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

5437. Subject: US–GOH Consultation on Illegal Migration. Ref: (A) Port au Prince 5386.2

1. (Confidential—Entire text.)

2. Summary: Three members of the U.S. delegation and Ambassador Kimelman met for 90 minutes on October 28 at the Presidential Palace with President Duvalier. There was an animated exchange of conversation with Duvalier demonstrating a detailed grasp of the many issues surrounding the question of the illegal migration of Haitians to the U.S. and other matters of mutual interest. Duvalier not only reaffirmed his willingness to cooperate with the U.S. in seeking a solution to the illegal migration problem but stressed that new stricter laws soon to be enacted to deal with this problem were developed before the arrival of the U.S. delegation. He emphasized, however, that the basic problem in this issue is the overall poverty of Haiti and that those leaving were economic and not political refugees. U.S. delegation thanked Duvalier for his initiative in writing to President Carter3 and advised him that they had been impressed by the direct approach to this issue taken by the Haitian delegation at the previous day’s talk (reftel).

3. Haitian President Jean Claude Duvalier met with Ambassadors Kimelman and Loy and DAS Finley at 11 a.m., October 28 at the National Palace. RP AFLA Director Beck served as sole interpreter. Duvalier received the delegation alone. It should be noted that Serge Charles, Haitian Ambassador to the U.S., who greeted U.S. delegation in reception area, was not invited to join.

4. Amb. Kimelman opened the meeting by introducing the members of the delegation. He expressed the appreciation of the USG for the initiative taken by Duvalier in writing directly to President Carter. He also thanked the President for his leadership in arranging the previ[Page 637]ous day’s meeting (reftel) with such a distinguished group of Ministers, headed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He complimented Duvalier and advised him that delegation felt that responsiveness and candor of yesterday’s talks was because of his instructions. Amb. Loy reiterated Amb. Kimelman’s thanks, etc. and stated the delegation’s satisfaction about the attitude of openness and cooperation which the Haitian side had exhibited during the previous day’s meeting. In the spirit which had been established, Loy was certain that further discussion would lead eventually to mutually agreed upon solutions to the problem. Duvalier responded that Haiti is the most studied country in the world. Officials of U.S., other countries and international development agencies have studied every conceivable aspect of Haiti, and now it is time for action. There ensued a lively conversation which covered, among others, the following issues.

5. Economic problem. Duvalier stated emphatically that neither administrative infrastructure nor law enforcement could be counted on to stop the flow of boat people out of Haiti as long as Haitians have no economic opportunities in their homeland. To support his statement, Duvalier referred to the rise in Haiti’s national fuel bill from $12–$13M in 1973 to $70M in 1980. Meanwhile, Haiti’s world price of bauxite and coffee have remained at the same level and the costs to Haiti of needed finished product imports have risen enormously. In addition to his description of the economic situation, Duvalier stated that there has been no important new U.S. investment in Haiti in 30 years. The result of these diverse factors is that the Haitian people are desperate to find places to work in order to make their living.

6. Refugees. Ambassador Loy stated that the responsible authorities in the USG were convinced that nearly all, if not all, of the people arriving in Florida are economic migrants as opposed to political refugees. Nevertheless many in the U.S. prefer to infer that the arrival of significant numbers of Haitians is proof of political oppression in Haiti. This fact in turn reduces the possibility of creating a political climate in the U.S. which would permit the USG to increase various sorts of assistance to Haiti. Duvalier stated that he was well aware of the presence of many actors with sinister motives in the refugee problem. Duvalier claimed that many of those who sought to embarrass the Haitian Government were directly involved in the transport of the boat people and in fact were accruing huge profits in the process. Duvalier also mentioned his conviction that the U.S. company Gulf and Western is part of the refugee problem since it attracts many illegal migrants to work on its sugar cane plantations in the Dominican Republic where the Haitian earns enough money to pay $700 to be transported to Miami. Even the U.S. Coast Guard is part of the process because the Coast Guard picks up the Haitians from small boats and helps them complete the journey to Florida.

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7. U.S. immigration policy. Duvalier raised several questions about U.S. immigration policy which seemed to be an indication of his doubts about whether U.S. policy was fair. The first of his questions was whether the quota for legal immigration of Haitians to the U.S. could be raised and Ambassador Loy responded that Haitians like other national groups all are accorded an immigration quota (ceiling) every year of 20,000 persons. DAS Finley added that any changes in this limit would require new legislation from the U.S. Congress. Duvalier then asked about the number of places accorded to Vietnamese each year. His purpose was obvious. Loy’s response was that there are 168,000 places each year for Lao, Cambodian and Vietnamese political refugees, placing special emphasis on their characterization as “political.” This point was not lost on Duvalier. Duvalier next stated that from the official statistics of the USINS he had learned that there are 11 million Mexicans illegally in the U.S. This gave him cause to wonder why there was so much noise about the much smaller number of Haitians. Loy answered that the USG is by no means just interested in Haitians and that ongoing USG actions were directed against all aspects of the illegal immigration problem including Mexicans, Cubans and many other groups. Loy added that he doubted if the figure of 11 million Mexicans was factual and he stressed that at this time a Presidential commission is studying all aspects of U.S. immigration with the goal of making recommendations for significant changes in U.S. policy in the near future.4 Duvalier finally stated that many Haitians who possessed the amount of money needed to comply with the support and return requirements for being granted U.S. tourist visas were being denied tourist visas by the U.S. Consulate in Port au Prince. This in Duvalier’s opinion was both insulting to Haitians and leads many people, who simply wanted to go to the U.S. for a short term adventure to enter the U.S. illegally and then be trapped in the current confusion over refugees.

