Duvalier, François (1907–1971)

views updated

Duvalier, François (1907–1971)

François Duvalier (b. 14 April 1907; d. 21 April 1971), president of Haiti (1957–1971). A noir (black), Duvalier was born in Port-au-Prince; his father was an elementary schoolteacher and his mother a bakery worker. His formal education included elementary and secondary school at the Lycée Pétion and a medical degree from the École de Médecine the same year that the U.S. occupation (1915–1934) ended. After his internship, he worked in a clinic and in 1939 married Simone Ovide Faine, a mulatto (mulâtresse) nurse whose father was a merchant. They had four children, three daughters and a son—Jean-Claude.

In the 1940s, Duvalier became involved in the campaign against yaws (pian), a contagious tropical disease caused by a parasite, and then went on to direct training in the U.S. Army's malaria program. In the mid-1940s, he assisted Dr. James Dwinelle in the U.S. Army Medical Corps' yaws program. During this time he had a year's fellowship and studied public health at the University of Michigan.

Duvalier's ideas about race and politics and his literary and political activities were developed and took place both before and during his medical studies and work with yaws. In the 1920s, he became important in an ethnology movement as one of its three Ds, les trois D, later known as the Griots, and was a cofounder of its journal, Les Griots. This movement was based upon black nationalism (noirisme), indigénisme, and négritude, stressing African roots, including voudon (voodoo, vodun). It opposed the control and rule of the mulattoes. Certain events also affected Duvalier's attitudes and values: the U.S. occupation; President Rafael Trujillo's anti-Haitian views and actions, particularly the 1937 massacre of Haitians in the Dominican Republic; foreign intervention; control of economic and political life by the mulattoes; army intervention in national politics; and the campaigns of the church against voudon.

François Duvalier became politically active in 1946, when presidential candidate Daniel Fignolé formed a new party and made him its secretary-general. After the army assured the election of President Dumarsais Estimé, in his "Revolution of 1946," he designed reforms that downgraded the mulattoes in government. President Estimé made Duvalier a part of his government, first as director of the yaws program, then as under-secretary of labor in 1948, which was followed the next year by minister of labor and public health. The growing rift between blacks and mulattoes resulted in Estimé's overthrow in 1950, and the army brought in General Paul Magloire, who lasted until 1956. There ensued great instability and virtual civil war, with five provisional governments, and then rule by a military council. In his 1957 campaign for president against Louis Déjoie, Duvalier called for honesty in government, stressed his background as a country doctor, and organized a paramilitary group to deal with his opponents. The army also "managed" this election, assuring the defeat of Fignolé (the U.S. embassy count showed a victory for Fignolé).

Once he was inaugurated as president at the age of fifty, Duvalier began the transformation of "cultural négritude" into "political négritude" by destroying his critics; neutralizing the army; Hai-tianizing the church; legitimizing voudon and making it an instrument of government; and establishing a black nationalist, xenophobic, and personalist regime. He became the state.

Duvalier first silenced the press and broadcasters, who were arrested, attacked, and killed; he then burned and bombed their offices and stations. The major instrument was the Tonton Macoutes (in créole, bogeymen), who were officially recognized by the creation in 1962 of the Volontaires de la Securité Nationale (VSN). Second, he neutralized the army by transfers and by politicizing it, and he created a separate palace guard, which was quartered there with their arsenal located in the basement. At the same time he invited a U.S. Marine Corps mission to train the army as a means of showing U.S. support; but the mission (1958–1962), commanded by Colonel Robert D. Heinl, withdrew when the VSN replaced the army. Third, he took on the church in 1959, expelling high officials, including the archbishop; arresting members of the clergy; closing the seminary; and expelling the Jesuits. The Vatican responded by excommunicating him and his entire cabinet. Then he "Haitianized" the church by increasing the number of Haitian clergy until they were in the majority. (He reconciled with the church in 1966, mainly on his own terms.) He openly favored and practiced voudon, used some of its priests (houngans) as advisers, and always dressed in black.

What was unique about his rule was that Duvalier controlled everything and almost everyone by making them responsible to him—loyalty was more important than competence. He and his family and closest advisers got a financial cut from all government enterprises, thus, it was "government by franchise."

In relations with the United States, Duvalier played the anticommunist game in order to get aid, but when the administration of John F. Kennedy cut off most aid in 1963, he turned inward and toward Africa, stressing négritude. He invited and welcomed Ethiopia's Haile Selassie I with great fanfare and at great expense in 1966. Although a noirist, he really did not care about the black masses. After paving the way for naming his son Jean-Claude as his successor as "president for life," he died of natural causes at the age of sixty-four.

See alsoDuvalier, Jean-Claude; Haiti.


Bernard Diederich and Al Burt, Papa Doc: The Truth About Haiti Today (1969).

François Duvalier, Mémoires d'un leader du Tiers Monde (1969)—although a public relations document, it has a useful vita plus many interesting photographs, showing "Haitianization" of the church plus apparent support of the church and the U.S. of his regime.

Harold E. Davis and Larman C. Wilson, Latin American Foreign Policies: An Analysis (1975), chap. 10.

Leslie F. Manigat, Ethnicité, nationalisme et politique: Le cas d'Haiti (1975).

Robert D. Heinl, Jr., and Nancy G. Heinl, Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People, 1492–1971 (1978), esp. chaps. 13-14.

Frances Chambers, Haiti (1983), an annotated bibliography (see esp. sections on History, Politics and Government, Law and Constitution, and Foreign Relations).

Brian Weinstein and Aaron Segal, Haiti: Political Failures, Cultural Successes (1984), chaps. 2, 3, 5, and 7.

James Ferguson, Papa Doc, Baby Doc: Haiti and the Duvaliers (1987), esp. chap. 2.

Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, Haiti: The Breached Citadel (1990), esp. chaps. 3-5.

Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Haiti, State Against Nation: The Origins and Legacy of Duvalierism (1990), chaps. 5-6.

Additional Bibliography

Jean Jacques, Fritz. Le régime politique haïtien: Une analyse de l'État oligarchique, 1930–1986. Montréal: Éditions Oracle, 2003.

                                         Larman C. Wilson