Magloire, Paul Eugène

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Paul Eugène Magloire



Paul Eugène Magloire was an army colonel who in 1950 became president of Haiti, the world's first black republic. Six years later, Magloire was ousted by a coup and succeeded by François "Doc" Duvalier, whose regime—and that of his son Jean-Claude, known as "Baby Doc"—remained in power for the next thirty years. "Magloire's rule as president," wrote Greg Chamberlain of the Guardian, "was a period of unusual peace and efforts at modernisation, before the long dictatorship of the Duvalier family laid waste to Haiti, sending it into a downward spiral of poverty, repression and disorganisation from which it has yet to recover."

Magloire was the son of a high-ranking military officer in Haiti's army, which had played a crucial role in the nation's politics since it became only the second sovereign nation in the Western Hemisphere in 1804. Once a colony of France called Saint Domingue whose record exports of sugar and coffee made it the most profitable of all the Caribbean islands, Haiti was essentially one large slave plantation in the 1700s with an economy utterly dependent on the free labor of nearly half a million slaves. A slave revolt of 1791 led to an intense rebel movement that, despite France's best efforts to crush it, brought Haiti to independence thirteen years later.

Located on the island of Hispaniola, Haiti shares the island with the Dominican Republic, a former colonial possession of Spain. In the early years of the twentieth century, Haiti's political situation grew unstable, with periodical insurrections catching the attention of imperial Germany. To prevent a German takeover, a group of Wall Street banks moved the acquire the National Bank of Haiti, and when the political instability continued, a contingent of approximately three hundred U.S. Marines arrived in Haiti in 1915 to restore order. Haiti remained under U.S. occupation until 1934. During this period the United States bolstered Haiti's own military readiness, but long-standing divisions between the nation's mulattos, as the mixed-race elite were known, and the poorer blacks only intensified with the favoritism shown to the mulattos by the U.S. occupiers, especially in civil service jobs.

Became Colonel and Presidential Candidate

Magloire was born in 1907 in Quartier Morin, located near the city of Cap-Haitien in the northern section of the island. He earned a liberal arts degree from the National School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, taught school for a year, and then entered a U.S.-run training academy for the gendarmerie (police force). In 1930 he was chosen to serve as an aide-de-camp to the Haitian president Stenio J. Vincent, and he remained in this post until Vincent was ousted in 1941. Reaching the rank of colonel in the Forces Armee de Haiti (Armed Forces of Haiti), he served as the national police chief and the head of the presidential palace guard until 1946, when he became the only black officer among three who carried out a successful bloodless coup to oust President Élie Lescot, the last mulatto to lead Haiti. The trio of officers then installed a popular figure, Dumarsais Estimé, whose policies favored darker-skinned Haitians but worried the elite. When Estimé appeared to be unwilling to leave office, he was removed by another coup, and Magloire became the frontrunner in a presidential campaign.

In the buildup to the election in October of 1950, Magloire campaigned in well-tailored suits and matching shoes that demonstrated his sartorial flair. He won the election with a suspiciously high 99 percent of the vote—not an uncommon occurrence in Haiti's elections. Sworn in on December 6, 1950, he proved an able leader in his first few years in office. Tourism increased, and Haiti became a favorite destination for American socialites and European jet-setters alike. Its economy remained dependent on coffee exports, but as the price of beans rose on the world market during these years and Haiti's treasury swelled, Magloire used the windfall to modernize the country. Roads and schools were built, and the Péligre Dam, which was initiated in 1930, was finally completed in 1956. The dam harnessed the waters of the Artibonite River, which proved a boon to farmers by irrigating thousands of acres. There was even a successful campaign to rid the island of yaws, a tropical bacterial infection that caused painful lesions on the elbows and other joints. Some of these accomplishments were done with the help of U.S. foreign aid dollars, which Magloire assiduously courted.

