The New Yorker
Beyond the Mountains (Part II)
By Mark Danner
December 04, 1989
In Creole, the word blans means foreigner as well as white: Haitians applying the slogan "No foreigners in Haiti!" to Christopher Columbus is a little comedy, and one that begins to convey sense of the byzantine intertwinings of Haitian history, culture, and ideology; for when Columbus landed, in 1492, on the north coast of the island of Hispaniola (the western third of which is now called Haiti), his arrival predated that of the first black by almost a quarter century. It was only after the Spanish had virtually exterminated some half-million native Arawak Indians through forced labor, unfamiliar disease, and indiscriminate brutality that they imported their first African slaves — an expedient authorized by the Spanish Crown partly at the urging of Bartolomé de Ias Cases, a Dominican missionary priest who was appalled at the treatment of the Indians. When, three centuries later, the descendants and successors of those African slaves wrenched control of the country from Napoleon's troops, they would rename the now independent colony of Saint-Domingue with an Arawak word, hayti — "mountainous" - which, apart from a few antiquities, is pretty much all that remains of the island's first inhabitants.
In the Musée du Pantheon National, a sleek, modern, mostly underground structure built by Jean-Claude Duvalier across the street from the National Palace, the visitor is confronted with rusty iron manacles, chains, branding masks, muzzles, pokers, and other implements, carefully arranged behind a sheet of glass. "For three centuries," states a nearby placard, "our ancestors were subjected to the humiliation of being bought and sold at public markets, branded like beasts, and exposed to forced labor and punishment of an indescribable horror. ... Thanks to the sweat of these slaves, the Western part of the island, which little by little was occupied by buccaneers and baptized Saint-Domingue, became the richest colony of the New World, accounting for one-third of the commerce of the French Kingdom."
That figure may be an understatement. During the nine decades between Saint-Domingue's official passing to French hegemony under the Treaty of Ryswick, in 1697 (the eastern part of the island remained under Spanish control, as Santo Domingo), and the outbreak of the French Revolution, in 1789, it became the world's richest, most productive, and most coveted colony — an enormous slave-powered export factory that produced almost two-thirds of the world's coffee, almost half of its sugar, and large proportions of its cotton, indigo, and cocoa. In 1789, Henry Adams wrote, "Paris swarmed with creole families who drew their incomes from the island, among whom were many whose political influence was great; while, in the island itself, society enjoyed semi-Parisian ease and elegance, the natural product of an exaggerated slave-system combined with the manners, ideas, and amusements of a French proprietary caste."
By that revolutionary year, the colony's forty thousand or so white Frenchmen — landed planters and a middle class of tradesmen and suppliers — were ruling over almost five hundred thousand African slaves. And since blacks on the plantations tended to reproduce at an unnaturally low rate and to die young, and it was thus cheaper for a planter to import an adult African than to "breed" a slave and raise him from birth, as many as two-thirds of the half-million blacks had made "the middle passage" from West Africa to the Caribbean; that is, at the time of the revolution two slaves in three had been born and raised in Africa, spoke an African language, practiced an African religion, and retained vivid memories of a life lived in freedom, which made the brutal life of the plantations all the more painful. Justin Girod-Chantrans, a Swiss traveller who visited the island on the eve of the revolution, gave this description of a slave gang at work:
They were about a hundred men and women of different ages, all occupied in digging ditches in a cane-field, the majority of them naked or covered with rags. The sun shone down with full force on their heads. Sweat rolled from all parts of their bodies. Their limbs... fatigued with the weight of their picks ... strained themselves to overcome every obstacle. A mournful silence reigned. Exhaustion was stamped on every face ... several foremen armed with long whips moved periodically between them, giving stinging blows to all who, worn out by fatigue, were compelled to take a rest —men or women, young or old.
How did forty thousand whites enforce such discipline on five hundred thousand blacks? By terror: the ugly iron implements now on display in the glass case saw frequent use. The reports of contemporary visitors are filled with accounts of how slaves were lashed and beaten, how they were forced to wear tin masks to prevent them from eating sugarcane, how recalcitrant slaves were maimed or mutilated, or roasted over slow fires, or filled with gunpowder and blown to pieces.
Apart from the whites in the manor houses and towns and the blacks in the fields, there gradually arose a third class in Saint-Domingue, whose numbers grew rapidly, to the point where by the time of the French Revolution they almost equaled those of the whites: the free mulattoes. At the pleasure of his father, a "true mulatto" child could be declared free —a "true mulatto" being defined, in the complicated race theology devised in Saint Domingue, as the offspring of a "pure white" father and a "pure-black" mother. This system, according to which "colored" offspring were divided into ten classes, depending on the "color mix" of the past seven generations, was set out clearly in the standard contemporary source, the "Description Topographique, Physique, Civile, Politique et Historique de la Partie Francaise de l'Isle Saint-Domingue," of 1797, by M.L.E. Moreau de Saint-Méry (himself a white or possibly sang-míªlé colonial):
noir 0-7 parts white
sacatra 8-23 parts white
griffe 24-39 parts white
marabou 40-48 parts white
mulatre 49-70 parts white
quarteron 71-100 parts white
métif 101-112 parts white
mamelouc 113-120 parts white
quarteronne 121-124 parts white
sang-míªlé 125-127 parts white
Thus, the product of, say, a white man and a mulí¢tresse was a quarteron — a result that, as C. L. R. James writes in his 1938 account "The Black Jacobins," could also be "produced by the white and the marabou in the proportion of 88 to 40, or by the white and the sacatra, in the proportion of 72 to 56 and so on all through the 128 varieties."
By the late eighteenth century, many mulattoes owned plantations, and a good number had been educated in Europe. As a class, they had become rich and, particularly in the south, powerful. But as their power grew they were subject to increasing discrimination from the whites — especially those with less money — yet they hated and feared the blacks, for, as James bluntly puts it, "the advantages of being white were so obvious that race prejudice against the Negroes permeated the minds of the Mulattoes who so bitterly resented the same thing from the whites."
The loyalties of the mulattoes were, perforce, divided: between, on the one hand, their black slave mothers and relatives still working in the fields, with whom they shared the condition of less than full citizenship and the contempt, steadily increasing, of the whites; and, on the other, their white, European fathers, whose culture and way of life the mulattoes envied and imitated, and who, like them, had property to protect, including slaves — property that would be threatened if freedom were to be granted the slaves, on whom, after all, the colony's prosperity was founded. Indeed, the divided loyalties of the mulattoes and the whites' ambivalent attitude toward them — they needed the mulattoes as allies against the slaves, yet to grant them the full citizenship they demanded, to admit that they were truly and completely men, would, by undercutting the ideology of color, seem to lead ineluctably toward granting the black slaves the same — proved to be a critical factor during the political and military maneuverings of the Haitian revolution. And the legacy of those divided loyalties has hovered like a noxious cloud over the history and politics of Haiti.
THE events making up the Haitian revolution, which lasted, off and on, from 1790 until 1804, were intimately bound up with political developments in the mother country and with France's military campaigns in Europe; it was as if Saint-Domingue served as a kind of fun-house mirror across the Atlantic, complicating and distorting the already complex struggles of revolutionary France. At one time or another during those fourteen years, black slave soldiers fighting for their freedom found themselves battling not only their white masters but the armies of France, Great Britain, and Spain, and both white- and mulatto-led black armies in the south as well. In the end, the glorious revolution would stand as "the only successful slave revolt in history," as all the histories note, yet it effected a bloody and incomplete metamorphosis of the slave system, leaving Haiti not only with its peculiar social structure and violent, autocratic politics but with an entire stock of heroes and symbols that gave flesh to the enduring themes of Haiti's history: brutal repression, often foreign-aided; heroic revolt; miraculous liberation. Each class — each color — reads this chronicle in its own way, and each successive leader aspiring to power is faced with the task of appropriating it.
For the mulattoes, the war began in 1790, when, led by a wealthy planter with good connections to the Friends of the Negro, an abolitionist society in Paris, they demanded that all rights of French citizenship — and the newly christened revolutionary Rights of Man — be granted them (but not the blacks). Their forces were crushed, and the mulatto leaders, whose fine looks, upright bearing, and fiery eloquence had made a great impression in revolutionary Paris, were horribly tortured, broken on the wheel, and beheaded (this operation being performed, as the sentence stipulated, on the opposite side of the parade ground from that on which whites were executed).
For the blacks, the war began the following year, when a series of secret nocturnal voodoo gatherings was organized under the leadership of a huge voodoo high priest known as Boukman. They culminated in meeting during a thunderstorm, in a wood known as Bois Caiman, in the northern mountains above Cap Francais (today Cap Haí¯tian). A few days later, a signal was given, and the slaves rose up, massacred their masters, and fired the plantations across the northern plain, transforming in a night one of the wealthiest agricultural regions of the world into a vast, hellish conflagration. Boukman's secret voodoo gathering has served as a fount of Haitian revolutionary, nationalist, and — sometimes — pro-black, anti-mulatto imagery. It the was at Bois Caiman that, as a placard in the Musee du Pantheon National puts it, "la négritude rose to its feet for the first time, showing where our first roots lay and marking with its seal the foundation of our ethnicity and of our culture."
However potent la négritude, the masses of unschooled slaves would never have been able to do what they did without the rise of a class of extraordinary leaders, and of those none was more extraordinary than Toussaint Louverture. Before the revolution, Toussaint Bréda was a privileged slave, a cattle steward, on large northern plantation. An ugly man, short but powerfully built, he had been born in the colony to the son of an African chief and impressed all who met him by his imposing dignity. His skill as a horseman was legendary (he was nicknamed the Centaur of the Savanna), and he had also managed to learn to read. He acquired his military strategy, legend has it, from a close study of Caesar's "Commentaries."
When the slaves rose up in the north, Toussaint, by now a free man, was in his mid-forties. He joined the slaves a month into the rebellion and quickly became a leader. Maneuvering a fiendishly complicated world where alliances could shift abruptly, often in response to distant events, Toussaint first led his men alone against the colonists; then joined the Spanish, fighting under the banner of the French royalists against the ruling Republicans; and then, some months after Louis XVI was executed in Paris, joined the French Republicans and fought with them to push the Spanish from Saint-Domingue. Finally, Toussaint and his troops were instrumental in clearing the island of the British, who had hoped to profit from France's turmoil by stealing its richest colony.
In 1800, soon after Napoleon became First Consul, Toussaint Louverture (he had adopted this surname in 1793 to mark the "opening" of freedom to the black slaves) became the governor of what officially remained a French colony — but one that made its own laws to govern its own population, which consisted almost entirely of former slaves. Already ruler of the colony in all but name, Toussaint plainly wanted to retain this relationship with France; Napoleon, however, determined to put an end to the upstart, for reasons both strategic and personal. It was Toussaint who stood in the way of the First Consul's New World Empire. "Toussaint exercised on [United States] history an influence as decisive as that of any European ruler," Henry Adams wrote. "Before Bonaparte could reach Louisiana he was obliged to crush the power of Toussaint." This circumstance was all the more irritating because observers had begun to point out similarities between the two military geniuses. Adams again: "The same abnormal energy of body and mind; the same morbid lust for power and indifference to means; the craft and vehemence of temper; the same fatalism, love of display, reckless personal courage ... [This] parallelism roused Napoleon's anger, and precipitated a conflict which had vast influence on human affairs. ... Toussaint seemed naturally to ape every action which Bonaparte wished to make heroic in the world's eyes. There was reason to fear that Toussaint would end in making Bonaparte ridiculous; for his conduct was, as it seemed to the First Consul, a sort of negro travesty on the consular regime."
