413. Telegram 2857 From the Embassy in Haiti to the Department of State1
2857. Subject: Haiti: Congressional Hearings on Human Rights/Refugees. Ref: A) State 264683; B) Heavner/Vincent Telcon of 11/12/75.
1. Summary: Haiti’s record on human rights observance has distinctly improved in the past four years as President Jean-Claude Duvalier ended the climate of terror and insecurity utilized by his father, disestablished the dreaded Tonton Macoutes, encouraged the return of [Page 1067]exiles (except for those who still actively oppose the government), stressed economic and social progress, promoted the reform of public administration, and began concentrating on economic development plans. A stamp fraud trial this year rejuvenated long-dormant criminal processes, including the right of defense lawyers to argue effectively, and allowed the local media to criticize GOH shortcomings more openly. Long-standing and politically important peasant land title claims now are being adjudicated, whereas in the past they were ignored and any peasant agitation was repressed. Local initiatives on behalf of women’s rights are encouraged. The GOH is paying greater attention to enforcing some workers’ rights often ignored by employers. Contrary to common belief in Haitian exile circles, claimants to political asylum deported from the U.S., Canada, and the Bahamas have not encountered reprisals, based upon the cases which we have monitored over the past two years, and the GOH cooperates with U.S. officials to ensure an orderly and satisfactory processing of returned deportees.
Haiti remains an authoritarian, non-democratic society with few effective institutions and without a liberal legal tradition, the Code Napoleon further restricting procedural safeguards assumed under the Anglo-Saxon legal tradition. Prison conditions, although improved, remain poor, decision-making arbitrary, and procedural safeguards uncertain. These factors are compounded by the tradition of total secrecy surrounding political prisoners and by the government’s well-founded awareness that it remains the target of Communist subversion and anti-Duvalierist plotting directed from the U.S., Canada, Cuba and France. Nevertheless, the current government shows a willingness to reconsider its practices in the context of Duvalier’s overall reform effort, and even to experiment with improvements. Duvalier and his advisors appreciate U.S. human rights concerns, and within the limits of perceived security interests are cautiously trying to accommodate some of them. End summary.
[Omitted here is the remainder of the telegram.]
Summary: The Embassy reported that Haiti’s record on human rights had improved since Jean-Claude Duvalier became President in 1971 and observed that Haitian applicants for political asylum who were returned to the country did not face reprisals.
Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D750396–0066. Confidential; Priority. All brackets are in the original except those indicating text omitted by the editors. In telegram 264683 to Port-au-Prince, November 7, the Department requested an update on the Embassy’s previous reporting in anticipation of a November 18 congressional hearing on the human rights situation in Haiti and on the influx of Haitian refugees coming to the United States. (Ibid., D750388–0642) No record of the November 12 telephone conversation between Heavner and Vincent has been found.↩