416. Telegram 433 From the Embassy in Haiti to the Department of State1

433. Subj: Plotting By Exiles. Ref: State 36580.

1. In my judgment, U.S. interests in Haiti compel us to warn Duvalier of this plot. If we do not, and plot succeeds (as it may well, given careful planning evident and Vietnam combat experience of the would-be assassins), we face an immediate period of political instability in Haiti, marked by all the incessant and short-sighted jockeying for power and position which has been the curse of Haitian history. Inherent social antagonisms, notably the mulatto/Black schism, would be intensely and violently revived; provincial authority would dissipate; factions of the Armed Forces loyal to Duvalier, who are well armed and trained would strike back; and chaos would ensue. Few if any foreign economic development programs could carry on operations under such circumstances, and once suspended these programs could not quickly be resuscitated. The Haitian people for whose benefit our collective efforts are being made, would be the principal ones to suffer.

2. There is another factor. We have consistently, since 1971, encouraged Jean-Claude Duvalier to pursue his policies of openness, relaxation of political repression, priority to economic development, and responsible government. While far from perfect, his administration represents a qualitative improvement over that of his father; and could bear comparison with any past Haitian regime. As his maturity and self-confidence grow—and the assurance of U.S. support is a central ingredient of that confidence—Duvalier may be expected to consolidate and extend his policies, within the limits of what he judges politically possible. Our failure to warn him would be tacit connivance in an effort to remove him violently from the scene. Such connivance might in [Page 1072]some circumstances be justified, but against the record of our developing relations and Duvalier’s solid accomplishments, this is not the case now. Our withholding of such warning would thus be clearly contrary to our own interests. Were it to become known, it would supply evidence, to other small nations, of unprincipled behavior.

3. On the other side of the argument, I do not believe that alerting Duvalier, even using only the concrete detail of locale, would set back or reverse recent moves toward liberalization of the regime. Security officers responsible for such a crackdown, notably Col. Valme, have proved selective and sophisticated in past; Duvalier himself knows that climate of peace is essential to his dream of reviving Haiti, with foreign help; and Duvalier, unlike his father, does not take pleasure in inflicting ruthless random reprisals. Even if there is a severe crack-down, however, it is not likely to bring about a reversal of the trend established over the past five years toward economic development, which in the long run offers the best hope for promoting economic and social reform in Haiti.

4. Recommendation: I therefore recommend that I be authorized to convey warning to Duvalier immediately.

Isham
  1. Summary: Isham recommended that he be authorized to warn Duvalier of the danger posed by the reported assassination plot.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760063–0022. Secret; Niact Immediate; Exdis. In telegram 37485 to Port-au-Prince, February 14, the Department authorized Isham to proceed to warn Duvalier but provide no names or details “which could compromise possibly innocent individuals.” (Ibid., D760057–0647) In telegram 434 from Port-au-Prince, February 14, Isham reported that he had “conveyed substance of report in general terms” to a grateful Duvalier. (Ibid., D760057–0847) In telegram 517 from Port-au-Prince, February 24, the Embassy requested additional information on the figures allegedly involved in the coup plotting. (Ibid., D760070–0063) In telegram 47701 to Port-au-Prince, February 27, the Department transmitted a report with additional information on the efforts of coup plotters to obtain weapons to put their plan into effect. (Ibid., D760073–1179) Telegram 36580 to Port-au-Prince is Document 415.