412. Telegram 2605 From the Embassy in Haiti to the Department of State1

2605. Subj: Haiti’s Stamp Fraud Trial—Implications for Evolution of Duvalier’s Policies. Ref: Port au Prince 2401.

1. The postage stamp fraud trial that ended September 19, 1975 illuminated, more than any other single event since 1971, the Duvalier [Page 1065]regime’s cautious, uneven, but clearly perceptive evolution toward a more open and law-abiding society and a more traditional—i.e., pre-Duvalierist-Haitian concept of justice.

2. Originally launched to punish the ex-Commerce Secretary, Serge Fourcand, for betraying the President’s trust and allegedly involving his ministry in a blatant scheme to defraud the state through an unauthorized but lucrative commemorative stamp issue, the extensively televised trial instead exonerated Fourcand and focused public attention on corrupt practices prevalent during Dr. Francois Duvalier’s Presidency.

3. The trial also aroused considerable public sympathy for the principal defendant, Frantz Leroy, who confessed his fraud with disarming candor while his attorneys argued that such crimes against the state had long been tacitly sanctioned as a reward for services rendered Duvalierism. The editor of a leftist weekly boldly took the occasion to criticize the Haitian administration of justice, lament the absence of civic responsibility, and defend the right of the press to print opinions at variance with those of the government. The editor, Dieudonne Fardin, stood his ground against Interior Minister Blanchet (himself a veteran iconoclastic newsman and old school Duvalierist) and Fardin’s account of their vigorous exchange of views in Blanchet’s office was widely featured in the press.

4. The government, on balance, seemed to feel its gamble with “open justice openly administered” had paid off in terms of strengthening its reformist credentials without opening the Pandora’s box of past abuses too widely. Many Port-au-Prince observers would probably agree that the outcome buttressed President Duvalier’s reputation as a leader who does not fear to cleanse his administration even if the process reflects adversely upon the formerly sacrosanct role of his father. The energetic Justice Minister, Aurelien Jeanty, projected an image of a man with a Presidential mandate to continue the restoration of “order” including the delicate issues of lands illegally acquired from peasants by former Duvalieriest officials, while military investigators completed their inquiry into rampant corruption in the customs administration.

5. Skeptics of the stamp fraud trial noted that certain putative leads closer to the Palace were not followed up in court, and they gibed at the President’s gift of new motorcars to the presiding judge and the prosecutor upon the trial’s conclusion. The Palace, not the courts, these critics observed, will continue to decide who can benefit from open trials (those who violently threaten state security will certainly not be included in this category).

6. Nevertheless, imperfect though the trial may have been, it connotes a fresh breeze in the dusty corridors of Haitian justice and reflects [Page 1066]young Duvalier’s measured self-confidence that he can now, at tolerable political risk, make a public example of high-placed corruption; henceforth, nobody should think himself untouchable, whatever his past services to Duvalierism—this appeared to be the government’s message after the postage stamp fraud trial. While we caution against drawing such a sweeping conclusion (for Madame Duvalier herself has yet to relax in her pursuit of new sources of income) it seems incontestable that an important turning point has been reached in the evolution of Duvalierism, now in its eighteenth year. This, in turn, has encouraging implications for those who seek a favorable political environment for their efforts to help ease Haiti’s desperate poverty, whether they be bilateral donor governments like the United States, Canada, and France, or international assistance agencies such as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the UNDP.

7. We are forwarding more detailed observations on the stamp fraud trial by airgram.

Isham
  1. Summary: The Embassy characterized the prosecution of former Haitian Government officials for fraud as a sign of the Duvalier regime’s liberalizing tendencies.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D750358–0429. Confidential. Repeated to Kingston, Ottawa, Paris, Santo Domingo, and USPS. In airgram A–156 from Port-au-Prince, October 20, the Embassy transmitted more details of the fraud trial. (Ibid., P750165–1983) In telegram 2401 from Port-au-Prince, September 19, the Embassy reported that Fourcand had been acquitted of the charges against him but that several others charged in the case had been convicted. (Ibid., D750326–0104)