Haiti lecture

Given before Louisville International Relations Club (Council on Foreign Relations)

Oct. 12, 1971

George P. Clark

I understand remarks before this group are off the record, and I welcome the latitude this gives me to express myself freely.

I call your attention to the appropriateness of Oct. 12, anniversary of Columbus's discovery of San Salvador, his first landfall in the New World. There he made his way West and South, discovering successively Cuba and Haiti, which he named La Ysla Espanola. "This country is sufficiently cool and better than tongue can tell," he wrote in his account to Ferdinand and Isabella, "In all Castile there is no land that can compare with it for beauty and excellence." The Arawak Indians he described as "people of love without greed, and [ominously] suitable for every purpose. They love their neighbors as themselves, and have the sweetest talk in the world, and gentle, and always with a smile."

Spanish exploitation of the native Indians began immediately with their enslavement as laborers in the fields of cotton and sugar, and with startling swiftness the Arawaks were exterminated. Within a quarter of a century the Spanish had run through a whole people and were turning to the importation of African slaves. By 1697, when France wrested control of the western third of Hispanola from the Spanish, there were 6,000 adult white and Mulatto males in Haiti and 50,000 black slaves. By the time of the American Revolution there were 15,000 adult whites and an estimated 250,000 black slaves. It was during this period that Haiti -- then called Saint Domingue, became France's richest colony, producing sugar, cotton, high grade coffee and cocoa in lavish abundance. (In 1767 Haiti, with a tenth or less of its present population, exported three times as much sugar as it does now.)

This great capacity for the production of wealth was destroyed in the series of civil struggles that began with the great slave uprising in the North in 1791 and continued into the War of Liberation that led (under Jean-Jacques Dessalines) to independence from France in 1804. The great plantations were burned and pillaged, their owners murdered or driven out, and to this day the land has not recovered from the cataclysm.

It is not my purpose to deal with the history of the successive governments of Haiti. Robert Rotberg (author of the most recent full-scale study of Haiti) observes that "Dessalines defeated the French, but otherwise offered to his people only continued destruction, militarism, and autocracy, and the reimposition of servitude." There is no extended period in the subsequent history of Haiti to which these words do not apply -- and not the least among them the word servitude, for in Haiti today only the political and military masters are free, and they are few in number.

The modern history of Haitian-American relations began in 1862 with our belated recognition of the black republic and reached a climax of involvement with our intervention in Haiti in 1915 and our occupation of the country until 1934, at which the Haitianization (it was the catchword of the times) was deemed to have been completed, and the country was returned to its owners. During World War II its solidarity with us was much appreciated in Washington, and regularly since then Haiti has been the object of official and private aid from this country.

Thus, when Governor Rockefeller made his Latin-American fact-finding trip two years ago as representative of President Nixon, he couldn't very well overlook Haiti, though many, in government and out, wondered whether a special visit to Papa Doc was desirable. And Rockefeller himself must have wondered when he found himself one memorable afternoon arm-in-arm with the smiling dictator on a balcony of the Presidential Palace. In his subsequent report, entitled "Quality of Life in the Americas," he wrote: "We were moved by the hope that one day Cuba can be restored to the society of free men." One wonders whether standing that day on that balcony Pres. Nixon's representative was aware that he was symbolically embracing the dictator of a society fully as repressive of human rights as that of Fidel Castro.

In evidence of this one has only to consider the ruthless and bloody reign of Papa Doc Duvalier, who from 1957 to April of this year controlled single-handedly the destinies of all Haitians. During this period the Inter-American Commission on Human RightsInter-American Commission on Human Rights, an agency of the Organization of American States, repeatedly asked the Haitian government for clarification regarding specific charges of brutality and murder levelled against it by friends and relatives of the oppressed. The record of complaints against the Duvalier government is available from the OAS Washington Office, and it makes grim reading. A series of complaints received and published by the Human Rights Commission in 1963 (after the attempted kidnapping of son, Jean-Claude) contained such allegations as the following:

  • In addition to his constant violation of human rights and civil liberties, adding a black page to his previous ominous brutalities, Duvalier, after the assassination of Colonel Turnier, turned the machine guns of his Gestapo against the family of Lt. Francois Benoit, whose house was set afire and submitted to intense machine gun fire. In the house, Benoit's pregnant wife, a little boy of two, her son, Benoit's mother and several servants were burned to death ...
  • Also in this same week, mass execution took place of so-called "anti-nationalists, supporters of U.S. Imperialism" as well as military officers in the interior. Parents, wives, children, sisters, and other relatives of former army officers who recently took refuge in various Latin American Embassies were jailed and tortured. Several other former army officers who were discharged from the Corps over five years ago were rounded up and executed at the Dessalines Barracks and at Fort Dimanche.

