François Duvalier (French pronunciation: [fʁɑ̃swa dyvalje]; 14 April 1907 – 21 April 1971), also known as Papa Doc, was the President of Haiti from 1957 to 1971. He was elected president in 1957 on a populist and black nationalist platform. After thwarting a military coup d'état in 1958, his regime rapidly became totalitarian and despotic. An undercover government death squad, the Tonton Macoute, killed opponents indiscriminately and was thought to be so pervasive that Haitians became highly fearful of expressing dissent even in private. Duvalier further sought to solidify his rule by incorporating elements of ancient Haitian mythology into a personality cult.
Prior to his rule, Duvalier was a physician by profession. His profession and expertise in the field acquired him the nickname "Papa Doc". He was unanimously "re-elected" in a 1961 election in which he was the only candidate. Afterwards, he consolidated his power step by step, culminating in 1964 when he declared himself as President for Life after another faulty election, and remained in power until he died in 1971. He was succeeded by his son, Jean‑Claude, who was nicknamed "Baby Doc".
Duvalier in 1968
|32nd President of Haiti|
22 October 1957 – 21 April 1971
|Preceded by||Antonio Thrasybule Kébreau (Chairman of the Military Council)|
|Succeeded by||Jean-Claude Duvalier|
|Minister of Public Health and Labor|
14 October 1949 – 10 May 1950
|Preceded by||Antonio Vieux (Public Health)|
Louis Bazin (Labor)
|Succeeded by||Joseph Loubeau (Public Health)|
Emile Saint-Lot (Labor)
|Undersecretary of Labor|
26 November 1948 – 14 October 1949
|Born||14 April 1907|
|Died||21 April 1971 (aged 64)|
|Political party||National Unity Party |
Simone Duvalier (m. 1939)
|Children||Marie‑Denise Duvalier |
|Alma mater||University of Haiti (MD)|
Duvalier was born in Port-au-Prince in 1907, son of Duval Duvalier, a justice of the peace, and baker Ulyssia Abraham. His aunt, Madame Florestal, raised him.:51 He completed a degree in medicine from the University of Haiti in 1934, and served as staff physician at several local hospitals. He spent a year at the University of Michigan studying public health:53 and in 1943, became active in a United States-sponsored campaign to control the spread of contagious tropical diseases, helping the poor to fight typhus, yaws, malaria and other tropical diseases that had ravaged Haiti for years. His patients affectionately called him "Papa Doc", a moniker that he used throughout his life.
The United States occupation of Haiti, which began in 1915, left a powerful impression on the young Duvalier. He was also aware of the latent political power of the poor black majority and their resentment against the tiny mulatto (black and white mixed-race) elite. Duvalier supported Pan-African ideals, and became involved in the négritude movement of Haitian author Jean Price-Mars, both of which led to his advocacy of Haitian Vodou, an ethnological study of which later paid enormous political dividends for him. In 1938, Duvalier co-founded the journal Les Griots. On 27 December 1939, he married Simone Duvalier (née Ovide), with whom he had four children: Marie‑Denise, Nicole, Simone, and Jean‑Claude.
In 1946, Duvalier aligned himself with President Dumarsais Estimé and was appointed Director General of the National Public Health Service. In 1949, he served as Minister of Health and Labor, but when Duvalier opposed Paul Magloire's 1950 coup d'état, he left the government and resumed practicing medicine. His practice included taking part in campaigns to prevent yaws and other diseases. In 1954, Duvalier abandoned medicine, hiding out in Haiti's countryside from the Magloire regime. In 1956, the Magloire government was failing, and although still in hiding, Duvalier announced his candidacy to replace him as president.:57 By December 1956, an amnesty was issued and Duvalier emerged from hiding, and on 12 December 1956, Magloire conceded defeat.:58
The two frontrunners in the 1957 campaign for the presidency were Duvalier and Louis Déjoie, a landowner and industrialist from the north. During their campaigning, Haiti was ruled by five temporary administrations, none lasting longer than a few months. Duvalier promised to rebuild and renew the country and rural Haiti solidly supported him as did the military. He resorted to noiriste populism, stoking the majority Afro-Haitians' irritation at being governed by the few mulatto elite, which is how he described his opponent, Déjoie.
