The US’s fear of Communism and its Impacts on Haiti’s Political and Economic Trajectory

During the Cold War, the US decided to support the authoritarian regime of Francois Duvalier in Haiti. The main motivation behind that was to prevent the spread of communism in the Caribbean. Since the Cuban Revolution was backed up by the Soviets, the US wanted to ally with other countries (non-communists) in the region.

Francois Duvalier “Papa Doc”, elected in 1957 as the 32nd president of Haiti, cleverly used the US’s anxiety about communism to strengthen his power. He firmly declared Haiti an anti-communist state to ally with the US which enabled his regime to benefit from financial, military and technical assistance from it [1]. By 1963, Duvalier received more than 45 million USD of American aid [2]. What might seem as a win-win situation turned out to be very detrimental to Haiti’s domestic human rights, to migration policies with the US, and to Haiti’s economy.


Human right abuses
In Haiti’s perspective, if we only focus on the regime we can conclude that the objectives were met. As he aimed, Duvalier received financial and military support he needed to sustain his power. However, his domestic policies were not in favor of the population. From 1957 to 1986, the Duvalier’s maintained a regime of terror, fear, and repression. Duvalier severely punished his regime foes to dissuade them from rebelling. One of the well-known victim of Duvalier was Francois’s Benoit’s family, who was wrongly accused of conspiring against Papa Doc[3]. He barely escaped through the Dominican Republic embassy, but Duvalier ordered the killing of his parents, children, servant, dogs and even a visitor at his house[4]. Countless other people were imprisoned, tortured or forced to exile during Papa Doc’s regime. In sum, during the regime of both father and son, up to 30,000 opponents were killed, or tortured[5].

In addition to wrongfully killing his opponents, Papa Doc was abusing Haitians rights in many other ways, from printing his face on the national currency bills to meddling the church in politics. In fact, Duvalier used priests to obtain information from people via confession[6]. Furthermore, in 1961, Papa Doc was curiously re-elected president winning 1,320,749 votes which was 100% of the total. Subsequently in 1964, he proclaimed himself president for life.  Eventually, after his death in 1971, his 19-year-old son Jean Claude Duvalier known as Baby Doc succeeded him. Baby Doc’s regime continued with the game of anti-communism to gain money from the US[7]. Similarly, it did not tolerate opposition and was abusing domestic human rights. In a voodoo ceremony, Baby Doc and his wife Michele Bennett were accused of sacrificing 2 unbaptized babies in the National Palace to curse his opponents[8] willing to overthrow his regime. The US could have stopped all these cruel acts, and Duvalier’s regime in Haiti, but due to their obsession of anti-communism during the cold war, Duvalier was not their focus.

Migration issues
With the US’s support, the Duvaliers were powerful and were able to sustain their regime of repression, brutality and fear for 29 years. Consequently, Haitians started to leave the country to migrate to North America seeking for a better life. By the end of Duvalier’s reign, 225,000 Haitians resided in the United States[9]. This trend complicated the relation between the US and Haiti.

Haitians migration to North America started in the 1960s during Papa Doc’s reign. There were 3 waves of Haitians migration in the US. The first category of Haitian departing is the elite class who opposed the regime. However, starting from 1965, there was a second wave of migration consisting of middle class people. Intellectuals, doctors, teachers tended to leave the country because of Duvalier’s brutality. One of the well-known intellectuals who left Haiti because of Duvalier was Dany Laferrière who was a journalist and broadcaster in Port-au-Prince. When his colleague was found dead beheaded in a beach, Laferrière went to Canada to escape from Duvalier’s ferocity[10]. Jean Léopold Dominique, another prominent journalist, was also forced to exile in 1980. Countless other prominent people left Haiti during the Duvalier era. This was very detrimental to Haiti because it left the country with few educated people. As violence continued, a third wave of people started to move to the US in 1972. Unlike the first and second wave, the third wave consisted of uneducated and low-skilled people. They were not only pollical refugees but also people escaping extreme poverty. They did not even have a tourist visa, so they came to the US shore by boat, hence the name of “boat people” was attributed to them.

During the first migration wave, the US was very welcoming to Haitian refugees. This was understandable because they were educated, thus could accommodate in the US unfamiliar environment easily. However, with the third wave, the US policymakers started to worry because the refugees were uneducated, low-skilled and did not even speak English; they were a burden to the US. What was worse, they were overwhelmingly greater in number than the precedent waves.  From 1971 to 1977, the number of Haitians coming to the US illegally by boat was ranged from 50 000 to 70 000 [11]. Therefore, this became a new national issue in the US.