In 1801, after Toussaint named himself governor-general for life, Napoleon resolved to put him in his place. In November, he sent a huge fleet to the island, carrying more than ten thousand crack troops under the command of his brother-in-law General Charles-Victor-Emmanuel Leclerc. Their mission was to reconquer the colony, unseat Toussaint, and restore slavery in Saint-Domingue. If France had recognized black rule in Saint Domingue, Napoleon wrote Talleyrand, then "the sceptre of the New World would sooner or later have fall into the hands of the blacks." It was to be a war of counter-revolution.
The fate of the newly freed slaves rested with Toussaint — and much now else besides. If the blacks were defeated, Adams wrote, "the wave of French empire would roll on to Louisiana and sweep far up the Mississippi." For Napoleon to succeed in his New World ambitions, Toussaint must be removed. "Rid us of these gilded Africans," the First Consul wrote General Leclerc, "and we shall have nothing more to wish."
It was not to be; General Leclerc and the majority of his troops would soon be dead. By the time the war ended, in 1803, with the disembarkation of the bloody remnants of fifty-five thousand French soldiers, the former colony had been devastated and depopulated: Cap Francais, Saint-Marc, and many other cities and towns had been burned to the ground; most of the plantations had been destroyed; all but a few of the surviving whites had fled to France or the United States; and a third or more of the blacks were dead. These included Toussaint himself, who died nor by force of arms but by treachery, having been lured to a meeting by the French, then captured and shipped back to France, where he succumbed to pneumonia while imprisoned in a fortress in the Juras.
The war had been characterized by astonishing brutality on all sides: not only were towns and plantations methodically looted and burned but prisoners were regularly tortured and killed and their heads mounted on the walls of stockades or on pikes along the roadsides. Rape and massacre of non-combatants were the rule. According to several accounts, the French used dogs to rip black prisoners to pieces before a crowd assembled in an amphitheatre. During the last, desperate phase of the war, General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, an illiterate and ferocious former field slave, who had succeeded Toussaint as leader, gave his troops a now celebrated order: "Koupé tet, boulé kay!" — "Cut off heads, burn houses!"
But when it was over — when General Dessalines had ripped the white middle from the French tricolor to form the Haitian flag, and the French colony of Saint-Domingue had become the independent nation of Haiti — an astounded world faced an undeniable fact: half a million illiterate African slaves had defeated the armies of the most powerful nation on earth and created the world's first (and at that time its only) independent black republic. To the nations of Europe and to the United States it was a terrifying and threatening fact, for Haiti was not only the second independent nation in a hemisphere still crowded with the possessions of Britain, France, Portugal, and Spain but a republic of rebellious slaves surrounded by a great number of colonies and one independent nation where slavery remained a basic economic fact of life.
In Europe, the miraculous phenomenon was an inspiration to the Romantics: Wordsworth addressed a celebrated poem to Toussaint, the "miserable Chieftain" ("Though fallen thyself, never to ride again, Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind Powers that will work for thee"), and Kleist wrote a famous story, "Betrothal in Santo Domingo." ("Now in 1803, as the world knows, when General Dessalines was advancing against Port-au-Prince at the head of thirty thousand negroes ... "). The reaction among political leaders, however, was simple panic: to them, Dessalines represented the nightmare of incipient revolution. (A modern historian has aptly dubbed him "the Castro of his time.")
The panic was not discouraged by Dessalines, one of whose first acts as the ruler of independent Haiti was to order the massacre of all the whites remaining on the island. A contemporary observer wrote of "piercing shrieks" that resounded one night as squads of soldiers moved from house to house, killing whole families, and noted that the next day the rivulet running through Cap Francais was "literally red with their blood." After the massacre, Dessalines issued a proclamation: "Never again shall colonist or European set foot on this soil as master or landowner. This shall henceforward be the foundation of our constitution." When Haiti's first constitution was written, in 1805, those words were included, and the formal prohibition was retained in successive constitutions until 1918, by which time American Marines had occupied the country. (Before writing the Act of Independence, at Gonaí¯ves, Dessalines's secretary, Boisrond-Tonnerre, had made a famous vow, known to every Haitian since, literate or not: "For our declaration of independence we should have the skin of a white for parchment, his skull for inkwell, his blood for ink, and a bayonet for pen!") The constitution, drawing on both the extreme centralization of the French colonial system and the military instincts of the Haitian leaders, made Dessalines ruler for life, an autocrat with the power to choose his successor. It also tried to head off the imminent conflict between the educated and propertied mulattoes and the newly freed black slaves by declaring that all Haitians, regardless of color, were henceforth to be considered "black," and it formalized Dessalines's earlier nationalization of the plantations, declaring all land the property of the state.
None of these steps — and particularly not the massacre of the whites and the appropriation of French-owned land — did much for the former colony's image abroad, or helped breach its economic and diplomatic isolation. The hemisphere's other revolutionary state, the United States, seemingly a natural ally, refused to recognize its newly independent neighbor, partly because of French pressure but mainly because Southerners feared that Haiti's example might influence American slaves. Vice-President John C. Calhoun pointed out in 1826, "It is not so much recognition simply, as what must follow it. ... What would be social relations to a Black minister in Washington? ... Must his daughters and sons participate in the society of our daughters and sons? ... Small as these considerations appear to be they involve the peace and perhaps the union of the nation." Calhoun's words were prophetic: "the land of the free" recognized Haiti only in 1862, during the Civil War Administration of Abraham Lincoln.
It was during the first two decades of independence in a devastated, isolated country, its rivers clogged with corpses, its fields and towns charred ruins, where the ability to read and technical skills were almost was nonexistent, that the peculiar Haitian social structure took shape. The new country's isolation increased its self-absorption and its nationalism, and deepened its internal divisions, cultural and economic, and its suspicion of the colonial powers. The country possessed a ready-made elite, in the mulattoes and smaller number of black freedmen, and to these was added a fabricated one, drawn from the country's new rulers — Dessalines and his fellow black officers. Otherwise, the nation consisted of an illiterate population of Africans who in their years in the New World had known nothing but plantation work under the lash and a decade and a half of apocalyptic war.
During that war, Toussaint had tried to reestablish the export economy by using forced labor on the plantations, many of which were leased to Army officers. Now the Emperor — not to be outdone by Napoleon, Dessalines had crowned himself Jacques I in October, 1804 — followed suit, instituting a system off quasi-serfdom, in which military officers again leased the former estates, and worked them with indentured ex-slaves. The workers were legally restricted to specific plantations and were forced to labor in conditions of such harshness that they soon recognized in the system a virtual restoration of slavery, and they began to desert and flee to the mountains in large numbers. There they joined the any communities of marrons — run-away slaves who had escaped the plantations in colonial times and become squatters, making their homes on remote slopes and cultivating small subsistence plots.
The members of the new Haitian élite were also dissatisfied with Dessalines's policies — especially his nationalizing of the plantation land, which the mulattoes claimed as their rightful inheritance. The mulattoes rose up in the south. Dessalines, who detested the mulattoes, thundered, "How does it come to pass that since we have chased away the colonists, their children are claiming their property? The Blacks whose fathers are in Africa will then have nothing? Be careful of yourselves, Negroes and Mulattoes ... the property we have conquered in spilling our blood belongs to all of us; I insist that it be shared with equity."
But Dessalines, whose regime had become increasingly corrupt ("Pluck the chicken, but don't make it scream," he advised his ministers), was unpopular even among many of his black officers, who regarded the fertile land as their spoils of war. On October 17, 1806, Jacques I, Emperor of Haiti, known to the people as Papa Jacques, was ambushed by a group of mulatto officers near Port-au-Prince, dragged from his horse, and bayonetted. After his body was stripped and castrated, the fingers hacked off to yield up their golden rings, it was left to rot in the sun on the Place d'Armes.
The assassination of Dessalines, the father of the country, plays the part of the Fall — of original sin — in Haitian history. His name is synonymous with black power, black independence, Haitian nationalism: after the flight of Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986, the portly, tricorne - and braid-bedecked, sword-bearing figure of Dessalines could be seen as the central character in countless nationalist murals celebrating Haiti's "second liberation." And 1806 serves black Haitians, in particular, as a kind of shorthand for the moment when Haitian history — set on the path of political and economic independence and black self-rule by a leader who, however corrupt and autocratic, at least attempted to speak for the disinherited and too break down the walls of color and class inherited from the colony — began to go terribly wrong. But 1806 means something very different to mulattoes, who "have been ever since victims of a paralyzing complex of guilt because of the assassination of Dessalines," as the Haitian scholar Lyonel Paquin writes in "The Haitians: Class and Color Politics." "The Blacks did a good job of feeding that complex," Paguin continues, "ceaselessly accusing the Mulattoes of the crime. It is an historical blackmail which lasts to this day."
After 1806, a leadership struggle ensued, which developed into a civil war between black-led and mulatto-led factions, and the country split in two: in the south was a mulatto-ruled Republic of Haiti, under General Alexandre Petion; in the north; a black-ruled State of Haiti, under General Henry Christophe. In 1811, Christophe, a former slave, crowned himself King Henry I and proceeded too create an aristocracy of Haitian princes, dukes, counts, barons, and knights, who became the ancestors of today's "black bourgeoisie of the north," He also built, not far from Cap Haitien, an opulent palace known as Sans Souci, and the Citadelle La Ferriere , a huge castle, set high on a mountain, that from the air looks like a vast stone ship knifing through giant waves. To impress visitors, legend has it, the King would parade his soldiers on the fortress's lofty battlements and demonstrate his authority and power by ordering whole squadrons to march straight ahead toward the sheer wall, where, unquestioningly, having received no command to halt they would disappear over the edge, plummeting a thousand feet into the valley below.
Christophe granted some estates to his newly created aristocrats, and late in his reign he began to distribute land in smaller parcels, but in general he followed Dessalines in trying to reinvigorate the export economy by keeping the large plantations intact and maintaining a forced-labor system. In the south, the mulatto President Pétion, faced with a shortage of labor and money, and with stagnant agricultural production, decided on radical land reform: he broke up all the plantations into small parcels and sold them for nominal sums or granted them outright to his officers and soldiers. Although many of the old mulatto élite did manage to retain or amass estates, Pétion went on distributing small tracts of land to common soldiers until his death, in 1818. Jean-Pierre Boyer, a mulatto general, succeeded him and, after the death of King Henry (the King, seeing his regime about to collapse in the face of internal rebellion, committed suicide in 1820, supposedly with a silver bullet), reunited the country; Boyer eventually applied the land-reform policy throughout Haiti.
The reforms took about forty years in all, and when they were complete what had been an international, export-led economy driven by large-scale agricultural production had been transformed into a nation of benighted smallholders. Sugar, which had been the key to Saint-Domingue's wealth, virtually disappeared as an export crop, and coffee — easily cultivated, or even collected, for it grew wild on Haiti's isolated mountains — replaced it as the country's most remunerative export, a cash crop that was grown by small cultivators along with the bananas, yams, and corn they fed their families. Haiti's may be the only revolution in history to have turned a modern (albeit slave-powered) trading state into a largely peasant country. The small landholdings created by Petion and Boyer, which became ever smaller as they were divided equally, in the new French fashion, among the children of each succeeding generation; the rapidly growing peasant population; the consequent exhaustion of the soil and erosion of the land; and the succession of Haitian rulers, members of the urban-based elite, who cared little and did less about these rural problems — these factors led directly to the spectacular poverty of Haiti today.
