Duvalier, François ‘papa doc’. Doctor, politician, dictator – Born in 1907 in Port-au-Prince, Duvalier was a medical doctor who became a leading figure in a group espousing a black nationalist ideology in the late 1930s and 1940s. Explaining Haitian history in terms of racial struggle, Duvalier claimed the time had come for a black middle class to bring an end to the traditional supremacy of the mulatto elite. During the administration of the moderate reformist President Estimé (1946-50), Duvalier worked at the Ministries of Public Health and Labour.
In 1957, with the backing of the Haitian military, he won election as President, and quickly moved to repress all opposition. His master-stoke was to remove the threat of a military coup by re-organising the armed forces and creating an alternative and reliable militia, the Tontons Macoutes. Duvalier used the Macoutes to break all real and potential opponents – trade unions were dismantled, progressive priests expelled, and newspapers closed down. Terror and repression were the watchwords as Duvalier and his henchmen employed ever more blatant forms of extortion and corruption to enrich themselves.
The fourteen-year long dictatorship of ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Haitians, and many educated people left the country to live abroad. His regime relied on the support of the black lower middle class who found new avenues of social and economic advancement as members of the Tontons Macoutes, and as rural section chiefs.
On his death in 1971, he was succeeded as dictator-for-life by his 19-year old son, Jean-Claude.
Recommended reading – Papa Doc, Baby Doc – James Ferguson