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François Duvalier

François Duvalier
40th President of Haiti
In office
22 October 1957 – 21 April 1971
Preceded by

Antonio Thrasybule Kébreau (Chairman of the Military Council)

Succeeded by Jean-Claude Duvalier
Minister of Public Health and Labor
In office
14 October 1949 – 10 May 1950
President Dumarsais Estimé
Preceded by Antonio Vieux (Public Health)
Louis Bazin (Labor)
Succeeded by Joseph Loubeau (Public Health)
Emile Saint-Lot (Labor)
Undersecretary of Labor
In office
26 November 1948 – 14 October 1949
President Dumarsais Estimé
Personal details
Born (1907-04-14)14 April 1907
Died 21 April 1971(1971-04-21) (aged 64)
Nationality Haitian
Political party National Unity Party[1][2]
Spouse(s) Simone Duvalier
Children Marie Denise Duvalier
Nicole Duvalier
Simone Duvalier
Jean-Claude Duvalier
Alma mater University of Haiti (M.D.)
Occupation Physician
Religion Vodou, excommunicated Roman Catholic

François Duvalier (French pronunciation: ​; 14 April 1907 – 21 April 1971), also known as ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, was the President of Haiti from 1957 to 1971. He opposed a military coup d'état in 1950 and was elected as President in 1957 on a populist and black nationalist platform. His rule, based on a purged military, a rural militia known as the Tonton Macoute, and the use of a personality cult, resulted in the murder of an estimated 30,000 Haitians and the exile of many more.

Prior to his rule, Duvalier, who was a physician by profession, was known for successfully fighting diseases and acquired the nickname 'Papa Doc'. He took the title of President for Life in 1964 and remained in power until he died in 1971. He was succeeded by his son, Jean-Claude, who was nicknamed "Baby Doc".[3]


  • Early life and career 1
  • Political rise 2
  • Presidency 3
    • Consolidation of power 3.1
    • Heart attack and Barbot affair 3.2
    • Constitutional changes 3.3
    • Foreign relations 3.4
    • Internal policies 3.5
      • Repression 3.5.1
      • Social and economic policies 3.5.2
      • Personality cult and Vodou 3.5.3
  • Death and succession 4
  • Books and films 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8

Early life and career

Duvalier was born in Port-au-Prince, the son of Duval Duvalier, a justice of the peace, and Ulyssia Abraham, a baker. He was largely raised by an aunt. He completed a degree in medicine from the University of Haiti in 1934[4] and served as staff physician at several local hospitals. In 1943 Duvalier became active in a United States-sponsored campaign to control the spread of contagious tropical diseases, helping the poor to fight typhus, yaws, malaria and other tropical diseases that had ravaged Haiti for years.[4][5][6] His patients affectionately called him "Papa Doc", a moniker that he used throughout his life.[7]

Lucky enough to be schooled and literate in a country where few were educated, Duvalier saw firsthand the political turmoil in his country. The United States occupation of Haiti which began in 1915, left a powerful impression on the young Duvalier. He was also aware of the latent political power of the poor black majority and their resentment against the tiny mulatto elite.[8] Duvalier became involved in the négritude movement of Haitian author Dr. Jean Price-Mars. He began an ethnological study of Vodou that later paid enormous political dividends for him.[8][9] In 1938 Duvalier co-founded the journal Les Griots. The next year he married Simone Ovide, with whom he had four children: Marie Denise, Nicole, Simone and Jean-Claude.[6]

Political rise

In 1946 Duvalier aligned himself with President Dumarsais Estimé and was appointed Director General of the National Public Health Service. In 1949 he served as Minister of Health and Labor; however, when Gen. Paul Magloire ousted President Estimé in a coup d'état, Duvalier left the government and was forced into hiding until 1956, when an amnesty was declared.[10]

After opposing Paul Magloire's coup d'etat in 1950, Duvalier resumed practicing medicine. His practice included taking part in campaigns to prevent yaws and other diseases. In 1954, Duvalier abandoned medicine, hiding out in Haiti's countryside from the Magloire regime. After the Magloire government forgave its political opponents, Duvalier emerged from hiding, declaring his candidacy for the office of President.

