April 14, 1907
April 21, 1971
François Duvalier was born on April 14, 1907, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. As a child he was afflicted with yaws, a potentially disfiguring skin condition marked by sores, lesions, and pain in the bones and joints. Duvalier was one of a great many Haitian children plagued by yaws, but he was one of only a small number who had the opportunity to study at the Lycée Petion, where he studied under Dumarsais Estimé before going on to earn his medical license in 1934. As a doctor, Duvalier spearheaded a successful campaign to eradicate yaws and gained the famous nickname "Papa Doc."
Duvalier maintained an interest in politics and ethnology. He was part of a group of black intellectuals known as the Griots whose writings claimed a unique spiritual prowess attached to blackness and connected oppression to white and mulatto governments. Duvalier was a member of Mouvement Ouvrier Paysan (MOP), a popular black nationalist party led by Daniel Fignolé. In 1946 Duvalier was appointed minister of public health following the election to the presidency of his former teacher, Dumarsais Estimé. The Estimé government professed an adherence to noirisme, a black nationalist rhetoric closely connected to the Négritude and Griot movements. In 1950 Estimé provoked a coup by attempting to maintain the presidency through a constitutional amendment.
Duvalier was forced into the interior to hide out during the tenure of Colonel Paul Magloire (1907–2001) who became president shortly after the coup. Magloire remained in office until 1956, when he attempted to extend his presidency and was overthrown in another coup. This was followed by a series of six governments, all of which failed to gain enough support to endure longer than a few months. In 1957 Duvalier returned to the political scene and ran for president as the heir to Estimé's noiriste legacy. He gained the support of the military and a large segment of the black majority and was elected president later that year.
While in office, Duvalier constructed an image based upon a number of important Haitian personas. In an attempt to present himself as a patriarch, Duvalier looked to "the father of Haiti," Jean-Jacques Dessalines (1758–1806), for legitimacy. He named the army barracks after Dessalines and often compared himself to the famous ruler. Duvalier also campaigned with Estimé's widow and claimed to "take up the banner of estimisme " in order to reemphasize his link to the popular noiriste government of Estimé and its promises of modernization, autonomy, and black power. But Duvalier is best known for presenting himself as something of a houngan, or vodou priest. In particular he was connected with Gede, the lwa (spirit) most associated with death and comedy. Duvalier recognized the importance of vodou to the average citizen and was therefore quick to connect himself to it. He also attempted to control the egalitarian and potentially revolutionary possibilities of the religion through the manipulation of houngans throughout Haiti. Duvalier appointed many houngans to the upper positions of his personal army, the Tontons Macoutes. The term Tonton Macoute is Creole for "Uncle Basket," the "Bogeyman" of Haitian folklore. The Tontons Macoutes were recruited from the masses, operated as secret police, and owed personal loyalty to Duvalier. They dealt out violent retribution to Duvalier's political foes and were renowned for their brutality. Other presidents, such as Elie Lescot (ruled 1941–1946), had employed a personal guard, but never as effectively as "Papa Doc."
Duvalier's Tontons Macoutes were in part a response to the Haitian army, which had removed many presidents from office. To further secure his position vis-à-vis the army, Duvalier frequently switched the appointments of officers so that the military leadership remained fluid, which allowed him greater control of the forces. He also appointed lower-ranking black soldiers to high positions, and they often rewarded him with their loyalty. Based on his adoption of popular imagery, the infamous cruelty of the Tontons Macoutes, and the weakening of internal military opposition, Duvalier declared himself "president for life" in 1964. He remained in this dictatorial position until his death on April 21, 1971. Earlier that year he amended the constitution to allow his son Jean-Claude to take control of the presidency.
The Duvalier presidency was one of the highest periods of out-migration in Haitian history. Duvalier's authoritarian regime and the often arbitrary violence of the Tontons Macoutes led large numbers of Haitians to seek refuge, primarily in the United States, Canada, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. While Duvalier improved the condition of a number of previously immobile poor, black Haitians, the overall conditions under Duvalier were fairly desperate and the average Haitian suffered under his reign.
