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#2357: more on the Duvaliers from Gillespie

From: Gillespie, Richard <rgillespie@towson.edu>

The recent discussions on the list of the heritage of the Duvaliers, and the
remarks of some blans about their experiences in Haiti at that time, have
been surging around in my mind. With some trepidation, I thought I would
write about my experiences. I'm sure what I write will not provide new
information to the group, but I might learn from the responses.

I was in Haiti in 1979 - at about the middle of Baby Doc's regime, a time of
high tourism. My impression of the country was of stark contradictions.

I went to Haiti with some apprehensions. I was intellectually aware of the
violent history of the nation, and of the political suppressions of the
Duvalier government. My experiences as a tourist were surprisingly pleasant.
In Port-au-Prince we stayed at the Splendide Hotel. (Can anyone tell me if
the Splendide is still operating?) We had an acquaintance living in
Port-au-Prince who served as an occasional guide to events of interest,
including the Ra Ra in Leogane. 

The situation changed when I sought help with the research that brought me
to the country, background for my novel, PAPA TOUSSAINT. I explained to the
management at the Splendide that I was doing research about the
"revolution." Wrong word. I was sharply advised that I could mention
"Toussaint Louverture," but not "revolution." After that exchange of ideas
our conditions changed. The next morning the taxi driver waiting for us each
morning was changed. From the way other people deferred to the new driver,
it was clear that he was a person of importance. We assumed that he was a
tonton macoute although he did not carry the pistol on his hip that we had
observed on several men in other circumstances. 

At no time in our journeys around Haiti, with or without our new companion,
did we ever feel any fear or apprehension. In every instance we were treated
graciously - even though our French was weak and our Creole nonexistent. But
in a way that disturbed my conscience, I found myself grateful for the
attention showed us by our "guardian." I felt that he would keep us from
making "mistakes."

When we flew to the Cape (without our guardian) we were directed from the
line boarding the scheduled airplane to a small, one-engine plane a short
walk away. We didn't understand why, but it promised to be an intersting
trip. The pilot, a Swiss, flew us around places of interest, including
Laferrier, on the way north. When we finally reached the Cape airport,
things became clearer. Our luggage was missing. We stayed in a small hotel,
run by a German, on the western outskirts of town. At breakfast the next
morning he announced that our luggage had been found and he was sending for
it. When we opened our suitcases it was clear that they had been searched.

The situation was more adventurous than frightening but the reality behind
it become more vivid when one morning we saw the dead body of young Haitian
man lying on the sidewalk near the Splendide. We were told that he was shot
because he was a thief. The incident underlined for us what we already knew
intellectually - that our safety was bought at the repression of the
populace. Tyranny suppresses choices; in a freer society some of those
suppressed choices can be dangerous. It is part of the cost of a free

What follows may be only a theoretical exercise with no practical
application, but it seems to me that the structure of government in Haiti
may is less important than strengthening the nation's trust in the rule of

>From my limited knowledge of Haitian history, I believe that the strongest
model of rule by law was that of Toussaint Louverture. When he liberated
Port-au-Prince from the British, he urged his countrymen to replace rule by
force with rule by law. But what form of law? Not only were the nations
which threatened him devious and untrustworthy, he found their forms of law
inappropriate for the conditions he faced. Although he admired the grandeur
of the Bourbons he was not comfortable with, "La loi, c'est mois."  He also
rejected the autocratic rule of England and the chaos and ineffectiveness of
revolutionary France and the fledging United States. For his constitution he
turned to Roman law where there was provision for strong rulers and equality
before the law for all citizens. The circumstances Toussaint faced in
protecting the integrity of his country and the threat of the restoration of
slavery persuaded him to violate his own constitution. But the basis for a
Haitian model of rule by law - one that provided both for firm leadership
and the respect for individual rights - had been established.

My knowledge of Haitian history does not allow me to identify other examples
of leaders committed to the rule of law, but surely they must exist. Despite
the cynicism engendered by the flow of changing constitutions, there must be
in the Haitian collective psyche a passion for the law. How can the nation's
pride in its history be mined to reinforce that passion? 

Dick Gillespie