martin) to the Ambassador to Haiti (Thruston)1

Dear Ray: I have just read your telegram No. 772 and thought perhaps it would be useful to give you some background on our thinking here and on the instructions of the last day or so which seem to have disturbed you. They were based on an hour’s discussion with the President Thursday morning, participated in by Defense, CIA and AID, as well as ourselves.3 No one challenges the basic policy decision that we cannot hope to achieve our objectives in Haiti so long as Duvalier is in power and that we must seek means to secure a change.

However, there is an equally important element in our policy which I think has been made clear throughout that, particularly under present cold war circumstances, it would be against United States interests to have an attempt to unseat Duvalier result in a period of chaos and confusion and perhaps violence, and a government even less effective and able to deal with the Haitian problems, or at worst, a government with Castro-Communist leanings.

The Haitian situation has seemed to us sufficiently confused and the Haitian people sufficiently immature politically, and the country sufficiently weak economically that these consequences could readily result from premature and poorly planned activity.

There was also, of course, a desideratum that any movement against Duvalier have a reasonable prospect of success in order to preserve the relatively few assets Haiti has in terms of effective and well-intentioned leaders.

It has also been clear that the United States definitely wanted any action to be taken to be indigenous and not open us to the charge of intervention. In this connection there are fundamental differences between the Haitian situation and the Dominican situation which must be kept in mind. Action in the case of the Dominican Republic was within the framework of OAS attitudes and positions which in turn stemmed [Page 771]largely from Dominican intervention in affairs of other countries, particularly Venezuela. The Haitian Government has taken no such steps and, in fact, there is little interest in Haiti among other Latin American countries with the exception of the Dominican Republic.

In this policy framework we have, as you know, for several months been doing two things. First, both for its effect in Haiti and because it was a correct posture for the United States to take in its own terms and for its position in the Hemisphere, we tried to make clear that we were not friendly to, or supporting in any way, Duvalier and, in particular, his attempts to perpetuate himself in power by the phony election of 1961.4

Second, we were stepping up our intelligence activities and contacts in order to appraise the prospects for the organization by the Haitians of a successful coup and the maintenance of a satisfactory government, military or civilian or mixed.

I have had some feeling that the step up of unrest in Haiti was due as much to the increased awareness of the military that time was against them in their competition with the militia as to any actions we have taken to show disapproval of Duvalier.

As I assume you are aware from [less than 1 line of source text not declassified], the Agency reached last week a tentative conclusion, based on such information as was available to them, that there were a number of small plotting groups not in touch with each other and in fact on the whole distrustful of each other and that insofar as they had plans of action, these were on the whole fairly childish in concept. This analysis seems to me consistent with the reports you have been sending in.

It is within the framework of this policy approach and on the basis of this appraisal of the current situation that the President reached the decisions that he did on Thursday. From a timing or tactical standpoint it is perhaps a somewhat more cautions approach than we had had in mind but Crimmins and I agree that it is no change in direction. It was made clear, and, I think, accepted that the continuation of Duvalier in office beyond May 1963 would be a major event in Haitian politics and this date a significant one for Haitian opposition groups.

As you may have heard, or certainly will hear shortly, it was agreed to step up [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] activity by adding [Page 772]one or two people to your post in order to keep in touch more closely with various groups and individuals and know more about their plans, to serve as a better basis for United States policy and action decisions here. There have been no decisions which preclude us from playing an active covert role. There have been no decisions which would prevent us from giving active overt assistance if called upon to do so by a provisional government which was to our liking or, if the situation would develop in a way which would permit OAS sponsorship of action. If this type of situation should develop, we would prefer that United States military activity be associated with military activity of other Latin American countries.

Within the framework of this policy, we shall continue to stress that aid actions have been taken on technical grounds. This reflects our concern about premature action either by Duvalier against us or the opposition or by the opposition against Duvalier. Steps by either side at this time would on the basis of our present information seriously interfere with achieving our fundamental objectives as described above.

The first thing John and I discussed after returning from the White House was the technical problem we, and particularly you, would have in carrying out this policy in the face of the current unrest about which we knew relatively little at the time of the meeting with the President. It is exceedingly difficult for people to keep their courage up to the breaking point over a long period of time, to be uncertain about the future prospects and about the nature or even existence of outside support. On the other hand, and far outweighing these real considerations, is the great damage that could be done to the prospects of success by premature, ill-planned action with a loss of leadership and of prestige that this would involve. Moreover, we must consider as overriding, as I am sure from your reports you have been doing in your contacts, the giving of any basis to any of the opposition groups for thinking that the United States was taking an active role and that they had a claim on us which could be cashed at a time of their choosing. The United States is, and must continue to be, firmly committed to a policy of nonintervention in internal affairs of other countries, even in Latin America, in situations where the security and future of the hemisphere as a whole is not directly involved and where we cannot count on the public support and endorsement of the great majority of other countries in the hemisphere.

While it would be inappropriate to move at this particular time, I am more convinced than ever of the necessity to the carrying out of difficult policy line of an early change in the chief of your military mission. I spoke to Lansing Collins about this on Thursday.

Perhaps I should have written this letter or something like it considerably earlier, but I did not realize that there might be some difference in our concept of the timing factors and the application of what I think has [Page 773]been an agreed basic policy. Nor was I aware until this week exactly how the President looked upon the problem, although I did know from previous conversations of his desire for caution and careful planning.


Edwin M. Martin5

P.S. In reviewing this letter there are two points I may not have made clear. In our understanding we had never, in considering implementation of the basic objective, gone beyond authority to collect intelligence. We still have not done so. Any action by us, covert or overt, can thus only take place as a result of a new decision at the highest level.

I want to stress also that we recognize that we may be faced with very difficult decisions if the evidences of our unfavorable attitude toward the Duvalier Government are taken by Haitians as guarantees of support and they take overt action accordingly. This may be a fairly immediate problem. I cannot, of course, predict what our decisions would be if violence should break out but you should certainly not count on measures beyond those necessary to protect the lives and property of Americans.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.38/8-1162. Top Secret; Eyes Only; No Distribution.
  2. In telegram 77 from Port-au-Prince, August 10, Thurston reported that he had informed key personnel of his instructions as outlined in telegram 54 to Port-au-Prince, August 9. The Department’s instructions were that “all official U.S. personnel in contact with opposition elements should not go beyond that of interested listeners. No encouragement should be given plotting elements.” If pressed for U.S. assistance by plotters, Thurston and his relevant staff should only say that the United States would follow its stated policy of nonintervention. In telegram 77 Thurston suggested that these instructions were “too restrictive” and that risks had to be taken to obtain a more enlightened and cooperative government in Haiti. (Ibid., 738.00/8-1062 and 738.00/8-962, respectively)
  3. See footnote 1, Document 372.
  4. Duvalier used the elections of April 30, 1961, for the new unicameral legislature that he created to claim reelection to the presidency. At the top of each ballot for deputy to the legislature was written, “Francois Duvalier, President de la Republic.” Duvalier claimed that the over 1.3 million ballots for the legislature (most non-Duvalier estimates of those Haitians voting were about 100,000) also constituted his election to the presidency. As the Embassy stated, efforts to give the election an “appearance of constitutionality should stretch the imagination of even the most credulous of the uneducated among the Haitians.” (Despatch 469 from Port-au-Prince, May 9; Department of State, Central Files, 611.38/5-961)
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature and typed initials.