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


  • The Abortive Invasion of Haiti and Its Significance for United States Policy

A brief resume of the events which took place last week in Haiti2 and an evaluation of their effect on the Haitian problem follow:

[Page 803]

Invasion Facts

Available information about the abortive invasion of Haiti is conflicting and still incomplete. It would appear, however, that the invading force consisted of some 75 or more (perhaps as many as 135) Haitians, few of whom had any previous military experience or training. The invaders were led by former Haitian Army officers, principally, General Leon Cantave, Colonel Rene Leon, Colonel Pierre Paret, and Captain Emile Wooley. Their jumping off point was Dajabon, a Dominican border town near the north coast. They entered Haiti the morning of August 5, either afoot or by boat, in the vicinity of the village of Derac. After disarming personnel at the small Army post there and reportedly shooting several members of the local Ton Ton Macoute group, they moved on to Fort Liberte where the only skirmish between the invaders and Haitian Armed Forces occurred. The invaders were unable to overcome the 25-man Army garrison there; leadership and control failed; and the bulk of the invading force recrossed the border into the Dominican Republic. Some of the invaders apparently remained in Haiti and are hiding out in the hills.

The invasion plan is believed to have called for the invaders to proceed to Cap Haitien, picking up support and recruits en route. It assumed that (1) the appearance on the scene of an invading force would spark a general uprising and (2) resistance from such Government forces as might remain loyal would be nominal and easily overcome. The first assumption was never really put to the test and the second proved incorrect, at least with respect to the Fort Liberte garrison.

The extent of Dominican involvement cannot be determined with certainty on the basis of information presently available, but the fact that the invading force was small, relatively untrained and not well armed, indicates that such involvement was probably nominal and passive in nature. The invaders are believed to have enjoyed some support within Dominican Army circles, particularly the Army Commander at Dajabon.

Invasion Effects

Although unsuccessful, the invasion has given rise to a surprising degree of unity among competing Haitian exile groups who rallied together in support of General Cantave’s invasion group. The various groups now appear determined to organize and carry out further incursions of this kind.
Unfortunately, the greatly exaggerated newspaper accounts of the invasion, which the Haitian Government has been careful not to discount, have served to make President Duvalier appear in complete control of the situation and more firmly entrenched in power.
The Haitian Government obviously hopes to use the invasion to bring pressure through the Organization of American States on President [Page 804]Bosch to force him to deny Haitian exiles the use of Dominican territory as a base from which to invade Haiti.

Significance for United States Policy

Basic United States policy considerations with respect to Haiti are not believed to have been affected significantly one way or the other by the invasion.
The prospects of working with and through the exiles appear improved, and this possibility should be pursued without delay.
The principal significance of the invasion for United States policy is that any move at this juncture which could be construed as seeking a rapprochement with Duvalier would be interpreted by both the Haitian opposition and pro-Government forces as evidence that the United States had now given up hope that Duvalier can be forced out and is prepared to do business indefinitely with his regime.
C.C. Moor3
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27-1 HAI. Secret. Drafted by Abbuhl and cleared by Cottrell.
  2. At the daily White House staff meeting of August 7, Haiti was discussed as follows:

    “No one is quite sure what is happening, but Bundy dropped the remark that the CIA has a commitment to the failure of this endeavor. Dungan seems to be the key man in the White House, but even he admitted that The New York Times is the best source of what’s happening. No one seems unduly concerned.” (Memorandum by Smith, August 7; National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Chairman’s Staff Group, August 1963)

  3. Moor signed for Read above Read’s typed signature.