François Duvalier was elected president on 22 September 1957. Duvalier received 679,884 votes to Déjoie's 266,992. Even in this election, however, there are multiple first-person accounts of voter fraud and voter intimidation.:64
Duvalier promoted and installed members of the black majority in the civil service and the army. In July 1958, three exiled Haitian army officers and five American mercenaries landed in Haiti and tried to overthrow Duvalier; all were killed. Although the army and its leaders had quashed the coup attempt, the incident deepened Duvalier's distrust of the army, an important Haitian institution over which he did not have firm control. He replaced the chief-of-staff with a more reliable officer and then proceeded to create his own power base within the army by turning the Presidential Guard into an elite corps aimed at maintaining his power. After this, Duvalier dismissed the entire general staff and replaced it with officers who owed their positions, and their loyalty, to him.
In 1959, Duvalier created a rural militia, the Milice de Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (MVSN, English: Militia of National Security Volunteers)—commonly referred to as the Tonton Macoute after a Haitian Creole bogeyman—to extend and bolster support for the regime in the countryside. The Macoute, which by 1961 was twice as big as the army, never developed into a real military force but was more than just a secret police.
In the early years of his rule, Duvalier was able to take advantage of the strategic weaknesses of his powerful opponents, mostly from the mulatto elite. These weaknesses included their inability to coordinate their actions against the regime, whose power had grown increasingly stronger.
In the name of nationalism, Duvalier expelled almost all of Haiti's foreign-born bishops, an act that earned him excommunication from the Catholic Church. In 1966, he persuaded the Holy See to allow him permission to nominate the Catholic hierarchy for Haiti. No longer was Haiti under the grip of the minority rich mulattoes, protected by the military and supported by the church; Duvalier now exercised more power in Haiti than ever.
On 24 May 1959, Duvalier suffered a massive heart attack, possibly due to an insulin overdose; he had been a diabetic since early adulthood and also suffered from heart disease and associated circulatory problems. During the heart attack, he was comatose for nine hours.:81–82 His physician believed that he had suffered neurological damage during these events, harming his mental health and perhaps explaining his subsequent actions.:82
While recovering, Duvalier left power in the hands of Clément Barbot, leader of the Tonton Macoute. Upon his return to work, Duvalier accused Barbot of trying to supplant him as president and had him imprisoned. In April 1963, Barbot was released and began plotting to remove Duvalier from office by kidnapping his children. The plot failed and Duvalier then ordered a nationwide search for Barbot and his fellow conspirators. During the search, Duvalier was told that Barbot had transformed himself into a black dog, which prompted Duvalier to order that all black dogs in Haiti be put to death. The Tonton Macoute captured and killed Barbot in July 1963. In other incidents, Duvalier ordered the head of an executed rebel packed in ice and brought to him so he could commune with the dead man's spirit. Peepholes were carved into the walls of the interrogation chambers, through which Duvalier watched Haitian detainees being tortured and submerged in baths of sulfuric acid; sometimes, he was in the room during the tortures.
In 1961, Duvalier began violating the provisions of the 1957 constitution. First, he replaced the bicameral legislature with a unicameral body. Then he called a new presidential election in which he was the sole candidate, though his term was to expire in 1963 and the constitution prohibited re-election. The election was flagrantly rigged; the official tally showed a total of 1,320,748 "yes" votes for another term for Duvalier, with none opposed. Upon hearing the results, he proclaimed, "I accept the people's will. ... As a revolutionary, I have no right to disregard the will of the people".:85 The New York Times commented, "Latin America has witnessed many fraudulent elections throughout its history but none has been more outrageous than the one which has just taken place in Haiti".:85 On 14 June 1964, a constitutional referendum made Duvalier "President for Life", a title previously held by seven Haitian presidents. This referendum was also blatantly rigged; an implausible 99.9% voted in favor, which should have come as no surprise since all the ballots were premarked "yes".:96–97 The new document granted Duvalier—or Le Souverain, as he was called—absolute powers as well as the right to name his successor.
