To: President Jean-Claude Duvalier
Subject: Policy options for stopping Haitians migration to the US
Date: January 1st , 1980
To stop the Haitians migration to the US, you must not try to alleviate poverty with foreign aid, nor deter them from living the country. You rather replace the Volunteers for National Security (VNS) and the army by the National Police of Haiti-a body of civilians with no affiliation with your regime.
(1) Haitians started to migrate massively to the US during Papa Doc’s regime. At first, the migrants were intellectuals and educated people from the bourgeoisie. Upon arrival, the US welcomed them and approved their political asylum demand easily because they were sufficiently skilled to accommodate in the new environment. However, in 1971, the citizens from the lower class started to migrate to the US too. In contrast with the first waves, they are fleeing not only political oppression, but also extreme poverty. From 1971 to 1977, up to 70,000 Haitians migrated to Florida on sailboats. Now, this constitutes an issue for the US, because these migrants are low-skilled, uneducated, Creole speaker; thus, hardly capable of adjusting to the US environment. Prior to this overwhelming migration wave, the US was only preoccupied about whether your regime is pro-communism or against it. But now, as Haitian migrants constitute a burden to them, they are also preoccupied about your domestic policies.
(2) From the US’s perspective, its relationship with Haiti is a dilemma: it supports your regime to fight against communism while it is against your domestic policies. One of the most efficient way to cope with that is to dismantle your regime which can be done easily by cutting your foreign aid. Given that the strength of your regime depends on their assistance, you won’t have any other choice than to resign if they cut it. Therefore, you must urgently take a decision; otherwise, your regime will perish.
Policy Option 1: Poverty Alleviation
(3) The GOH is receiving substantial assistance from the US, but the poorest people don’t benefit from it. Fraud and embezzlement by the “Tontons Maccoutes” have prevented it from reaching them. Thus, this option calls to use the foreign aid to finance some poverty alleviation projects. First, the GOH should conduct a census to assess the poverty incidence – the total number of people living below the international poverty threshold; then, the aid can be used to provide free food, clean water, medical assistance to people below the threshold. By doing this, their condition will improve; consequently, they will less likely leave the country.
- Pros: poverty alleviation; fairer use of the foreign aid.
- Cons: corruption risk in undertaking the project; expensiveness of the project; unreliability and unsustainability of functioning with foreign aid.
Policy Option 2: Deter Haitians from migrating
(4) This option calls to sign a migration treaty with the US government to give it permission to deport Haitians easily upon arrival. If they cannot prove to have political ties, they should not be allowed to apply for political asylum nor to obtain a refugee status. Instead, they must be seen as mere opportunists and then be deported right away. As part of the treaty, you could also ask for assistance to improve the Haitian Coast Guard so that it can prevent sailboats from departing toward Florida.
- Pros: Drastic reduction in the number of Haitian refugees migrating to the US; better diplomatic relationship with the US as it will perceive you as more conciliatory in cooperating; increase of foreign assistance.
- Cons: Discrimination against Haitians comparing to Cubans which are welcomed to the US; more frustration and tension within Haiti because the people willing to escape won’t have any other way out; possible violent uprising against your regime as frustration will increase.
Policy Option 3: Create the National Police of Haiti
(5) This option calls to dissolve the army and the Volunteering for National Security(VNS) program known as the “Tonton Macoute”. Guaranteeing security should be the duty of a National Police of Haiti which can be created easily with the same members of VNS. The only difference is that they will be mere civilians with no affiliation with your regime. Subsequently, instead of receiving military assistance from the US, you will ask for police training assistance.
- Pros: Tackles the deep cause of the migration which is oppression caused by the regime; Increases trust of the international community in your regime which can lead to more foreign assistance; reduces human right violations and repression which will lead to decrease migration; reduction of violent uprising risk; reduces embezzlement and corruption; creates jobs.
- Cons: Higher cost because the policemen must be paid by the state unlike the volunteers (Tontons Macoutes); not straightforward.
(6) I recommend you the third option which aims to create the National Police of Haiti. The first two options seem to be efficient in solving the migration issue, but they are not. It would be shortsighted to try to alleviate poverty with foreign aid since corruption by the “Tontons Macoutes” is ubiquitous. You might also be tempted to deter Haitians from migrating by signing treaties with the US to facilitate their deportation. But, this would be dangerous to your regime as Haitians will be keener to overthrow it. The most delicate solution is to replace the “Tontons Macoutes” and the army by a National Police of Haiti composed of civilians with no affiliation to your regime. It is seemingly irrelevant to the migration issue, but it is a subtle and clever way to stop it. In fact, the deep cause of the migration is the repression caused by your regime. Once the VNS is dissolved and oppression stopped, Haitians will have more political freedoms to participate in their country’s construction. Therefore, they won’t have any reason to risk their lives in unworthy sailboats migrating to the US.
- “The Effects of the Cold War on U.S.-Haiti’s Relations”, Jean-Claude Gerlus, SUNY at Binghamton.
- “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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