By creating a nation of smallholders, the land reforms helped determine the future development of the elite and the type of governments — despotic, unstable, corrupt — they would form. Since the Haitian élite's wealth and power, unlike those of the elites elsewhere in Latin America, could not be based on land — even those who had managed to secure or retain large estates were forced by lack of available labor to parcel their land and lease it to tenant farmers — the land reforms, as the economist Mats Lundahl writes in his book "Peasants and Poverty," made government "the most lucrative source of incomes in the country." Thus, writes Lundahl, "The administration was turned into a generator of legal and illegal incomes accruing to the followers of the politicians who happened to be in command at the moment, and the supremacy of this group was always contested by others fighting for their turn."
The intra-élite fights were so frequent as to seem almost continuous, were often bloody, and were frequently complicated by the involvement of one more foreign powers. But from Dessalines to Duvalier the political struggles in Haiti can be said to have had two relatively constant characteristics: they tended to involve the great mass of Haitians as a marginal or, more often, instrumental force, usually brought into play by a leader to help remove the country's current ruler from power; and they turned, either overtly or covertly, and often in the most intricate ways, on the great burden bequeathed by colonial Saint-Domingue — the critical fulcrum of color.
WHEN Admiral Columbus was asked by Isabella to describe his newly discovered island of Hispaniola, so the story goes, he reached for a sheet of paper from the Queen's writing desk, crumpled it, dropped it on the table, and said, "It looks like that." (When reflecting on their troubles, Haitians will say, "Beyond the mountains, more mountains.") Today, Haiti's ratio of population to arable land is one of the highest in the world, with the result that, as a favorite statistic of AID people in Port-au-Prince has it, while only thirty per cent of Haiti's land is cultivable forty per cent is under cultivation. All over Haiti one sees on impossibly steep mountainsides rows of sticks hammered into the earth, looking like the leavings of some primitive mountaineer. In fact, they are the footholds that a Haitian farmer relies on in cultivating his property. Perhaps only in Haiti do farmers hurt themselves falling off their fields.
The denuding of the hillsides, not only by overcultivation but by the peasant's never-ending search for wood for charcoal (which is rapidly becoming his major cash crop), eventually led to catastrophic erosion; from the air, the blue water around the island is seen to be clouded with dirt — tons of Haiti's precious topsoil, trickling down day after day, month after month, to the bottom of the ocean. Large parts of the country have been transformed into virtual desert, and, despite tree-planting efforts by the many "development groups" working in Haiti, are still being so transformed. This transformation has gradually forced the peasants off the land. During the last three decades particularly, more and more of them have been piling into buses and coming to the cities, adding to the squalor of the urban slums. (And since the early nineteen-seventies increasing numbers have boarded rickety boats and braved the open seas and the United States Coast Guard, in the hope of reaching the riches of south Florida, six hundred miles away.)
The migrations to the cities represented the coming together of two worlds that had previously been separate. One was the so-called "low world" of the countryside — a world made by the freed black field slaves who flooded into rural Haiti, became peasants either by squatting or by receiving land during the land reforms, and, isolated and unschooled, created what C. L. R. James called "Africa in the West Indies." Even today, eight Haitians in ten still live in that world. All along the car-choked streets of Port-au-Prince, signs of it are everywhere — most notably the ubiquitous peasant women just in from the country, carrying their produce to market in great baskets balanced effortlessly on their kerchief-bound heads.
Within a few miles of the capital, the market women's husbands, strawhatted black peasants, are working tiny plots — an acre, two, four, often widely separated — with little more than a machete, just as their great-grandfathers did. Like their great-grandfathers, they are illiterate; speak only Creole, in a country whose official language was always French; practice voodoo, in country whose official religion was always Catholicism; live with their woman, if they can afford it, their several women — in plaí§age, or common-law marriage; react with suspicion and sullen fear to outsiders (a category that includes Haitians from the city as well as the almost never glimpsed foreigner); and know the authority of the dreaded state only through a military chef de section, or sheriff, who functions as an all-powerful proconsul. The chef de section's word is law, the more so since the peasant is mute before the French-speaking official world of courts and government. In the case of a land dispute — and land disputes are constant, for most peasants hold no written titles to their property — his muteness may leave him defenseless before the powerful city man, who covets his fields, speaks French, and has friends in the government.
This city man is part of Haiti's "high world." Perched in lovely houses in Pétionville, Laboule, and Kenscoff, high above Port-au-Prince, the Haitian élite, though tiny in numbers, are a formidable group: as the peasants are culturally African, the élite are culturally European — foreign-educated, French-speaking, well travelled — and a larger and larger proportion of them, as one moves up the income scale, are light-skinned. They live in the cities, and hold jobs in the bloated bureaucracy, or in other, more indirect ways draw income from the government, which traditionally (until the advent of foreign aid) funded itself by taxing the produce of the peasants. Government in Haiti thus evolved as a huge extractive mechanism, sucking funds from the masses on the countryside and channelling them to the elite in the cities.
Much of Haiti's history can be understood as the struggle within the élite — often, but not always, divided very roughly into mulatto and black factions — to achieve and retain political power, and thus control access to the spoils. During Boyer's reign, the mulatto grip on the government solidified and tightened. "The aristocracy of the high-yellow skin has been erected on the ruins of the aristocracy of the white skin," the French sociologist Victor Schoelcher reported bluntly on 1843. Spenser St. John, a British envoy on Haiti some time later, observed, "Every one who mixes on Haytian society is struck by the paucity of black gentlemen to be met with at balls, concerts, or the theatre, and the almost total absence of black ladies."
In 1843, an impatient younger generation of mulattoes overthrew Boyer, and over the next several years there developed what came to be called la politique de doublure, or "the politics of understudies," on which an old, distinguished, and malleable black general would play the part of President, thereby smoothing the ruffled feathers of the blacks, while "understudies"— the predominantly mulatto factions of the élite — wielded the real power behind the scenes. This continued until 1847, when the mulattoes, as Paquin dryly puts it, "picked the wrong man."
His name was Faustian Soulouque, and at the time of his elevation he was the commander of the Palace Guards. An illiterate black, he was regarded as stupid and easy to control. Like Franí§ois Duvalier, who was to rule Haiti more than a century later, he was fatally underestimated by his opponents, and was able to turn their low opinion of him into his greatest strength; he knew how to appeal in ideological terms to the black Haitian masses (he was the first and perhaps ... only Haitian ruler to organize official voodoo ceremonies); he counterbalanced the Army by setting up a secret police militia force loyal only to him, and so organized the zinglins, a company of illiterate, brutal peasants; he tended to distrust and turn on those who most helped him gain and retain power; and he massacred the mulattoes and then set loose the black masses to loot and destroy their businesses and property. In 1849, he crowned himself Emperor Faustin I, and created a large black aristocracy of his own. But Emperor Faustin eventually bled the country dry by the expensive pomp of his court and by his several attempts to conquer neighboring Santo Domingo, and he was overthrown in 1859 by a mulatto general, Fabre-Nicolas Geffrard.
Here, as Robert and Nancy Heinl, Alain Turner, and other historians have detailed, Haitian history begins to grow more and more complicated, increasingly obscured by a dense growth of insurrections, revolutions, coups d'état, civil wars, with peasant armies marching back and forth across the land, the general political chaos punctuated by the screams of massacres and the smoke of fired and looted cities. During this period, which, with interruptions, lasted until 1915, the Army tended to be made up largely of illiterate peasants who had been forced into service. Recruiting, the Haitian writer Frédéric Marcelin declared in the eighteen-nineties, "whether it's carried out brutally in the streets or mildly by letter, is at bottom nothing more than a means of coercion. Our army is nothing more than a vast prison turned inside out."
Many of the battles fought by these reluctant revolutionaries involved some degree of foreign intervention — at first British or French, and then, later in the century, German and American as well — as one faction or another preferred to witness foreign gunboats shelling Haitian cities rather than see its political opponents victorious; as, in the growing chaos, one or another nation felt bound to protect its nationals; or as France and, later, Germany and the United States felt called upon to "encourage" the Haitians to resume payment on their huge foreign debt, which Boyer had been forced to incur in 1825 in order to pay the immense reparations that France demanded in exchange for its recognition of the new nation. Throughout the century, debt payments constituted a major drag on the country's development and a further threat to its stability. During the forty-eight years between the overthrow of Geffrard and the landing of the Marines in 1915, sixteen Presidents served; two completed their terms.
IN 1907, in a modest house not far from the National Palace, Franí§ois Duvalier was born. As Bernard Diederich and Al Burt note in their indispensable book "Papa Doc," this was "during the military dictatorship of Nord Alexis," though when Franí§ois "was one year old General Antoine Simon overthrew Alexis. He was four when a revolution ousted Simon and five when an explosion reduced the old wooden Palais National and President Cincinnatus Leconte along with it to splinters. Duvalier was six when President Tancrède Auguste was poisoned; his funeral was interrupted when two generals began fighting over his succession. … One Michel Oreste got the job, but he was overthrown the following year by a man named Zamor, who in turn fell a year later to Davilmar Théodore."
President Théodore lasted barely three months before Vilbrun Guillaume Sam marched a detachment of irregulars down from the north and overthrew him; President Sam had reigned five months when, with another revolution spreading from the north, he ordered a hundred and sixty-seven political prisoners, most of them members of élite families, massacred, and took refuge in the French Embassy — whence, on the following day, a mob dragged him out, impaled him on the Embassy's spiked fence, and tore his body to pieces.
Enter the United States Marines. They came to put an end to the chaos - or at least, that was the reason given publicly. Perhaps more important was concern about the repayment of a large New York bank loan and worry about possible encroachments by the Germans, whose nationals by then controlled much of the country's importing businesses, and who, embroiled as they were in the First World War, might welcome the chance to interfere in a country whose strategic value had just been greatly increased by the opening of the Panama Canal.
When the Marines marched ashore, Francois Duvalier was a child of eight; by the time they left, he was a nationalist intellectual of twenty-seven; a young physician who had worked widely in rural Haiti; an amateur ethnographer and anthropologist with a strong interest in voodoo and peasant culture; and, like many of his contemporaries, a burning noiriste. Rekindled nationalism, a product not only of the occupation itself but of the Americans' preference for ruling the country through mulatto politicians, proved to be one of the major legacies of the occupation, along with a few new schools, a telephone system, and repaired roads (this last courtesy of forced-labor gangs toiling under white Marines — for Haitians, a painful echo of the slavery their forebears had endured).
Another important legacy was the "professionalized" Garde d'Haiti, which, though it had been trained by United States Marines to be disciplined, hierarchical, and, above all, "nonpolitical," soon came to serve as the key to political power. And the better roads and more efficient communications helped concentrate political power in the capital and made possible a much more efficient exploitation of the countryside. (For the Marines, starving the regional centers had served as a useful tactic in combating an anti-American guerrilla movement known as the Cacos, who were peasant irregulars led by Charlemagne Péralte, a legendary hero. Péralte was eventually betrayed by a spy and assassinated by a Marine; a famous photograph, picturing the dead leader tied upright to a door, Christlike, has taken its place as an icon of Haitian nationalism.)
