252. Airgram From the Embassy in Haiti to the Department of State1



  • A Different View on U.S. Policy Towards Haiti by Two Departing Officers

Enclosed for the Department’s information is a personal view on what U.S. policy should be towards Haiti as prepared by two officers departing post. These views do not reflect Embassy policy, but Ambassador Jones authorized submission of their views in this form. The Embassy will submit its comment on these views in a separate message.



Paper Prepared by Alden H. Irons and Francis D. Gomez of the Embassy in Haiti2



  • (A) Port-au-Prince A–14 of February 28, 1978
  • (B) Port-au-Prince 3236 (1977)
  • (C) COMNAVBASE GTMO 152358Z Jul 78
  • (D) Port-au-Prince 2932

SUMMARY: This message, submitted with the consent of Ambassador Jones, presents the personal views on U.S. policy toward Haiti of Political Officer Alden H. Irons and Public Affairs Officer Francis D. Gomez. Both officers are departing in July after having served two years in Port-au-Prince. They hope that their views will encourage new analysis in Washington and Port-au-Prince of the Haitian government and particularly the implication of this analysis for the primary objectives of U.S. policy in Haiti—to alleviate this country’s poverty and [Page 592] under-development and promote improved observation of human rights. They conclude that because effective use of foreign assistance is not possible under the present circumstances, U.S. aid should be reduced to a minimum with the hope that this action will encourage change that in turn can truly improve the quality of life of the masses. END SUMMARY.

1. Introduction. U.S. policy toward Haiti since the accession of President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1971 has been based on the premise that the stability his regime afforded would be propitious for improved observance of human rights and effective attention to poverty and development. The mission’s current statement of goals and objectives recognizes that some human rights improvements have been made and that “AID programs resumed five years ago are just now beginning to show results.”3 For some time the drafting officers believed that the policy of persuasion and encouragement was paying off. But we now realize that the little progress achieved thus far can go no further. The goals statement fails to give due consideration to several fundamental factors which will continue to impede real change in the long term. It has become increasingly apparent that the most powerful members of the Duvalier government are not only overwhelmingly concerned with preserving power and the corruption which sustains it, but actually fear development as a threat to their power. We are convinced that seven years of Jean-Claudiste “rule” have produced little, if any, real progress. The GOH pretends to have a genuine commitment to development and improved human rights practices, and the United States pretends to believe it. Nonetheless, aid levels mount constantly. It is clear that real progress in human rights in the broadest sense—food, shelter, clothing, education, freedom of speech and association, and popular participation in Haiti’s destiny—are inimical to the Presidency-for-Life. Consequently, U.S. assistance has not, cannot and will not have the desired effect. Haiti under the Duvaliers many times over has proven itself unworthy of large scale foreign aid. The basic assumption on which U.S. Policy is founded, therefore, merits reconsideration.

2. Haiti: Killing a nation to save a dictatorship. In February 1973 the U.S. renewed aid to Haiti after a 10-year hiatus of severely strained relations growing out of the brutality and corruption of Francois Duvalier’s rule which ended in his death in 1971 and his replacement by his then 19-year old son, Jean Claude. Aid was renewed only after the U.S. had received indications that the abuses of the past were being checked and that the “new” regime would take the country’s develop[Page 593]ment needs seriously. Today, five and one-half years later, violations of individual human rights have declined; but the sincerity of the GOH to do anything meaningful about the grinding poverty of the masses remains very much in doubt.

3. In May, 1978 the Embassy presented for consideration by the GOH a 5-year, $125 million PL–480 aid proposal which calls for fiscal and administrative reforms as proof of the stated commitment of the government to address fundamental human needs.4 Specifically, it requires budget unification; modernization of the tax system; increased resources for the development ministries; expenditure controls; increasing the workday from 6 to 8 hours; a national population policy; and renewed efforts to promote industrialization. We hope that this laudable proposal will succeed; it is the toughest, most ambitious U.S. aid package ever presented to the GOH, and one which focuses squarely on one of the most important factors in Haiti’s development equation today: corruption.