    Already more than twenty people have been killed in two days. Today in Port-au-Prince, in one morgue there are more than 65 bodies of persons killed in the streets.

  • Mr. Sege Rodney. Student. Arrested during the student strike, beaten and considered as missing.

  • Mr. Antoine Marcel. He lived in Magloire. He was arrested without provocation, beaten, and his body never recovered.

  • Mrs. Rossini Pierre-Lois. When she inquired for news of her husband, she was savagely beaten.

  • Mr. Leveque, former minister of Duvalier, beaten by a soldier when he was relieved of his duties.

  • Mr. Justin Leon, a merchant who had refused to give money to the government; he was arrested and taken to the National Palace and savagely beaten to death in the presence of President Duvalier.

  • Mr. Bouillon, a merchant who had refused to give money to the government; he was assasinated in the torture chamber of Dessalines.

  • Mr. Fritz Oriol, accused of conspiracy. Shot in the National Palace.

  • In every case there were either evasive replies or none to the OAS inquiries regarding such cases. And never has the Haitian government allowed any investigating committee of the Commission to set foot on the land, this despite the fact that Haiti is one of the members of the OAS and profits very considerably from its technical services.

    It is the CIAP Subcommittee of the OAS that has produced the most recent survey of Haiti and its economy. This document, dated 5 May, 1971, is also available from the OAS secretariat in Washington.

    The Subcommittee reports a recent, but encouraging, rise in the Haitian economy, though "it still represents only a slow return to a level of activity already reached in the past." It finds the number one obstacle to the economic development of Haiti is the "lack of roads kept in acceptable condition," an obstacle especially for agriculture and tourism. (In its own Plan for Economic and Social Action, published in 1969, the Haitian government claimed only 186 kms. of cement or asphalt roads and only 2,997 kms. of roads of any kind. In the dry season, it stated, a car could expect to average 30 kms. an hour on main roads, in the wet season 15.) The Subcommittee report makes it clear that Haiti under Duvalier lost ground everywhere. Figures for per capita GNP in 1968 "were already achieved or exceeded in 1955-60 years. Exports of goods are still below $40 million compared with some $50 million in the mid-1950's." The employment situation "had deteriorated during most of the Sixties, owing to a combination of a stagnating economy and a rising population." In 1964, there were 17,000 arrivals in the country in 1960; 91,000. For 1970 the estimated figure is up to 60,000.

    The report notes the establishment of small assembly plants as "the most promising evolution of the industrial sector in recent years," and cites exports to the U.S. as rising from $2.3 million in 1967 to $6.1 million in 1968, to $5.9 million in 1969.

    Another aspect of Haiti's underdevelopment set forth in the report is the shortage and high price of electricity. Out of a population in Port-au-Prince of about 400,000, less than 20,000 households receive service. The capacity of its electric company is around 13,400 KW, the peak demand 16,000 KW or more. The new Peligre Dam is supposed to double the power supply to Port-au-Prince, but the citizens are dubious. Rationing blackouts will probably continue, as well as thefts of power. (In 1970, the ratio of sales to output reached a new high -- 60 percent!) (Mention "Cumberlands, the equipment used in attaching illegal hook ups to either the electric company's lines or the lines of a legitimate customer, named "cumberland" after the American who originally installed electricity in Haiti during the first American Occupation, and the occasionally grotesquely incinerated free loaders.)