In response to the new overwhelming flow of Haitians coming in the shore of Florida, the US used his influence on Baby Doc’s regime to change its migration policies with Haiti. As a result, Haitians were no longer welcomed to the US. Unlike Cubans, Haitians hardly obtained refugee status once arrived in the US. Only 25 to 50 out of 50 000 to 70 000 were granted political asylum from 1972 to 1980[12]. In addition, the US came up with the program of accelerated deportation known as the “Haitian Program”[13]. With that, thousands of Haitians had their political asylum rejected and deported. To this day, the migration policies between the US and Haiti remain the same, even though the Cold War ended long time ago.

Economic devastation
Duvalier’s strategy of receiving foreign aid to strengthen his power was detrimental to Haiti’s economy too. Not only they were abusing people’s rights, but also, they were extremely corrupted. In fact, Duvalier’s regime was a kleptocracy. Most of the money received as aid from the US went on Duvalier’s personal swiss bank account [14]. In 1980, the IMF gave Haiti a loan of 22 million. Sixteen million went on Jean-Claude Duvalier’s bank account while 4 million went in the hands of the “Tonton Macoute”. That same year, Baby Doc married Michele Bennett the daughter of a rich business man having a lavish wedding which costed 7 million US dollars[15]. In addition, when Baby left Haiti in 1986 with his wife, they allegedly embark with them hundreds of million dollars[16]

Moreover, Duvalier’s economic strategy was a failure. Baby Doc wanted to reform Haiti’s economy. With the influence of USAID, he let the agriculture sector shifted from domestic crop production to export-led production. In addition, he fostered textile manufacturing. All of these were the consequence of Duvalier’s regime dependency on the US continuous aid. Duvalier could not have acted differently at that time because he was an American puppet willing to stay in compliance.  While those decisions attracted many American corporations (Nike, Disney) willing to benefit from the low-cost labor, they were not beneficial to the poorest Haitians[17]. Only the foreign investors, and the Duvalier’s friends and family, the bourgeoisie were benefiting from that economic strategy.

Legacy of Duvalierism
After the departure of Baby Doc, Haiti experienced one of the worst political instability in its history. This was partly because Duvalier did not prepare Haiti for democracy. The same day Duvalier left, the General of the army Henri Namphy who was a partisan of Duvalier took over with the promise of organizing election and establishing democracy in Haiti. But, he failed in this mission like many of his successors. The first election he attempted to organize was a chaos. 34 civilians were killed during the election day by soldiers in the army[18]. After 2 years as head of state, Namphy organized a military biased election which led to Leslie Manigat coming into power on February 17, 1988. Leslie Manigat did not last long in power.  He was overthrown by the general Henri Namphy after 5 months on June 20, 1988. Shortly after, Namphi was himself overthrown by Prosper Avril who was a former trusted member and advisor of the Duvalier’s regime. Avril lasted only 2 years in power before being replaced by Herard Abraham who was shortly replaced in March 13, 1990 by Ertha Pascal Trouillot, the first woman president in Haiti who organized the first democratic election in Haiti.

Haiti’s goals and outcome
Duvalier made the important choice to accept the US’s support rejecting the adaptation of communism in Haiti. Given the US strategic position and the possibility to develop Haiti’s economy with private investors and exportation possibilities, it was a great decision. However, his regime was so corrupted that he failed to invest the aid received in projects that can improve Haitians condition of life. Only 15 per cent of the budget went to operations while 85 per cent were allotted for salaries[19].

In sum, Haiti went further in poverty during Duvalier and earn the price of the poorest country in the north hemisphere[20]. Now, the Duvaliers are no longer in power, but their legacy remains a burden for Haiti. To this day, Haiti still receives hundreds of million dollars from World Bank, USAID, and the IDB as loan or grant. In 2013, for example, Haiti received 270 million dollars from the US[21]. This money was used to finance projects in agriculture, humanitarian, health assistance etc. This means, Haiti is still highly dependent on foreign aids. It is a vicious circle created since the Duvalier era that Haiti has been unable to break.

Choosing to ally with the communists might have made a huge difference in Haiti if the same strategy than Cuba was applied. The Soviets invested on remodeling Cuba’s industry and focused more on trade than aid. A similar situation in Haiti might have reduced the latitude of the regime to use the national budget to the enrichment of its entourage. The migration policies also that the regime signed with the US were not at all at its advantage. The decision to facilitate Haitian’s deportation from the US was just rendering his regime more vulnerable. As people are deterred to flee, the more and more unbearable were conditions of life in Haiti, the more likely rebellion against the regime was.

