Like many Haitian leaders, François Duvalier produced a constitution to solidify his power. In 1961 he proceeded to violate the provisions of that constitution, which had gone into effect in 1957. He replaced the bicameral legislature with a unicameral body and decreed presidential and legislative elections. Despite a 1957 prohibition against presidential reelection, Duvalier ran for office and won with an official tally of 1,320,748 votes to zero. Not content with this sham display of democracy, he went on in 1964 to declare himself president for life. For Duvalier, the move was a matter of political tradition; seven heads of state before him had claimed the same title.
An ill-conceived coup attempt in July 1958 spurred Duvalier to act on
his conviction that Haiti's independent military threatened the security
of his presidency. In
December the president sacked the armed forces chief of staff and replaced him with a more reliable officer. This action helped him to expand a Presidential Palace army unit into the Presidential Guard. The Guard became the elite corps of the Haitian army, and its sole purpose was to maintain Duvalier's power. After having established his own power base within the military, Duvalier dismissed the entire general staff and replaced aging Marinetrained officers with younger men who owed their positions, and presumably their loyalty, to Duvalier.
Duvalier also blunted the power of the army through a rural militia
formally named the Volunteers for National Security (Volontaires de la
Nationale--VSN), but more commonly referred to as the tonton macoutes (derived from the Creole term for a mythological bogeyman). In 1961, only two years
after Duvalier had established the group, the tonton makouts had more than twice the power of the army. Over time, the group gained even more power. While the Presidential Guard secured Duvalier against his enemies in the capital, the tonton makouts expanded his authority into rural areas. The tonton makouts never
became a true militia, but they were more than a mere secret police force. The group's pervasive influence throughout the countryside bolstered recruitment,
mobilization, and patronage for the regime.
After Duvalier had displaced the established military with his own security force, he employed corruption and intimidation to create his own elite. 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 these supporters held sufficient power to enable them to intimidate the members of the old elite who were gradually co-opted or eliminated (the luckier ones were allowed to emigrate).
Duvalier was an astute observer of Haitian life and a student of his
country's history. Although he had been reared in Port-au-Prince, his medical
experiences in the provinces had acquainted him with the everyday concerns
of the people, their predisposition toward paternalistic authority (his
patients referred to him as "Papa Doc," a sobriquet that he relished and
often applied to himself), the ease with which their allegiance could be
bought, and the central role of voodoo in their lives. Duvalier exploited
all of these points, especially voodoo. He studied voodoo practices and
beliefs and was rumored to be a houngan. He related effectively to
houngan and bokò (voodoo sorcerers) throughout the country and incorporated many of them into his intelligence network and the ranks of the tonton makouts.
His public recognition of voodoo and its practitioners and his private adherence to voodoo ritual, combined with his reputed practice of magic and sorcery,
enhanced his popular persona among the common people (who hesitated to trifle with a leader who had such dark forces at his command) and served as a peculiar
form of legitimization of his rapacious and ignoble rule.
Duvalier weathered a series of foreign-policy crises early in his tenure
that ultimately enhanced his power and contributed to his megalomaniacal
conviction that he
was, in his words, the "personification of the Haitian fatherland." Duvalier's repressive and authoritarian rule seriously disturbed United States president John F.
Kennedy. The Kennedy administration registered particular concern over allegations that Duvalier had blatantly misappropriated aid money and that he intended to
employ a Marine Corps mission to Haiti not to train the regular army but to strengthen the tonton makouts. Washington acted on these charges and suspended aid
in mid-1962. Duvalier refused to accept United States demands for strict accounting procedures as a precondition of aid renewal. Duvalier, claiming to be
motivated by nationalism, renounced all aid from Washington. At that time, aid from the United States constituted a substantial portion of the Haitian national
budget. The move had little direct impact on the Haitian people because most of the aid had been siphoned off by Duvalierist cronies anyway. Renouncing the aid, however, allowed the incipient dictator to portray himself as a principled and lonely opponent of domination by a great power. Duvalier continued to receive
multilateral contributions. After Kennedy's death in November 1963, pressure on Duvalier eased, and the United States adopted a policy of grudging acceptance of the Haitian regime because of the country's strategic location near communist Cuba.