Diederich, Bernard, and Al Burt. Papa Doc: The Truth about Haiti Today. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969.
Farmer, Paul. Aids and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame. Berkeley: University of California, 1992.
Fergusson, James. Papa Doc, Baby Doc: Haiti and the Duvaliers. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987.
Mintz, Sidney. Caribbean Transformations. Chicago: Aldine, 1975. Reprint, New York: Columbia University, 1989.
sean bloch (2005)
François Duvalier was the president of Haiti from 1957 until his death. Trained as a physician and known to his people as "Papa Doc," Duvalier ruled his country as no other Haitian chief executive had, using violence and phony elections to hold down any opposition.
François Duvalier was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on April 14, 1907. His family belonged to the middle class. His grandfather had been a tailor, and his father was a school-teacher and municipal court judge. Duvalier believed that his people's African traditions should be preserved and protected from the influence of European countries. He was one of the founders of the Haitian intellectual Griot movement of the 1930s, whose members celebrated their African roots and even the practice of voodoo (a religion involving communication with spirits) as important elements of Haitian culture. Duvalier graduated in 1934 from the Haitian National University Medical School. In 1939 he married Simone Ovide, a nurse, and they had three daughters and a son.
Duvalier was active in sanitary programs initiated in Haiti by the U.S. army during World War II (1939–45) to prevent yaws, a contagious tropical disease. In 1944–45 he studied at the University of Michigan. After returning to Haiti, he became minister of health and labor in the government of President Dumarsais Estimé, who had once taught Duvalier in high school. After opposing the takeover of the government by Paul Magloire in 1950, Duvalier returned to the practice of medicine, especially the campaigns to prevent yaws and other diseases. In 1954 he abandoned medicine and went into hiding in the Haitian countryside. In 1956 the Magloire government forgave all of its political opponents. Duvalier immediately emerged from hiding and declared his candidacy for the next elections.
Rise to power
Duvalier had a solid base of support in the countryside, and his campaign was similar to those of the other candidates in that they all promised to rebuild the country and give it a new start. Duvalier, however, made various deals with one or more of the other candidates, won the army over to his side, and finally defeated Louis Déjoie, his main opponent, in what turned out to be the quietest and most honest election in Haiti's history.
In spite of this favorable start, Duvalier's government was burdened with many problems. The defeated candidates refused to cooperate with him and, from hiding, encouraged acts of violence and disobedience against the new president. After Fidel Castro (1927–) came to power in Cuba, that country began to harbor Haitian refugees who had escaped the increasingly harsh conditions of the Duvalier government. In addition, General Rafael Trujillo (1891–1961), dictator (military ruler) of the Dominican Republic and enemy of Castro, feared a Cuban invasion through Haiti, and this concern led to Dominican interference in Haitian affairs.
Abuse of power
It was during this period that Duvalier created an organization directly responsible to him, the Tontons Macoutes (also known as "Bogeymen"), the Haitian version of a secret police. Through the late 1950s to the middle 1960s this force continued to grow and was responsible for terrorizing and assassinating anyone thought to be an opponent of Duvalier. In the 1961 elections Duvalier altered the ballots to have his name placed at the top. Afterward he announced that his victory gave him another six years in office. In the words of the New York Times of May 13, 1961, "Latin America has witnessed many fraudulent (fake) elections … but none will have been more outrageous than the one which has just taken place in Haiti."
After the 1961 elections the American government made it clear that the United States disputed the truth of the results and that Duvalier's legal term should end in 1963. During 1962 the American Agency for International Development (AID) mission was withdrawn from Haiti, and by April 1963 an American fleet moved into position close to Port-au-Prince. On May 15, to show its disapproval of Duvalier's continued presence, the United States suspended diplomatic relations with Haiti, refusing to engage it in discussions of international matters. At the same time, relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic were getting worse, and Duvalier's main enemy, Dominican President Juan Bosch, was threatening to invade Haiti. Even the Organization of the American States (OAS) became involved, sending a fact-finding mission to Haiti. However, Duvalier remained firmly in control, the Dominicans backed down, and Haiti went back to business as usual.