8. GOH short term action. Ambassador Loy expressed the appreciation of the USG for the willingness expressed in President Duvalier’s letter to President Carter to accept back all Haitian citizens who are repatriated from abroad. Loy further commented that he hoped that the GOH would do two things in the short term: accept back all those Haitians being repatriated now by the Bahamian Government and eventually from the U.S. as well, and secondly to enact soon the legislation against refugee traffickers now being considered by the Haitian Government. Duvalier’s response was that the enactment of a new law against traffickers had nothing to do with the arrival of the U.S. [Page 639] delegation in Port-au-Prince. Such action had been under consideration by the GOH for some time and it was expected to be enacted shortly.

9. US-Haiti relations. Duvalier next stated that the USG has been aware of the Haitian illegal migrant problem for more than 5 years and that Haiti during the entire period had demonstrated its willingness to cooperate with the USG on this question, but that the American Government had never before been willing even to talk to the government about the problem. Amb Kimelman seized this occasion to emphasize the presence in Haiti of Amb Loy and DAS Finley, who was in a new position specifically charged with U.S. Caribbean relations in the State Department, should be interpreted by the GOH as proof of a high level interest in the USG in seeking a new basis of cooperation with the GOH on concerns. Duvalier, at this point, expressed his disillusionment over his and government’s past experiences with even the U.S. Embassy in Port au Prince. Duvalier specifically mentioned his impression that frequently in the past U.S. Embassy had spoken with several voices with the effect that the USG had transmitted two, three and even four widely divergent views on the same subject to the GOH. Amb Kimelman responded that, whatever the experiences of the past had been, during his tenure as U.S. Ambassador, Duvalier and the GOH could count on the Embassy speaking with one voice. Finley added that Haiti was fortunate to have as its Ambassador from the U.S. a person who enjoyed the respect of and access to people in the highest reaches of the U.S. executive and Congress. Loy noted, however, that the U.S. as a democracy has, by its very nature, many voices, and the best insurance for Haiti was an unassailable record. Duvalier next returned to the subject of visas for Haitians who wish to visit the U.S. He personally knew many people who had been denied visitors visas with no apparent reason. Duvalier also indicated that Haitians feel strongly about the fact that they at times must queue up outside the U.S. Consulate at 4 or 5 in the morning in order to be certain of being able to see a U.S. consular officer on that day. Kimelman thanked the President for drawing his attention to this issue and advised that he would immediately look into it.

10. Haiti’s image: Continuing Ambassador Loy’s theme about the creation of political climate in the United States which would allow the USG to assist Haiti, Ambassador Kimelman stressed the importance for Haiti to avoid the kind of problems which the detention of Sylvio Claude, Compere Philo and Compere Plume had caused during the past weeks.5 President Duvalier noted that Sylvio Claude had been accorded due process according to Haitian law and Ambassador Kimel[Page 640]man agreed this had been so. However, Kimelman raised the point that due process had not been accorded Compere Plume, who had been held in detention for over a week. President Duvalier responded that he agreed, and assured the Ambassador that he would give his close personal attention to seeing that due process was followed in all such cases. Kimelman stated that no matter what the attitude of Haiti’s President, the action of all GOH personnel would continue to be scrutinized by individuals and groups outside Haiti. Kimelman referred to the recent Diederich article in Time, which Duvalier said he had read, as the sort of publicity which Haiti needs. However, Kimelman advised that earlier that morning a UPI reporter had tried to contact him by phone to obtain confirmation that Evans (Compere Plume) had been badly beaten in jail and for a statement of the U.S. position on human rights in Haiti in view of these recent events. The Ambassador had not talked to the UPI reporter and stated that he regretted that such issues were still a problem for Haiti. Duvalier agreed that an improvement in Haiti’s image certainly was to be desired, but he disagreed that he and his government would be acting responsibly if the sort of illegality and anarchy which have become the atmosphere of certain other countries of the region were allowed to grow in Haiti. During the discussion on this issue, Duvalier’s voice raised to its most audible level during the 90 minute meeting, especially when Amb Kimelman urged him to recognize the significance of Sylvio Claude and release him. Duvalier replied that despite the small following of someone like Sylvio Claude, Haiti was opposed by an organized and potentially disruptive campaign supported by international socialism. Duvalier claimed to have evidence, which he could not publicize from the rooftops, that the threat to Haiti is strong and real. Also the Claude case was now in the Haitian courts, and Duvalier would be unable to release Claude even if he wanted to do so. Amb Kimelman then suggested that simply following impeccably the laws of Haiti with regard to due process for prisoners would go a long way to improve and guard Haiti’s image.

11. Comment: Duvalier was well prepared for this meeting, referred to no notes, and was on top of the issues. He had no difficulty at all holding his own in the spirited repartee which characterized the long conversation. We were favorably impressed with his ability to articulate the issues, and his evident concern for the Haitian poor. The U.S. delegation was optimistic that further exchanges such as this would be useful.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59 Central Foreign Policy File, D800521–0065. Confidential; Priority. Repeated for information to Nassau and Santo Domingo.
  2. Telegram 5386 from Port au Prince, October 28, summarized a meeting between the U.S. and Haitian delegations on Haitian migration. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800515–1127)
  3. In telegram 4798 from Port au Prince, September 30, the Embassy transmitted a letter from Duvalier to Carter. Duvalier stated his intent was to “work closely with the United States Coast Guard in preventing unwarranted loss of life during this crisis.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800467–0729) There is no evidence of a response from Carter.
  4. Reference is to the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy.
  5. Claude and members of the Christian Democratic Party were arrested in October and tried in August 1981. Duvalier eventually pardoned them in September 1982.