4. After two years in Haiti, however, we cannot be sanguine about the prospects for success; for the proposal strikes at a foundation of deeply rooted, institutionalized corruption on which Duvalierist power is built. Even in the relatively enlightened period since 1971, the unmistakable pattern has been for the Duvaliers and their lieutenants to do the absolute minimum in order to continue to receive aid while at the same time holding to the corrupt purse-strings of fortune. For the donor community, Duvalierist rhetoric has become a tragically acceptable substitute for action. The fact that the President does not hold cabinet meetings, that the civil service is replete with incompetents and that there is no rational development strategy has been adequately considered. The GOH saved the aid flow at last year’s Joint Commission meeting in Washington by agreeing to create a National Development Fund using half the receipts of the Regie du Tabac.5 Although the fund was established, there has been no adequate accounting of deposits or expenditures. At this year’s just concluded session of the Joint Commission the GOH, after much suspense, announced at the last minute that it is prepared to fiscalize some government receipts. The Embassy, on the other hand, has already received indications that the GOH is devising measures to resist the genuine implementation of reforms and to continue the flow of illicit funds to private hands. Writing in his 1972 [Page 594] book “Haiti: Its Stagnant Society and Shackled Economy”, economist and former IMF representative in Haiti, O. Ernest Moore, said:

“It should hardly surprise anyone, under the circumstances, that Haiti showed little or no genuine progress under Francois Duvalier. Indeed, most of the news from Haiti indicated that the country was steadily sliding backward, despite all the financial and economic aid received. Where the people have lost all hope, there cannot be that elan, that ambition, on the part of individuals which is an essential ingredient of progress.”

Little has changed since Moore wrote those words more than six years ago. Resignation and despair characterize the attitude of the silent majority in and out of government. And for good reason. The population is expanding more rapidly than ever, while at the same time deforestation and erosion diminish the already small amount of arable land. Agricultural production, already the lowest in the hemisphere, continues to decline. Once a major exporter of coffee, sugar, rice, timber and cotton, Haiti now imports all except coffee and even coffee exports are declining. The once promising light industrial sector is threatened by increasing production costs, byzantine government practices, arbitrary decisions and unreliable utilities. A recent study on Haitian education by an AID specialist concluded that “the GOH commitment to ‛lead’ a national improvement effort in this sector is not evident.” He determined that “formal education suffers from an absence of national policy, guidelines, leadership, purpose, budgetary planning, and definition of the (Creole/French) language issue.” Such is the state of affairs after more than seven years of Jean-Claude Duvalier and hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign assistance. As Moore has indicated, it is not surprising. The Duvalierists fear education, development and human rights as threats to their power. Haiti, to use the oft repeated jest, is lamentably “an underdeveloping country.”

5. Power Corrupts. Mission reporting during the past two years has not addressed substantively the institutionalized corruption of the GOH and its effect on development. This is due largely to the fact that hard evidence of corruption is difficult to come by; but at the same time, it is manifestly clear that graft extends to every level of society. Duvalier’s favorite Presidential Guard officer, Lt. Col. Prosper Avril, maintains offices in the National Palace, the Central Bank, the National Planning and Development Council and the Regie du Tabac. Even the President of the Central Bank, himself a financial “wizard” who is able to meet commitments and still funnel money to private hands, admits to ignorance of and inability to control funds manipulated by the good colonel. In 1977 the President-for-Life purchased a $1 million yacht, began building a $300,000 docking facility for it, purchased a $2.5 million villa in Monaco, and continued to spend hundreds of thousands [Page 595] of dollars on cars and other gifts for his girlfriends and Palace favorites. Other family properties include extra homes in Port-au-Prince, elsewhere in Haiti, in France and the United States, and a ranch near the capital. The family directly controls or profits from numerous enterprises, among them two casinos, a movie theater complex, a glue factory, a cement monopoly, a chocolate factory (reputed 1977 income: $5 million), large agricultural holdings, a domestic airline, hotels and others. Millions of unfiscalized dollars are spent each year on luxuries, foreign travel or direct payments to ensure the good behavior of hundreds—if not thousands—of Haitians (the government has no per diem system for “official” travel, paying functionaries in large fixed sums instead); the family and/or friends of the family receive kick-backs on most major contracts. The Duvaliers are direct beneficiaries of insurance taxes on travel, property taxes, passport taxes and exit taxes. They even exact payments from tens of thousands of Haitian workers who cross the border to cut Dominican sugar. The laborers must pay to leave, must remit part of their earnings, and must pay to return. All vehicles in Haiti are “inspected” every three months, another source of income for the Palace. It is no wonder that the GOH is pleased with the increasingly massive flows of foreign aid. For they allow the government to divert public and other monies for private uses. In the meantime, where can one find evidence of any real concern for the needs of the masses?