Duvalier was solidly supported in the countryside. As the other candidates did, Duvalier promised to rebuild and renew the country. Duvalier then made deals with some of the other candidates, won the Haitian army's support, and defeated Louis Déjoie, his strongest opponent, in the quietest and fairest election in Haiti's history.[5] Even in this election, however, there are multiple first-person accounts of voter fraud and voter intimidation.[11]:64


Consolidation of power

After being sworn in on 22 October, Duvalier exiled most of the major supporters of Déjoie[6] and had a new constitution adopted in 1957.[7]

Duvalier promoted and installed members of the black majority in the civil service and the army.[12] In mid-1958 the army, which had supported Duvalier earlier, tried to oust him in a coup, but failed. In response, Duvalier replaced the chief-of-staff with a more "reliable" officer and then proceeded to create his own power base within the army by turning the Presidential Guard into an elite corps aimed at maintaining Duvalier's power. After this, Duvalier dismissed the entire general staff and replaced it with officers who owed their positions, and their loyalty, to him.[7] In 1958 three exiled Haitians and five Americans landed in Haiti and tried to overthrow Duvalier; all were killed.[13]

In 1959 Duvalier created a rural militia, the Milice Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (MVSN, English: National Security Volunteer Militia)--commonly referred to as the Tonton Macoute after a Creole term for bogeyman—to extend and bolster support for the regime in the countryside. The Macoute, which by 1961 was twice as big as the army, never developed into a real military force but was more than just a mere secret police.[7][14] In the early years of his rule, Duvalier was able to take advantage of the strategic weaknesses of his powerful opponents, mostly from the Mulâtre elite. These weaknesses included their inability to coordinate their actions against the regime, whose power had grown increasingly stronger.[15]

In the name of nationalism, Duvalier expelled almost all of Haiti's foreign-born bishops, an act that earned him excommunication from the Catholic Church.[8] In 1966 he managed to persuade the Holy See to allow him one-time permission to nominate the Catholic hierarchy for Haiti. This action solidified the change to the status quo: no longer was Haiti under the grip of the minority rich mulattoes, protected by the military and supported by the church. Duvalier now exercised more power in Haiti than ever before.[16]

Heart attack and Barbot affair

On 24 May 1959 Duvalier suffered a massive heart attack, possibly due to an insulin overdose; he had been a diabetic since early adulthood and also suffered from heart disease and associated circulatory problems. During this heart attack he was unconscious for nine hours; many associates believed that he suffered neurological damage during these events, which affected his mental health and made him paranoid.[17]

While recovering, Duvalier left power in the hands of Clément Barbot, leader of the Tonton Macoutes. Upon his return Duvalier accused Barbot of trying to supplant him as president and had him imprisoned. In April 1963 Barbot was released and began plotting to remove Duvalier from office by kidnapping his children. The plot failed and Duvalier subsequently ordered a nationwide search for Barbot and his fellow conspirators (when during the search Duvalier was told that Barbot had transformed himself into a black dog, he ordered that all black dogs in Haiti be put to death). Barbot was captured and shot by the Tonton Macoutes in July 1963. In other incidents, Duvalier ordered the head of an executed rebel packed in ice and brought to him so he could commune with the dead man's spirit.[18] Peep holes were carved into the walls of the interrogation chambers, through which Duvalier personally observed Haitian detainees being tortured and submerged in baths of sulfuric acid; sometimes, he was directly in the room during the tortures.[19]

Constitutional changes

In 1961 Duvalier began violating the provisions of the 1957 constitution: first he replaced the bicameral legislature with a unicameral body. Then he called a new presidential election in which he was the sole candidate, though his term was to expire in 1963 and the constitution prohibited re-election. The election was flagrantly rigged; the official tally showed 1,320,748 "yes" votes for another term for Duvalier, with none opposed.[7] Upon hearing the results, he proclaimed, "I accept the people's will. As a revolutionary, I have no right to disregard the will of the people."[10][20] The New York Times commented, "Latin America has witnessed many fraudulent elections throughout its history but none has been more outrageous than the one which has just taken place in Haiti."[20] On 14 June 1964 a constitutional referendum made Duvalier "President for Life", a title previously held by seven Haitian presidents. This referendum was also blatantly rigged; an implausible 99.9% voted in favor, which should have come as no surprise since all the ballots were premarked "yes."[7][21] The new document granted Duvalier—or "Le Souverain," as he was called—absolute powers as well as the right to name his successor.