    There is no time to reflect in further detail on the CIAP report, which is a must for anyone wishing an authoritative view of the Haitian economy today. One further item, however, must be mentioned. In describing the tax structure of the country (which is largely based on customs revenues), the Subcommittee alludes to "taxes collected by the Regie du Tabac et des Allumettes." This agency it states: "collects a distribution commission on almost all goods imported or manufactured in Haiti and sold on the local market: cement, flour, sugar, textiles, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, perfume, TV and electronic equipment, etc. No official information is made available on the amount of revenue received by the Regie or on the use made of its funds, but it has been tentatively estimated at about Gde 50 million, equalling a fifth of total government revenue. It is considered that expenditures are mainly directed to security."

    In other words, these are unofficial funds which go directly to the Duvalier government for its own purposes -- chief among them being self-perpetuation. A former colleague of mine tells me that he feels "fifth of total government revenue' is a low figure -- he thinks it could amount to one half. The new young president for life has a lucrative future to contemplate!

    This is just one aspect of Haiti that makes one despair of it. While men of good will in this hemisphere, in this country, and in this very city are doing what they can to give material aid to the Haitian people, the masters of that people are doing what Haitian rulers have always done -- draining the land and its people of its resources. Colonel Robert Heinl, who in 1959 was sent on loan to Haiti by our government to retrain the National Guard, put it brilliantly: "As soon as [Duvalier] found that i would not allow American military aid to be misused to enhance his personal power ... his interest cooled ... I felt like a doctor transfusing blood in one arm of a failing patient while another MD -- Dr. Duvalier -- had a suction pump on the other."

    Workers in the field of Haitian education encounter such frustration every day, for the government seems more interested in retarding than in advancing public education. Only five of the forty-five high schools in Port-au-Prince are public "lycees" -- the rest are privately supported "colleges." Without the widespread support of education by religious and other private groups in Haiti, there would be virtually no primary or secondary education. According to the government's own figures in its 1970-1971 "Plan for Action," in 1968-69 only 12.8 percent of the school-age population was in school, and one knows that only a small proportion of these were in public schools, and the attrition rate is heavy. In a typical year in all of Haiti, fewer than 500 young people pass the bacculaureate examinations, representing roughly the equivalent of high school graduation. And to what do they turn their energies? -- to getting to the United States, in one way or another. Not untypical perhaps is my friend, Malherbe Beauchamp .... (Tell his story.)

    Although American aid was discontinued in 1963 after the Kennedy administration became disgusted with its misuse and preemption by the Duvalier government, we still have continued small amounts of aid over the years through PL480, CARE, and our contributions to the anti-malarial program. The Dept. of Commerce estimates foreign aid to Haiti from interested private and public sources to have equalled $13 million in 1969. (Of this, about $3.5 million was from the United States.)

    These sums are not impressive to the new government in Haiti, nor does our Ambassador there, Clinton E. Knox, feel they are sufficient. According to reports in the press, he is pressing for immediate resumption of substantial aid, feeling that the new Duvalier government has shown a willingness to improve the civil climate.

    On April 26, the N.Y. Times carried an extensive report on a news conference given by Ambassador Knox in Port-au-Prince, in which Mr. Knox said he would like to see an immediate grant to Haiti of $750,000 for agricultural development and expressed his confidence that the Duvalier government would survive for at least several months because of "the strength of the men around the President -- men who had risen to positions of power during the 13 1/2-year rule of Dr. Duvalier." In this interview, Mr. Knox "denied the report that he had been at the presidential palace the night Dr. Duvalier died." My information, from an Embassy friend in a good position to know, is that Mr. Knox was indeed called to the palace the night of Duvalier's death (in order that he might be impressed by the orderly transfer of power and give the assurance of his presence to the new government.) I have no information regarding the allegation in the Times that Mr. Knox wore at Papa Doc's funeral a Duvalierist lapel pin.

    People with whom I talked last summer, white, black, Haitian, and foreign, were agreed that Mr. Knox's marked pro-government stance was not making friends for the United States among the Haitian people. Mr. Knox is also reported by the Times to share Duvalier's strong prejudice against Mulattoes (though I am told that he himself is not pronouncedly black). As a footnote to this, I might add that Haiti's late distinguished man of letters, Dr. Price-Mars, whose name is closely linked with Haitian Negritude, asserted in one of his books that there were no pure black people in Haiti, so much had the bloods been mixed in colonial times and in Africa even before the slaves reached the West Indies.