As president, Magloire was known for the opulent parties he threw, which sometimes capped off daylong state ceremonies of lavish spectacle and pomp. He also favored ceremonial costumes that seemed to echo Haiti's past as a colony of Napoleonic France in their excess of epaulets, feathers, and other embellishments. For Haiti's 150th anniversary in 1954, several notable events were held, including a reenactment of the final battle for independence from France carried out by actors in full period dress and a ball attended by three thousand. He was a popular leader whom Haitians had dubbed Kanson Fe, whose literal translation from the Creole French was "Iron Pants," but which more figuratively meant "tough guy." He was a staunch opponent of communism, which endeared him to the U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower. As Magloire's Times of London obituary noted, his foreign policy was characterized by a quest for "good relations with the two powers that mattered: the Dominican Republic over the border, and the United States. The Dominican dictator, Trujillo, often intervened in Haiti through plots. Now a pact was signed, specifying that there would be no refuge for exile movements and affirming anti-communism. It is said that when the two Presidents embraced, each could feel the hard bulk of the other's hidden pistol."

Proclaimed Haiti as Model Black Nation

Magloire and his first three years in office were even the subject of a Time magazine cover story in early 1954, which noted the significant improvements his administration had made and the cordial relations he fostered with the United States. "Haiti has shown by its struggle for liberty and progress that the black race and small nations can … achieve a status equal to that of any other human group," Magloire told the magazine. "Haiti has given the lie to those who pretend that certain races are unfit for liberty, equality and self-government." His two official visits to the United States were also covered favorably by the U.S. media, including his address to Congress in January of 1955, in which he thanked the United States and President Eisenhower for the generous foreign aid. He also mentioned in his speech the devastation wrought a few months earlier by Hurricane Hazel, a tropical storm that left more than a thousand dead in Haiti before moving on to New York City and then Toronto, where eighty-one Canadians died from the storm.

Like other natural disasters elsewhere in world history, Hazel proved Magloire's undoing. Several million dollars in subsequent relief funds disappeared, and corrupt officials in his administration were blamed. When he failed to step down at the end of his six-year term in 1956, riots broke out over the next few months. These riots were followed by paralyzing strikes and factional violence that threatened to explode into civil war. He left office the same way he came in—by military coup, in May of 1956. After a series of failed provisional governments, a longtime opponent of Magloire's, the physician François Duvalier, became the army's candidate for president that September and won the election.

At a Glance …

Born Paul Eugène Magloire on July 19, 1907, in Quartier Morin, Haiti; died July 12, 2001, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; son of Eugène François (a general) and Philomene (Mathieu) Magloire; married Yolette Leconte, 1936; children: Raymond, Elsie, Myrtha, Paule, and Yola. Military service: Served in the Forces Armee de Haiti; reached rank of colonel. Education: Earned degree from the National School of Haiti; completed a military course for gendarmerie.

Career: Schoolteacher in the late 1920s; aide-de-camp to Haiti's president, 1930-41; appointed national police chief and head of the presidential palace guard, 1941-46; president of Haiti, 1950-56.

Magloire and his family fled to New York City, and Duvalier stripped him of his Haitian citizenship. The new Haitian president also handicapped the powerful military by bolstering a separate rural militia, the Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (National Security Volunteers). The militia remained loyal to Duvalier and to his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, who succeeded him in 1971, but economic conditions worsened in Haiti and it reached an appalling first-place rank as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. The younger Duvalier was finally ousted in 1986, when long-abused Haitians finally turned against the hated Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale. The eighty-one-year-old Magloire was invited to return and served for a time as an unofficial adviser to the army.

Magloire died in Port-au-Prince on July 12, 2001, a week shy of his ninety-fourth birthday. In an odd footnote, Magloire's granddaughter Veronique Roy became the live-in companion of Jean-Claude Duvalier, who settled in Paris.



Guardian (London), July 20, 2001, p. 26.

New York Times, January 28, 1955, p. 5; December 7, 1956, p. 15; May 22, 1957, p. 1.

Time, February 22, 1954.

Times (London), July 19, 2001, p. 21.

Wall Street Journal, March 16, 2003.

—Carol Brennan