Foreign relations

His relationship with the United States proved difficult. In his early years Duvalier often rebuked the United States for its friendly relations with Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo (killed in 1961) while ignoring Haiti. The Kennedy administration (1961–63) was particularly disturbed by Duvalier's repressive and authoritarian rule and allegations that he misappropriated aid money—at the time a substantial part of the Haitian budget—and a Marine mission to train the Tonton Macoute. Determining those charges to be true, Washington cut off most of its economic assistance in mid-1962, pending stricter accounting procedures, which Duvalier refused. He publicly renounced all aid from Washington on nationalist grounds, portraying himself as a "principled and lonely opponent of domination by a great power".[7]

Duvalier misappropriated millions of dollars of international aid, including $15 million annually from the United States.[22] He transferred this money to personal accounts. Another of Duvalier's methods of obtaining foreign money was to gain foreign loans, including $4 million from Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.[23]

After the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963, which Duvalier later claimed resulted from a curse that he had placed on Kennedy,[24] the U.S. eased its pressure on Duvalier, grudgingly accepting him as a bulwark against communism.[7][25] Duvalier attempted to exploit tensions between the U.S. and Cuba, emphasizing his anti-communist credentials and Haiti's strategic location as a means of winning U.S. support:

Communism has established centres of infection . . . No area in the world is as vital to American security as the Caribbean . . . We need a massive injection of money to reset the country on its feet, and this injection can come only from our great, capable friend and neighbor the United States.[26]

After Fulgencio Batista (a friend of Duvalier)[27] was overthrown in the Cuban Revolution, Duvalier, worried that new Cuban leader Fidel Castro would provide a safe haven for Haitian dissidents, attempted to win Castro over by recognizing his government, sending medicine and pardoning several political prisoners, but to no avail; from the very start of his regime, Castro gave anti-Duvalier dissidents his full support.[28]

Duvalier enraged Castro by voting against the country in an OAS meeting and subsequently at the UN, where a trade embargo was imposed on Cuba. Cuba answered by breaking off diplomatic relations and Duvalier subsequently instituted a campaign to rid Haiti of communists.[29]

Duvalier's relationship with the neighboring [30]

Duvalier hosted Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia in 1966 in what would be Haiti's only visit by a head of state during his presidency.[31] during his visit, Duvalier awarded him the Necklace of the Order of Jean-Jacques Dessalines the Great, and Selassie, in turn, bestowed upon Duvalier the Great Necklace of the Order of the Queen of Sheba.[31]

Duvalier also supported Pan-African ideals.[12]

Internal policies


1971 newsreel film about Duvalier's rule

Duvalier's government was soon accused of being one of the most repressive in the hemisphere.[32] Within the country he used both political murder and expulsion to suppress his opponents; estimates of those killed are as high as 30,000.[7] Attacks on Duvalier from within the military were treated as especially serious. When bombs were detonated near the Presidential Palace in 1967, Duvalier had 19 Presidential Guard officers shot in Fort Dimanche.[33] A few days later Duvalier made a public speech during which he read the "attendance sheet" with the names of all 19 officers killed. After each name he said "absent". After reading the whole list, Duvalier remarked, "All were shot."[34]

Haitian communists and suspected communists, in particular, bore the brunt of the government's repression.[35] Duvalier targeted them both as a means to secure US support as a bulwark against Communist Cuba (see below) and on principle: Duvalier had personally been exposed to communist and left-wing ideas early in his life and rejected them.[35] On 28 April 1969 Duvalier instituted a campaign to rid Haiti of all communists, promulgating a law stipulating that "Communist activities, no matter what their form, are hereby declared crimes against the security of the State" and prescribed the death penalty for individuals prosecuted under this law.[36]

Social and economic policies

Duvalier employed intimidation, repression and patronage to supplant the old mulatto elites with a new elite of his own making. Corruption—in the form of government rake-offs of industries, bribery, extortion of domestic businesses, and stolen government funds—enriched the dictator's closest supporters. Most of them held sufficient power to enable them to intimidate the members of the old elite who were gradually co-opted or eliminated.[7]

Many educated professionals fled Haiti for New York City, Miami, French-speaking Montreal, Paris and several French-speaking African countries, exacerbating an already serious lack of doctors and teachers. Some of the highly skilled professionals joined the ranks of several UN agencies to work in development in newly independent nations such as Ivory Coast, and Congo.

The government confiscated peasant land holdings and allotted them to members of the militia,[8] who had no official salary and made their living through crime and extortion.[14] The dispossessed swelled the slums by fleeing to the capital to seek meager incomes to feed themselves. Malnutrition and famine became endemic.[8]

Nonetheless, Duvalier enjoyed significant support among Haiti's majority black rural population, who saw in him a champion of their claims against the historically dominant mulatto élite. During his 14 years in power he created a substantial black middle class, chiefly through government patronage.[14] Duvalier also initiated the development of Mais Gate Airport, now known as Toussaint Louverture International Airport.