Duvalier understood these legacies, as he did the Americans' belief that a Haitian democracy must be built on a strong middle class — the tiny group among which Duvalier, the country doctor son of a minor magistrate, numbered himself.
FRANCOIS DUVALIER, a serious and somewhat awkward little man who ware thick spectacles and affected formal dark suits, seems to have impressed most people who encountered him — from his years in college and medical school to his time in the Cabinet — as a taciturn, even enigmatic, figure of uncertain intelligence and ability.
His student years during the twenties and thirties were a time of great intellectual excitement in Haiti. The return of whites to power had always been Haiti's ultimate nightmare, and the occupation gave rise to unceasing, anguished self-analysis. As the historian David Nicholls recounts, in "From Dessalines to Duvalier," political and intellectual groups of all ideological hues sprang up, issuing declarations and manifestos, publishing short-lived journals and newspapers. All the groups, whether Communist, Fascist, ultranationalist, or racist, had a common goal: accounting for what had befallen the independent Republic of Haiti, and formulating a plan for its political future.
By the time the Marines departed, in 1934, Duvalier had become a founding member of a group called Les Griots (meaning The Bards in Guinean). Building on an "ethnology movement" of the nineteen-twenties, these young men pressed for frank recognition of the role that African traditions had played in Haiti's history: they embarked on careful studies of peasant life, emphasizing, among other things, the importance of voodoo. For ambitious intellectuals in a country where the official language was French, the official religion was Roman Catholicism, schooling had long been the preserve of the mostly European Catholic clergy, and so-called "high" culture had always looked to Paris, this was a controversial view. For the Griots, and especially for Duvalier, the "valorization," as he called it, of Haiti's African character had clear political implications — implications that were being made bitterly clear even then, in the immediate aftermath of the American occupation, by the wholesale mulí¢trification, or "mulatto-ization," of the government and the Army, and that became even clearer during the early nineteen-forties, when the government, in collaboration with the Catholic Church, launched an "anti-superstition" campaign against voodoo.
Duvalier developed his ideology in a series of articles, essays, and pamphlets published during the thirties and forties, many of them written with Lorimer Denis, a black lawyer and mystic reputed to be a houngan, or voodoo priest. These writings are voluminous, contradictory, and at times rather obscure, but the main line of thought, expressed most fully in his and Denis's treatise "The Class Problem Throughout Haitian History" (1946), may be said to follow from a frankly racist premise: that Haiti is a nation whose people are overwhelmingly of African descent, and thus share a particular cultural and political disposition. (In building on this premise, Duvalier sometimes cited European racist theorists like Alfred Rosenberg, chief ideologist of the Nazis.) Despite this clear racial disposition, Duvalier argued, Haiti had since its founding been dominated, politically and culturally, by a mulatto, Europeanized elite (either directly or by means of la politique de doublure). In other words, since its inception the social system of independent Haiti had in fact been nothing more than an extension of Saint-Domingue's. The black elite (with a few important exceptions) had largely collaborated, and in so doing had shown themselves to be traitors to their true allies; the black masses — the peasantry, who embodied in their daily lives the culture and religion of Africa.
For Duvalier, the political solution, which he often framed as a quasi-mystical "saving" of the nation's soul, using terms that recall the European Fascist rhetoric of the period, could come only with a true revolution that would wrest power from the old élite. "All revolution, if it is to be profound and durable, Duvalier and Denis wrote in 1946, "must have as its object the redemption of the masses." But how was such a redemption to be effected? "There must rise up, as long before in Saint-Domingue, one or more of those representative individuals of whom Carlyle speaks and who, by means of their personal synthesis, polarize the agonies, the hopes, and also the desire to endure of a class of men who can create the Toussaint Louvertures, the Dessalineses, the Christophes, founders of Empires and of Nations." This "representative individual" could arise only from the black middle class, since, as Duvalier wrote somewhat later, he must be a "descendant of peasants, emerging from the matrix of the history of the race," while also laying claim to "a sufficient level of intellectual culture" to counterbalance the élites and manage the revolution.
As the Haitian sociologist Laí«nnec Hurbon explains, the stipulation that the black savior must have sufficient "intellectual culture" provides a clue to something rather strange in Duvalier's populism. His revolution would not be a cultural reformation of Haiti; it would not seek to replace the French spoken by educated Haitians with Creole, or to replace Roman Catholicism with voodoo, or, indeed, to have the Haitian state concern itself with helping those who had always been ignored — the peasants. Rather, Duvalier's "redemption of the masses" would seek to put, and retain, a black in power, and to promote the black middle class into prime places in a system that had always been closed to it. This shift in political power — which must be permanent, which must endure, unlike all previous "revolutions" in Haitian history — would itself constitute the redemption of the masses. The basic lineaments of the system — the "two worlds," the extreme cultural and economic division of the country — would remain largely unaffected.
As President, therefore, Duvalier, the redeemer of the masses, would follow all other Haitian rulers in speaking to the nation mostly in French, though ninety percent of his people were unable to understand him. On taking office, Duvalier, the great champion of voodoo, would receive the traditional Te Deum in a Catholic church. Though he would make great use of voodoo — both by projecting himself as the incarnation of a frightening voodoo loa ("spirit") named Baron Samedi, who was the guardian of the graveyard, and by recruiting to his cause voodoo priests in the countryside as a means of exerting local power — voodoo itself would never become anything like Haiti's official religion.
AS a result of the tumultuous events known as the Revolution of 1946, "the black man in power" became a reality. A student strike against President Elie Lescot, an élite mulatto, expanded into a general strike, which, in turn, provoked a coup d'etat, headed by three Army officers. After a raucous seven-month parenthèse, Dumarsais Estime, a black deputy who had served as Minister of Education during the thirties, became President. And Estime, a man from a humble peasant family in Verrettes, presided over an infusion of blacks into the public administration, many of them the very middle-class intellectuals who had been calling for a noir au pouvoir.
Duvalier, who had been working an American-sponsored campaign against the tropical disease yaws in rural Haiti (and, under the program's sponsorship, had spent two semesters at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor), entered the government as Director of Public Health, later advancing to Under-Minister of Labor, and then to Minister of Public Health and Labor. During Duvalier's time in office, the government raised the minimum wage, passed unprecedented labor and health laws, enacted a statute forbidding foreigners to teach Haitian history; it also worked to increase tour and foreign investment by sponsoring an international fair. Under the nationalist banner, the arts flourished, especially Haitian painting; it was the beginning of what came to be known as the Haitian Renaissance.
The atmosphere of intellectual excitement and nationalist renewal was heady, but it didn't last. Though Estimé succeeded in bringing money into the country, a great deal of corruption with it; a group that had always been excluded from the traditional fruits of power was eager to make up for lost time. There were scandals in the banana industry and in several projects connected with the international fair. The old elite, unaccustomed to being locked out, began to plot with the Army.
In 1950, faced with growing turmoil and encouraged by an impatient elite, the three officers who had deposed Lescot four years before overthrew Estimé, forcing him — in a scene that Duvalier would never forget — to walk between a double column of soldiers on his way to a ship that would carry him to exile. One of these officers, Colonel Paul Magloire, a black man strongly backed by the traditional elite, made a triumphant tour of the country and shortly thereafter was elected President.
To Duvalier, Magloire represented return to business as usual, a black officer once again working only to fill his own pockets and those of the elite, in yet another version of la politique de doublure. From his position in the Cabinet, Duvalier had watched Estimé's downfall, had observed how the élite conspired with the Army and how both profited from the growing popular agitation on the left. He had added a useful course in the practical realities of Haitian politics, and a number of valuable contacts in the labor unions, to his knowledge of Haitian history and peasant culture.
Duvalier spent the Magloire years working for the American sanitary mission, acquiring political allies, and, during the later, more repressive period of Magloire's rule, hiding from the police. (While underground, according to legend, Duvalier made an intensive study of Machiavelli.) By 1956, when Magloire tried to extend his term and was brought down by yet another general strike and by the intervention of his own Army, the soft-spoken little country doctor — scholarly, unassuming, apparently even honest, having declined, unlike virtually all his colleagues, to profit from his four years in office — was in a position to put himself forward as the rightful heir to Estime's black revolution.
THE parenthèse of 1956-57 was a spectacular exercise in prolonged political crisis, a nine-month period during which Haiti was ruled by five governments, all of them pushed, pulled, manipulated, and, finally, destabilized by the four men who held the real power — the four major candidates for President.
In many ways, the events of the parenthèse that brought Duvalier to power loomed over the one that followed the overthrow of his so twenty-nine years later: in both, an enormous burst of political activity — an explosion of political parties, new magazines and newspapers, popular organizations and committees — was packed into a very short period bracketed by repression; in both, the real work of winnowing out the candidates and determining the eventual winner was decided largely in the maneuvering before the election itself; in both, the unforgivable sin for any candidate was offending the power in place, the Army; and, in both, the losing candidates refused to recognize the man who eventually became President as the legitimate winner, thereby insuring continued political instability.
In 1957, both Francois Duvalier and his major opponent, Senator Louis Déjoie, boasted national reputations and could claim whole regions of the country as strongholds. Déjoie — a handsome, European-educated aristocrat who liked to dress for dinner — was the scion of a wealthy mulatto family that included General Nicolas Geffrard, a major figure in the war of independence, and his son, President Fabre-Nicolas Geffrard; he was backed by the traditional elite, which by then included not only the powerful Catholic Church and a large part of the officer corps but virtually all the country's significant businessmen. Meanwhile, Daniel Fignolé, tall, slim, good-looking, and blessed with a talent for rousing Creole rhetoric, wielded enormous power in the capital, where he could unleash adoring masses to do great damage. Many black soldiers also favored him, and some officers. Clement Jumelle, Magloire's Finance Minister, claimed significant support within the public administration and among the professional class. And, finally, Duvalier, issuing his call for black salvation in halting, somewhat mystical terms, had a strong following in the north and throughout the countryside, and was a favorite not only of many black soldiers but of key black officers. And though it was known that a group of operatives he had assembled as planting bombs and concocting other violent "dirty tricks," he managed to retain his benign image: Papa Doc, the slightly dotty country doctor.
As the four candidates fought each other through the rise and fall of five governments, through general strikes, mass demonstrations, bombings, attempted assassinations, and political violence of every sort, it gradually became clear that Duvalier had an all important advantage: "the impossibility of any electoral victory on the part of his opponents," as the political scientist and future President Leslie Manigat observed. Jumelle had been wholly discredited by the corruption and scandals of the last regime; Fignolé was a populist rabble-rouser whom the elite would never countenance; and Déjoie, the strongest of the three, was an élite mulatto facing three blacks in an overwhelmingly black and highly race-sensitive country.
The deciding event was the "civil war" of May 25, 1957, when the Army split in two. A Déjoie faction broke off and took up positions across the Champ de Mars from the bulk of the military, in the Dessalines Barracks behind the Palace. As crowds gathered to watch, artillery bombarded the barracks, and snipers fired back, picking off several of the gunners. (Within the barracks, according to the memoirs of Colonel Pressoir Pierre, a Duvalierist, the soldiers were "overcome with panic" under the artillery barrage, but a young second lieutenant named Henri Namphy "went — in peril of his life — directly to the line of fire seizing control of the situation and restoring confidence to his men.")
