POLITICAL CRISIS IN HAITI
Dr. Francois Duvalier was elected on September 22, 1957, after a hard nine months campaign. Four candidates canvassed for presidency, namely Louis Dejoie, Daniel Fignole, Clement Jumelle and Francois Duvalier.
Louis Dejoie is an agronomist. He represented mostly the interest of the upper class or Haitian cities and the quasi-majority of the mulattoes. He did not have really anything in common with the average Haitian. He represented in fact principally the interests of his class.
Daniel Fignole, a former high school teacher, was very popular among the lower classes, but principally in Port-au-Prince. However, because of the fact that most of the political life in Haiti is limited to the capital, the popularity of Fignole in Port-au-Prince could have been a decisive factor in the elections. On May 25, 1957, he had been called to the Presidency by the representatives of Duvalier and Jumelle, after the Haitian Army had been broken into two fighting groups. On June 15, 1957, he was overthrown by the Army and exiled to the United States of America.
Clement Jumelle was an economist. His followers were mainly among the young middle class intellectuals. He was a former minister of Finance in Magloire’s government. This was the main obstacle which made his candidacy unacceptable for a great number of people. Jumelle was associated with the Magloire regime. This apparently was true.
At that time, it was obvious that students, workers, many middle class businessman, civil servants and professionals, hoped for a drastic change in the structure of Haitian political life. For them, at first sight, Duvalier was the one who could make these changes possible. Although the Army helped him to be elected, it seems to me, that he had been really the most popular among the different candidates. In his inaugural speech and his first message to the Haitian people, Dr. Duvalier promised bread, food, work, peace and freedom to everyone. We know the results.
We know how much bread, food, and work the people are getting from Duvalier. We know how much peace and freedom the people of Haiti are enjoying under Duvalier’s dictatorship.I do not intend to strike the balance of Duvalier’s regime after eight years.
I The Nature of the Haitian Crisis:
The Haitian crisis is not the consequences of the Duvalier regime. The real nature of that crisis is to be found in the structure of the Haitian society itself and the structure of the so called “elite” who used to govern Haiti.
The structure of the Haitian society is a feudal one. On one side, a very small minority (few families) enjoy life as kings. They eat every day – three or four times a day – they have education. They send their children in Europe to study. They control with the Syrians and Lebanese the high commerce and most of the small business. When they do not exercise the political power directly, they control it. Thanks to their financial force. On the other side, we find more than 80% of the population illiterate and hungry. They live in the rural areas. When they are sick, they cannot afford the ‘luxury” either to go to see a doctor, or to buy medicines.
Such a situation, such inequality, I should say is in itself a source of conflicts, and permanent crisis.
It should be the role of the different governments of Haiti to plan how to reform peacefully the structure of the Haitian society in the sense of a better distribution of the national income, and of an increase of this national income in order not to take too much suddenly from those who used to enjoy high revenues.
This should be, I believe, the role of the governments. Unfortunately our different governments did not do anything in that direction. The so called “elite,” when they get the power, use it for themselves, their relatives and their friends. This is the traditional concept of power in Haiti. With some nuances, all of our different governments may be put in this category. In that respect, Duvalier is not an accident in our History. He is, however, the outcome of this system.
But there is a great difference with Duvalier. While with the quasi-totality of our governments it was more or less the same who alternative) were in or out of power. Duvalier has broken rules of the play. Dumarsais Estime did also- to a certain extent – the same. With Duvalier, it is a complete new class who came in power. The lowest classes of the Haitian society have with Duvalier an opportunity which has been denied to them in the past.
This needs to be explained. Before Duvalier, only l or 2% of the population participated in the political life of the country. When a group of them is in power, the other group is in opposition, and vice-versa. This small elite, has never been effectively in favour of any social and economic reforms which could give more welfare to the masses and the lower classes of the population. They were very selfish. They preferred to believe that the people were happy when they were themselves happy. They used to repeat that the Haitian masses did not have any need because their own needs were satisfied.
With Duvalier, the situation has changed. During the 1957 campaign, Duvalier insisted very much on the necessity of giving more welfare to all Haitians. As a Sociologist, Dr. Duvalier knows very well the needs of the masses of Haiti. As a medical doctor who has practiced medicine mostly in rural areas, he has been in permanent contact with the problems faced by the 80% which I mentioned above.
But the question is not only to be aware of a problem. We must be able to solve it. Duvalier has shown a complete incapacity to solve such a problem. Anyway, such a problem cannot be solved by one government, neither by one generation.
Instead of planning a long-term action, Duvalier has chosen a spectacular and demagogical policy. He just replaced those who used to take all the benefits of the political power for themselves, their relatives and their friends by another group but taken mostly from the lower classes of the population.
This is not a solution to the problem. This is only a superficial solution in case we are in favour of promoting Haitians from all social groups and classes to some posts of command. But this solution is superficial for technicians, for educated men who can make the difference between what is a real solution and what is only an apparent solution. For the masses of Haiti-for the great majority of them at least-the problem is different. They can be easily satisfied with only the appearances of a solution. Moreover, supporters of Duvalier- I may add, that in my opinion, they are right-have denied opportunity to those who have been highly involved in former governments to criticize the Duvalier reforms as superficial. They argue that when they had the power they did not do anything in favour of the masses. They just ignored them.
In my opinion, Duvalier saw the real problem of Haiti. He realized that no progress will be possible in the country until equal opportunity be given to all Haitians. Unfortunately, he did not try to find a long-term solution to that problem. He is a dictatorial type of leader. He does not accept criticisms. He does not even want his cabinet members to discuss his orders. The result is he keeps with him as advisors only those who will accept with great reverence his ideas. In these conditions our best technicians and all those who respect themselves enough not to give a formal agreement to a project that they consider not to be in the long-term interest of Haiti were obliged to leave the country. So, Duvalier lost the opportunity of having the support of those who could efficiently help him to carry out what could be his programme in favour of the masses.