Personality cult and Vodou

Duvalier fostered a personality cult around himself and claimed he was the physical embodiment of the island nation. He also revived the traditions of Vodou, later using them to consolidate his power with his claim of being a houngan, or Vodou priest, himself. In an effort to make himself even more imposing, Duvalier deliberately modeled his image on that of Baron Samedi, one of the loa, or spirits, of Haitian Vodou. He often donned sunglasses to hide his eyes and talked with the strong nasal tone associated with the loa. The Duvalier regime propaganda stated that "Papa Doc was one with the loas, Jesus Christ and God himself". The most celebrated image from the time shows a standing Jesus Christ with a hand on the shoulder of a seated Papa Doc, captioned, "I have chosen him".[37][29] Duvalier declared himself an “immaterial being” as well as “the Haitian flag” soon after his first election.[38] In 1964 he published a catechism in which the Lord's Prayer was reworded to pay tribute to Duvalier instead of God.[39][38]

Duvalier also held in his closet the head of former opponent Blucher Philogenes, who tried to overthrow him in 1963.[40] He believed another political enemy was able to change into a black dog at will and had the militia begin killing black dogs on sight in the capital.[41]

Death and succession

Duvalier held Haiti in his grip until his death in early 1971. His 19-year-old son Jean-Claude Duvalier, nicknamed "Baby Doc", succeeded him as president.

Books and films

Many books have been written about the Duvalier era in Haiti, the best known being Graham Greene's novel, The Comedians, which Duvalier himself dismissed as the work of "a mere journalist" and vilified at every opportunity. It was later made into a movie. Greene himself was declared persona non grata and barred from Haiti. The British television journalist Alan Whicker made a documentary Papa Doc: The Black Sheep (1969) and interviewed the president.

The first authoritative book on the subject was Papa Doc: Haiti and its Dictator by Al Burt and Bernard Diederich, published in 1969, though several others by Haitian scholars and historians have appeared since Duvalier's death in 1971. One of the most informative, Dungeon of Death, dealt specifically with victims of Fort Dimanche, the prison Duvalier used for the torture and murder of his political opponents.

In 2007, the British newspaper editor John Marquis published Papa Doc: Portrait of a Haitian Tyrant (LMH Publishing), which used a 1968 espionage trial in Haiti as the foundation for an account of the regime. This book was widely praised as having exposed several previously unexplored details about the numerous attempts on Duvalier's life and was given credence by Marquis's own meeting with Duvalier in the National Palace in Port-au-Prince during the trial. The defendant, David Knox, the Bahamas director of information, was sentenced to death and later reprieved, even though he was accused by the regime of helping to organise an air raid on Duvalier's palace earlier that year.