When the "civil war" was over seventeen soldiers and perhaps
hundred civilians were dead and the Déjoie faction had been defeated.
Some of the leading "rebel" officers were cashiered and a few
imprisoned. With Déjoie weakened, Duvalier moved to deal with Fignolé,
joining with Jumelle to support the appointment of the young firebrand
as provisional President.
On the day of Fignolé's inauguration, Port-au-Prince was the scene of delirious celebration; the following dawn revealed that the facades of many of the city's houses and other buildings had been emblazoned with the Fignolé insignia and the slogan "We have taken power for 25 years!"
"The speed with which the slogans had been printed frightened me," Colonel Pierre notes in his memoirs. The high command's fears were not eased when the young President ordered a reshuffling of officers that would send certain loyalists of May 25th to posts outside the capital, and, announced without consulting the high command, that he was doubling his soldiers' pay. Fignolé's days were numbered.
On June 14th, the soldiers of the Dessalines Barracks were pleased to learn that a double feature would he shown in the barracks that evening. As they filed into the theatre, they were asked to leave their rifles outside, "to prevent accidents." Having enjoyed two Westerns, the no unarmed soldiers were loaded into tucks and driven out of the capital. Meanwhile, in the Palace, there came a sharp knock at the door of the Cabinet room, and a group of officers burst in, machine guns in hand, and marched the provisional President down the hall, out of the building, and to a wharf, where his family had been assembled on waiting launch; the Fignolés were on their way to twenty-nine years of exile in New York. Before his supporters had any inkling of trouble, "the cowboy-movie coup" ended the political career of the populist President. He had ruled for nineteen days.
When it dawned on the slum dwellers of Port-au-Prince that they had been
deprived of their idol, they reacted first with paralysis and then, two
nights later, with fury. A rumor — that crucial weapon of Haitian politics — began to race through the city that Fignolé was still in Haiti, that
he was being held in Fort Dimanche prison, that he would soon be executed.
In the dark slums of the capital, a huge, howling mob rose up, making a roar that, in the words of Maurepas Auguste, then an Army officer, "could have terrified the most courageous: a formless and mournful tumult, like that signalling the approach of a hurricane, by tens of thousands of people screaming to raise the dead and accompanied by a sinister clashing and smashing of all sorts of objects." This was the bat ténèb, the "tenebrous beating": the screaming crowd pounded machetes, knives, pots, and pans against the lampposts, smashing the street lights block upon block as they advanced, plunging the entire city into a deafening darkness.
General Antonio Kébreau, the Army chief of staff, unleashed his troops. The city had become "a jungle," he explained to journalists the next day. "You heard, gentlemen, those cries of savage beasts, those electric poles resonating, that infernal noise." From Fort Dimanche, soldiers directed heavy-machine-gun fire into the crowd; then, behind armored cars and tanks, they advanced into the slums, massacring the people in the streets and later moving from house to house to slaughter those who had taken refuge.
The next day, the soldiers brought in trucks and loaded up the bodies, and with them came the firemen, to hose down the blood-soaked streets. Since the soldiers dumped their truckloads into secret graves, no one knows how many died during the nuit rouge; estimate a range from five hundred to several thousand. Whatever the number, the slums had been quieted.
On September 22nd, the mild-mannered country doctor was elected President for a six-year term, carrying into office with him a solidly Duvalierist legislature. Though Déjoie outpolled him in Port-au-Prince, Duvalier showed overwhelming support outside the capital; indeed, in some places the number of votes helpfully delivered by the officers well exceeded that of the local population. But though fraud was certainly widespread, there could be no question of Duvalier's popularity.
To the defeated candidates, Duvalier's election was merely another step in the parenthèse — merely the latest move in the political struggle that had racked the country for nine months. Déjoie insisted that he was the true winner (and his son was still making that claim thirty years later). From exile, Fignolé claimed that he remained Haiti's constitutional President (and he continued to say so until his death, in 1986). Both, along with Jumelle's supporters and the many still loyal to the exiled Magloire, vowed to continue the struggle. All expected that Duvalier would soon be overthrown, and wanted to be in a position to seize the opening when it came.
Within a few days of the election, bombs began exploding around Port-au-Prince, fires erupted in the countryside, ambushes were laid. In one incident, an Army post near the capital was attacked and several soldiers were murdered, most while they slept; the attackers were never identified but widely believed to be pro-Déjoie renegades. When Déjoie supporters launched a commercial strike, however, soldiers and armed Duvalierist toughs forced open the doors of the shops and welcomed in the hungry crowds to pick the shelves clean.
It is tempting to speculate about what Duvalier would have become had he not been obliged to wage, from the moment he took office, "two years of permanent struggle. Against a conspiracy of all sectors .... plots, conspiracies, invasions," in the (admittedly self-serving) words of General Gérard Constant, a close Duvalier associate who eventually served as his chief of staff. "Conspiracy was permanent," Constant said in a published interview with Haitian writer Michel Souker. "The Fignolists were on a war footing. ... They were like the first Christians who were waiting for the return of the Messiah. ... The subversion helped to give birth to Duvalier, and the ferocity of the regime. Power makes the man, and power reveals the man. But would there have been occasion to exercise his ferocity if everything that happened hadn't taken place?"
At the end of 1957, Duvalier found himself faced with two alternatives, Constant said: either "he would be incapable of ruling, and in three or six months he would fall," or he would succeed in "making his rule perennial. The rule of a single class." The choice was obvious. "It was decided, therefore, to oppose this terrorism with a terrorism of the State."
To retain power in the fragmented world of Haitian politics became Duvalier's obsession, and the steps he took to do so would dominate the country's politics for more than three decades.
After receiving the Presidential sash from General Kébreau, on October 22nd , Duvalier pledged to "guarantee the exercise of liberty to all Haitians" and "to reconcile the nation with itself." As for his "enemies," the mumbling country doctor said, "I have no enemies except those of the nation."
The core of Duvalier's machinery of repression had taken shape during the campaign, when he assembled the group of bomb-makers, saboteurs, agents provocateurs, dirty tricksters, and strong-arm men. These terrorists then put together a rank and file of young Duvalierist toughs, drawing on the virtually inexhaustible supply of manpower in the slums. A dominant member of the early group was Clément Barbot, a slender black man given to severely elegant suits and dark glasses who became the head of Duvalier's secret police (he was said to hand out business cards identifying him as such) and later played a leading role in setting up the militia.
Soon after Duvalier's inauguration, while the country echoed with bombings and calls to revolt, a squad of heavily armed, hooded men burst into the home of a well-known pro-Déjoie journalist, manhandled her teen-age children, then carried her off; she was raped, savagely beaten, and left sprawled half-naked and near death on the roadside. Barbot and his group had assumed a new, more frightening shape — that of sinister cagoulords. In the coming nights, these "hooded ones" paid visits to other prominent embers of the opposition; some were beaten, some were carried off to Fort Dimanche and other prisons, some disappeared entirely.
The Duvalier method quickly became clear: attack swiftly and on all fronts, always maintaining the initiative; move to crush, then co-opt, any independent power center; respect no boundaries in administering terror, liquidating not only adversaries but their families and friends, and in as spectacularly brutal a fashion as possible; and, above all, trust no one — and particularly not those who seem to be loyal allies. Independent power in itself was anathema, even if it might appear to be perfectly loyal at the moment; all independent power must be obliterated.
Jumelle had already gone underground, and Déjoie did the same, slipping out of the country and eventually making his way to Cuba, where, with the support of the newly installed Fidel Castro, he began training Haitian exiles to mount an invasion. Fignolé travelled from New York to Cuba and engaged in similar pursuits. In New York, General Magloire plotted and kept in touch with exile groups. In Washington, exiled Haitian politicians were soon remonstrating with desk officers in the State Department and the C.I.A., soliciting support for the liberation of the homeland. Spies were everywhere in the rapidly growing exile communities, as Haitians plotted and planned, against Duvalier and against one another. And in Santo Domingo the crafty old Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo was wining and dining the Haitian chief of staff, his good friend General Kébreau, as if Kébreau, and not Duvalier, were the Haitian head of state.
In a touching ceremony soon after he took office, the president had bestowed on General Kébreau an unheard-of six-year term as Army chief. Barely five months later, Duvalier, whom many officers openly disdained as a figurehead, abruptly transferred most of Kébreau's principal allies out of Port-au-Prince. Having long held him in contempt, the officers were not prepared for his decisiveness or ruthlessness, or the skill with which he played on their lingering jealousies and rivalries. Once Duvalier had exiled Kébreau's men, he wasted no time in purging Kébreau himself. The first the powerful general heard of his fall was a thirteen-gun salute accompanying the appointment of his successor, whereupon he sought asylum in the Dominican Embassy.
Kébreau's successor lasted only nine months. Again and again, Duvalier moved to purge the upper ranks of the Army, at one point shooting a number of officers after a coup plot came to light, at others abruptly retiring or imprisoning the Old Guard, or sending officers into exile to various foreign embassies. He sniffed out plotters or simply removed figures he suspected might one day become plotters. Even those older men who had been his staunchest allies were mercilessly purged, for they commanded the one thing that could not be allowed to exist: independent power. All the while, Duvalier continued to advance much younger black officers rapidly through the ranks. He rewarded his favorites handsomely, promoting brutal, ambitious men like Claude Raymond, his godson, and Gracia Jacques, whom Duvalier had known since he was a child.
The goal was to factionalize, weaken, and thereby neutralize the military as an institution capable of any independent action: to "Duvalierize" it. And Duvalier's most important tool, here, as in other areas, was his genius for exploiting the jealousies and vanities of others, setting the already divided officers against one another, spreading suspicion and intrigue. He methodically emasculated the officer corps by reaching around the chain of command, telephoning minor provincial officers personally and without bothering to inform their superiors. Promotions were dependent on the whim of the President alone. He put Raymond in charge of the newly created Presidential Guard, an elite unit of several hundred men, every one of whom became well known to Duvalier, took orders directly from him, and lived and worked within the Palace grounds.
Finally, he moved the Army's main store of weapons into the basement of the Palace. "Last June, one visitor was shown how Haitian military logistics operate," Richard Eder, of the New York Times, later wrote. "He was sitting with Duvalier in his office when an aide came to tell the President that guerrillas had landed at Saltrou and the Army needed ammunition. Silently the President took a gold key from his pocket and took out a revolver. He got up, tiptoed to the door and cocked the revolver, opened the door and peered out. A secretary appeared and he gave her the gold key."
The crucial event both for the military and for the future of Duvalier's regime was l'affair Pasquet, also known as "the Dade County Deputy Sheriffs' lnvasion." It was the first and, in its way, the most serious of a succession of buffoonish attempts to overthrow Papa Doc — an eight-man invasion launched from Florida which, in its sheer, comic-opera absurdity, almost succeeded. It was led by Captain Ails Pasquet a well-known mulatto officer who had been close to Magloire. Two mulatto officers with similar pedigrees joined Pasquet, as did five American mercenaries, including two Florida deputy sheriffs.
