389. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Haiti


  • The President
  • Mr. Ralph Dungan, White House
  • Ambassador Raymond Thurston
  • Mr. Edwin M. Martin, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Inter-American Affairs

The President asked Ambassador Thurston what we do next in Haiti. Ambassador Thurston replied that he felt we still had a strong interest in changing the regime and that, if we did not do so within two to three years, the dangers of communist activity were substantial. He did not think the communists wanted to move in now but would prefer to wait in order to establish relations with a more popular and secure regime than that of Duvalier.

[Page 801]

In response to further questioning Ambassador Thurston said that the problem of making a change was becoming increasingly difficult as most of the good leaders were leaving Haiti. It would be desirable to keep in close touch with them, maintain their interest and promote cooperation among them. At the same time we should keep the economic pressure on the Duvalier regime. He mentioned that they were under considerable pressure and were seeking aid from France, Germany and Italy, though he thought it unlikely that any of them would be willing to provide much help. He mentioned the French were thinking of moving slowly on a few technicians. In response to the President’s query concerning possible Soviet economic assistance, Ambassador Thurston said that he as well as the experts concerned in the State Department doubted that Soviet bloc was greatly interested in Haiti at this time.

Assistant Secretary Martin commented that Bosch was collecting a good many of the exiled military in the Dominican Republic, and we and the Dominicans were maintaining them. The President said that he thought we should give Bosch a complete green light on building up a Haitian force and give the force any help it needs in money or equipment. He was concerned that we may have held Bosch’s hand when he was planning to invade earlier. Mr. Martin pointed out that the Dominican military stopped Bosch first, that they were not capable of acting.

Ambassador Thurston pointed out that it was better for the Haitians with United States support to act than that the Dominicans be publicly involved in view of the long hatred between the Haitians and the Dominicans. The President agreed that we should work very closely with Bosch and keep in close touch with him on this, not only to help, but to keep control over timing. Mr. Dungan raised the problem of creating the momentum by supporting a Haitian exile build-up which might be difficult to control. While this danger was recognized, it was agreed that we should move ahead by assuring control of any decision to initiate action. He did not want an abortive action. He asked how many people were required to upset the regime. Ambassador Thurston thought 500 well-trained Haitians would do it with not more than a battalion of United States forces off shore as back up just in case.

The President asked whether it might not have been better for us to have withdrawn our Ambassador rather than for him to have been asked to leave.2 The Ambassador thought this was definitely not the case, that a withdrawal would have been interpreted everywhere, but particularly among our Haitian friends, as a move to make our peace with the Duvalier regime, and they would have given up the battle. He thought things had worked out the very best way they could from the standpoint of United States interests.

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The President suggested that we should send an Ambassador back pretty quickly. Ambassador Thurston thought it ought not be done too quickly, as this would have a bad effect on the friendly Haitians. He recalled that when Stalin declared Ambassador Kennan persona non grata, we did not send a new Ambassador to Moscow for 6 to 7 months. He pointed out that the Charge was a sound, experienced officer, who could carry on the months ahead without embarrassing United States interests.

The President suggested that Ambassador Thurston might use his time, until a new post abroad became available, to best advantage by serving as a contact point with Haitian exiles and working with them on programs for changing the regime. Ambassador Thurston said he would hope he could have another mission, but meanwhile would be glad to be helpful. Mr. Martin pointed out that the Ambassador had not had leave for four years and deserved some first. The President agreed, but said he then hoped the Ambassador could help with maintaining contact with Haitians outside of Haiti.

Mr. Dungan suggested the possibility of getting some Haitians together in a Haitian-American institute connected with a university in order to finance them and enable them to work out a common program under satisfactory conditions. It was agreed that something like this might be worth exploring.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Haiti, 6/1/62-7/14/63. Top Secret. Drafted by Martin on June 21 and approved by the White House on July 12. The time of the meeting was taken from the President’s Appointment Book. (Ibid.)
  2. Thurston left Port-au-Prince on May 26; on June 14 the Government of Haiti requested his recall and he did not return to post.