Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Haitian Tragedy. Part 3

François Duvalier, President of Haiti (1957-1971)

In 1957, François Duvalier was elected President of Haiti. He won massively: 679,884 votes to the 266,992 of his nearest frontrunner, Louis Déjoie. Once in power he exiled Déjoie's major supporters and had a new constitution proclaimed. He then seized control of the army and created a militia, the Tonton Macoutes, that became twice as big as the army. In 1961, he called a new presidential election and ran as the sole candidate. In 1964, he became president for life. In 1966, he persuaded the Vatican to allow him to nominate the country's Catholic hierarchy. "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." (Wikipedia 2018).

He is still well known almost a half-century after his death:

Duvalier's government was one of the most repressive in the hemisphere. Within the country he murdered and exiled his opponents; estimates of those killed are as high as 60,000.

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 intimidate the members of the old elite, who were gradually co-opted or eliminated.

Many educated professionals fled Haiti for New York City, Miami, Montreal, Paris and several French-speaking African countries, exacerbating an already serious lack of doctors and teachers.

The government confiscated peasant landholdings and allotted them to members of the militia, who had no official salary and made their living through crime and extortion. The dispossessed fled to the slums of the capital where they would find only meager incomes to feed themselves. Malnutrition and famine became endemic. (Wikipedia 2018).

The noiriste revolution of 1946

This political revolution did not begin in 1957. Duvalier himself said he was continuing what had begun in 1946 with the election of Dumarsais Estimé, the first black president after more than two decades of American occupation and another two decades of authoritarian mulatto rule. Duvalier had in fact served under Estimé, first as Director General of the National Public Health Service and then in 1949 as Minister of Health and Labor. 

By firing mulatto civil servants, and by greatly expanding the civil service, Estimé greatly expanded Haiti's black middle class, and it was especially this group that would provide Duvalier with his core support. Duvalier wanted to reduce mulatto overrepresentation even further, not only in the public sector but also in the private sector. He succeeded, but only made life worse for most Haitians. When the anthropologist Micheline Labelle went to Haiti in the 1970s, she found widespread disappointment among her interviewees:

"Currently, the greatest personal fortunes could be among the blacks (Duvalier, Cambronne ...). There are very rich blacks in the bureaucratic middle class but it amounts to 20, 30 senior officials only. For the others, nothing has changed" (middle-class mulatto man, 25 years old). (Labelle 1987, p. 192)

Duvalier did reduce mulatto control of the economy, but at the cost of cultural changes that made wealth creation much harder. Less mulatto wealth did not create more for the black middle class, let alone for blacks in general. These cultural changes are mentioned in Labelle's interviews and involved several areas of behavior.


Haiti is a low-trust culture. Labelle gives the example of a fire at the Tippenhauer plant in 1973:

As in other assembly plants where workers are searched at the exit for fear of theft, all of the emergency exits had been locked to ensure control. A fire broke out and caused around twenty deaths. (Labelle 1987, p. 203)

Mulatto interviewees were wary of blacks from all walks of life:

[...] domestics especially, who become for the [mulatto] women a sort of major referent, an obsessive preoccupation, due to fear of coulage (theft), poisoning, magic; [the interviewees] fear that workers in plants will steal [...]; [they] fear that poor street people will plunder or even murder [...]; [they] fear that the [black] "middle classes" in power will bring objective repression: torture, murders, disappearances, exile [...] (Labelle 1987, pp. 203-204)

Blacks were reportedly no less mistrustful:

[According to middle-class mulattoes] a negro is mistrustful because he is afraid. This is a peasant trait. Blacks have no principles, no education. So they have to fight to keep going. The black man has been traumatized since childhood. He saw his parents bail out [se dégager]. So he will do the same.

Blacks of both sexes spoke about their mistrust of each other:

In this way, the idea of betrayal invades relationships between men and women. Many women are convinced that any man will cheat on any woman morally, physically, and intellectually. Many men, being convinced that behind each woman hides a slut [bouzin], may, by a sort of compensatory response, become compulsive experts in the art of bringing down [faire chuter] a woman previously considered decent [honnête]. (Labelle 1987, p. 229)

"People scorn women here. One doesn't confide in a woman. When you come down to it, she's a whore, ready to do anything for money [...]. We talk about this between men. We laugh about it, and it's deeply anchored. Men, frankly, are buddies with each other [complices]. This is due to the situation of women during slavery. They managed better than men thanks to their sexual attributes. This attitude has perpetuated itself among them. They calculate [...]” (middle-class black man, 45 years old). (Labelle 1987, p. 229)