Late on the night of July 28, 1958, during Duvalier's ninth month in power, the invaders disembarked from a motor launch north of Port-au-Prince and fought a short engagement with a military patrol, killing three soldiers. The three Haitian officers and five Americans piled into a commandeered "tap-tap" camionnette, drove into the capital, and, bluffing their way past the guards, managed to seize the Dessalines Barracks, adjacent to the Palace. Placing the troops under guard, they settled in and began to make telephone calls, informing various that they had taken control and demanding their support, then calling Duvalier directly to tell him the game was up. As the dictator later recounted in his memoirs:
Awakened by the firing and the cannon reports, I donned the uniform of a soldier ... and called the commander of the barracks. Instead of the commander, a voice answered. "This is Alix Pasquet. There's no general here." Parquet then arrogantly demanded that I give my name, title and rank. "President of the Republic and Supreme Chief of the Armed Forces,' I answered. Whereupon the little maniac dared to order the Chief of State to put down his arms and present himself at the gate of the Dessalines Barracks with a white flag....
I hung up the telephone, picked up my rifle and my steel helmet. Surrounded by Duvalierist allies, male and female (the core of the future militia), loyal officers, the men of my secret police, I waited until dawn ... to order [the assault].
Actually, according to other accounts, the President of the Republic panicked, packed his bags, and, in the tradition of tottering Haitian heads of state, made ready for a run to a foreign embassy. However, the position of the invaders, who might well have taken the Palace if they hadn't paused to telephone first, was becoming shakier each moment, and became hopeless when Duvalier learned that the invading force numbered only eight. (One of the rebel officers, unable to control his urge for a Haitian cigarette, had nonchalantly sent a captive soldier out to fetch some, and the man had been quickly interrogated.) And Duvalier already knew something the rebels did not — that the nation's cache of arms, which they thought they controlled, was in the Palace basement.
As dawn broke over Port-au-Prince, Francois Duvalier — a slight, owlish man with thick black spectacles, looking more than usually incongruous in his fatigues and steel helmet, with a .45 in his belt — marched out with Claude Raymond and Gracia Jacques and a number of other friends, and laid siege to the barracks. The Palace's emergency sirens wailed, rallying calls went out to loyal Duvalierists over the radio, and it wasn't long before Captain Pasquet and his accomplices in the barracks were surrounded by a mob of bloodthirsty partisans.
The rebels' calls to important commanders having met with no success — they were waiting to see which way the wind blew — the eight now had no allies and no options. When the gang of soldiers and Duvalierist irregulars charged the barracks behind a hail of bullets and grenades, the rebels had nowhere to go. Pasquet and four others, including three of the Americans, died in the barracks; their bodies were stripped and battered by the attackers. The remaining three were tracked down nearby; a soldier shot one American, and the crowd tore the two other men to pieces, paraded their remains triumphantly through the streets, and later carried them into the Palace to present to their President.
Duvalier, resplendent in his fatigues and helmet, and flanked by his gun-waving young officers and partisans, seemed a very different man; he had become, in the words of General Constant, "an implacable monster, unpitying in everything that concerned his power."
BY this time, the Duvalierist legislature had voted the President full emergency powers. Duvalier was ruling by decree: the country was under a state of siege, and a nighttime curfew had been imposed. The cagoulards were continuing their nocturnal visits, and the newspapers and radio stations they had not destroyed were muffled by government censorship. At moments of heightened stress, armed Duvalierists — tough-looking black men wearing dark glasses, with pistols bulging under their suit jackets — patrolled the streets checking identification papers. Now, after the Pasquet affair, Duvalier moved to create what might be called the single defining institution of his regime: the Tontons Macoutes.
From the beginning, the Macoutes were a strange amalgam of popular militia, religious sect, mass political organization, secret police, protection racket, and terrorist unit. And though the organization itself was new, the Macoutes worked by infecting already existing structures of authority, thereby enabling the Duvalier partisans to multiply their power a hundredfold.
In the countryside, for example, the chefs de section very often became leading Tontons Macoutes. And the voodoo priests, usually the most powerful men in their villages or towns, who had mostly been key supporters of Duvalier during the campaign, as well as the gros nègs of a given community — the better-off peasants, who could hire labor and lend money to their fellows — often became leading Macoutes, too.
Duvalier had created his own mass movement, devised to repel invaders and to fight the apatrides, "the countryless ones" (Déjoie, Fignolé, and the other plotters had been deprived of their citizenship, and their property confiscated). Macoute Day, on which huge mobs of Macoutes, in uniforms of blue denim, with red neckerchiefs, would pour into the grounds of the Palace, listen to their leader's peroration, then swarm out into the capital, firing their weapons (and often killing number of people), was July 29th, in remembrance of the Pasquet invasion.
While the most powerful Macoutes were often the chefs de section, voodoo priests, and gros nègs, the bulk of the force — its foot soldiers — came from the slums and the villages. They were illiterate blacks, poor and wholly unsentimental; Duvalier, in raising them up to be Macoutes, had given them overwhelming power, for the first time in their lives, and they wielded it without pity, especially when it came to those elites who had theretofore despised them.
The Macoutes' reason for being — indeed, their only hope of ensuring their own survival — was to keep Duvalier in power. They did this by growing and spreading; Macoutes emerged in every neighborhood and every institution, in every ministry of the government and every school, and as taxi-drivers, bartenders, and bus drivers. Though the most frightening Macoutes were the fierce men in blue uniforms and dark sunglasses who wawed their guns about, abused people on the street, killed with impunity, and terrorized the capital during crises, there were many more who did not wear uniforms but nonetheless belonged to the militia, carried "the card," informed on their colleagues, and remained vigilant guardians of Duvalierism. No one knew how many there were (after Jean-Claude Duvalier fell, the newspapers' estimates varied from fifteen thousand to three hundred thousand). In time, the Macoutes permeated everything in Haiti, including the Haitian mind.
For the Haitian child, "Tonton Macoute" has always been the dark side of Christmas: If you have been a.. good boy, Tonton Noí«l (Uncle Christmas) will come and reward you with wonderful gifts from his treasure-laden sack; if you have been a bad boy, Tonton Macoute (Uncle Knapsack) will come and grab you, throw you in his sack, which is huge and dark, and carry you off into the night. The figure of the frightening bogeyman carrying off naughty children is probably universal, but in Haiti, where secret societies ruled the night in the countryside, where in some areas people knew they could not travel after dark without a "safe conduct" granted by these unofficial, voodoo-linked authorities, and where stories of travellers vanishing in the darkness were common, it took on a deeper resonance. This was especially true for the peasants, and for the urban masses, most of whom were transplanted peasants or their children. For them, the Macoute was not just a brutal man with a gun; he was evil and all-powerful. As every Haitian knew, Papa Doc was the incarnation of Baron Samedi, the voodoo loa who trafficked with the dead. And she Macoutes were his creatures.
"You know what my very first memory is?" a Haitian friend asked me. "It was a Sunday, and my father had taken me to church. We walked out into the big market at Carrefour — he was holding my hand, I remember, and it was bright sunshine. And then suddenly, across the market, appeared Ti Bobo" — a huge, dreaded Macoute — "and people saw him, and heads turned. And suddenly, just like that, the people ran like mice. The whole crowd — everybody — just ran, in panic. Ti Bobo just stood there laughing."
Ti Bobo passed into the realm of legend in 1967, when a soldier he bad abused checked a machine gun out of the barracks armory, searched out Ti Bobo, and methodically cut him in half. Duvalier gave Ti Bobo a state funeral. Many other Macoutes have also attained legendary status, thanks to their creative achievements in brutality. (Several women are among them, the most prominent being Mme. Max Adolphe, a celebrated sadist and connoisseur of pornography, who was a leader of the Macoutes and a warden of the infamous Fort Dimanche, where she is said to have delighted in mutilating the genitals of her male prisoners.) Any Haitian can tell you Macoute stories. They are carved in his mind, like the memory of a unique force of nature.
The Macoutes were Papa Doc's instruments; by virtue of him they were above the law. The overwhelming majority of them were not paid — officially, they were called National Security Volunteers — and depended for their living on extortion. As Laí«nnec Hurbon has written, they were "a mode of inscription of the President as the sole legitimate owner of the nation." Hurbon quotes an expatriate Haitian worker: "If somebody touches a militiaman, it is Duvalier he touches." The Macoutes were Duvalier; they need answer only to him.
A Macoute would take his food from the market without paying for it, ride free in buses and taxis, demand that peasants bring in his harvest, and press the wealthier residents of his neighborhood to make contributions to his upkeep. A Macoute's demand that somebody hand over his car, his land, even his house was often preceded by the suggestion that the owner seemed a bit disloyal to Duvalier. A refusal to give up what was desired would be interpreted as an act hostile to Duvalier, and a reluctant owner could be beaten, imprisoned, even killed on the spot; there was no appeal, no recourse to a higher authority. In many cases, wealthy Haitians were forced into exile, and stripped of their nationality and their property. Macoutes who infested the public administration not only drew several monthly checks, in the time-honored fashion of Haiti's public servants, but used their posts to acquire public property.
In time, the Macoutes became so insatiable, Hurbon writes, that "in villages the development of Macoutism caused certain businessmen and small producers to reduce the volume of their businesses, to avoid working for the sole profit of the Macoutes." There was only one sure way of protecting oneself — by becoming a Macoute. Not necessarily a gun-toting militiaman but an informer, a member of the organization; for there were no part-time Macoutes. A good Duvalierist, as the ardent Duvalier Minister Luckner Cambronne put it, "stands ready to kill his children, children to kill their parents." Through the pervasiveness and omnipotence of the Macoutes, Duvalier would proclaim himself "the lord and master of this land of Haiti."
DURING the regime's first three years, the Army was purged and cowed, the independent press was destroyed, and those opposition figures who had not been murdered were imprisoned, driven underground, or forced into exile. The leadership of the Haitian "counter-elite" that customarily fought for power was left to expend its energies in plotting invasions and coups.
Beginning with the Pasquet affair, a rhythm was established which would be further refined with each invasion: While militiamen and soldiers rushed to meet the invaders, sirens wailed in the capital, and a curfew was declared. Heavily armed Macoutes raced about the city, setting up roadblocks (where they demanded "tolls" of passing motorists), beating or imprisoning anyone who looked slightly "suspicious," murdering anyone who resisted. The embassies began to fill with Haitians seeking asylum. In Fort Dimanche, political prisoners were summarily executed. Families of the invaders, if they were unfortunate enough to have remained in Haiti, were tracked down and massacred.. Villagers who had had contact with invaders were also massacred. Corpses were left lying on the street for days, and when the police or Macoutes finally picked them up they were not returned to the families.
During these crises, the capital was often blacked out, the nights were full of unexplained shooting, and rumors were the only source of news. Duvalier would disappear into the Palace for weeks at a time, and forbid his family to venture out — a restriction that was particularly hard on his three small daughters. "The Macoutes would come and wake me in the middle of the night and tell me he had sent for me," a beautiful mulatto woman who had been a dressmaker in Port-au-Prince told me. "They would take me to the Palace. I had no way to refuse. I would find these poor little girls waiting for me, tired and bored out of their minds. They hadn't been out of the Palace in weeks, and now their father, who adored them, had promised that they could have new dresses. It was dark outside, there was shooting, everyone as home scared out of his wits, and there I was in the Palace with these little girls, measuring them, showing them patterns and material, doing anything I could to amuse them. I felt sorry for them. I was called there many times, but I remember seeing him only once. He was up on a balcony, looking down at us. He looked and looked, then he smiled a little."