President for life
After the election of 1961 and the continuation of Duvalier's rule in 1963, many observers felt it was only a matter of time before Duvalier moved to have himself installed as permanent Haitian president. On April 1, 1964, that was exactly what happened. The Legislative Chamber, which did whatever Duvalier wanted, rewrote the 1957 constitution, making a point of changing Article 197 so that Duvalier could be declared president for life. A "vote" on the new constitution was held, and on June 22, 1964, Duvalier was officially named president for life.
After that time Haitian political life was a little calmer. Having taken over his country and holding off the United States, the OAS, and the Dominican Republic in the process, Duvalier was in complete control. During the 1960s he survived several damaging hurricanes and numerous attempts to overthrow him. A small, gray-haired man, Duvalier began suffering from heart disease and other health problems. In January 1971 he directed the National Assembly to change the constitution to allow his son, Jean Claude Duvalier (1951–), to succeed him. Duvalier died on April 21, 1971, and his son immediately took over.
For More Information
Abbott, Elizabeth. Haiti: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988.
Burt, Al, and Bernard Diedrich. Papa Doc. London: Bodley Head, 1970.
Ferguson, James. Papa Doc, Baby Doc: Haiti and the Duvaliers. New York: B. Blackwell, 1988.
François Duvalier (1907-1971) was Haitian president for life. Trained as a physician and known to his people as "Papa Doc," Duvalier dominated his country and its institutions as no other Haitian chief executive.
Little is known of the origins of François Duvalier. Though some of his ancestors came from Martinique, his parents were Haitians, and he was born in Petit-Goâve in southern Haiti. An early Haitian Africanist, he was one of the founders of the Haitian intellectual Griot movement of the 1930s, and he built a reputation as a scholar, ethnologist, and folklorist.
Duvalier graduated in 1934 from the Haitian National University Medical School. He was active in the U.S. Army—directed sanitary programs initiated in Haiti during World War II. In 1944-1945 he studied at the University of Michigan. After returning to Haiti, Duvalier became minister of health and labor in President Dumarsais Estimé's government. After opposing Paul Magloire's coup d'etat in 1950, Duvalier returned to the practice of medicine, especially the anti-yaws and malaria campaigns. In 1954 he abandoned medicine and went into hiding in the Haitian backcountry, until a Magloire amnesty granted to all political opponents in 1956 enabled him to emerge from hiding. He immediately declared his candidacy for the next elections.
Accession to Power
Duvalier had a solid base of support in the countryside and, like the campaigns of the other candidates, his was based on national reconciliation and reconstruction. He made various tactical alliances with one or more of the other candidates, won the army to his cause, and finally overwhelmed Louis Déjoie, his main opponent, in what turned out to be the quietest and most accurate election in Haiti's history.
In spite of this auspicious start, Duvalier's government was dogged by problems. The defeated candidates refused to cooperate with him and, from hiding, encouraged violence and disobedience. After Fidel Castro came to power, Cuba began to harbor various Haitian refugees, who had escaped the increasingly harsh Duvalier regime. Furthermore, Gen. Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic and archfoe of Castro, feared a Cuban invasion through Haiti, and this concern led to Dominican meddling in Haitian affairs.
It was during this period that Duvalier created an organization directly responsible to him, the tontonmacoutes (TTM), the Haitian version of a secret police. Through the late 1950s to the middle 1960s this force continued to grow and through brutality and terrorism helped to reduce elements which might oppose Duvalier.
In the 1961 Assembly elections Duvalier had his name placed on the top of the ballots. After the "election" he interpreted this impromptu act as a further mandate of 6 years. In the words of the New York Times of May 13, 1961, "Latin America has witnessed many fraudulent elections … but none will have been more outrageous than the one which has just taken place in Haiti."
