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

6009. Subject: The Dinosaurs Strike Back.

1. The latest “Black Friday” marked another of Haiti’s regrettable marches to the rear, with the arrest of a mixed bag of civil rights activists, the few identifiable political oppositionists, and most of the increasingly-outspoken press critics of the regime.2 So far, we have been shown no evidence of any leftist plot, and the city remains its usual colorful albeit run-down self. However, those arrested now number forty or more, with some reports of more arrests on Monday. Given the lack of any acute crisis, the questions are why? And why now?

2. The country’s economic situation is poor. Sugar is short and prices of foodstuffs are rising, for which the government is being blamed. The Cayo Lobo affair, and the government’s handling of it, was criticized as a national disgrace, and the government obviously has neither resources nor ideas to deal with the returned boat people.3 Like many governments, this one contains a lot of people whose idea of how to deal with criticism is to silence the critics, and Haiti has never been noted for its tolerance of criticism. There are a number of continuing tensions with no reasonable prospect of real alleviation. There was a bomb explosion at Carrefour about November 18, for which there has been no explanation. Foreign Minister Salomon informed the Charge on Dec 2 that a fire the day before at Bolosse near the Carrefour which destroyed a score or so of houses was the work of anti-GOH conspirators. Thus it is easy, and perhaps politic, for the hard-liners to raise the spectre of subversion and dissidence, as a pretext to renew their grip on power.

3. Personal ambition and concerns undoubtedly play a part. There had been reports that the cutting edge of the present repressive sweep, Police Chief Col. Jean Valme, was in danger of losing his job, but he [Page 642] seems to have bounced back strongly. A more shadowy, but supposedly more important, figure in the present power struggle is 45-year old Roger Lafontant, an old friend of the President’s who is thought to be Valme’s patron. The “fiscalization” of various accounts, especially of the Regie du Tabac, threatens the Palace’s traditional sources of income to support the VSN, the Duvalier family and the Palace Guard.4 The temptation to produce a threat, internal or external, to the regime is strong, especially given President Duvalier’s penchant for listening hardest to the person who has seen him most recently.

4. Why now? Politically aware Haitians accept as given that the defeat of President Carter means the US is abandoning its championship of human rights. The recent visit of French Minister of Cooperation Galley was trumpeted by the official media as evidence of unqualified French support of the Duvalier regime. The Germans have just announced continued, even amplified technical and capital assistance. Minister of Plan Berrouet has told the German Ambassador that the government will not tolerate criticism of its policies and practices on its own soil, thereby rendering negligible (in the government’s view) any criticism in the context of the Joint Commission meeting (scheduled here December 8–10). Thus the hard-liners may well have convinced themselves and the President, that a turn in the direction of repression will cost the government nothing.

5. While we doubt that President Duvalier initiated last Friday’s clampdown, it is assumed, and we do not doubt, that it took place with his approval. What we do not know is who was consulted. From our contacts with the Haitian armed forces it appears they were neither excited by the rumors of subversion nor involved in the arrests. Ambassador Charles in Washington and the Foreign Ministry here evidently knew in advance that something was going to happen.

6. We suspect Duvalier was persuaded that it was necessary to act by several arguments: 1) There was an externally-supported subversive threat; the President apparently is an easy mark for reports of conspiracies and prospective coups, 2) in the face of growing criticism, it was necessary to demonstrate a strong hand at the tiller; 3) given the factors noted in para 4 above, the crackdown would not endanger foreign aid to Haiti. It might be noted also that the President was reportedly extremely upset by an item in “Jeune Afrique” to the effect that the USG had decided to get rid of him because he was ineffectively anti-Communist.

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7. There are people here of broader and longer vision. Unfortunately they have little tactical strength, and like most people they live from day to day. They are unwilling to risk their positions, much less their necks, in defense of a lunatic fringe of “intellctuals”. And if things get worse, they know they can always use their green cards and flee.

8. As of Tuesday afternoon,5 the scenario, insofar as we can deduce it, seems to be that the authorities are seeking to evict from Haiti those they regard as most troublesome, and that the remainder will be released (septel reports that a number of smaller fry already have been).6 Radio Metropol newscaster Marc Gracia (aka Marcus) was put on the American Airlines flight for this afternoon (he already had a US visa).

9. The situation remains fluid and many local figures are lying low until they can get a better picture of the forces at work.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800575–0385. Confidential; Immediate. Repeated for information to Santo Domingo, Nassau, and CINCSOUTH Quarry Heights, Panama.
  2. On Friday, November 28, the Haitian Government began arresting journalists, politicians, and human rights activists. Jean Valme, Port au Prince Police Chief, released a communiqué claiming the detainees were Communist-inspired. (Jo Thomas, “Haiti, Facing Economic Crisis, Arrests Major Critics,” The New York Times, December 1, p. A3)
  3. Haitian refugees were stranded at Cayo Lobo in the Bahamas in 1979. The Haitian Government demanded their repatriation, and some of the refugees resisted violently. (Telegram 303471 to Nassau, November 23, 1979; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790539–0599)
  4. Haitian officials introduced new auditing reforms in April that more closely monitored receipts from taxes and government monopolies. (Telegram 2009 from Port au Prince, April 29; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800219–1063)
  5. December 2.
  6. Valme claimed to have released 17 prisoners on December 1. (Telegram 6008 from Port au Prince, December 2; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800576–0434)