- First Ninety Days of the New Duvalierism
Summary: With the inauguration of Peligre, government of Jean-Claude Duvalier completes its first three months in office. Its first weeks have been marked by what amounts to an important break with the past—a new liberalism. Important progress has been registered in certain areas and hopes for progress kindled in others. But much remains to be done and regime could face serious test in the future. Nevertheless, on basis its early performance new GOH merits official US encouragement. End summary.
1. With the official inauguration of the hydroelectric project at Peligre on July 22, the government of Jean Claude Duvalier completed its third month. Matched against the almost fourteen years his father’s regime had survived, this is a mere moment in time, but when one considers what has been done in that three months span, one is struck with the determination, imagination and flexibility this new government has demonstrated. One major theme is discernible in all of the moves so far made by Jean-Claude’s regime: this a government which, though prepared to pay lip service to the memory of Francois Duvalier, is embarked on a course diametrically opposed to the one he pursued in at least the last half of his time in office.[Page 2]
2. The new departures of this regime represent a general trend toward liberalization. Verbal criticism has been tolerated, and an olive branch extended to the exiles to return. Moreover, the legislature has been given a larger role. Change in atmosphere most strikingly dramatized in recent speech of Justice Minister Andre Rousseau before the Estates General in which he criticized excesses of the past and called for “equal justice for all-not just for Duvalierists.” Similarly, at recent lunch for twenty leading Haitian businessmen, hosted by Ambassador, several of those present spoke out freely and vehemently of the mistakes of Francois Duvalier.
3. Domestically, the major accomplishment of the Jean-Claude government has been the downgrading of the VSN and the abrupt removal of its must powerful leaders: Astrel Benjamin, Zachrie Delva, and Madame Max Adolphe. Today, less than a hundred days after Duvalier’s death, the VSN appears no longer a force to be reckoned with. Disarmed, its leaders gone, it is sinking back into obscurity—ironic indeed when one considers how Francois Duvalier depended on it, and used it as recently as January to organize a massive rally in Port au Prince seconding the constitutional changes which permitted Jean-Claude to succeed to the presidency on his father’s death.
4. Downgrading of the VSN aside, Jean-Claude’s government has tried very hard to project an open, progressive image. The day after the death, the palace was thrown open to the public and press, and this same openness has has characterized its press relations ever since. Minister’s have given generously of their time to receive the press and candidly respond to their questions. And this new attitude has been appreciated and has resulted in a spate of somewhat better balanced stories on Haiti in the international press. The one remaining complaint expressed by individual journalists has been the comparative inaccessibility of Jean Claude; However, in view of his youth and inexperience, the GOH’s reluctance to arrange [Page 3] impromptu press conferences on the record with the new President seems more a demonstration of prudence than any indication of sinister motive.
5. The other important domestic moves of the new regime have been related principally to the economy. A five-year economic plan is in draft which draws heavily on the projects and polices of Duvalier Pere. Peligre has been given the first attention it deserves and the other long-term projects—the south road and the port—are obviously front and center in the overall plan for tomorrow. There has also been renewed interest in the development of the Artibonite Valley with the constitution of a new Artibonite Valley Development Authority (ODVA). The door to foreign investment and foreign assistance is wide open and the new government has demonstrated considerably more imagination than the previous one in seeking it: viz., inviting CIAP to make a 48-hour stopover in Haiti on its way back to Washington from the Dominican Republic, and following this up with the most frank and forthcoming presentation Haiti has ever made at its country review by that body.
6. Jean-Claude’s foreign policy has also been a departure from that pursued by his father. He has kept the basic tenet of anti-communism which was the cornerstone of his father’s policy, but he has abandoned any standoffishness vis-a-vis the United States. His SecState for Foreign Affairs, who stands in the inner circle of advisers to the President, has made it clear that the United States can count on Haiti’s closest cooperation. In the view of Jean-Claude and the collegium which counsels him, a separate, independent course is impossible. On the basis of all their conversations with us, they appear convinced that their nation’s basic orientation must be toward the United States economically and strategically, [Page 4] and if necessary to clearly demonstrate their good will, they are even ready to consider what amounts to a vassal relationship. In exchange, they wish to be able to count on our good will and a sympathetic hearing for the aid proposals they expect to make. As earnest money, they have already requested our advice and counsel in the revamping of their posts and customs, two fundamental areas in need of improvement. In the future, the GOH may be bought around to looking to international organizations such as the OAS for advice and assistance, but it is clear that for the moment, at least the United States is its “Linus blanket.”
