408. Airgram A–38 From the Embassy in Haiti to the Department of State1


  • Human Rights in Haiti: 1975


  • PauP 479; State 12320, 14917, 34811, 35185, 43532; State A–1045

I. A. Summary—The GOH has made great gains in the human rights field since Jean-Claude Duvalier became President in April 1971, although much remains to be done. Security forces, including the many irregulars created by the late President Francois Duvalier, have been brought under control, and their operations and visibility greatly reduced. To underscore his policies of domestic détente and national reconciliation, Duvalier emptied his prisons of most persons categorized as political prisoners (possibly 30 remain), and limited any new arrests to those persons actually believed to be plotting his overthrow by force. He has improved prison conditions and ordered a fair and humane administration of justice. He also has said Haitian refugees could return to Haiti with no reprisals and resume normal lives. Racial discrimination is discouraged and individual property rights are generally respected, as is freedom of worship. Prudent self-censorship remains evident in the media, but it is loosening, and there is an underlying intellectual ferment and unusual self-questioning over Haiti’s development problems that has made serious public debate of national problems both possible and popular.

B. We believe this progress was possible because President Duvalier sincerely wants it. He hopes to lead a unified national attack on [Page 1056]Haiti’s economic and social problems, and seeks to attract investment, financial and technical assistance, and improved trade links with other nations and international agencies. His security reforms are but part of his larger effort to revive and modernize the whole GOH administration to make it capable of achieving progress. Although aware of the many insurgent attacks made against his father and an assassination attempt against himself as a child, he seems sufficiently self-confident not to let security preoccupations undercut his basic political and economic goals. Within the past year, however, this attitude was sorely tried by terrorists residing in the U.S. who caused four bombing incidents.

C. We consider that the main areas for improvement focus on procedural guarantees for political detainees and prisoners, and institutionalized checks on security agents’ conduct. An underlying problem is the high degree of secrecy on security matters which both invites misconduct and gives free reign to sensationalist speculation by Haitians and foreigners alike. Public confidence in GOH administration of justice would be improved by the use of regular criminal trials, rather than military tribunals, in security cases, and by permitting regular visits to prisoners by relatives, counsel, and responsible international agencies seeking to verify penal conditions.

D. U.S. and other foreign encouragement toward liberalization is most effective when either it supports, or at least does not threaten, the GOH’s own perceived interests. Duvalier’s father reacted violently when he felt himself pushed too far; Duvalier himself still sees more to be gained than lost from adjusting to the human rights sensitivities of the U.S. and other donors. As long as his basic self-confidence remains, we believe it possible for Duvalier to bring about continued human rights improvements, to which end the New Dialogue in GOHUSG relations is in part devoted.

[Omitted here is the body of the airgram.]

  1. Summary: In an annual human rights report on Haiti, the Embassy noted the progress made under President Duvalier and concluded that U.S. policies encouraging further liberalization were most effective when they were implemented in a non-confrontational manner.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P750052–1386. Confidential. Drafted by Vincent, cleared by Thomson and S. L. Behoteguy of AID, and approved by Isham. All brackets are in the original except those indicating text omitted by the editors. In airgram A–26 from Port-au-Prince, March 15, 1976, the Embassy presented its next assessment of the human rights situation. (Ibid., P760041–0149) Telegram 479 from Port-au-Prince is dated February 28. (Ibid., D750072–0139) Telegram 12320 to all diplomatic posts is repeated to Nicosia February 20. (Ibid., D750020–0520) Telegram 14917 to all diplomatic posts is dated January 25. (Ibid., D750025–0090) Telegram 34811 to all diplomatic posts is dated February 14. (Ibid., D750056–0995) Telegram 35185 to all American Republic diplomatic posts is dated February 15. (Ibid., D750056–1018) Telegram 43532 to all diplomatic posts is dated February 26. (Ibid., D750069–0367) Airgram A–1045 is dated February 14. (Ibid., P750034–1600)