    I have welcomed this opportunity to talk to you this evening about Haiti, but i recognize almost a certain impropriety in my doing so. It may come as a surprise that there are many anti-Duvalierist missionaries who wish no word to be publicly spoken against the regime. During the whole of the Duvalier tyranny, there were countless men and women of many nations, and not the least the Americans, who were working with great energy and often at great sacrifice to improve the lot of the common people of Haiti. They supported and directed schools, hospitals, clinics and churches throughout the country, working with no help from the government, happy if only the government would not put difficulties in their way. And they are still there. They dare not raise a political voice, for it could only mean the end of their work in Haiti and poignant loss to the Haitian people. Such persons are not inclined to welcome anti-Duvalierist opinion emanating from their own land, even when it is less pointed than mine, for they fear the kind of reprisals that Papa Doc was known for -- the closing of schools and churches and the expulsion of workers. I was sharply reminded of this last summer when I ventured to ask the wife of Dr. Lorimer Mellon (founder of the Schweitzer Hospital at Deschappelles) whether she noted any significant changes under the new government. She replied that, "We're just country people out here and don't pay any attention to what goes on in Port-au-Prince." These good people simply wish to be let alone to carry on their work.

    I have apprehension also with regard to Haitians with whom I discussed political matters. Some of them were very outspoken, referring, for example, to "those gangsters" in the palace. I cannot publicly report some things I heard because the informant could be too easily traced, were I to put his words in print. It is the same with refugees in this country: they cannot be quoted because they still have relatives in Haiti. Restrain must be used in writing to Haiti, for letters are periodically opened.

    Yet, if the people most closely affected cannot speak for Haiti, someone must. I feel this particularly strongly after a visit I had last summer with two Haitian friends, an Embassy employee, the other a leading journalist for one of the pro-government papers (all papers in Haiti are pro-government). No one reading his articles would suppose he was anything but the Dr. Goebbels of the Duvalierist revolution, but in the privacy of our little group he revealed his dismay at the course of the evening, his scorn of the boy president, his belief that our government should not immediately and uncritically have embraced the new regime. And I shall never forget the words of the other Haitian at this point: "Doesn't the United States care anything at all about us?"

    Interestingly, this exactly expresses the apprehension of all Latin America, according to the Rockefeller report. "Many of our neighbors in the hemisphere," it states, "wonder if the United States really does care." The report also emphatically develops one reason, if no other, why we ought to; that reason is the Communist threat throughout Latin America. The report states that "the opinion in the United States that Communism is no longer a serious factor in the Western Hemishpere is thoroughly wrong." It predicts "political and social instability" in the next few years, and asserts that Communist subversion "is a reality today with alarming potential." A writer in the Manchester Guardian sees it this way: "Haiti is only 46 miles from Cuba, and Clinton Knox, the black ambassador in Port-au-Prince, is trying hard, after the example of his colleague Ellsworth Bunker in Saigon, to persuade the Haitian ruling clique to cool its increasingly dangerous internal quarrels in exchange for a promise of resumed US aid. Chaos, and subsequently some form of US military intervention, possibly to head off a leftist threat as in the neighboring Dominican Republic in 1965, would be decidedly unwelcome to President Nixon with only 14 months to go before he stands for re-election." An English Latin-American newsletter comments: "Washington's prime concern in Haiti is for stability, and ... it will settle for Duvalierism without the Duvaliers if that seems the most likely way of getting it."

    Papa Doc was rightly afraid of the Communists and delighted to have our help in decimating Communist groups in his country. Jean-Claude will welcome any support our Embassy can lend him in equipping the newly-announced anti-Communist "Leopards." But we will be once more playing tyranny's game if we stupidly and obediently charge the red flag of Communism without pausing to notice what groups the Duvalierists have herded together under it. It is only the beginning of wisdom to recognize that in Haiti "Communist" is a generic term for anti-Duvalierists, and we will find no end of them if we wish to help Jean-Claude track them down. A better course might be to relieve the human misery on which Communism thrives and withhold our funds and moral support from the government that seeks to perpetuate it. It is neither moral nor politically in our interest to connive with Haiti's rulers in the exploitation of the Haitian people. Our best bulwark against Communism in the Caribbean could be a truly free and independent, self-ruling Haiti, whose "own birth of freedom" was fostered by an enlightened American self-interest.