François Duvalier

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François Duvalier
Duvalier (cropped).jpg
40th President of Haiti
In office
22 October 1957 – 21 April 1971
Preceded by Antonio Thrasybule Kébreau (Chairman of the Military Council)
Succeeded by Jean-Claude Duvalier
Minister of Public Health and Labor
In office
14 October 1949 – 10 May 1950
President Dumarsais Estimé
Preceded by Antonio Vieux (Public Health)
Louis Bazin (Labor)
Succeeded by Joseph Loubeau (Public Health)
Emile Saint-Lot (Labor)
Undersecretary of Labor
In office
26 November 1948 – 14 October 1949
President Dumarsais Estimé
Personal details
Born (1907-04-14)14 April 1907
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Died 21 April 1971(1971-04-21) (aged 64)
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Nationality Haitian
Political party National Unity Party[1][2]
Spouse(s) Simone Duvalier
Relations Francesca Foucard Saint-Victor
Children Marie‑Denise Duvalier
Nicole Duvalier
Simone Duvalier
Jean-Claude Duvalier
Alma mater University of Haiti (MD)
Occupation Physician
Religion Vodou, excommunicated Catholic

François Duvalier (French pronunciation: ​[fʁɑ̃swa dyvalje]; 14 April 1907 – 21 April 1971), also known as Papa Doc, was the President of Haiti from 1957 to 1971.[3] He was elected president in 1957 on a populist and black nationalist platform and successfully thwarted a coup d’état in 1958. His rule, based on a purged military, a rural militia known as the Tonton Macoute, and the use of cult of personality, resulted in the murder of 30,000 to 60,000 Haitians and the exile of many more.[3]

Prior to his rule, Duvalier, who was a physician by profession, was known for successfully fighting diseases and acquired the nickname “Papa Doc”. He took the title of President for Life in 1964 and remained in power until he died in 1971. He was succeeded by his son, Jean‑Claude, who was nicknamed “Baby Doc”.[4]

Early life and career

Duvalier was born in Port-au-Prince in 1907, son of Duval Duvalier, a justice of the peace, and baker Ulyssia Abraham.[8] His aunt, Madame Florestal, raised him.[6]:51 He completed a degree in medicine from the University of Haiti in 1934,[9] and served as staff physician at several local hospitals. He spent a year at the University of Michigan studying public health[6]:53 and in 1943, became active in a United States-sponsored campaign to control the spread of contagious tropical diseases, helping the poor to fight typhus, yaws, malaria and other tropical diseases that had ravaged Haiti for years.[9] His patients affectionately called him “Papa Doc”, a moniker that he used throughout his life.[10]

The United States occupation of Haiti, which began in 1915, left a powerful impression on the young Duvalier. He was also aware of the latent political power of the poor black majority and their resentment against the tiny mulatto elite.[11] Duvalier supported Pan-African ideals,[12] and became involved in the négritude movement of Haitian author Jean Price-Mars, both of which led to his advocacy of Haitian Vodou,[13] an ethnological study of which later paid enormous political dividends for him.[11][14] In 1938, Duvalier co-founded the journal Les Griots. In 1939, he married Simone Duvalier (née Ovide), with whom he had four children: Marie‑Denise, Nicole, Simone, and Jean‑Claude.[15]

Political rise

In 1946, Duvalier aligned himself with President Dumarsais Estimé and was appointed Director General of the National Public Health Service. In 1949, he served as Minister of Health and Labor, but when Duvalier opposed Paul Magloire’s 1950 coup d’état, he left the government and resumed practicing medicine. His practice included taking part in campaigns to prevent yaws and other diseases. In 1954, Duvalier abandoned medicine, hiding out in Haiti’s countryside from the Magloire regime. In 1956, the Magloire government was failing, and although still in hiding, Duvalier announced his candidacy to replace him as president.[6]:57 By December 1956, an amnesty was issued and Duvalier emerged from hiding,[16] and on 12 December 1956, Magloire conceded defeat.[6]:58

