403. Letter From the Director of the Office of Caribbean Affairs (Burke) to the Ambassador to Haiti (Isham)1

Dear Hey:

Our mutual friend, Gerard Bouchette, beetled in to see me yesterday (as you probably know he hastened back here from Port-au-Prince to be present at the first meeting of President Ford and Secretary Kissinger with the diplomatic corps which took place last Friday). He told me that he was returning to Haiti today for 48 hours but would be back at the end of the week at which time he would come see me again.

The principal point of Bouchette’s visit was to tell me that he had discussed the outstanding arms purchase request with the President and that the President had agreed to delay the purchase for some months. He then asked again about the possibility of some USG assistance in the housing area and I gave him the standard reply.

The rest of our meeting was devoted to some rather curious probing on his part as to how the USG viewed Haiti. I responded in the approved way, telling him that much progress had been made in recent years and that the prospects were good for continued progress. He then said that the exiles in New York were jubilant at President Nixon’s resignation and that they now felt there would be a change in U.S. policy [Page 1044]toward Haiti. In reply I merely pointed to the fact that President Ford had asked the Secretary to remain on and the latter had agreed. Furthermore, all of the statements made so far by the new Administration seemed to point continuity in the foreign affairs sector.

Bouchette then said that he had heard reports that the exiles were planning something in the way of an invasion, that they had begun to acquire arms, and that they had plans for transporting a unit of some sort to Haiti. He said further that the exiles claimed to be in contact with sympathetic elements in Port-au-Prince who would make common cause with them in an invasion attempt. I pressed him to furnish details, particularly about the acquisition of arms by the exiles and possible departure points for any invasion attempt. I said that such activity was against the law and the appropriate officials could be put on notice if Bouchette were able to supply precise details of their plans. He said that he would furnish such information if it came to his attention but for the moment he didn’t have hard fact.

I then asked Bouchette who the individuals were in Port-au-Prince who might make common cause with the exiles. He responded by saying that there were unhappy people in the government and in the military. These individuals had been hurt by and disapproved of Jean-Claude’s efforts to crack down on corruption and bribery. Because their “little affairs” had been interfered with and their incomes diminished they were now at least entertaining the idea of some action against the regime. When I pressed him for names, about the only one he could supply was Clovis Desinor. I suggested to him that Desinor’s name had surfaced frequently ever since Francois Duvalier had removed him as Minister of Finance before his death and that in the past rumors of such activity by Desinor had not appeared to be well founded. Our conversation ran out at this point and I saw him off at the door.

Ever since receiving your long and thoughtful letter some weeks back on the political ambience in Port-au-Prince, I have been giving some thought to the desirability of the Embassy doing a contingency study of what would happen politically were Jean-Claude to disappear suddenly from the scene. We used to indulge in such an exercise frequently when the old man was alive and in precarious health. It seems to me that it might not be a bad idea to put a few thoughts on paper for a very small readership both here and there. I personally feel that the possibility is quite good that Jean-Claude will stay around for some time. Nevertheless, the situation remains fragile and I know that I would benefit from an exchange with you on this subject. Perhaps we could do it in the form of an exchange of official-informals for the first go round at least and after that if you were satisfied with the way it looked you might attempt to formalize it.

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I will look forward to your response.

With best regards,

Sincerely,

John R. Burke
  1. Summary: Burke described an August 12 meeting in which he and Haitian Ambassador Gerald Bouchette discussed Haiti’s interest in purchasing arms, U.S. views of Haiti, and the possibility of an invasion by opponents of the Duvalier regime.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files, 1970–1973, ARA/CAR, Lot 75D474, Official-Informal, Outgoing, 1974. Secret; Official-Informal. In an August 9 letter to Isham, Burke reported that he had met with the Haitian Military Attaché on August 8 and conveyed the message that it might be best to defer Haiti’s request for additional arms purchases for 2 to 3 months and that “Haiti should acquire arms in sensible quantities through legitimate channels.” (Ibid.) Isham’s letter on the political ambience in Port-au-Prince was not found.