Thus, the middle-class black man, like the man of other social classes, is literally torn between the ideal of a faithful wife and his scorn for a woman, whatever her color: Koko pa gin zorèy, mè l'tandé brui lajan [A vagina has no ears, but it hears the sound of money] (Labelle 1987, p. 229)

[...] the idea that one cannot trust women, independently of their color, remains implicit. The fear of being tricked, poisoned, betrayed by a woman is profound in the peasant milieu. (Labelle 1987, p. 265)

A Haitian man, people say again and again, cannot conceive that he must limit himself to one woman at a time. Women are socialized in this axiom since childhood; they expect men to behave freely and are resigned to this. On the other hand, men cannot conceive that their wives will be unfaithful and are perpetually obsessed by the fear of being cheated on. (Labelle 1987, p. 228)


As noted in my last post, most of the middle-class mulattoes refrained from commenting on this subject. Those who did felt that the black middle class was less honest than the mulatto middle class, while taking care to qualify this judgment:

"If I have to employ someone as an accountant, cashier, or domestic, and if I don't know any of them, I'll choose a mulatto because they have a reputation of being educated and honest, but if I have records and if I see recommendations, I'll choose just as much a black" (middle-class mulatto, 36 years old). (Labelle 1987, p. 202).

"There's no better thief than #1 [a figure representing a black man], that's understandable, they're in poverty... In fact I can't categorize. It's a matter of individuals, not of types. Except for the regime. [there] it's widespread. Everybody has the right to a cut...And with Duvalier's police, it's even worse. They've been taking their cut from the top to the bottom, throughout the country" (middle-class mulatto man, 25 years old). (Labelle 1987, p. 202).

This kind of observation was also made by many of the middle-class blacks:

"[You] talk about honesty these days in Haiti! You make me laugh. [...] One sees so many things these days. You think so-and-so is honest and you discover he does tons of dirty things [...]. A griffe [three-quarters black, one quarter white] perhaps would be more honest [...]. But in any case not a black man because he'll seek by any means to get in with the mulattoes and crush the others. What's disappointing is that when they get into power, they plunder. All of them do the same thing” (middle-class black woman, 22 years old). (Labelle 1987, p. 208)


According to Labelle, the Duvalier era brought an increase in jealousy to middle-class society. "Mulatto women are considered to be generally more frank, resorting less to magic practices against each other, spreading fewer rumors, and being less envious than black women" (Labelle 1987, p. 209). Jealousy became not only more common but also more ruthless:

“Women are fighting among themselves. Jealousy all the time. They seek by any means to hurt you. In the past, it wasn't so hard. These days it's a really big thing. Before there used to be a mulatto elite who had nothing to do with these superstitious things. But black women want to get ahead. They seek by any means to nail you [régler] for things to do with husbands or homes. It's a constant struggle. If you have a conspicuous social condition, you'll be envied, you'll be sent an illness to make you spend money. Someone will find something near a gate [to the house...]. Spirits will be sent to disrupt that house[hold...]. Your child at school will be made fun of [...]” (black middle-class woman, 42 years old). (Labelle 1987, p. 209)

Future time orientation, teamwork, self-control, etc.

This area of behavior was covered in my last post. Both mulatto and black interviewees said that the mulatto man knows how "to make money work." He is business-minded and knows how to team up with others. In contrast, the middle-class black man "accumulates to show off, refuses to invest, spends outrageously, and does not know how to administer his assets." (Labelle 1987 pp. 191-196). In short, mulattoes adhere to middle-class values. "Mulattoes, it is said, have more cohesion, solidarity, respect for their word when given, self-control, sense of responsibility, and scruples. The black man is cunning, mistrustful, thieving, untruthful, treacherous, politically irresponsible, and corrupt" (Labelle 1987, p. 198).


Until the American occupation, Haiti had two parallel societies. On the one hand, the mulatto community held European middle-class values and provided the country with lawyers, doctors, businessmen, merchants, politicians, and civil servants. On the other hand, the black community lived as small farmers with perhaps 10% living in town as artisans, mill and factory workers, petty traders, or government officials of one sort or another. Farmers typically grew enough food to meet their own needs plus a small surplus for the marketplace. Trade was women's work:

The peasant's creativity is perhaps furthered by the widespread custom of polygamy, since each wife acts as the business manager of her household, thus freeing her husband for more spiritual tasks.