A more tense and confrontational situation developed in April 1963 between
Duvalier and Dominican Republic president Juan Bosch Gaviño. Duvalier
were confirmed adversaries; the Dominican president provided asylum and direct support to Haitian exiles who plotted against the Duvalier regime. Duvalier
ordered the Presidential Guard to occupy the Dominican chancery in Pétionville in an effort to apprehend an army officer believed to have been involved in an
unsuccessful attempt to kidnap the dictator's son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, and daughter, Simone Duvalier. The Dominican Republic reacted with outrage and
indignation. Bosch publicly threatened to invade Haiti, and he ordered army units to the frontier. Although observers throughout the world anticipated military action that would lead to Duvalier's downfall, they saw events turn in the Haitian tyrant's favor. Dominican military commanders, who found Bosch's political leanings too far to the left, expressed little support for an invasion of Haiti. Bosch, because he could not count on his military, decided to let go of his dream to overthrow the neighboring dictatorship. Instead, he allowed the matter to be settled by emissaries of the Organization of American States (OAS).
Resistant to both domestic and foreign challenges, Duvalier entrenched
his rule through terror (an estimated 30,000 Haitians were killed for political
his tenure), emigration (which removed the more activist elements of the population along with thousands of purely economic migrants), and limited patronage. At
the time of his death in 1971, François Duvalier designated his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, as Haiti's new leader. To the Haitian elite, who still dominated the
economy, the continuation of Duvalierism without "Papa Doc" offered financial gain and a possibility for recapturing some of the political influence lost under the
The first few years after Jean-Claude Duvalier's installation as Haiti's ninth president-for-life were a largely uneventful extension of his father's rule. Jean-Claude was a feckless, dissolute nineteen-year-old, who had been raised in an extremely isolated environment and who had never expressed any interest in politics or Haitian affairs. He initially resented the dynastic arrangement that had made him Haiti's leader, and he was content to leave substantive and administrative matters in the hands of his mother, Simone Ovid Duvalier, while he attended ceremonial functions and lived as a playboy.
By neglecting his role in government, Jean-Claude squandered a considerable
amount of domestic and foreign goodwill and facilitated the dominance of
affairs by a clique of hard- line Duvalierist cronies who later became known as the dinosaurs. The public displayed more affection toward Jean-Claude than they
had displayed for his more formidable father. Foreign officials and observers also seemed more tolerant toward "Baby Doc," in areas such as human-rights
monitoring, and foreign countries were more generous to him with economic assistance. The United States restored its aid program for Haiti in 1971.
Jean-Claude limited his interest in government to various fraudulent
schemes and to outright misappropriations of funds. Much of the Duvaliers'
amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, came from the Régie du Tabac (Tobacco Administration). Duvalier used this "nonfiscal account,"
established decades earlier under Estimé, as a tobacco monopoly, but he later expanded it to include the proceeds from other government enterprises and used it
as a slush fund for which no balance sheets were ever kept.
Jean-Claude's kleptocracy, along with his failure to back with actions
his rhetoric endorsing economic and public-health reform, left the regime
unanticipated crises that were exacerbated by endemic poverty, including the African Swine Fever (ASF) epidemic and the widely publicized outbreak of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the 1980s. A highly contagious and fatal disease, ASF plagued pigs in the Dominican Republic in mid-1978. The United States feared that the disease would spread to North America and pressured Jean-Claude to slaughter the entire population of Haitian pigs and to replace them with animals supplied by the United States and international agencies. The Haitian government complied with this demand, but it failed to take note of the rancor that this policy produced among the peasantry. Black Haitian pigs were not only a form of "savings account" for peasants because they could be sold for cash when necessary, but they were also a breed of livestock well-suited to the rural environment because they required neither special care nor special feed. The replacement pigs required both. Peasants deeply resented this intrusion into their lives (see Livestock and Fishing , ch. 8).
Initial reporting on the AIDS outbreak in Haiti implied that the country might have been a source for the human immune deficiency virus. This rumor, which turned out to be false, hurt the nation's tourism industry, which had grown during Jean-Claude Duvalier's tenure. Already minimal, public services deteriorated as Jean- Claude and his ruling clique continued to misappropriate funds from the national treasury.
Jean-Claude miscalculated the ramifications of his May 1980 wedding
to Michèle Bennett, a mulatto divorcée with a disreputable
background. (François Duvalier
had jailed her father, Ernest Bennett, for bad debts and other shady financial dealings.) Although Jean-Claude himself was light-skinned, his father's legacy of
support for the black middle class and antipathy toward the established mulatto elite had enhanced the appeal of Duvalierism among the black majority of the
population. By marrying a mulatto, Jean-Claude appeared to be abandoning the informal bond that his father had labored to establish. The marriage also estranged
the old-line Duvalierists in the government from the younger technocrats whom Jean-Claude had appointed. The Duvalierists' spiritual leader, Jean-Claude's
mother, Simone, was eventually expelled from Haiti, reportedly at the request of Michèle, Jean-Claude's wife.