His relationship with the United States proved difficult. In his early years, Duvalier rebuked the United States for its friendly relations with Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo (assassinated in 1961) while ignoring Haiti. The Kennedy administration (1961–1963) was particularly disturbed by Duvalier's repressive and authoritarian rule and allegations that he misappropriated aid money—at the time a substantial part of the Haitian budget—and a U.S. Marine Corps mission to train the Tonton Macoute. The U.S. thus halted most of its economic assistance in mid-1962, pending stricter accounting procedures, with which Duvalier refused to comply. Duvalier publicly renounced all aid from Washington on nationalist grounds, portraying himself as a "principled and lonely opponent of domination by a great power".:234
Duvalier misappropriated millions of dollars of international aid, including US$ 15 million annually from the United States.:50–51 He transferred this money to personal accounts. Another of Duvalier's methods of obtaining foreign money was to gain foreign loans, including US$ 4 million from Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.:47–48
After the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963, which Duvalier later claimed resulted from a curse that he had placed on Kennedy, the U.S. eased its pressure on Duvalier, grudgingly accepting him as a bulwark against communism. Duvalier attempted to exploit tensions between the U.S. and Cuba, emphasizing his anti-communist credentials and Haiti's strategic location as a means of winning U.S. support:
Communism has established centres of infection . . . No area in the world is as vital to American security as the Caribbean . . . We need a massive injection of money to reset the country on its feet, and this injection can come only from our great, capable friend and neighbor the United States.:101
After Fulgencio Batista (a friend of Duvalier):92 was overthrown in the Cuban Revolution, Duvalier worried that new Cuban leader Fidel Castro would provide a safe haven for Haitian dissidents. Duvalier attempted to win Cuba over by recognizing Castro's government by sending medicine and pardoning several political prisoners, but to no avail; from the very start of his regime, Castro gave anti-Duvalier dissidents his full support.:93
Duvalier enraged Castro by voting against the country in an Organization of American States (OAS) meeting and subsequently at the United Nations, where a trade embargo was imposed on Cuba. Cuba answered by breaking off diplomatic relations and Duvalier subsequently instituted a campaign to rid Haiti of communists.. This move severed Cuban-Haitian relations for 38 years until the two countries re-established relations in 1997.
Duvalier's relationship with the neighboring Dominican Republic was always tense: in his early years, Duvalier emphasized the differences between the two countries. In April 1963, relations were brought to the edge of war by the political enmity between Duvalier and Dominican president Juan Bosch. Bosch, a leftist, provided asylum and support to Haitian exiles who had plotted against the Duvalier regime. Duvalier ordered his Presidential Guard to occupy the Dominican Embassy in Pétion-Ville, with the goal of arresting a Haitian army officer believed to have been involved in Barbot's plot to kidnap Duvalier's children. The Dominican president reacted with outrage, publicly threatened to invade Haiti, and ordered army units to the border. However, as Dominican military commanders expressed little support for an invasion of Haiti, Bosch refrained from the invasion and sought mediation through the OAS.:289
In 1966, Duvalier hosted the emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I, in what would be Haiti's only visit by a head of state under Duvalier.:139 During the visit, Duvalier awarded Haile Selassie the Necklace of the Order of Jean-Jacques Dessalines the Great, and the emperor, in turn, bestowed upon Duvalier the Great Necklace of the Order of the Queen of Sheba.:139
Duvalier's government was one of the most repressive in the hemisphere. Within the country he murdered and exiled his opponents; estimates of those killed are as high as 60,000. Attacks on Duvalier from within the military were treated as especially serious. When bombs were detonated near the Presidential Palace in 1967, Duvalier had nineteen officers of the Presidential Guard executed in Fort Dimanche.:357 A few days later Duvalier had a public speech during which he read the attendance sheet with names of all 19 officers killed. After each name, he said "absent". After reading the whole list, Duvalier remarked that "all were shot".:10–11
Haitian communists and even suspected communists bore the brunt of the government's repression.:148 Duvalier targeted them as a means to secure U.S. support in addition to the principle: Duvalier was exposed to communist and leftist ideas early in his life and rejected them.:148 On 28 April 1969, Duvalier instituted a campaign to rid Haiti of all communists. A new law declared that "Communist activities, no matter what their form, are hereby declared crimes against the security of the State." Those convicted of Communist activity were subject to execution, and faced having their property confiscated.
Duvalier employed intimidation, repression, and patronage to supplant the old mulatto elites with a new elite of his own making. Corruption—in the form of government rake-offs of industries, bribery, extortion of domestic businesses, and stolen government funds—enriched the dictator's closest supporters. Most of them held sufficient power to intimidate the members of the old elite, who were gradually co-opted or eliminated.
Many educated professionals fled Haiti for New York City, Miami, Montreal, Paris and several French-speaking African countries, exacerbating an already serious lack of doctors and teachers. Some of the highly skilled professionals joined the ranks of several UN agencies to work in development in newly independent nations such as Ivory Coast, and Congo.
The government confiscated peasant landholdings and allotted them to members of the militia, who had no official salary and made their living through crime and extortion.:464 The dispossessed fled to the slums of the capital where they would find only meager incomes to feed themselves. Malnutrition and famine became endemic.