The two frontrunners in the 1957 campaign for the presidency were Duvalier and Louis Déjoie, a landowner and industrialist from the north. During their campaigning, Haiti was ruled by five temporary administrations, none lasting longer than a few months. Duvalier promised to rebuild and renew the country and rural Haiti solidly supported him as did the military. He resorted to noiriste populism, stoking the majority Afro-Haitians irritation by being governed by the few mulatto elite, which is how he described his opponent, Déjoie.[5]

François Duvalier was elected president on 22 September 1957 in the quietest and fairest election in Haiti’s history. Duvalier received 679,884 votes to Déjoie’s 266,992.[17] Even in this election, however, there are multiple first-person accounts of voter fraud and voter intimidation.[6]:64

Presidency

Consolidation of power

After being elected president in 1957, Duvalier exiled most of the major supporters of Déjoie[18] and had a new constitution adopted that year.[10]

Duvalier promoted and installed members of the black majority in the civil service and the army.[12] In July 1958, three exiled Haitian army officers and five American mercenaries landed in Haiti and tried to overthrow Duvalier; all were killed.[19] Although the army and its leaders had quashed the coup attempt, the incident deepened Duvalier's distrust of the army, an important Haitian institution over which he did not have firm control. He replaced the chief-of-staff with a more reliable officer and then proceeded to create his own power base within the army by turning the Presidential Guard into an elite corps aimed at maintaining Duvalier’s power. After this, Duvalier dismissed the entire general staff and replaced it with officers who owed their positions, and their loyalty, to him.[10]

In 1959, Duvalier created a rural militia, the Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (VSN, English: National Security Volunteer [Militia])—commonly referred to as the Tonton Macoute after a Haitian Creole term for bogeyman—to extend and bolster support for the regime in the countryside. The Macoute, which by 1961, was twice as big as the army, never developed into a real military force but was more than just a mere secret police.[20]

In the early years of his rule, Duvalier was able to take advantage of the strategic weaknesses of his powerful opponents, mostly from the mulatto elite. These weaknesses included their inability to coordinate their actions against the regime, whose power had grown increasingly stronger.[21]

In the name of nationalism, Duvalier expelled almost all of Haiti’s foreign-born bishops, an act that earned him excommunication from the Catholic Church.[11] In 1966, he persuaded the Holy See to allow him permission to nominate the Catholic hierarchy for Haiti.[22] No longer was Haiti under the grip of the minority rich mulattoes, protected by the military and supported by the church; Duvalier now exercised more power in Haiti than ever.

Heart attack and Barbot affair

On 24 May 1959, Duvalier suffered a massive heart attack, possibly due to an insulin overdose; he had been a diabetic since early adulthood and also suffered from heart disease and associated circulatory problems. During the heart attack, he was comatose for nine hours.[6]:81–82 His physician believed that he suffered neurological damage during these events, which harmed his mental health.[6]:82

While recovering, Duvalier left power in the hands of Clément Barbot, leader of the Tonton Macoute. Upon his return to work, Duvalier accused Barbot of trying to supplant him as president and had him imprisoned. In April 1963, Barbot was released and began plotting to remove Duvalier from office by kidnapping his children. The plot failed and Duvalier subsequently ordered a nationwide search for Barbot and his fellow conspirators. During the search, Duvalier was told that Barbot had transformed himself into a black dog, which prompted Duvalier to order that all black dogs in Haiti be put to death. The Tonton Macoute captured then killed Barbot in July 1963. In other incidents, Duvalier ordered the head of an executed rebel packed in ice and brought to him so he could commune with the dead man’s spirit.[23] Peepholes were carved into the walls of the interrogation chambers, through which Duvalier watched Haitian detainees being tortured and submerged in baths of sulfuric acid; sometimes, he was in the room during the tortures.[24]