The extravagance of the couple's wedding, which cost an estimated US$3
million, further alienated the people. Popular discontent intensified in
increased corruption among the Duvaliers and the Bennetts, as well as the repulsive nature of the Bennetts' dealings, which included selling Haitian cadavers to
foreign medical schools and trafficking in narcotics. Increased political repression added to the volatility of the situation. By the mid-1980s, most Haitians felt
hopeless, as economic conditions worsened and hunger and malnutrition spread.
Widespread discontent began in March 1983, when Pope John Paul II visited
Haiti. The pontiff declared that "Something must change here." He went
on to call for
a more equitable distribution of income, a more egalitarian social structure, more concern among the elite for the well-being of the masses, and increased popular
participation in public life. This message revitalized both laymen and clergy, and it contributed to increased popular mobilization and to expanded political and social
A revolt began in the provinces two years later. The city of Gonaïves
was the first to have street demonstrations and raids on food-distribution
October 1985 to January 1986, the protests spread to six other cities, including Cap Haïtien. By the end of that month, Haitians in the south had revolted. The most
significant rioting there broke out in Les Cayes.
Jean-Claude responded with a 10 percent cut in staple food prices, the
closing of independent radio stations, a cabinet reshuffle, and a crackdown
by police and
army units, but these moves failed to dampen the momentumof the popular uprising against the dynastic dictatorship. Jean-Claude's wife and advisers, intent on
maintaining their profitable grip on power, urged him to put down the rebellion and to remain in office.
A plot to remove him had been well under way, however, long before the
demonstrations began. The conspirators' efforts were not connected to the
revolt, but violence in the streets prompted Jean-Claude's opponents to act. The leaders of the plot were Lieutenant General Henri Namphy and Colonel Williams
Regala. Both had privately expressed misgivings about the excesses of the regime. They and other officers saw the armed forces as the single remaining cohesive
institution in the country. They viewed the army as the only vehicle for an orderly transition from Duvalierism to another form of government.
In January 1986, the unrest in Haiti alarmed United States president
Ronald Reagan. The Reagan administration began to pressure Duvalier to
renounce his rule
and to leave Haiti. Representatives appointed by Jamaican prime minister Edward Seaga served as intermediaries who carried out the negotiations. The United
States rejected a request to provide asylum for Duvalier, but offered to assist with the dictator's departure. Duvalier had initially accepted on January 30, 1986. The
White House actually announced his departure prematurely. At the last minute, however, Jean-Claude decided to remain in Haiti. His decision provoked increased
violence in the streets.
The United States Department of State announced a cutback in aid to
Haiti on January 31. This action had both symbolic and real effect: it
from the Duvalier regime, and it denied the regime a significant source of income. By this time, the rioting had spread to Port-au-Prince.
At this point, the military conspirators took direct action. Namphy,
Regala, and others confronted the Duvaliers and demanded their departure.
Left with no bases
of support, Jean-Claude consented. After hastily naming a National Council of Government (Conseil National de Gouvernement--CNG) made up of Namphy,
Regala, and three civilians, Jean-Claude and Michèle Duvalier departed from Haiti on February 7, 1986. They left behind them a country economically ravaged by
their avarice, a country bereft of functional political institutions and devoid of any tradition of peaceful self-rule. Although the end of the Duvalier era provoked much
popular rejoicing, the transitional period initiated under the CNG did not lead to any significant improvement in the lives of most Haitians. Although most citizens expressed a desire for democracy, they had no firm grasp of what the word meant or of how it might be achieved.
The English-language historiography for Haiti is fairly rich and diverse.
The two leading comprehensive works are David Nicholls's From Dessalines
Race, Colour, and National Independence in Haiti and Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People, 1492-1971 by Robert Debs Heinl and Nancy
Gordon Heinl. Nicholls's book goes into greater depth with regard to Haiti's sociocultural history, whereas the Heinls' volume is a more straightforward account, full
of fascinating and useful detail. Another worthwhile general work is Robert Rotberg's Haiti: The Politics of Squalor. Rayford Logan's Haiti and the Dominican
Republic examines Haiti's history in the larger context of European and United States competition in the Western Hemisphere. The period of the United States
occupation is chronicled effectively in Hans Schmidt's The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934. Bernard Diederich and Al Burt's Papa Doc: The Truth
About Haiti Today provides a riveting, although somewhat anecdotal, chronicle of François Duvalier's rule. In a similar vein, Elizabeth Abbott's Haiti: The
Duvaliers and Their Legacy gives the reader a feel for the behind-the-scenes workings of the dynastic dictatorship.