Nonetheless, Duvalier enjoyed significant support among Haiti's majority black rural population, who saw in him a champion of their claims against the historically dominant mulatto elite. During his 14 years in power, he created a substantial black middle class, chiefly through government patronage.:330 Duvalier also initiated the development of François Duvalier Airport, now known as Toussaint Louverture International Airport.
Duvalier fostered his cult of personality and claimed that he was the physical embodiment of the island nation. He also revived the traditions of Vodou, later using them to consolidate his power with his claim of being a Vodou priest, himself. In an effort to make himself even more imposing, Duvalier deliberately modeled his image on that of Baron Samedi, one of the loa, or spirits, of Haitian Vodou. He often donned sunglasses in order to hide his eyes and talked with the strong nasal tone associated with the loa. The regime's propaganda stated that "Papa Doc was one with the loa, Jesus Christ and God himself". The most celebrated image from the time shows a standing Jesus Christ with a hand on the shoulder of a seated Papa Doc, captioned, "I have chosen him". Duvalier declared himself an "immaterial being" as well as "the Haitian flag" soon after his first election. In 1964, he published a catechism in which the Lord's Prayer was reworded to pay tribute to Duvalier instead of God.
Duvalier also held in his closet the head of former opponent Blucher Philogenes, who tried to overthrow him in 1963.:132 He believed another political enemy was able to change into a black dog at will and had the militia begin killing black dogs on sight in the capital.
Many books have been written about the Duvalier era in Haiti, the best known being Graham Greene's novel The Comedians. Duvalier, however, dismissed the piece and referred to its author as "a cretin, a stool pigeon, sadistic, unbalanced, perverted, a perfect ignoramous [sic], lying to his heart's content, the shame of proud and noble England, a spy, a drug addict, and a torturer". It was later made into a movie. Greene himself was declared persona non grata and barred from entering Haiti.
Alan Whicker featured Duvalier in a 1969 episode of Whicker's World, which includes an interview with the president. Made by Yorkshire Television, part of Britain's ITV commercial network, the documentary is deeply revealing of Duvalier's character as well as of the state of Haiti in 1969.
The first authoritative book on the subject was Papa Doc: Haiti and its Dictator by Al Burt and Bernard Diederich, published in 1969, though several others by Haitian scholars and historians have appeared since Duvalier's death in 1971. One of the most informative, Patrick Lemoine's Fort‑Dimanche: Dungeon of Death, dealt specifically with victims of Fort-Dimanche, the prison Duvalier used for the torture and murder of his political opponents.
In 2007, British newspaper editor John Marquis published Papa Doc: Portrait of a Haitian Tyrant, which relied in part on records from a 1968 espionage trial in Haiti to detail numerous attempts on Duvalier's life. The trial's defendant, David Knox, was a Bahamian director of information. Knox lost and was sentenced to death, but was later granted amnesty.
In 1963, Duvalier created the Parti de l'unité nationale—PUN (National Unity Party)—to constitute a single-party system. . . . the existence of a single party as one of the defining characteristics of the totalitarian nature of Duvalierism . . . the party had a thoroughly inconsequential role in the Duvalierist system.
President Duvalier reigned supreme for fourteen years. Even in Haiti, where dictators had been the norm, François Duvalier gave new meaning to the term. Duvalier and his henchmen killed between 30,000 and 60,000 Haitians. The victims were not only political opponents, but women, whole families, whole towns. In April 1963, when an army officer suspected of trying to kidnap two of Duvalier's children took refuge in the Dominican chancery, Duvalier ordered the Presidential Guard to occupy the building. The Dominicans were incensed; President Juan Bosch Gaviño ordered troops to the border and threatened to invade. However, the Dominican commanders were reluctant to enter Haiti, and Bosch was obliged to turn to the [Organization of American States] to settle the matter.
Dans un mélange de subtilité allusive et de rigueur architecturale, Joël Des Rosiers décrit ainsi la détresse psychique du dictateur: « François Duvalier chasse Joseph Dunès Olivier de la magistrature. Il fut ostracisé pour avoir notarié l'acte de candidature à l'élection présidentielle du sénateur Louis Déjoie, opposant politique et véritable vainqueur des élections. Ce fut le premier acte illégal du dictateur. Oh ! Il en fut d'autres. Oh ! Par bassesse, le dictateur vengeait la mémoire de son vrai père Florestal Duvalier, citoyen français du Morne des Esses, commune de la Martinique, tailleur de son métier à la rue de l'Enterrement, dont le fils aîné Duval Duvalier fut fait officiellement le père adoptif de François Duvalier alors qu'il en était le demi‑frère. Pour maquiller sa paternité tardive, Florestal Duvalier, vieillard cacochyme, poussa son fils adulte Duval à reconnaître l'enfant, né de ses amours ancillaires avec une jeune domestique, Irutia Abraham, originaire de Maniche, commune des Cayes. La mère de Duvalier en devint folle. Son fils lui fut retiré si bien que l'enfant ne la connut jamais et fut élevé par une tante, madame Florestal .»
