260. Telegram From the Embassy in Haiti to the Department of State1

1566. Subject: Assessment of U.S. Role and Influence in Haiti. Refs: A. 79 PAP 5048, B. State 075770.2

1. X—Entire text.

2. In reftel A the Ambassador discussed the limitations and possibilities that confront the U.S. in Haiti and made policy recommendations. We believe that message remains a valid description of the proper U.S. posture vis-a-vis Haiti. It recognized that there are real constraints on U.S. influence in Haiti; events since then, especially the effects of the U.S. budgetary process, have reemphasized the need for and difficulty of remaining [maintaining] a steady and consistent policy in all areas where we can bring influence and resources to bear.

3. The process of modernization in Haiti is probably as difficult as anywhere in the world. Those who are on top in the local society intend [Page 617] to stay there whatever it may cost the society as a whole. Haiti remains a peasant country with over 80 percent of the population eking out a miserable existence on ever smaller plots of land which, however, usually belong to them, not to some Latifundista landlord. The country’s resources are appallingly limited; the one operating mineral concession, the Reynolds Bauxite Mine, is being closed down this year as economically exhausted. Deforestation and erosion are making the land throughout the country ever less productive. There is such a shortage of resources that “more efficient use” thereof is unrealistic as a contribution to improvement in the quality of Haitian life. There is no such thing as a “quick fix” for Haiti.

4. On the political side perhaps the most interesting development in recent months has been the increased public activity of the “President for Life.” Although last November’s Cabinet shuffle brought back to power some of the old guard associated with Jean Claude’s father, he himself has made far more public appearances than his father,3 Jean Claude just returned from several days at Cap Haitien to kick off a drive for the rehabilitation of the Citadel; this is said to be the first time since he became President that he has spent the night away from Port au Prince. While it is difficult to be sure, we believe he is regarded by most Haitians as the legitimate holder of power. There is no indication that those who hate Jean Claude and his family are warming up to him but in any case they have neither the organization, the personalities or the publicized grievances to have created effective opposition. Thus now and for the foreseeable future, in the absence of outside military incursion or a palace coup, when we seek to do something here it has to be done through the present regime. Even if it were in our power to destabilize the local situation, the consequences of a revolution would almost certainly be less to our liking, and harder on the Haitian people, than accepting the present regime and working with—and on—it.

5. There is a small but growing group of middle level educated technocrats mostly working for the government. It is this group we had especially hoped to encourage, support and influence by means of a Title III agreement. While we accept the aid program as the principal means by which we might influence the modernization process, in view of the lack of local institutions it will take years to affect the government and the economy in a comprehensive fashion. Institution building remains both a necessity and a challenge, and we continue to seek to contribute to this vital process. The cutbacks in the aid [Page 618] program this year and next—staff and funds—are forcing us to do less than we might in seeking modernization by this route.

6. The fact that it has not yet been possible to work out a Title III program should not distract our attention from the need for a continuing balanced program of assistance to Haiti, both PL 480 and development assistance. Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and it is economic pressure, not political ones that drive more and more Haitians to seek a better life as refugees in the U.S. The principal approach we see for the U.S. to this worrisome problem is to help improve economic and social conditions in Haiti especially by encouraging the creation of greater employment opportunities.

7. One group in Haiti which seems to be doing well is the business men. This is ostensibly a free enterprise country and in fact is one of the freest in the area. The transformation industries are providing additional employment and their expansion, along with such standbys as tourism and handicrafts, seems to be Haiti’s best bet for economic growth. Increasing efforts to promote private American investment and the spread of American management techniques will contribute to the modernization of economic and commercial life in Haiti.

8. At a time when our own resources are particularly tight, there seems to be little point in advocating any greatly expanded program of assistance to Haiti and, as noted above, the lack of local institutions and dedicated personnel would pretty much preclude such a program having an immediate impact. We should continue privately but firmly to encourage the President and others to improve the climate for the exercise of human rights. We should not, in our public pronouncements on Haiti, make the situation out to be worse than it is. We must of course speak up when, as is all too likely given Haiti’s history, there are repressive incidents like last November’s break up of a human rights meeting. Although the United States has traditionally enjoyed great influence here, it is best used in small doses; we cannot create an educated population, for example.

9. We should certainly give careful consideration to increased assistance to the Haitian armed forces (not to the VSN). The armed forces in many Third World countries through training, education and using their personnel and resources in productive ways, make an important contribution to the modernization process.

10. In sum, a “busy body” approach to Haiti, dashing about trying to influence this or that for quick change will not work and will very likely make matters worse. Patience, careful planning, continuous firm but realistic pressures over a long period of time are the best medicine. Consistency, continuity and candid contacts should be the principles of our policies.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800172–0615. Secret; Exdis.
  2. In telegram 5048 from Port au Prince, November 7, 1979, the Embassy characterized the Duvalier government as “insecure” and cautioned against destabilizing it. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790518–0768) In telegram 75770 to Port au Prince, March 22, the Department asked the Embassy to re-assess the U.S. role in Haiti. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800145–0663)
  3. In telegram 5179 from Port au Prince, November 15, 1979, Jones characterized the Cabinet changes as “a decided turn to the right.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790526–0325)