After the 1961 elections the American government made it clear that the United States regarded those elections as fraudulent and that Duvalier's legal term should end in 1963. During 1962 the American AID Mission was withdrawn from Haiti, and by April 1963 an American fleet maneuvered close to Port-au-Prince. On May 15, to show its disapproval of Duvalier's continued presence, the United States suspended diplomatic relations. At the same time, with Haitian-Dominican relations at a low ebb, Duvalier's pledged ideological enemy, President Juan Bosch of the Dominican Republic, was threatening to invade Haiti. Even the Organization of the American States (OAS) became involved, sending a fact-finding mission to Haiti. However, Duvalier remained firmly in control, the Dominicans backed down, and a few days later the American ambassador was withdrawn.
President for Life
After the election of 1961 and the "continuation" of 1963, it was only a matter of time before Duvalier moved to have himself installed for life as Haitian president. "Responding" to just such a request, Duvalier consented on April 1, 1964. Duvalier's rubber-stamp Legislative Chamber rewrote the 1957 Constitution, specifically altering Article 197 so that he could be declared president for life. A "referendum" was held, and on June 22, 1964, Duvalier was formally invested.
After that time Haitian political life was relatively anticlimactic. Having dominated his country and in the process thwarted the United States, the OAS, and the Dominican Republic, Duvalier was in complete control. During the 1960s he survived several disastrous hurricanes and several opéra-bouffe "invasions." A small, gray-haired man, Duvalier was suffering from chronic heart disease and diabetes. In January 1971 he induced the National Assembly to change the constitution to allow his son, Jean Claude Duvalier, to succeed him. Duvalier died on April 21, 1971, and his son succeeded him without difficulty.
Useful works on Duvalier and his government include Leslie F. Manigat, Haiti of the Sixties (1964); Jean-Pierre O. Gingras, Duvalier: Caribbean Cyclone (1967); Al Burt and Bernard Diederich, Papa Doc (1969); and Robert I. Rotberg and Christopher K. Clague, Haiti: The Politics of Squalor (1971). Among the several excellent background books on Haiti are
Melville J. Herskovits's classic sociological study Life in a Haitian Valley (1937); Rayford W. Logan, The Diplomatic Relations of the United States with Haiti, 1776-1891 (1941); Hugh B. Cave's delightful travelog, Haiti: Highroad to Adventure (1952); Seldon Rodman, Haiti: The Black Republic (1954; rev. ed. 1961); and James H. McCroklin's monographic work on the U.S. Marine occupation period, Garde d'Haiti, 1915-1934 (1956). An excellent source of information on anything Haitian is James G. Leyburn, The Haitian People (1941; rev. ed. 1966). This classic scholarly work presents an interpretive overview of the history, culture, and society of Haiti and is brought up to date with a new foreword by Sidney W. Mintz. □
François Duvalier (fräNswä´ düvälyā´), 1907–71, dictator of Haiti (1957–71). A physician, he became director-general of the national public health service in 1946 and subsequently served as minister of health and of labor. After opposing Paul Magloire's coup in 1950, he hid in the interior, practicing medicine, until a general political amnesty was granted in 1956. In 1957, with army backing,
as he was known, was overwhelmingly elected president. Reelected in a sham election in 1961, he declared himself
"president for life"
in 1964. His regime, the longest in Haiti's history, was a brutal reign of terror; political opponents were summarily executed, and the populace was kept in a state of abject fear by the notorious Tonton Macoutes. Under Duvalier, the economy of Haiti continued to deteriorate, and the illiteracy rate remained at about 90%. Duvalier nevertheless maintained his hold over Haiti. His practice of voodooism encouraged rumors among the people that he possessed supernatural powers. He died in Apr., 1971, after arranging for his son, Jean-Claude, to succeed him.
See J.-P. Gingras, Duvalier: Caribbean Cyclone (1967); A. Burt and B. Diederich, Papa Doc (1969, repr. 1990); J. Ferguson, Papa Doc-Baby Doc (1987).