Within months of the Pasquet affair, the smiling Duvalier's Macoutes and soldiers tracked down Charles and Ducasse Jumelle, brothers of the former candidate, and murdered them while they slept. (For the benefit of the press, their bodies were dragged outside and posed with pistols in their hands.) Less than a year later, Clément Jumelle himself staggered into the Cuban Embassy, mortally ill of uremia, and died there. His funeral procession provides a famous scene of those years: as the Jumelle cortège moved slowly toward Sacre Coeur, a car filled with machine-gun-toting Macoutes, siren wailing, cut in front of the hearse. The Macoutes dragged out the coffin and heaved it into the back of an accompanying pickup truck. Then they roared off, siren still wailing. Jumelle was given a secret burial, with Macoutes the only mourners, in his home town of Saint-Marc.
A little more than a year after Pasquet's coup attempt, a squad of thirty Cubans, led by an Algerian associate of Déjoie, landed on the southwestern tip of the island. The invaders were quickly contained by Haitian soldiers and by peasants. (The peasants were offered large rewards for the invaders' heads.) All but five of the Cubans were killed, as was the Algerian, and the survivors were paraded in the capital and eventually returned to Castro.
In this instance, the Haitian soldiers were being advised by the United States Marines, whom Duvalier had invited in to help retrain his Army. This action had surprised the Americans and shocked the Haitians, for they well acquainted with Duvalier's were proclaimed views on the American influence in Haiti's history. But the American mission not only helped Duvalier immobilize the Army but also allowed him to confront his opponents with what seemed strong American support for his regime.
From the beginning, Duvalier's relationship with the Americans was complicated and contradictory. It had been generally thought that the Embassy favored Déjoie, though Duvalier had enough prominent American supporters to let him suggest that the Americans were actually backing him. Yet the ex-Presidents Magloire and Fignolé did their plotting from bases in New York, and the Pasquet invasion had set off from Florida, which Duvalier did not let his supporters forget. Finally, Duvalier's invitation to the Marines put Americans squarely in the middle of his struggle with the Army, and his attempts to use them to train the militia launched a series of struggles that would end, in 1963, with the withdrawal of the Marine mission after four years.
But the major issue between the two countries was foreign aid. The prolonged political chaos had left Haiti's treasury empty; ninety per cent of its people remained illiterate; and, during the years since the occupation, its roads and bridges had fallen into a disastrous state of disrepair. These conditions worsened under Duvalier, whose regime by 1963 was spending more than half its budget on the Presidential Guard and the Macoutes, and siphoning off much of the rest in an enormous spree of corruption. Funds were pilfered directly through unbudgeted accounts attached to the Régie du Tabac, the government tobacco monopoly, which included taxes on cotton, sugar, and other products. Import licenses, franchises, and monopolies were sold to businessmen willing to pay substantial kickbacks.
Such measures, which would be vastly expanded under Papa Doc's son, were, in effect, ways to suck more money from the peasants and the urban poor, by both reducing their income from commodity exports and increasing the price they had to pay for staple imports. (The system became known as pèzé-sucé — "squeeze and suck "— after a popular frozen treat.) Though the bureaucrats were now in many cases drawn from the black "middle classes," the techniques through which they filled their pockets were the same as the ones that the élite, both mulatto and black, had used in Haiti since the war of independence.
In 1960, American aid represented about thirty percent of the country's budget, the following year about half;. Duvalier was demanding that the Americans greatly increase the amounts, and also that the money be offered without conditions, which he claimed violated Haiti's sovereignty. The Americans, wary of seeing their money flow into the hands of Macoutes or Duvalierist ministers, insisted on having some say in how the funds were spent.
The rise of Castro added to this diplomatic poker game a crucial new card, and Duvalier used it skillfully throughout his reign. Haiti lay fifty miles east of Cuba, next door was the Dominican Republic, and from there it was a short hop east to Puerto Rico. If these facts of geography were lost on American planners, the Cuban leader's several attempts to intervene in the Dominican Republic and the presence of Haitian exiles undergoing training at Cuban bases served to remind them.
Whenever Duvalier's aid requests were not satisfied, he responded with lightly veiled threats, the most famous being the "Appeal of Jacmel," a 1960 speech in which the dictator demanded a "massive injection of money" from the United States, and went on to muse about "the two great poles of attraction in the world today" between which small states like Haiti (as the Cuban experience showed) were forced to make a difficult choice. To underline his threat, Duvalier received trade missions from Poland and Czechoslovakia, and played an adroit cat-and-mouse game with Haitian Communists, whose presence he needed to make his threats credible. Duvalier allowed leftist students to agitate now and then, and, to disturb the already nervous Americans further, maintained in his government a number of Haitians with Communist backgrounds.
Against a United States Administration obsessed with Castro and his growing influence in Latin America, this sort of blackmail was a potent weapon. Sometimes it was less than subtle; in 1962, when the member nations of the Organization of American States met in Punta del Este, Uruguay, for the famous conference that excluded Cuba, the United States needed Haiti's vote for a two-thirds majority. "The foreign minister of Haiti ... calmly remarked to [Secretary of State Dean] Rusk that he came from a poor country in desperate need of aid," and "obviously this need would affect his vote," Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who was a delegate at the conference, wrote later. "We finally yielded to blackmail and agreed to resume our aid to the airport at Port au Prince."
WITHIN Haiti, Duvalier continued his attack on the opposition, the definition of which had now been expanded to include the labor unions, students, and the Catholic Church. His tactics remained the same. Recalcitrant labor leaders were beaten and imprisoned, and replaced with Macoutes. The drivers' union, which retained the power to paralyze the country and was thus by far the most important, was thoroughly Macoutized, the drivers serving as useful source of intelligence for the regime. Students went on strike, and many were imprisoned.
Duvalier also moved against the country's priests, three-quarters of them foreigners (mostly French and Canadian), whom he saw — with some reason — as representatives of the elite, allied with the students, in opposition to the regime. In 1959, to make it dramatically clear that men of the cloth enjoyed no special dispensation, Macoutes invaded the Port-au-Prince cathedral during Sunday Mass, beat scores of people senseless, including priests at the altar, then arrested them. He began summarily, sometimes brutally, expelling priests, including two archbishops of Port-au-Prince.
For the Vatican, it was too much. The papal nuncio was withdrawn, Duvalier excommunicated. No matter. Macoute priests took the places of many of those expelled. Macoutes also took control of Haiti's only university. Professional people began to flee the country in a great flood, making the diaspora — and many of the new countries of Africa as well — far richer in Haitian doctors, nurses, lawyers, economists, and other technicians than Haiti itself.
In April, 1961, Duvalier held an election for the legislature, as his constitution required. The regime's propaganda apparatus kicked into high gear, distributing to peasants who were trucked in from the provinces thousands of straw hats hearing the slogan "Vive Papa Doc!" Each ballot, as was customary, read at the top, "Republique d'Haiti Dr. Francois Duvalier, President de la Republique." When the results were in, to no one's surprise the all-Duvalierist slate had been handsomely returned to office. ("Army men with guns forced everyone emerging from church to go to the polls," Commonweal reported. "All were handed the ballot of just one candidate and informed that the … others had been jailed the night before.") But the President went a step further, announcing to his astonished fellow-citizens that in fact this had been a Presidential election as well, that the official-looking name at the top of every ballot actually meant that every vote cast had been a vote for Duvalier himself — and that he was pleased to accept the wish of all Haitians to return him to office for another six-year term (though the carrent one still had two years to run); the vote was 1,320,748 to zero.
It was a preposterous move, audacious and absurd. But it was brilliant as well, for it avoided the turmoil that inevitably accompanies the last year or two of a Haitian President's term, when he tries to extend his mandate and the various powerful elements of the country fight to dislodge him. Now Duvalier had declared his intention of remaining, and claimed the support of the Haitian people for doing so — and he had done it, as usual, in a manner calculated to keep the opposition off balance.
Probably the height of Duvalier's terror came in the months before and after May, 1963, when he had been scheduled to give up power. April began with the discovery of another plot in the military, and soon the horribly beaten body of one officer was lying in the sun on the parade ground, providing a lesson to his friends. Duvalier's main opponent had become his own ruthless former secret-police chief, Clément Barbot, whom the dictator, sniffing disloyalty, had thrown into Fort Dimanche. Although Duvalier finally released him, and presented him with a new automobile to show there were now no hard feelings, Barbot eventually went underground.
The climax of the terror came on April 26th, when a person or persons unknown (Barbot, it turned out) assassinated the two bodyguards and the driver of Jean-Claude Duvalier and one of his sisters as they were being dropped off at school. The operation was precise — one shot to each man — and the children were not harmed (the goal may have been to lure Duvalier to the scene, in order to assassinate him). But, in the Palace, Duvalier exploded in rage, and Port-au-Prince became a bloodbath. Macoutes and Presidential Guards swarmed over the city, shooting down anyone unfortunate enough to be driving a car similar to that driven by the attacker, and murdering ex-military officers, who were thought to be the only ones capable of such marksmanship. Hundreds of people were arrested and carried off to Fort Dimanche; few of them ever reappeared. Roadblocks sprang up everywhere, and in the chaos that had descended on Port-au-Prince anyone foolish enough to be found on the street invariably spent most of his time standing with his hands in the air and a machete poised above his neck, being searched by a Tonton Macoute.
Meanwhile, Duvalier had become convinced that the attacker could only have been the award-winning Army rifleman Lieutenant Francois Benoit — even though Benoit had by then been in asylum in the Dominican Embassy for days. A heavily armed gang of Macoutes and Presidential Guards stormed the officer's house and machine-gunned his parents, the servants, the family dogs, and a neighbor who happened to be chatting with the old couple. Then the gang set the house on fire; Benoit's infant son perished in his crib inside.
The Macoutes and Presidential Guards sought out Benoit's other relatives, and beat and imprisoned them. (They murdered, among others, a lawyer named Benoit Arthaud, whose only crime appeared to be his first name.) They invaded and searched the Dominican Embassy building, then moved to the Ambassador's residence, where those seeking asylum were sheltered, surrounded it, set up machine-gun positions, and prepared to invade.
In Santo Domingo, President Juan Bosch issued a ultimatum: Haiti would either order its forces out of the grounds of his Embassy or face the consequences. Dominican tanks moved to the border. American warships patrolled Haitian waters.
There ensued a lengthy diplomatic crisis in which virtually everyone believed that Duvalier was finally finished — that whether it took an American or Dominican invasion, an exile assault across the border, or a successful operation by Barbot, the President would not last out the spring.
Duvalier broke relations with Bosch, and decided to declare a carnival. With corpses still littering the capital, he brought truckloads of peasants into the city, distributed free rum, arranged for floats and troupes of dancers. As Diederich and Burt report, when a mediating committee from the O.A.S., arrived, Duvalier appeared before them and the roaring crowd. "I am here to continue the tradition of Dessalines and of Toussaint Louverture,' he told the crowd. "I am the personification of the Haitian fatherland.... No foreigner is going to tell me what to do.... Bullets and machine guns, capable of daunting Duvalier do not exist. … I am already an immaterial being."
