388. Memorandum From Viron P. Vaky of the National Security Council to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1 2

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  • Haiti—WASAG


Part of the Haitian Coast Guard has revolted, and one of the ships has opened fire on Port-au-Prince. It seems to be a desperation move by coup plotters who feared Duvalier was closing in on them, and there is no evidence that any coordinated revolt is underway.

The questions are:

  • —Are US interests involved to the point of our doing anything?
  • —Should we assist Duvalier?

I think the answer is no on both counts, but see “Issues to Consider” on page 2.

The Situation:

At 0900 hours today, Colonel Octave Cayard, Commandant of the Haitian Coast Guard telephoned the DATT. He said he was seizing the largest of the Haitian Coast Guard’s vessels. An hour later he telephoned that action would begin within thirty minutes, and in a third telephone call he asked for arms, water, food and gasoline in the name of the people.

At 1144 hours the cutter fired a round in the direction of the Palace. It landed short. Ten additional rounds have been fired, but no hits. Everything is reasonably calm in the city. The ground forces appear loyal to the Government. There is no evidence yet that other elements will join Cayard.


A roundup of alleged coup plotters has been going on since early this month. Cayard has been a politically ambitious officer and was involved in contingency planning last summer to take control of the Government when Duvalier was incapacitated by a heart attack. Arrests in the last few days may have made Cayard restive or worried. He may have felt under suspicion, if not about to be “dragged into the net.” This may have prompted him to move.

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What support Cayard may have had for his move is unknown. He apparently controls two of the Coast Guard ships with complements of about 70 men. There is no evidence yet of any ground action in support of him. He might have potential support in some of the army commanders, such as the Commander of the Presidential Guard.

At present, the tentative estimate is that it was a desperation move by Cayard, rather than a coordinated thing. If Cayard can hold out, however, others may join him later.

Cayard is a professional soldier. No leftist connections. There is no evidence at all of any political motivation, or Castroist or Communistic activity in this.

Duvalier asked us to bomb the ship, claiming Cayard is a Communist. We have told him no. We have suggested he ask the OAS for assistance. We believe the Haitian Ambassador may ask to see the President to tell him of the situation.


1. Is there any Castroist/Communist involvement angle?


2. Should we consider patrolling the Windward Passage to detect any effort by Castro to take advantage of instability to infiltrate men and arms?

Not yet. The chance is too remote at present to warrant the cost. But if the situation deteriorates substantially in the next 24–48 hours, we should consider it.

3. Should we supply arms to Duvalier if he asks for them?

No reason to now.

4. What if Duvalier says he needs arms to keep order and prevent a blood bath, i.e., protect American lives?

The connection would have to be pretty conclusive for us to send arms, because this Administration will be pilloried if it sends arms to Duvalier. There should be other options we can take to save Americans other than providing Duvalier with arms.

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5. Should we take any steps for “preventive evacuation”?

Not yet. Chances are situation will fizzle out. But we should be alert to this. “Preventative evacuation” might be preferable to waiting so long that the only way out then is to send in forces to secure a corridor. If chaos develops, I think we should be overly cautious and evacuate while we can get in with commercial air and ships.

6. Should we pre-position ships now?

I doubt that necessary yet. But it would be useful to know where units are.

7. Are there things we can do through OAS?

Yes, and this should be our focus now. I think we should keep OAS informed (I understand we have done that.). We should ask Galo Plaza to think about how OAS could react quickly to assist evacuation—e.g., authorize member states to evacuate foreign nationals. This would help us if the only way we could save lives is to do that.

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Background Paper


Population: 4,671,000

US Citizens in Haiti: About 2,000 most of whom are believed to be in Port-au-Prince.

Geography: The western part of Hispanola; adjacent to the Dominican Republic; separated from the islands of Cuba (46 miles) and Jamaica (104 miles) by the Windward Passage.

Status of Forces: The Coast Guard (in revolt) is composed of six minor surface craft, only three of which are believed operational at present (the 6 craft are: 2 submarine chasers, 2 patrol craft, 2 surface craft). GC–10 which fired on the Palace today is the “flag ship” and has the only really effective large weapons—a three-inch cannon and 20 and 40 mm. AA guns. The two other small surface craft are armed with AA guns, which are in questionable condition. The Coast Guard includes about 325 men, a majority of the Coast Guard is considered loyal to Col. Octave Cayard, the Coast Guard Commander and apparent leader of the revolt.

Forces Available to the Government: Ground forces total about 5,185 men. The effective ground force units are centered in Port-au-Prince under the direct command of Duvalier. They include the Presidential Guard (400 men) the Dessalines Battalion (800 men) and the Port-au-Prince Police (800 men). Their commanders have all been staunch supporters of Duvalier. The Air Force an extremely limited capability, with only a single P–51 presently in Haiti, it has only a few other operational aircraft at any one time, presently including 2 C47s and a Cessna 310. The Air Force Commander is also a Duvalierist. The Ton Ton Macouts, irregular forces, under Duvalier’s control, number about 1,500 and reportedly are loosely organized and lightly armed. There is also a part-time civil militia, the National Security Volunteer Corps, totally 5,000 to 7,000 men.

Biographic Sketch of Col. Octave Cayard

Col. Octave Cayard, Commander of the Coast Guard is 47 years old and has been commander of the Coast Guard since April 1963. A professional soldier, he had various assignments in the Army and Police before taking over the Coast Guard. He has been described as intelligent and able. He apparently is friendly toward the US and has no known connections with leftist groups. Cayard has been considered one of a small group of leaders who would assume power should Duvalier be removed from office.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–161, NSSMs, NSSM 70 [1 of 4]. Secret. Sent for action. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates Kissinger saw it. In telegram 62133 to Port-au-Prince, April 24, the Department of State informed the Embassy that Bonhomme had requested air cover from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The Department informed Bonhomme that the “U.S. position is it cannot intervene but, as GOH aware, OAS is available as normal resort when member country feels there is a problem of international concern.” (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–9)
  2. Vaky reported that the Haitian Coast Guard had revolted against President Duvalier.