Constitutional changes

In 1961, Duvalier began violating the provisions of the 1957 constitution: first he replaced the bicameral legislature with a unicameral body. Then he called a new presidential election in which he was the sole candidate, though his term was to expire in 1963 and the constitution prohibited re-election. The election was flagrantly rigged; the official tally showed 1,320,748 “yes” votes for another term for Duvalier, with none opposed.[10] Upon hearing the results, he proclaimed, “I accept the people’s will. . . . As a revolutionary, I have no right to disregard the will of the people.[16][6]:85 The New York Times commented, “Latin America has witnessed many fraudulent elections throughout its history but none has been more outrageous than the one which has just taken place in Haiti”.[6]:85 On 14 June 1964, a constitutional referendum made Duvalier “President for Life”, a title previously held by seven Haitian presidents. This referendum was also blatantly rigged; an implausible 99.9% voted in favor, which should have come as no surprise since all the ballots were premarked “yes”.[10][6]:96–97 The new document granted Duvalier—or Le Souverain, as he was called—absolute powers as well as the right to name his successor.

Foreign relations

His relationship with the United States proved difficult. In his early years, Duvalier rebuked the United States for its friendly relations with Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo (assassinated in 1961) while ignoring Haiti. The Kennedy administration (1961–1963) was particularly disturbed by Duvalier’s repressive and authoritarian rule and allegations that he misappropriated aid money—at the time a substantial part of the Haitian budget—and a U.S. Marine Corps mission to train the Tonton Macoute. The U.S. thus halted most of its economic assistance in mid-1962, pending stricter accounting procedures, with which Duvalier refused to comply. Duvalier publicly renounced all aid from Washington on nationalist grounds, portraying himself as a “principled and lonely opponent of domination by a great power”.[10]:234

Duvalier misappropriated millions of dollars of international aid, including US$ 15 million annually from the United States.[25]:50–51 He transferred this money to personal accounts. Another of Duvalier’s methods of obtaining foreign money was to gain foreign loans, including US$ 4 million from Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.[25]:47–48

After the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963, which Duvalier later claimed resulted from a curse that he had placed on Kennedy,[26] the U.S. eased its pressure on Duvalier, grudgingly accepting him as a bulwark against communism.[10][27] Duvalier attempted to exploit tensions between the U.S. and Cuba, emphasizing his anti-communist credentials and Haiti’s strategic location as a means of winning U.S. support:

Communism has established centres of infection . . . No area in the world is as vital to American security as the Caribbean . . . We need a massive injection of money to reset the country on its feet, and this injection can come only from our great, capable friend and neighbor the United States.[18]:101

After Fulgencio Batista (a friend of Duvalier)[18]:92 was overthrown in the Cuban Revolution, Duvalier, worried that new Cuban leader Fidel Castro would provide a safe haven for Haitian dissidents. Duvalier attempted to win Cuba over by recognizing Castro’s government by sending medicine and pardoning several political prisoners, but to no avail; from the very start of his regime, Castro gave anti-Duvalier dissidents his full support.[18]:93

Duvalier enraged Castro by voting against the country in an Organization of American States (OAS) meeting and subsequently at the United Nations, where a trade embargo was imposed on Cuba. Cuba answered by breaking off diplomatic relations and Duvalier subsequently instituted a campaign to rid Haiti of communists.[28]

Duvalier’s relationship with the neighboring Dominican Republic was always tense: in his early years, Duvalier emphasized the differences between the two countries. In April 1963, relations were brought to the edge of war by the political enmity between Duvalier and Dominican president Juan Bosch. Bosch, a leftist, provided asylum and support to Haitian exiles who had plotted against the Duvalier regime. Duvalier ordered his Presidential Guard to occupy the Dominican Embassy in Pétionville, with the goal of arresting a Haitian army officer believed to have been involved in Barbot’s plot to kidnap Duvalier’s children. The Dominican president reacted with outrage, publicly threatened to invade Haiti, and ordered army units to the border. However, as Dominican military commanders expressed little support for an invasion of Haiti, Bosch refrained from the invasion and sought mediation through the OAS.[3]:289