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Haiti's Poverty Stirs Nostalgia for Old Ghosts", New York Times. 23 March 2008.
  3. ^ "Real-Life Baron Samedi: Francois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier".  
  4. ^ a b Harris, Bruce (12 October 2014). "Heroes & killers of the 20th century: The Duvaliers". moreorless. Sydney, Australia. Archived from the original on 10 September 2015. 
  5. ^ a b "François Duvalier Biography". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Advameg, Inc. Retrieved 23 September 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c Elizabeth Abbott, Haiti: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy, New York: McGraw-Hill (1988).
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "François Duvalier, 1957–1971", The Library of Congress, Country Studies, December 1989.
  8. ^ a b c d e François 'Papa Doc' Duvalier
  9. ^ Richard M. Juang, Noelle Anne Morrissette, Africa and the Americas: culture, politics, and history.
  10. ^ a b François Duvalier – Haitian President
  11. ^  
  12. ^ a b Patrick E. Bryan, The Haitian revolution and its effects.
  13. ^ "A Weird, Fatal Dash Into Turbulent Haiti".  
  14. ^ a b c History of Haiti
  15. ^ , João Alexandre Peschanski, T&P, 2013Papa Doc's Feint: the misled opposition and the consolidation of Duvalier’s rule in Haiti
  16. ^ Concordat Watch, Protocol between the Plenipotentiaries of His Holiness Pope Paul VI and the Plenipotentiaries of His Excellency Doctor François Duvalier, President for Life of the Republic of Haiti (15 August 1966.)
  17. ^ Elizabeth Abbott, Haiti: An insider's history of the rise and fall of the Duvaliers. Simon & Schuster (1988), p. 97-98.
  18. ^ Harris M. Lentz III, Heads of State and Governments, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company (1994).
  19. ^ Alex Von Tunzelmann, Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean. Henry Holt and Co. (2011), p. 146.
  20. ^ a b Elizabeth Abbott, Haiti: An insider's history of the rise and fall of the Duvaliers. Simon & Schuster (1988), p. 103.
  21. ^ Elizabeth Abbott, Haiti: An insider's history of the rise and fall of the Duvaliers. Simon & Schuster (1988). p. 120.
  22. ^ Shaw, Karl (2005). Šílenství mocných [Power Mad!] (in Česky). Prague: Metafora. pp. 50–51.  
  23. ^ Shaw, Karl (2005). Šílenství mocných [Power Mad!] (in Česky). Prague: Metafora. pp. 47–48.  
  24. ^ Murray, Rolland (2008). "Black Crisis Shuffle: Fiction, Race, and Simulation". African American Review (Saint Louis University) 42 (2): 222.  
  25. ^ See Foreign Relations, ch. 9.
  26. ^ Elizabeth Abbott, Haiti: An insider's history of the rise and fall of the Duvaliers. Simon & Schuster (1988), p. 101.
  27. ^ Elizabeth Abbott, Haiti: An insider's history of the rise and fall of the Duvaliers. Simon & Schuster (1988), p. 92
  28. ^ Elizabeth Abbott, Haiti: An insider's history of the rise and fall of the Duvaliers. Simon & Schuster (1988), p. 93
  29. ^ a b Polymernotes François Duvalier (1907–1971)
  30. ^ The Duvalier Dynasty 1957–1986
  31. ^ a b Elizabeth Abbott, Haiti: An insider's history of the rise and fall of the Duvaliers. Simon & Schuster (1988), p. 139
  32. ^ Important dates in Haiti's History
  33. ^ Haiti – National Security Index
  34. ^ Shaw, Karl (2005) [2004]. Power Mad! [Šílenství mocných] (in Czech). Praha: Metafora. pp. 10–11.  
  35. ^ a b Elizabeth Abbott, Haiti: An insider's history of the rise and fall of the Duvaliers. Simon & Schuster (1988). p. 148.
  36. ^ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, , Chapter IVReport on the situation of human rights in Haiti (13 December 1979.)
  37. ^  
  38. ^ a b Kofele-Kale, Ndiva (2006). "The Cult of State Sovereignty". The International Law of Responsibility for Economic Crimes (2nd ed.). Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing. p. 261.  
  39. ^ Fourcand, Jean M. (1964). [Catechism of the Revolution]Catechisme de la révolution (PDF) (in Français). Port-au-Prince: Edition imprimerie de l’état. p. 37. Archived (PDF) from the original on 27 September 2015. Notre Doc qui êtes au Palais National pour la Vie, que Votre nom soit béni par les générations présentes et futures, que Votre Volonté soit faite à Port-au-Prince et en Province. Donnez-nous aujourd’hui notre nouvelle Haïti, ne pardonnez jamais les offenses des apatrides qui bavent chaque jour sur notre Patrie, laissez-les succomber à la tentation et sous le poids de leurs baves malfaisantes: ne les délivrez d’aucun mal. Amen. 
  40. ^ Shaw, Karl (2005) [2004]. Šílenství mocných [Power Mad!] (in Česky). Prague: Metafora. p. 132.  
  41. ^ "Haiti: The Living Dead". Time 82 (4): 20–21. 26 July 1963. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. 

Further reading

  • Marquis, John (2007). Papa Doc: Portrait of a Haitian Tyrant. Kingston, Jamaica: LMH Publishing.  
  • Lemoine, Patrick (2011) [1st pub. 1996 as Fort-Dimanche, Fort-la-Mort ]. Prézeau, Maryse, ed. Fort-Dimanche, Dungeon of Death. Translated by Haspil, Frantz. Bloomington, Indiana: Trafford Publishing.  

External links

  • The short film Haiti's Francois Duvalier Dictatorship (1971) is available for free download at the Internet Archive
  • The short film Turbulent Haiti (1963) is available for free download at the Internet Archive
Political offices
Preceded by
Antonio Thrasybule Kébreau
(Chairman of the Military Council)

President of Haiti

Succeeded by
Jean-Claude Duvalier
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