US goals and outcomes
Overall, supporting the regime was the right decision in the US perspectives. If they didn’t, this could have led to an internal revolution or an external invasion against Duvalier as the regime was unable to sustain itself. A fall of Duvalier would have left Haiti to the Communists who were already very present in the regime entourage or in any case resulted in a chaos threatening US business interests. On the other hand, the US was able to use that influence on Haiti to conclude important migration policies that are still in place today. So, they not only kept the regime away of the influence of communism preventing its spread in the region but also strategically pressured Haiti to sign bi-party agreement in the US’s interests.

The political trajectory of Haiti has been influenced by the US due to the Cold War. The fear of communism compelled the US’s policymakers to support the Duvalier’s regime while it was a barbaric and hostile dictatorship. The US provided financial, technical and military assistance to Duvalier for 29 years. Due to corruption and shortsighted economy choices of the Duvalier’s, Haiti became poorer. As a result, migration began in Haiti which resulted to migration discrimination against Haitians at that time. What is more disconcerting, the Cold War has ended but its consequences remain a burden for Haiti.

[1] The Effects of the Cold War on U.S.-Haiti’s Relations (p. 36)
[2] The Effects of the Cold War on U.S.-Haiti’s Relations (p. 36)
[3] A Comparison of Haiti and Cuba During the Cold War and Post-Cold War (p. 90)
[4] The Downfall of Furniture-Face Haiti The Duvalier and Their Legacy (p. 2)
[5] Haiti’s former dictator Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier charged with corruption, The telegraph.
[6] The Downfall of Furniture-Face Haiti The Duvalier and Their Legacy (p. 2)
[7] The Effects of the Cold War on U.S.-Haiti’s Relations (p. 40)
[8] The Downfall of Funiture-Face Haiti The Duvalier and Their Legacy (p. 2)
[9] Haitian Diaspora Impact on Haitian Socio-Political and Economic Development (p. 43)
[10] Encyclopedia Britannica, “Dany Laferrière”, 2018
[11] Haitian Diaspora Impact on Haitian Socio-Political and Economic Development (p. 44)
[12] A Comparison of Haiti and Cuba During the Cold War and Post-Cold War Period (p. 81)
[13] A Comparison of Haiti and Cuba During the Cold War and Post-Cold War Period (p. 94)
[14] The Downfall of Funiture-Face Haiti The Duvalier and Their Legacy (p. 1)
[15] Jean-Claude Duvalier: Brutal Haitian dictator who ruled the country for 15 years, Independent News
[16] The Downfall of Funiture-Face Haiti The Duvalier and Their Legacy (p. 2)
[17] Jana Evans Braziel “Duvalier’s ghosts”, (p. 194)
[18] Henri Namphy; Bestower of Silence and Despair, New-York time, 1988.
[19] The Duvalier regime”, The Harvard Crimson, 1963
[20] A Comparison of Haiti and Cuba During the Cold War and Post-Cold War Period (p. 75)
[21] Haiti earthquake: where is US aid money going? The Guardian.

Works Cited

  • “Cedras Resigns in Haiti”, Los Angeles time, 1994
  • “Dany Laferrière”, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018.
  • “Duvalier’s ghosts” Jana Evans Braziel, University press of Florida.
  • “Francois Duvalier”, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018.
  • “Haitian Diaspora Impact on Haitian Socio-Political and Economic Development” City College of New-York, master’s thesis. Sharleen Rigueur, 2011.
  • “Haiti’s Division Deepen Over Aristide”, New-York time, 1991
  • “Haiti earthquake: where is US aid money going?”. The Guardian, 2014.
  • “Haiti’s former dictator Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier charged with corruption in Haiti” The Telegraph, 2011.
  • “Henri Namphy; Bestower of Silence and Despair”, New-York time, 1988
  • “Jean-Claude Duvalier: Brutal Haitian dictator who ruled the country for 15 years” Independent News. 2014.
  • “Jean-Claude Duvalier”, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018.
  • “The Downfall of Furniture-Face Haiti The Duvalier and Their Legacy”, Gold Hebert, Los Angeles Time.
  • “The Duvalier regime”, The Harvard Crimson, 1963.
  • “The Effects of the Cold War on U.S.-Haiti’s Relations”, Jean-Claude Gerlus, SUNY at Binghamton.
  • “The impact of Economic Sanctions on Health and Human Rights in Haiti”. Elzabeth Gibbons and Richard Garfield, 1999
  • “US Refugee Policy: A Comparison of Haiti and Cuba During the Cold War and Post-Cold War Periods” Evan George. University of Florida.

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