A few days earlier, Dr. Jacques Fourcand, Duvalier's physician, who was also the pistol-toting head of the Haitian Red Cross, had given a famous peroration: If foreigners tried to overthrow Duvalier, he warned, "Blood will flow in Haiti like a river. The land will burn from the north to the south, from the east to the west. There will be no sunrise and no sunset, just one great flame licking the sky. There will be a Himalaya of corpses, the dead will be buried under a mountain of ashes. It will be the greatest slaughter in history." As in the revolution, foreign whites were trying to retake the land the slaves had died to win, but Duvalier, the son of the great Dessalines, would slaughter those foreign invaders as had the father of independent Haiti before him.
The United States briefly "suspended" relations with Haiti and made plans for a provisional government. Disappearances continued in Port-au-Prince, as did the blackouts and roadblocks. But as the crisis dragged on American diplomats began to wonder who among the eternally divided opposition could take over the country; while Bosch, unsure of the support of his own military (which, indeed, overthrew him shortly thereafter), slowly let the crisis cool. Most important, Bosch moved to stop a planned invasion by a pro-Déjoie and pro-Fignolé exile group that the Dominican generals, apparently unbeknownst to their President, had been sponsoring near the border. And Clément Barbot and his brother, who, after installing their families in embassies, had been conducting a prolonged campaign of bombings, assassinations, and ambushes (and had infuriated Duvalier by calling him on his office telephone to tell him he wouldn't last long), were finally trapped in a cane field outside the capital. A combined force of Presidential Guards and some of the Tontons Macoutes whom Barbot had once commanded set fire to the cane and shot the two as they tried to escape.
Once again, Duvalier had won. Soon a pro-government newspaper ran a curious montage on its front page: picture of Jesus Christ with His hands placed on the shoulders of Francois Duvalier, above the caption "I have chosen him." An electric sign began to flash on and off over the often blacked-out capital, bearing the message "I AM THE HAITIAN FLAG, ONE AND INDIVISIBLE. FRANCOIS DUVALIER." Finally, the dictator — bowing, he said, to "popular demand" — declared himself President for life, and was pleased to see his selection confirmed by a plebiscite, in which Haitians were generously allowed to cast as many ballots as they wanted.
The rhythm of plotting, invasion and retribution continued. During the summer of 1964, thirteen members of the exile group Jeune Haiti - mostly young mulatto aristocrats - invaded near the southwestern city of Jeremie, hoping to incite an insurrection. Most were tracked down and murdered by Macoutes, but two were captured alive, sent to the capital, and, after weeks of torture, executed at the National Cemetery in a televised ceremony attended by crowds of children whom Duvalier had ordered brought from the schools. Meanwhile, Duvalier took action against the families of the invaders. Down Jérémie's lovely main street, with its stately galleried buildings, were marched naked the city's richest and most prominent mulatto families — the Sansaricqs, the Drouins, the Villedrouins. These cultivated, European-educated aristocrats, powers of the city for generations, were forced to endure the jeers of the crowd, then were herded along to the barracks, and from there to the airport to be massacred — a task gloatingly performed by Macoutes, who killed the infants and little children first, by dagger, to inflame their parents, and the women next, to inflame their husbands. And then the great houses of the families were thrown open to sack, and the people of Jérémie poured in and took everything.
None of the exile groups ever suceeded in provoking a general uprising. They met with a reluctance on the part of the peasants which resulted not only from their fear of Duvalier's bloody retribution but also from the great gulf that separated the mostly élite invaders and the suspicious peasantry.
Trouble also continued within the Army. Late one night during the summer of 1967, officers of the General Staff were called to the Palace and then driven to Fort Dimanche. There they found nineteen of their colleagues tied to stakes. The officers were issued rifles, and, under the hard gaze of Duvalier and his Macoutes, ordered to fire. Several days later, Duvalier gave another of his memorable speeches: "Duvalier is going to do something. He is going to take a roll call.... Major Harry Tassy, where are you? Come to your benefactor.... Absent. Lieutenant Joseph Laroche.... Absent." And so on, through the nineteen names. Then, after a pause and with a little laugh, "All of them have been shot."
The officers had apparently been plotting a coup, reportedly the brainchild of Colonel Max Dominique, who had married Duvalier's daughter Marie-Denise and was involved (he thought) in a struggle over the succession Luc Albert Foucard, the brother of Duvalier's powerful secretary, who had married Nicole, another Duvalier daughter. In any case, Duvalier, presumably out of devotion to Marie-Denise, allowed his son-in-law to take part in the little nocturnal drama at Fort Dimanche on the side of the firing squad, not on that of its targets. After watching the Colonel shoot his former co-plotters, the dictator named him Ambassador to Spain.
Despite these distractions, by the late sixties Duvalier was firmly in place. The Army was divided and enfeebled, its upper ranks occupied by Duvalier loyalists. Those members of the counter-élite who survived remained in exile in New York, Miami, and Santo Domingo, where they went on squabbling and plotting, mostly against one another. Those who remained paid their specially calculated `taxes" to the regime. The bulk of the country's professionals also remained in exile, practicing in New York, Montreal, Miami, and Paris. Newspapers and other media that didn't slavishly support the regime had been suppressed. Macoutes had infiltrated all areas of the public administration, including the university and the remaining labor unions. In the legislature, the deputies competed in the fulsomeness of their praise for the Président í vie. A great many priests had been replaced with Macoutes. Several foreign embassies, including Great Britain's, had had been reduced to consular level; the United States, which had been by far the largest supplier of foreign aid, had cut off all direct assistance in 1963.
In 1966, a period of consolidation began. The Vatican lifted the excommunication of Duvalier and presented him with one of his greatest victories: the Haitian head of state was granted power to approve the appointment of an indigenous hierarchy, the first ever in Haiti. By now, the traditional élite had learned that, despite Duvalier's lusty rhetoric of class conflict, he had little interest in upsetting Haiti's two-world system. Peasants were trucked in from the countryside to provide mass demonstrations of support, but the money continued to flow from the countryside to the city, and the traditional means of repression were merely absorbed into the Macoute network.
Duvalier smashed and domesticated the institutions by which the élite traditionally guarded its power, but he did not smash the elite itself (except those who threatened him); he merely opened it somewhat, making room for a new black elite, drawn from his cherished "middle class." (In 1957, Michel Soukar writes, "the country was dominated by 30 or so families, 25 years later the World Bank mentioned 200 millionaire families. The Duvalierist Revolution is characterized by this increase in the number of the privileged.") Though Duvalier drew many of his Macoutes from the poor quarters, he did nothing to bring money to those neighborhoods — or, indeed, to better the lot of the peasants he so often cited as the base of his support.
After a decade of Duvalier, the greater part of Haiti's business sector had actually come to appreciate "a regime under which strikes are not tolerated, wages do not rise and the social obligations of the labor code can be bypassed by private 'arrangements,'" as Leslie Manigat wrote in 1971. The business class gradually joined the Church in coming to "a rapprochement with the regime, in exchange for its own depoliticization." To the elite, as rumors grew of Papa Doc's declining health and of a growing succession struggle, the prospect of a stable, continuing "Duvalierist Revolution" began to look increasingly attractive.
In June of 1969, this sentiment was strengthened when Duvalier liquidated his sole remaining opponents — the Haitian Communists. In a early-morning raid on a safe house on the Avenue Martin Luther King, soldiers murdered almost the entire Central Committee, and increased the number of dead by executing several who had been brought to the scene from Duvalier's prisons. A month later, when Nelson Rockefeller, governor of New York, visited Haiti on a tour of Latin America, Duvalier told him to inform President Nixon how he, Duvalier, had proved his staunch anti-Communism. Then he and the Governor went out on the balcony, where the two men greeted a huge, enthusiastic crowd. A photograph of Papa Doc, white-haired and frail, leaning on Rockefeller as both men smiled and waved to the Haitian masses, was widely distributed; the rapprochement with the United States had begun.
Soon a new American Ambassador, a black man, arrived, and before long he was openly advocating the resumption of United States aid. Duvalier, who was suffering increasingly from diabetes and heart disease, crushed several absurd attempts to overthrow him, and purged a few Cabinet members. The gossip grew over the struggle for the succession.
IN January, 1971, Haitians were startled to learn that Jean-Claude Duvalier — the immensely fat, famously stupid nineteen-year-old son of the dictator, well known for his preoccupation with cars and girls, and referred to by his schoolmates as Tíªte-Panier (Basket-Head) — was to be their new ruler. "We all know," Papa Doc told his people, "that Caesar Augustus was nineteen, when he took into his hands Rome's destinies, and that his reign remains 'the century: of Augustus.'" More soberly, Jean-Claude wrote his father that he understood Papa Doc wanted to 'avoid fratricidal fights, mortal for the future of the country [and] assure the perenniality of the revolution." After fourteen years of Duvalierist revolution, these were goals on which the Church, the elite, the Army, and the Americans could all agree.
The constitution was duly changed to lower the age of eligibility for the Presidency from forty to eighteen, and referendum was held, so that Haitians could overwhelmingly affirm (2,391,916 to zero, according to the official tally) that Jean-Claude was their choice. Meanwhile, the American Ambassador had won his campaign for renewed American financial assistance: a new AID contingent was on its way.
On April 21st, Franí§ois Duvalier died. The American Ambassador was called in, and the Duvalier family requested that United States naval forces guarantee the security of the coastline, to prevent rebel landings. Three days later, Franí§ois Duvalier was buried in an immense ceremony, full of tolling church bells and marked by scenes of weeping and hysteria among ordinary Haitians. At one point during the funeral, a great wind suddenly rose up, and the crowd took cover in panic — it was, many said, the soul of Duvalier leaving the great man's body.
At the Te Deum celebrating Jean-Claude's ascension, Papa Doc's handpicked archbishop, Franí§ois Wolf-Ligonde, told the expressionless young man, "Your authority is a participation in divine authority.... Chief of State, you are not a simple delegate of the community, Excellency, but its guide, in the pursuit of its highest goals. ... The years we will live under your accession … will constitute a special period in the history of our country. Because, for the first time since our glorious Independence Day, Power is confided to Youth."
A few months before, Papa Doc had claimed the same intention: to "hand the government over to Youth." But he had had a simpler motive, the one that had been his goal all along. After fourteen years of steady attack, of constantly reshuffling Cabinets, purging all rivals, rooting out any who might be conceived as pretenders to the throne, he stood alone, supreme and unchallenged. His overarching ambition had been to depart the Palace only "to the salute of cannon," and this he had done. But he left no one who could claim the loyalty of his followers. Only a cipher, armed merely with his name and his blessing, could hope to succeed him. "In a way, it was the Old Man's last thumb in everyone's eye," one of Jean-Claude's former officials told me. "Because, you know, all of them — the generals, the priests, the élite — had thought of him as a joke. But he had mashed them, killed them, destroyed them all. And, finally, when only he stood there, and nobody dared challenge him, this was his way of rubbing their noses in it. Because what was Duvalier really saying in picking this fat stupid kid? 'No one can touch me, in death. Watch: Even in dying, I even will force you to take this ... this boy as you ruler. And you will ...accept him!' "
A poster familiar to Haitians had reappeared around Port-au-Prince. "I HAVE CHOSEN HIM" was once more the caption, but this time it was a white-haired Papa Doc who stood in Jesus Christ's place, his frail hand placed on one immense shoulder of his son, Jean-Claude, the mountainous, brooding boy-king in a shiny suit.