6. Human Rights: A Sham. The Haitian government frequently states that no one can teach anything about human rights to the first slave state to throw off the colonialist yoke and that recent improvements in observance of rights of the individual are a natural result of the internal political evolution of the country. It can be persuasively argued, however, that nearly all the steps that have been taken, have been taken reluctantly, and as the result of external pressures. We will not repeat here the litany of cause and effect—it has been amply documented in the copious human rights reporting from this post. A few examples will serve: A political prisoner released in December 1976 told the Embassy just recently of the sudden change in attitude of prison authorities the day after President Carter’s election. He credited his subsequent release to the government’s desire to appease the new American administration. Ambassador Andrew Young’s August 1977 visit6 was followed a month later by the liberation of all remaining political prisoners, the signature of the San Jose Treaty, an invitation to the IAHRC to visit, and the so far untested and apparently cosmetic reforms designed to provide death certificates to families of persons [Page 596] who disappeared after being arrested. Examples of the limits of government tolerance of human rights reforms abound. When the press became too outspoken last fall, two new journals were closed and the editor of another was severely beaten by “Tonton Macoutes”.7 This paper, too, has not reappeared since and, although the assailants were tried and convicted after the intervention of the Inter-American Press Association, the sentences were little more than a slap on the wrist. Indeed, the men were conspicuous members of President-for-Life Duvalier’s honor guard when he opened the 1978 session of the Legislative Assembly on April 22. The flurry of trade union activity that took place in the heady months following Young’s visit has been contained by the government. Reporting on the status of 44 Haitian “economic” refugees rescued at sea near Guantanamo in July, the base cabled: “The expanded definition of basic human rights to include such things as food, clothing, shelter and governmental protection raises fundamental questions as to the genuine concern of the GOH for the economic plight of its citizenry, and its ability or willingness to control the rampant abuse of power and position by corrupt officials.” (COMNAVBASE 152358Z Jul 78)8 Despite Foreign Minister Brutus’ assurance to the Embassy last August that habeas corpus would henceforth be respected (Port-au-Prince 3236),9 no change has occurred. A Haitian lawyer recently told us of a client who had been held for more than three weeks without being charged. When a habeas corpus petition was presented to a judge, he agreed to the impeccable legal basis of the petition, but would not act on it because he was “afraid” to confront the arresting military authorities with a demand for the man’s release. During the disastrous 1977 drought the GOH refused to recognize the emergency and only created a relief coordinating committee after the U.S. and other donors had pressured it to do so. We could go on for pages. We believe, however, that the analysis provided in the recent summary cable on the VIII OAS General Assembly (STATE 174797)10 is particularly appropriate to Haiti: “Support of human rights in the OAS (add ‛in Haiti’) may be explained by sincere conviction but may more realistically represent adoption of protective coloration by regimes fearful of being spotlighted for human rights violations.” Whether in the field of development or in the field of human rights, the indictment made by a highly respected intellectual states the fact [Page 597] eloquently: “The Duvalierists are killing a nation to save a dictatorship.” A great number of the educated classes believe that the U.S., in having first recognized and “blessed” the government of a 19-year old “President-for-Life”, and in lending sustenance to a regime whose overweening goals are power and enrichment, is an unwitting accomplice to that “crime”.

7. Conclusions. In view of the foregoing, we believe that U.S. aid should be reduced to minimum levels. We recognize the practical problems such an action would pose. A drastic reduction in the absence of overt provocation would open us to charges of interference. Notwithstanding the risk of such charges, we view the Title III proposal as a means to expose the hollowness of the government’s rhetoric. The conditions contained therein should be rigidly insisted upon as a test of GOH sincerity to take human needs—broadly defined—seriously. Their rejection, in fact or in spirit, would mean that the GOH is not committed to do what is necessary to further development and that U.S. aid is largely wasted. In such an event, U.S. policy should be:

—to withdraw the Title III proposal and inform the GOH and the Haitian public of our reasons for doing so;

—to serve notice that no new aid commitments will be undertaken and that there will be no resumption of Title I programs;

—to instruct U.S. representatives at international lending institutions to oppose new commitments to Haiti;

—to encourage bilateral donors to follow our lead.