In 1966, Duvalier hosted the emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I, in what would be Haiti’s only visit by a head under Duvalier.[18]:139 during his visit, Duvalier awarded him the Necklace of the Order of Jean-Jacques Dessalines the Great, and Selassie, in turn, bestowed upon Duvalier the Great Necklace of the Order of the Queen of Sheba.[18]:139

Internal policies

Repression

1971 newsreel film about Duvalier’s rule

Duvalier’s government was one of the most repressive in the hemisphere.[29] Within the country he used both political murder and expulsion to suppress his opponents; estimates of those killed are as high as 60,000.[3] Attacks on Duvalier from within the military were treated as especially serious. When bombs were detonated near the Presidential Palace in 1967, Duvalier had nineteen officers of the Presidential Guard executed in Fort Dimanche.[10]:357 A few days later Duvalier had a public speech during which he read the attendance sheet with names of all 19 officers killed. After each name, he said “absent”. After reading the whole list, Duvalier remarked that “all were shot”.[25]:10–11

Haitian communists and even suspected communists bore the brunt of the government’s repression.[18]:148 Duvalier targeted them as a means to secure U.S. support in addition to the principle: Duvalier was exposed to communist and leftist ideas early in his life and rejected them.[18]:148 On 28 April 1969, Duvalier instituted a campaign to rid Haiti of all communists. The new law stipulated that “Communist activities, no matter what their form, are hereby declared crimes against the security of the State”, and he prescribed the death penalty for individuals prosecuted under this law.[30]

Social and economic policies

Duvalier employed intimidation, repression, and patronage to supplant the old mulatto elites with a new elite of his own making. Corruption—in the form of government rake-offs of industries, bribery, extortion of domestic businesses, and stolen government funds—enriched the dictator’s closest supporters. Most of them held sufficient power to intimidate the members of the old elite, who were gradually co-opted or eliminated.[10]

Many educated professionals fled Haiti for New York City, Miami, Montreal, Paris and several French-speaking African countries, exacerbating an already serious lack of doctors and teachers. Some of the highly skilled professionals joined the ranks of several UN agencies to work in development in newly independent nations such as Ivory Coast, and Congo.

The government confiscated peasant landholdings and allotted them to members of the militia,[11] who had no official salary and made their living through crime and extortion.[10]:464 The dispossessed fled to the slums of the capital where they would find only meager incomes to feed themselves. Malnutrition and famine became endemic.[11]

Nonetheless, Duvalier enjoyed significant support among Haiti’s majority black rural population, who saw in him a champion of their claims against the historically dominant mulatto elite. During his 14 years in power, he created a substantial black middle class, chiefly through government patronage.[10]:330 Duvalier also initiated the development of François Duvalier Airport, now known as Toussaint Louverture International Airport.

Personality cult and Vodou

Duvalier fostered his cult of personality and claimed he was the physical embodiment of the island nation. He also revived the traditions of Vodou, later using them to consolidate his power with his claim of being a Vodou priest, himself. In an effort to make himself even more imposing, Duvalier deliberately modeled his image on that of Baron Samedi, one of the loa, or spirits, of Haitian Vodou. He often donned sunglasses to hide his eyes and talked with the strong nasal tone associated with the loa. The regime’s propaganda stated that “Papa Doc was one with the [loa], Jesus Christ and God himself”.[11] The most celebrated image from the time shows a standing Jesus Christ with a hand on the shoulder of a seated Papa Doc, captioned, “I have chosen him”.[31] Duvalier declared himself an “immaterial being” as well as “the Haitian flag” soon after his first election.[32] In 1964, he published a catechism in which the Lord’s Prayer was reworded to pay tribute to Duvalier instead of God.[33][32]

Duvalier also held in his closet the head of former opponent Blucher Philogenes, who tried to overthrow him in 1963.[25]:132 He believed another political enemy was able to change into a black dog at will and had the militia begin killing black dogs on sight in the capital.[34]

Death and succession

Duvalier held Haiti in his grip until his death in early 1971. His 19-year-old son Jean-Claude Duvalier, nicknamed “Baby Doc”, succeeded him as president.