Even Duvalier claims that his government serves the interests of the masses. This is not true. The reforms Duvalier undertook, did not change effectively the structure of the Haitian society. This has to be done.
The opposition to the Duvalier regime must be fully aware of this problem: the needs for changes in the social and economic structure of the Haitian society. If they don’t, they will waste their time and Jose their money to plan an invasion against Duvalier. The masses in Haiti will not follow them.
II Opposition Against Duvalier
This brings me to the second point of my topic, the opposition against Duvalier.
Among the opposition to Duvalier, we have to make a distinction between two extreme groups: the communists and the old guards of Haitian politics. Between them, a new opposition is taking form.
(a) The Communists: This is not a very large group. Some of them arc in Haiti. Until July 1965 they used to operate quite freely in Haiti. They have daily broadcasts to Haiti in “patois” (language spoken by the masses) from Radio Havana, Cuba. In fact, they do not wish the overthrow of Duvalier now. They believe that they do not control enough the entire opposition to Duvalier. They have their newspaper. Usually their comments on the political situation of Haiti are good. But the solutions they propose are just out of common sense. I’ll not insist too much on that group. They do not constitute now a danger. They may in the future if the liberals in Haiti do not find enough help and understanding in their fight against social and economic inequality.
(b) The traditional politicians: In that group, I include all the old guards of Haitian politics. They are former presidents, former ministers, Former ambassadors or former high rank civil servants. One way or another, they have participated very actively in past governments. They belong to that minority who used to take advantage of the political power for themselves, their relatives or their friends.
A great majority of them are now in exile. They hope the day will come again when they will return in Haiti to continue to exploit the masses as they did, when they were in power.
They are extremely divided when there is question to know who should be the next president of Haiti.
In my opinion, this group still lives in the past. They are extremely conservative minded. Their main complaint is that Duvalier has destroyed the Army and the Clergy. But what they do not realize is that the traditional army and the Roman Catholic clergy have been too closely associated with those who used to exploit the masses.
(c) New opposition: Between these two extremes, a new opposition is taking form. In this group, you find the majority consists of very young technicians, professionals, students and some elders who share our beliefs on the necessity to initiate some social and economic reforms in order to give an equal opportunity to all Haitians. This new opposition- because it is new- is not very strong.
The main points in the programme of that new opposition are as follows:
(1) Most of the members of that group accept, on a certain extent, to give credit to Duvalier to have made an effort in order to integrate a part of the lower classes in the national community and to have given to them a certain feeling of Haitian citizenship.
(2) They do not accuse the Duvalier regime to be the only one responsible for the actual situation of Haiti. They believe that the actual political system which prevails in Haiti is the real cause. Accordingly, they recommend a new concept of power which will emphasize the urgent necessity of social and economic reforms in Haiti.
(3) They want democracy, but not only this formal democracy (constitution and election). They want a “workable democracy” in which the government will have enough authority and power to initiate these reforms without taking the risk to be overthrown by the representatives of the privileged classes.
(4) They want political parties on the basis of ideological differences, but not parties grouped around one person.
(5) They oppose all systematic retaliatory measures against those who at present support the Duvalier regime.
(6) They want to cooperate with USA and Latin America while at the same time maintaining a neutralist Caribbean stand on international problems.
III Other factors which may influence the Haitian crisis:
United States of America: The United States has shown a complete lack of understanding about Haitian problems. This may be explained by the fact that the United States is not well informed about the political situation of Haiti. All those who could inform the United States-CIA, FBI, Embassy attaches in Port-au-Prince-they have contact mainly with the upper class of the Haitian society, and they don’t care to find out opinions of the great majority of the population. The newsmen, when they visit Haiti, stay in the best hotels of Port-au-Prince, and having no direct contact with the real Haitian problems and the masses.
American officials speak always of Constitutions and elections where they should try to help those who could reduce the inequalities existing in Haiti.
What is the meaning of constitution and elections for people who are hungry, who do not have housing, medicine and so forth?
Under Kennedy’s administration, the Haitian liberals have had a great opportunity to be understood. Although, late President Kennedy was convinced that Duvalier was a fascist answer to needs of change in Haiti, he did not want to make any step against Duvalier until May 1963, which was supposed to be the end of the constitutional term of Duvalier’s regime. When he wanted to really act, you know what happened on that sad afternoon of
November 22, 1963. With the advent of the Johnson administration, every day Haitian liberals are coming more to appreciate that they will not find, with the American officials, the understanding they need in order to achieve a humane and just solution to the Haitian crisis.
The only preoccupation of Johnson’s administration is to prevent another Cuba and to fight against Communism. It seems that so long as a government, by decree, outlaws communism and declares that it does not want communist literature to be distributed or sold on its territory, this is enough for the present American Administration. What Washington would not understand is that to outlaw communism is not a solution. We cannot outlaw an ideology. If we do so, the only result will be to create a great fanaticism among those who believe in it. This fanaticism will be equally proportional to the sanctions provided by the law or decree which has outlawed it. We simply have to remember the fanaticism of the first Christians during Inquisition. If we want to fight communism effectively we cannot allow it to monopolize the denunciation of social injustices. We must initiate social and economic reforms to break the still feudal structure of Latin America and Caribbean societies. We must keep our distance from those to whom anti-communism only means the maintenance of their privileges. More than that, we must oppose ourselves with the same violence, the same strength and the same courage, to those who refuse to recognize the respect, the dignity and the fundamental liberties of human beings.