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The Duvalier Regime

By Robert F. Wagner jr.

According to Haiti's constitution, a President cannot succeed himself. Although his term legally expired on May 15, President Francois Duvalier remains in office. Like most of his predecessors, Duvalier is averse to following constitutional requirements. But it is doubtful whether even his fierce tenacity will be able to withstand the foreign hostility to his regime much longer.

What is astounding about the present administration is not its corruption (most of Haiti's governments have been corrupt) but rather the degree of corruption. Today Haiti provides its President with five palaces, a private police force known as the "Ton-ton Macoute" (which is Creole for "bogeymen"), and countless sources of income. In a nation with a 10 per cent literacy rate, high unemployment, and a 50 per cent infant mortality rate, only 15 per cent of the budget goes for operations, while 85 per cent is spent on salaries for the dictator's associates. The government's response to erosion, a serious problem for Haiti's almost entirely agricultural economy, is indicative of its philosophy. Of the $112,000 budgeted for soil conservation, $110,000 is allotted for salaries.

Duvalier has combined this corruption with a ruthless disregard for personal liberties. His secret police force has quashed all significant, internal political opposition, either by forcing heretics into exile or by liquidating them. Exiled opposition leaders estimate that there have been some 2000 executions in the past month alone; independent observers, including diplomats and newspapermen, essentially confirm this estimate.

The United States has recently assumed a leading role in the assault on the present Haitian government. Within the month the Kennedy Administration has suspended diplomatic relations, the last step before breaking them off completely, and has held numerous conferences with representatives of several Latin American countres.

Washington has two reasons to worry. First, some South American countries resent the United States's financial and military support of a regime that mocks the purpose of the Alliance for Progress. Since 1957, the U.S. has given Haiti $435 million in aid and loaned American troops to train Duvalier's army. Understandably, many have considered Duvalier the United States's man in Haiti.

Secondly, the Communists are interested in Haiti, according to a former special Presidential adviser on Latin American affairs. Adolf A. Berle claims that between 2,500 and 10,000 French-speaking African Communists arrived in Havana early in May with Haiti as a final destination. "Some are said already to have crossed the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti by small boats, infiltrating the Haitian mountains," Mr. Berle wrote in the May 23 Reporter.

The degree of the United States' commitment, coupled with the strength of anti-Duvalier feeling throughout South America, assure a more truculent opposition in the future. If no more than a boycott of Haitian goods were initiated, the Duvalier government would probably fall, for Haiti's declining economy depends on the export of coffee and sugar. Without foreign trade, unemployment would probably lead to revolution if Duvalier refused to leave office of his own accord.

But to equate the end of the Duvalier regime with the solution of Haiti's problems would be short-sighted. If what Adolf Berle has said is true, loss of Duvalier might only leave Haiti to the Communists. Even without the Communists, there would be other serious complications.

In spite of all his barbarities, Duvalier has achieved considerable popularity among the peasantry and the lower classes of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, because of his ardent Negro nationalism. He has called for the elimination of Haiti's economic and cultural dependence on the United States and for the establishment of a bond between Haiti and Africa. Recently, his tone has become more strident: he calls for an immediate social revolution in which the Negro population would take over and oust the mulatto economic elite and American business interests.

Duvalier's popularity constitutes a serious obstacle to American and OAS attempts to remove him from office. His overthrow would make him appear as a martyr in the fight against white imperialism, and his popularity among the 90 per cent Negro population would increase. Martyring Duvalier would at once heighten Haitian hostility to the United States and at the same time hinder, if not actually cripple, any attempts at internal reform.

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