7. The foregoing amounts to an optimistic record for the past 90 days for the government of Jean-Claude Duvalier. Certainly, there are few who would have predicted that the transition from the autocratic regime of Francois Duvalier to a successor government could have gone as smoothly as it has. The Jean-Claude “solution” (as it has been called) has not yet, however, been fully tested. It remains a government by collegium with the principal decisions being taken by a group which includes SecState for Foreign Affairs Adrien Raymond, his brother General Claude Raymond (the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces), SecState for Interior and Defense Luckner [Page 5] Cambronne, Max and Marie Denise Dominique (respectively Ambassador to France and the President’s sister), Madame Duvalier (the President’s mother) and the President himself. There are others with influence who play important roles in decision making, but these are the principals. As with any collegium or committee, there is always the chance that differences will develop and splits emerge, but for the present, at least, the collegium has shown surprising cohesion and decisiveness in its moves and adoption of policy.
8. If problems do develop, they will probably first appear in the economic area. Haiti is a pitifully poor country and its resources are tiny. One of Francois Duvalier’s few accomplishments was his ability to force the nation to live more or less within its means. This depended often on his ability to curtail expenditures and force his Ministries to survive with only subsistence budgets. He was able to keep in manageable bounds the avarice of his less honest collaborators. With his strong hand no longer in control of spending, and a generally freer mood in the land, it is quite possible that the GOH will become more prodigal in its ways. Were this to reflect itself in missed paydays for the army and the civil service, unrest could develop and the fiscal reputation of the country could again suffer important damage.
9. There is also the possibility that disgruntlement could appear among the ranks of the old Duvalierists who may see this young upstart moving too fast to dismantle and discard the things his father stood for. So far, except for some low-level grumbling, this does not appear a matter for serious concern even among the former VSN commanders who have been swept aside.
10. Finally, there is always the risk that the “new freedom” and permissiveness will spread contagiously through the populace. Expectations may rise to the point where the government will feel threatened and compelled to adopt repressive measures to keep the situation in check. If the government is then incapable of controlling the situation, the whirlwind is unleashed: if successful, [Page 6] then the bright new image adopted since the death of Duvalier pere becomes sadly tarnished.
11. In the meantime what should U.S. policy be? Obviously, we cannot sit in an attitude of wait and see forever. On the basis of its performance over the past ninety days, I feel that the government of Jean-Claude deserves to be encouraged. Obviously, this does not mean that we should embark immediately on any sort of grandiose aid program, but it should amount at least to a willingness on our part to consider any modest requests for bilateral assistance it may make. Furthermore, we should abandon once and for all the ‘cool and correct’ policy which characterized our relations over the last several years. The present regime is not perfect, but its principal members know it and are moving as rapidly as possible to correct past abuses and become a progressive twentieth century administration. This can’t be done overnight and won’t be done without our encouragement and sympathetic regard. The Jean-Claude “solution” is an imperfect one, perhaps, but the alternatives to it are not pretty to contemplate.
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 15–1 HAI. Confidential; Limdis. In a September 9 information memorandum, the ARA/NSC/IG advised its members that they would meet at the Department on September 15 to consider modification of U.S. policy toward Haiti and modest requests for bilateral assistance. (Ibid., Department of State, NSC–IG/ARA Information Memos, 1971, Lot 76 D 325) For a summary of the group’s report, see Document 404.↩
- In an evaluation of President Jean-Claude Duvalier’s first 90 days in office, the Embassy concluded that the new government had made an effort to maintain “an open, progressive image” and intended to cooperate with the United States. The Embassy recommended considering modest requests for bilateral assistance and the abandonment of the “cool and correct” policy toward Haiti.↩