405. Intelligence Note From the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, RARN–21 2

[Page 1]


The nine-month-old government of President Jean-Claude Duvalier rests upon very weak bases of support within Haitian society, despite its superficial stability. Since the death of President-for-Life Francois Duvalier on April 21, 1971, a collegium of cabinet members, key military officers, and Duvalier’s widow has ruled Haiti in the name of 20-year-old Jean-Claude. The weakness of Jean-Claude’s nominal leadership and the ambitions of various members of the collegium, however, would indicate that the present government is only a transitional stage in the shift of power away from the Duvalier family to other elements in Haitian society.

Collegium rule. The nature of rule by the Duvalier family in Haiti has altered since the death of Duvalier pere on April 21, 1971. The unitary dictatorship of Francois Duvalier has given way to a “constitutional monarchy,” as our Embassy describes it, in which Jean-Claude Duvalier reigns rather than rules, while all major decisions are made by a collegium of cabinet members, key military [Page 2] leaders, and the mother of the new President-for-Life, Madame Simone Duvalier. Some of the leading figures in this collegium are the Secretary of State for Interior and Defense, Luckner Cambronne; Foreign Minister Adrien Raymond and his brother General Claude Raymond, who is chief of staff of the Haitian Armed Forces; plus Fritz Cineas, Secretary of State for Information. Cambronne is by all estimates primus inter pares in the leadership group and is thus effectively the prime minister of the new Haitian government.

Balancing act. Despite the leading role of Cambronne, the new government is characterized by a diversification of power centers, in contrast to former times in which all effective power was centralized in the hands of “Papa Doc.” A sign of this new trend is the relative freedom of each Cabinet Minister to conduct the affairs of his Ministry as he sees fit. At the same time, the continued stability of the present form of government rests upon a tenuous balancing act, which could be upset if any one individual sought to maximize his own personal power at the expense of the other collegium members.

Weakness of the government. The superficial stability demonstrated by the Jean-Claude Duvalier government in its first nine months in office cannot be accepted as a reliable indicator of its future prospects. The regime’s bases in the general populace are extremely weak, given the style of leadership exercised by the senior Duvalier in his fourteen years of absolute rule. Probably “passive [Page 3] acceptance”rather than“active support” would best describe the attitude toward the regime of both the politically aware segments of the populace—perhaps 10 percent at best—concentrated in Port au Prince and Cap Haitien, and the people at large, who have never participated actively in the rule of the country.

Although the true crisis of the old Duvalier order has not yet come, its probable nature may be surmised from the “mini-crises” of the past few months, particularly the split between Max Dominique, Ambassador to France and the husband of Marie-Denise Duvalier, on the one hand, and the rest of the Duvalier family on the other; this family dispute, the major political crisis faced by the new regime thus far, ended January 4 with the dismissal of Dominique from his post. The inherent vulnerability of the ruling collegium to internal discord and factionalism will probably only be revealed, however, when one or more of the major figures dies, or is replaced in a power struggle. That this eventuality is almost certain to arise seems indicated by the talent and personal ambition of the key ministers within the government, who far surpass in capacity and experience the weak, young Jean-Claude.

Prognosis uncertain. The present government of Haiti will probably be remembered for its role as a transition from the old Duvalierist system of government to a new form and style of governing. Closer relations with the United States, together with a normalizing [Page 4] of ties with the other American states (symbolized by the renewal of diplomatic relations with Costa Rica on December 1), indicate a turn away from the old attitudes of suspicion and self-isolation. On internal policy matters, the stylistic changes introduced by the new government also will probably set the tone for succeeding administrations. In this evolving situation, the role of Jean-Claude and his mother as symbols of continuity and authority—vis-a-vis the mass public—is important, though the need for them will lessen as the normalization process continues. Probably, over a period of one to two years from his accession to power, Jean-Claude will have fulfilled his role in bringing Haiti out of the Duvalier era, and certainly by that time political pressures will have built up for his replacement, if his interest in the processes of government remains as slight as it is at present.

The regime’s main strength, apart from its U.S. support, is the lack of any alternative. Thus, the leadership of a successor government which is likely to come to power within a year or two will almost certainly be drawn from the ranks of the old and new Duvalierists, or from the revived military apparatus, now about to play a much larger role in national politics. Members of the business and social elite may also come to play at least a cosmetic role in any new government. [Page 5] But other potential power contenders, such as labor, students, political parties, or the exiles, are all so unorganized and weak as to have no visible prospect of gaining power in present-day Haiti.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 15–1 HAI. Secret; No Foreign Dissem. Drafted on January 20 in INR/American Republics by Godfrey and Pace.
  2. INR provided an assessment of President Jean-Claude Duvalier’s new government and concluded that closer relations with the United States indicated “a turn away from the old attitudes of suspicion and self-isolation.”