Duvalier, Jean-Claude (1951–)

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Duvalier, Jean-Claude (1951–)

Jean-Claude Duvalier (b. 3 July 1951), president of Haiti (1971–1986). An unsuccessful law student and playboy, Duvalier became "president for life" upon the death of his father, François Duvalier, but was only the titular head for the first few years, since decisions were made by a council of state appointed by his father before he died. This arrangement assured the continuation of Duvalierisme. The council members included his mother and his father's main advisers; Luckner Cambronne was the power behind the throne and also headed the Leopards, a counterinsurgency force created with U.S. aid in 1971. When Jean-Claude dismissed and exiled Cambronne in 1972, it marked the president's emerging control and influence.

Duvalier stated that his goal was to effect an "economic revolution" (he had little interest in négritude or noirisme), which he pursued by making some cosmetic and some real changes in reducing political repression. These changes plus some genuine economic incentives ended Haiti's isolation, brought about the resumption of U.S. aid, and attracted foreign investment and companies.

Duvalier's marriage in 1980 to a mulatto divorcée, Michèle Bennett, daughter of a wealthy exporter-importer, provoked criticism from the antimulatto blacks. Her lifestyle served as a catalyst—along with the corrupt and incompetent bureaucracy—for his downfall. Her shopping sprees in Paris and lavish parties in Haiti caused national revulsion, prompting riots and demonstrations, which began in rural cities in 1984. Supported by the church, these acts of opposition convulsed the country and led the United States to urge Duvalier's resignation and departure. He and his family along with several close advisers were flown out of Haiti on a U.S. cargo plane in early February 1986. They relocated to France, where they originally lived a lavish lifestyle with a home outside of Cannes and two apartments in Paris. But when Duvalier and his wife divorced in 1993, he lost much of his wealth. He applied for political asylum in France, but his request was denied and he was placed under house arrest. In 1994, he said he would return to Haiti after the ousting of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, but as of 2007, he was reportedly still living in Paris.

See alsoAristide, Jean-Bertrand; Duvalier, François; Haiti.


Brian Weinstein and Aaron Segal, Haiti: Political Failures, Cultural Successes (1984), esp. pp. 43-45, 57-61, 114-118.

James Ferguson, Papa Doc, Baby Doc: Haiti and the Duvaliers (1987), esp. chaps. 3 and 4.

Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, Haiti: The Breached Citadel (1990), pp. 97-98, 104-107, 123-126, 134-141, 186.

Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Haiti, State Against Nation: The Origins and Legacy of Duvalierism (1990), pp. 181-183, 200-219.

Additional Bibliography

Franjul, Miguel. Somoza y Duvalier: La caída de dos dinastías. Santo Domingo: Franjul, Analistsas & Asesores, 1998.

Orizio, Riccardo, and Avril Bardoni. Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators. New York: Walker, 2003.

Pierre, Hyppolite. Haiti, Rising Flames from Burning Ashes: Haiti the Phoenix. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2006.

                                       Larman C. Wilson