During the 1930s, Duvalier joined a group of black intellectuals, the Griots. The Griots had begun to study and sanctify Haiti's African heritage. The group's work marked the beginning of a new campaign against the [child of two worlds] elite and an emerging ideology of black power, Haitian style. It was on this ideology that Duvalier later based his political leadership. His pro‑black led to his advocacy of [Vodou].
While working in a hospital during the 1930s, [Simone Duvalier] met [François] Duvalier, and the couple married on 27 December 1939. They had four children: Marie‑Denise, Nicole, Simone, and Jean‑Claude Duvalier.
The vote, however, was for Papa Doc: Duvalier 679,884; [Déjoie] 266,993.
Although referred to as a militia, the VSN in fact became the Duvaliers' front-line security force. As of early 1986, the organization included more than 9,000 members and an informal circle of thousands more. The VSN acted as a political cadre, secret police and instrument of terror. It played a crucial political role for the regime, countering the influence of the armed forces, historically the government's primary source of power. The VSN gained its deadly reputation in part because members received no salary, although they took orders from the Presidential Palace. They made their living, instead, through extortion and petty crime. Rural members of the VSN, who wore blue denim uniforms, had received some training from the army, while the plainclothes members, identified by their trademark dark glasses, served as Haiti's criminal investigation force.
This concordat let Dr. François Duvalier ('Papa Doc') nominate seven key clerics, thus ensuring their personal loyalty to him. It also stipulates that future appointments should be 'preferentially to members of the indigenous clergy'. Both these measures helped bring the Haitian church under Papa Doc's control.
He once ordered the head of an executed rebel packed in ice and brought to the presidential palace so he could commune with his spirit.
Peepholes were made in his torture chambers, to allow him to observe discreetly. Sometimes, he was in the room itself, while men and women were beaten, tortured, and plunged into baths of sulfuric acid.
Haitian president François "Papa Doc" Duvalier infamously claimed that his [Vodou] curse on John F. Kennedy brought about the President's 1963 assassination.
People with ties to Haiti are remembering one of that country's former dictators. Jean‑Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier died over the weekend. The old saying goes, speak nothing but good of the dead, but that is hard for Patrick Gaspard to do. He's a U.S. diplomat and a Haitian‑American. And after Duvalier's death, he tweeted, I'm thinking of the look in my mother's eyes when she talks about her brother Joel, who was disappeared by that dictator. Duvalier and his father before him ran one of the most repressive regimes in the western hemisphere.
Current Haitian legislation contains a number of legal provisions that place considerable restrictions on the freedom of speech. The most important of these is the law of April 28, 1969:
Article 1. Communist activities, no matter what their form, are hereby declared crimes against the security of the State . . . The authors of an accomplices in crimes listed above shall receive the death penalty, and their goods and chattels shall be confiscated and sold for the benefit of the State
Thousands of posters appeared as the Péligre dam was about to be opened proclaiming that 'Duvalier alone is able to harness the energy of Péligre and give it to his people'. Others had Jesus with his hand on Duvalier proclaiming 'I have chosen him'.
Not satisfied with being the Haitian flag, . . . Duvalier also declared himself 'an immaterial being' shortly after he became 'President-for-Life', and issued a Catechisme de la Révolution to the faithful containing the following version of the Lord's Prayer: 'Our Doc, who art in the National Palace for Life, hallowed be Thy name by present and future generations. Thy will be done in Port-au-Prince as it is in the provinces. Give us this day our new Haiti and forgive not the trespasses of those antipatriots who daily spit on our country; lead them into temptation, and, poisoned by their own venom, deliver them from no evil . . .'
Notre Doc qui êtes au Palais National pour la Vie, que Votre nom soit béni par les générations présentes et futures, que Votre Volonté soit faite à Port‑au‑Prince et en Province. Donnez‑nous aujourd'hui notre nouvelle Haïti, ne pardonnez jamais les offenses des apatrides qui bavent chaque jour sur notre Patrie, laissez‑les succomber à la tentation et sous le poids de leurs baves malfaisantes: ne les délivrez d'aucun mal. Amen.
Antonio Thrasybule Kébreau
(Chairman of the Military Council)
| President of Haiti