408. Telegram 1036 From the Embassy in Haiti to the Department of State1 2

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  • Perspectives on U.S. Policy Toward Haiti

In react to press stories and editorials about the recent visit of the U.S. Military Survey Team to Haiti, I greatly hope that the Department will not get overly and—in my view—needlessly defensive about our improving relations with Haiti. in that regard, the following perspectives on the situation here may be useful in policy decisions and in background briefings for the press and members of the Congress. Obviously, for the press and the Congress the denigrating references to certain Haitian leaders would have to be either overlooked or used selectively.

1. With all its imperfections, the present government in Haiti appears at this point to represent the most promising political development in the last several decades of Haiti’s history. Like many underdeveloped countries, Haiti has few political traditions and institutions that are even recognizable much less fully acceptable to us. Over the years, there have been occasional bursts of public service of some benefit to the rural masses, but the main game has been political power for its own sake and for the benefits power can bestow. Until Papa Doc, the mulatto elite managed the government, controlled the economy, and therefore dominated the people.

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2. Undoubtedly Papa Doc executed hundreds of people, imprisoned hundreds more, and drove thousands into exile, while running the country with an iron fist. But he also achieved a social revolution—similar in some respects to the civil rights movement in the United States—by breaking the power of the mulatto elite. It is that tradition that the followers of Duvalier now in power consider as their proper heritage.

3. The present government has too many flaws and deficiencies to count. It consists of an oligarchy of five or six people with an—at least initially—overweight, underdone young man of 21 as titular head. As time has passed, however, young Duvalier has assumed some real power and he has the constitution to support him should he try to assume it all. For the present, he has to rely on the backing of a small inner circle and above all on Minister of the Interior and Defense Lucker Cambronne. Cambronne is almost the archetype of Haitian venality and corruptibility. He has a finger in almost every pie of any value and he uses his official position to ensure that amenable business companions get the licenses and concessions they need to carry on their affairs. There is no evidence, however, that Cambronne dips directly into the public treasury and indeed there is no reason for him to have to do so. Furthermore, he is a tough, direct, and decisive administrator who can get things done of benefit to Haiti as well as to himself.

4. If there are thus many traditional Haitian characteristics in the present government, there are also some striking new features:

A) The country is run by a collegium, thus by consensus, in place of the ruthless, arbitrary one-man rule of the Papa Doc years and before;

B) The Ton Ton Macoute have been neutralized and there is no longer an atmosphere of fear and suspicion;

C) There are perhaps no more than several dozen political prisoners who with few exceptions are mostly small-fry incarcerated in recent years;

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D) One of Haiti’s most respected physicians, Alix Theard, from one of the most influential mulatto families has been willing to lend his name and his prestige to the government’s service as Minister of Health;

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E) A new group of young, well-trained, and well-motived technocrats have moved into the number two and lower positions in several Ministries;

F) The country has in Antonio Andre an honest and able Central Bank Director; and

G) The government has worked out a five-year program to try to help the desperately impoverished peasantry. (Whether anything will really be accomplished, of course, is another matter.)

5. Against that background and taking into account that there are no prospects for broadly representative government in Haiti for years and probably decades to come, Haiti has perhaps the best government it could have in the existing circumstances. Let me repeat and underline “in the existing circumstances.” Obviously, the lack of decent political traditions and institutions makes the whole structure inherently unstable. It has held together, to everyone’s surprise, however, for 15 months and we see no evidence that it will not hold together indefinitely.

6. Most importantly, in terms of U.S. policy and interests, there is no realistic alternative to those now [Page 5] running Haiti, the exiles in the U.S. and elsewhere have no real strength and no plan nor program of potential benefit to the majority of Haitians. What the exiles want are the positions of economic and political power—for its own sake—that they have lost. Moreover, there is no internal political movement that we have been able to identify that offers prospects for progressive, stable government, though such a movement could possibly develop among educated young Haitians if the existing government stays on its present liberalizing course.

7. I hope we can keep the foregoing considerations in mind as we make policy decisions regarding Haiti in the next few months and years. The existing regime is by no means the best of all possible governments, but in a Haitian context it is not the worst either. Moreover, there is no readily available alternative that would serve U.S. policy interests better. If we can accept the realities of Haitian politics and Haitian society, we may be able to keep the government in Port au Prince on a reasonably sensible course. If we want to get hung up in issues like representative government or corruption which visiting American businessmen tell me is no worse here than in New York, St. Louis, or Pascaloosa—then the possibilities of keeping the Haitian Government headed in the right direction may well be lost.

8. To sum up, our policy toward Haiti ought to be based on the situation here as it is—not as we might like it to be. In that light, we can pursue policies of practical consequence of benefit to both countries.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 1 HAI–US. Confidential.
  2. Ambassador Knox indicated that in spite of many shortcomings, Haiti had “perhaps the best government it could have in the existing circumstances.”