X. 1957 to 1985

When President Paul Magloire was overthrown in 1956, the presidency was contested until François Duvalier, a doctor and noiriste who served under Dumarsais Estimé, came to power with the military’s support in 1957. As president, Duvalier instituted a militia, the Tonton Macoutes, to terrorize his opponents. Under Duvalier, the state persecuted potential critics, like labor unions, the women’s movement, and the Catholic Church. Duvalier restructured Haiti’s National Assembly to silence protest and used public works to extort money. Both United States President John F. Kennedy and the President of the Dominican Republic, Juan Bosch, opposed Duvalier and nearly intervened to overthrow him. But when Bosch was ousted by the Dominican military and Kennedy was assassinated, tensions eased and Duvalier remained in power. The United States even sent aid to make sure Haiti would not turn communist.

When François Duvalier died of a heart complication in 1971, his son, Jean-Claude, became president. Jean-Claude expressed little interest in his father’s noiriste ideology. Instead he promised to improve the economy, even as he and his family misappropriated state funds. In 1981, Haiti’s tourism industry was dealt a severe blow when the American medical community mistakenly identified Haitians as one of the four groups most responsible for the spread of AIDS. The next year, the international community asked Duvalier to kill Haiti’s native pigs to eradicate swine fever. Already threatened by soil erosion, peasants were now without livestock. Many quit the land and moved to Port-au-Prince, which expanded in size. With the economy in shambles, Duvalier turned to the World Bank, which recommended that Haiti put its new urban population to work in assembly industries. Trapped between political repression and economic ruin, many Haitians braved the ocean in rickety boats to try to escape to the United States. Many Haitians drowned, while many who survived were deported back to Haiti despite protest by sympathetic Americans. Those who were not sent back had to overcome everyday hostility, but nonetheless persevered and built new communities in places like Miami.