Books and films

Many books have been written about the Duvalier era in Haiti, the best known being Graham Greene’s novel, The Comedians.[35] Duvalier, however, dismissed the piece and referred to its author as “a cretin, a stool pigeon, sadistic, unbalanced, perverted, a perfect ignoramous [sic], lying to his heart’s content, the shame of proud and noble England, a spy, a drug addict, and a torturer”.[36] It was later made into a movie. Greene himself was declared persona non grata and barred from entering Haiti. The British television journalist Alan Whicker featured Duvalier in a 1969 episode of Whicker’s World, which includes an interview with the president.[37]

The first authoritative book on the subject was Papa Doc: Haiti and its Dictator by Al Burt and Bernard Diederich, published in 1969,[38] though several others by Haitian scholars and historians have appeared since Duvalier’s death in 1971. One of the most informative, Patrick Lemoine’s Fort‑Dimanche: Dungeon of Death,[39] dealt specifically with victims of Fort-Dimanche, the prison Duvalier used for the torture and murder of his political opponents.

In 2007, British newspaper editor John Marquis published Papa Doc: Portrait of a Haitian Tyrant,[40] which relied in part on records from a 1968 espionage trial in Haiti to detail numerous attempts on Duvalier’s life. The trial’s defendant, David Knox, was a Bahamian director of information. Knox lost and was sentenced to death, but was later granted amnesty.

References

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  7. Péan, Leslie (24 July 2014). "Métaspora de Joël Des Rosiers ou l'art comme dépassement de la vie quotidienne". Le Nouvelliste (in français). Port‑au‑Prince. Archived from the original on 9 November 2015. Dans un mélange de subtilité allusive et de rigueur architecturale, Joël Des Rosiers décrit ainsi la détresse psychique du dictateur: « François Duvalier chasse Joseph Dunès Olivier de la magistrature. Il fut ostracisé pour avoir notarié l’acte de candidature à l’élection présidentielle du sénateur Louis Déjoie, opposant politique et véritable vainqueur des élections. Ce fut le premier acte illégal du dictateur. Oh ! Il en fut d’autres. Oh ! Par bassesse, le dictateur vengeait la mémoire de son vrai père Florestal Duvalier, citoyen français du Morne des Esses, commune de la Martinique, tailleur de son métier à la rue de l’Enterrement, dont le fils aîné Duval Duvalier fut fait officiellement le père adoptif de François Duvalier alors qu’il en était le demi‑frère. Pour maquiller sa paternité tardive, Florestal Duvalier, vieillard cacochyme, poussa son fils adulte Duval à reconnaître l’enfant, né de ses amours ancillaires avec une jeune domestique, Irutia Abraham, originaire de Maniche, commune des Cayes. La mère de Duvalier en devint folle. Son fils lui fut retiré si bien que l’enfant ne la connut jamais et fut élevé par une tante, madame Florestal .»<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Her name is recorded variously as “Ulyssia”,[5] “Uritia”,[6]:51 and “Irutia”.[7]
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  33. Fourcand, Jean M. (1964). Catechisme de la révolution [Catechism of the Revolution] (PDF) (in français). Port‑au‑Prince: Edition imprimerie de l’état. p. 37. Archived (PDF) from the original on 27 September 2015. Notre Doc qui êtes au Palais National pour la Vie, que Votre nom soit béni par les générations présentes et futures, que Votre Volonté soit faite à Port‑au‑Prince et en Province. Donnez‑nous aujourd’hui notre nouvelle Haïti, ne pardonnez jamais les offenses des apatrides qui bavent chaque jour sur notre Patrie, laissez‑les succomber à la tentation et sous le poids de leurs baves malfaisantes: ne les délivrez d’aucun mal. Amen.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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Political offices
Preceded by
Antonio Thrasybule Kébreau
(Chairman of the Military Council)
Coat of arms of Haiti.svg
President of Haiti

1957–1971
Succeeded by
Jean-Claude Duvalier