378. Telegram From the Embassy in Haiti to the Department of State1

521. Through situation reports and cables on specific incidents we have attempted to convey accurate picture abnormal situation prevailing [Page 782]here in recent days.2 I believe it now essential for US Govt consider urgently what it can do together with other interested govts to get this powder keg under control and turn the crisis to advantage in terms our objectives and interests in Haiti and Latin American generally.

It is difficult to exaggerate the fear, both justified and unreasoning, which now dominates Port-au-Prince. It permeates all elements of the population, Haitians and foreigners, officials and non-officials, rich and poor. Many ordinary Haitians are drifting back to their villages in the hinterland. No curfew has been declared but there is little nocturnal activity because of the fear of being inadvertently shot by army and militia patrols posted around city. Except for violent action by Barbot group (which now believed be ones who killed guardians Duvalier children and to whom is also attributed last night’s reportedly successful raid on weapons depot at Martissant area) Duvalier’s security forces appear to have everything under control. Yet apprehension persists as crowds of simple people are harangued in inflammatory creole speeches by Duvalier and his henchmen. Duvalier himself in “apres moi le deluge” mood as he continues to crack down on all elements suspected of opposing him.

Both because of personal indignities suffered at hands police authorities and accounts of atrocities reaching them from increasing number asylees in Latin American Embassies foreign diplomats are deeply troubled about situation. To what extent this has as yet had impact on their governments cannot be determined from here, but I would judge that our own general position re Duvalier regime now more widely supported than before recent events.

Arrival OAS commission welcomed here by all except GOH itself which wants it out of town as soon as possible. Our only contact with commission has been through Dean Diplomatic Corps, those Latin American Embassies whose countries are on commission and American journalists. I understand that there are differences in the commission about how broadly they should interpret terms of reference (Emb would appreciate official info from Department on this subject) and how long they should stay in Haiti. Dept should, I believe, use its full influence to keep OAS in this country as long as possible. Appreciate that problem of [Page 783]intervention in internal affairs presents difficulties, but GODR charges do in themselves afford bridge for OAS to delve into the real factors underlying the fundamentally unsatisfactory situation here and to make recommendations equal to challenge. This is also virtually unanimous view my diplomatic colleagues.

Unless Duvalier removed soon from scene (he shows no signs of voluntary departure) I find it difficult to envisage any solution other than intervention. Under certain circumstances (shooting of US Embassy officials or storming any local embassy to kill asylees) I would recommend unilateral use of US forces. Far preferable however would be collective OAS intervention. Economic sanctions as in Dominican case hardly seem appropriate in country like Haiti so close subsistence level already and might only have adverse propaganda impact. What is required is collective “police” action which would result in effective physical control local situation including if necessary pacification opposing groups. Recognizing that old-fashioned marine type occupation no longer feasible would it not be possible to work on emergency basis towards Venezuelan and Dominican participation, perhaps only symbolic, along with our own forces in OAS sanctioned collective police effort here? I submit that dangers inherent in continued laissez faire policy re Haiti are sufficiently grave to warrant this kind of extraordinary action by our inter-American system.3

Thurston
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL HAI. Top Secret; Operational Immediate. Repeated to Caracas and Santo Domingo. No time of transmission appears on the source text. Relayed to the White House.
  2. After the April 26 abortive kidnapping attempt on his family by Haitian dissidents, Duvalier’s agents began to arrest oppositionists, many of whom fled to the sanctuary of foreign embassies. The government cordoned off the Dominican and other Latin American Embassies in Port-au-Prince to prevent potential political refugees from obtaining asylum. On April 26 Haitian police forcibly entered the Dominican Embassy. The Dominican Republic called for a special meeting of the Council of the OAS, which in turn created an investigative committee that visited both countries. As a result of the visit and in anticipation of the report, Haiti removed its forces from the Dominican Embassy and allowed some Haitian asylees safe conduct to the Dominican Republic. Documentation on this conflict is primarily ibid., POL DOM REP-HAI. See also John Bartlow Martin, Overtaken by Events, pp. 416-447.
  3. In telegram 323 to Port-au-Prince, May 2, the Department reminded Thurston that there was little enthusiasm in Latin America for intervention in Haiti, and that the United States had yet to convince the OAS that a “police action” was needed. Nonetheless, the Department assured Thurston that its policy was “far from one of laissez faire.” (Department of State, Central Files, POL HAI)