There are those who maintain that the reduction of aid would adversely affect those who need it most—the rural poor. They point to the experience of the sixties when a cut-off of assistance had little or no effect on GOH policies. Regardless of the effect, the quality of life of the poor has not measurably changed since U.S. aid was suspended in 1963, nor has it improved since aid was renewed in 1973. Therefore, the question is irrelevant. There are also those who hold that a reduction in aid would play into the hands of the most reactionary members of the government—the so-called dinosaurs. This theory postulates that the human rights situation would deteriorate and that the U.S. would become the scapegoat for the failure of the government to carry out its “economic revolution.” They would appeal to national pride in assailing U.S. policies. It is equally possible, however, that a reduction of aid would strengthen the hand of the perhaps more numerous progressive elements in and out of government who genuinely seek constructive change. Such an action may also accelerate the demise of the dinosaurs. Were this to occur, the door would then be open for renewed assistance as a means to encourage and support progressive, enlightened leadership. We have reason to believe that various sectors of Haitian society are beginning to coalesce in an effort to bring about [Page 598] more responsible government. Among these are representatives of the intellectual community, industrialists, businessmen, military officers and the media, all of whom are supported at least spiritually by an increasingly large number of lower and middle class people whose expectations have been raised by the communications revolution and their contact with Haitians living in the U.S. and Canada. No matter how well-intentioned they may be, these elements presently are powerless to affect the course of events. They are frustrated by a U.S. policy which in their eyes fails to achieve its objectives and merely serves to perpetuate the status quo. They are awaiting a signal. A reduction in aid would serve to encourage them to make themselves felt and heard.

8. It is therefore clear that anything less than full GOH acceptance of Title III terms should justify a prompt reduction in assistance, an action which we hope will bring about more responsible government actions and, thereby, the achievement of our two basic policy objectives. Last June in Panama President Carter stated that in order for the nations of the hemisphere to enjoy the friendship and cooperation of the United States, they must respect human rights and work toward more representative government.11 The Duvalierists receive our cooperation and seem to enjoy our friendship by doing neither of these. Addressing the OASGA June 21 the President reiterated that “the rights and dignity of human beings must be defended and enhanced. We will continually support and encourage political systems that allow their people to participate freely and democratically in the decisions that affect their lives.”12 We fail to see, however, how present U.S. policies have any effect on a regime which regards the full exercise of human rights—in the broadest possible sense—as a threat to its power. U.S. aid has continued to grow for almost six years; and there is little hope of it being used effectively in the advancement of our objectives. For too long we have accepted the insincere rhetoric of a morally bankrupt government. In the eyes of Haitians with a genuine concern for their nation’s future, we have been tainted by our association. We should not repeat our mistakes in Vietnam and elsewhere. It is a moral imperative that we disassociate ourselves as much as possible from a government that will not and cannot respond to its people’s basic needs.

9. Nothing in this paper is intended to imply that we should reduce or eliminate our existing minimum level security assistance program. [Page 599] We endorse the recently submitted Embassy integrated security assistance program (Port-au-Prince 2932).13

10. The timing of this message may give the impression that it is a “parting shot” that was deliberately delayed to the last minute and that the climate in the mission may not have been receptive to our views. Such is not the case, for the Ambassador and the Country Team have always been accessible and open to interpretations and recommendations from any member of the Mission. These have been weighed accordingly in the formulation of policy. Our own perceptions of Haiti’s complex situation have undergone numerous changes during the past year, and we have expressed and reported them accordingly. It was only in the last several weeks, however, that a series of events, some of them mentioned here, have converged to crystalize our interpretation. Our intent is to be constructive, to shed new light on some realities to contribute to the analysis of U.S. policy options in Haiti. We appreciate Ambassador Jones’ receptivity to our desire to express our views and his willingness to have them presented in this format. We recommend that the process continue through the broadening of the discussion to include all elements of the mission willing to participate.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P780122–1724. Confidential. Drafted by Meade. Repeated to ICA.
  2. Confidential. Drafted by Irons and Gomez on July 24.
  3. See Document 251.
  4. See footnote 7, Document 250.
  5. See footnote 4, Document 244. Regie du Tabac was the government-run tobacco monopoly; Duvalier directed in April 1977 that 50 percent of its receipts would be used for development purposes. (Telegram 1280 from Port au Prince, April 7, 1977; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770242–0933)
  6. See footnote 3, Document 246.
  7. See footnote 6, Document 249.
  8. Not found.
  9. Dated August 30, 1977. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770313–0815)
  10. Dated July 11. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780285–0027)
  11. The President visited Panama June 16–17 to sign the Panama Canal Treaties. He made several statements, but see especially the joint statement issued by Carter and the Presidents of Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panama and the Prime Minister of Jamaica printed in Public Papers: Carter, 1978, Book I, pp. 1123–1125.
  12. For the President’s address, see ibid., pp. 1141–1146.
  13. In telegram 2932 from Port au Prince, July 18, the Embassy advocated a “modest and carefully circumscribed security assistance program for Haiti” that amounted to less than $1 million. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, 780295–0027)