[...] The woman is the organizer. She cooks, washes, rears the children, handles the finances, and makes all purchases, excepting the animals. She lugs the produce to the nearest market or sells it to a middleman speculator who in turn peddles it in the city. On market day she can be seen striding along the jungle paths to market, balancing a basket of produce on her head as regally as a queen with an outsize crown. (Diederich and Burt 1969, pp. 21-22)

Business acumen was thus limited to women, and even they lacked some key elements, particularly the willingness to work as a team with non-kin on a common project. For both the private and public sectors, administrative and organizational skills were confined to the mulatto community.

Things began to change with the American occupation. For the first time in Haiti's history large numbers of blacks received postsecondary education and entered the civil service (Kaussen 2005, p. 69). The new American style of education was democratic—it aimed to teach large numbers of people the vocational skills needed for specific jobs. This was in contrast to the old model of providing a small elite with administrative and organizational skills—teaching rulers how to rule, with strong emphasis on law, the humanities, and classical studies:

The Haitian elite followed the aristocratic prejudice of honoring literary and professional work and despising manual labor. Hard physical work was linked in their minds with slavery and regarded as the prerogative of the ignorant and the poor. They feared that American influence might direct their educational system away from French cultural traditions and toward more materialistic goals. (Diederich and Burt 1969, pp. 35).

Duvalier was a product of both systems. He had gone to an old-style lycée for primary and secondary education but then attended an American-reorganized medical school and was later hired for a U.S. army project to control yaws, an infection of the skin, bones, and joints (Diederich and Burt 1969, pp. 36, 48-49).

In 1946, Dumarsais Estimé became Haiti's first democratically elected black president. He sought to expand opportunities for his country's emerging black middle class; first by replacing mulattoes with blacks in the civil service, and second by greatly expanding the civil service. This new middle class would increasingly be at odds with its older mulatto counterpart:

The blacks concentrated on politics but failed to expand their power by developing outside business connections. They simply enriched themselves in an opportunistic fashion by their mismanagement of public funds during a favorable economic period, emerging as a sort of "black elite," thus challenging the mulatto establishment which had a broader base of power.

[…] The behavior of the new black elite, now in privileged positions, caused problems. Their lack of discipline, and often mere greed, began to have repercussions. There was a political-business scandal in the banana industry. Also, some prominent black officials were charged with graft in the construction of the exposition. The rift between black and mulatto widened. (Diederich and Burt 1969, pp. 56-57)

In theory, Haiti should have benefited by making its educational system more democratic, more vocational, and more merit-based. Unfortunately, learning how to work is more than simply learning how to perform a task. A task is performed in a social context where you work with people who are not necessarily your family or kin, where you resolve disputes without violence, where your property rights are respected and theft stigmatized, and where you look beyond the task at hand and assess its long-term consequences. These lessons are not taught at a vocational school. After the American occupation ended, President Sténio Vincent (1930-1941) recognized this shortcoming and sought to remedy it through national Catholic education for the masses, such as Mussolini had introduced in Italy, Franco in Spain, and Pétain in Vichy France. Whether such a social model would have succeeded in Haiti is debatable. In any case, it was no longer realistic by 1941, when the U.S. was preparing for war against the Axis, and when Roosevelt pressured Vincent to step down.  

A tragedy is the inevitable working out of a mistake and its consequences. The 1946 election, and the rise of noirisme, put Haiti on a path that led to Duvalier. Even if he had been deposed, as had almost happened on several occasions, someone like him would have taken his place. The problem was his power base—a black middle class that envied its mulatto counterpart and blamed its failings on everything and everyone, except itself. 

Today, Haiti is a broken nation that has destroyed much of its social capital. This destruction will be especially hard to undo because too many Haitians still disown responsibility for what has happened to their country. One instead hears a litany of excuses: the Napoleonic invasion in 1802, the refusal of the U.S. to recognize Haiti, and the massive reparations to France. Yet the French were finally ousted in 1804, the United States recognized Haiti in 1862, and the final payment to France was made in 1947. In that year, Haiti’s future seemed promising ...


Diederich, B. and A. Burt. 1969. Papa Doc. The Truth about Haiti Today, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Kaussen, V. (2005). Race, Nation, and the Symbolics of Servitude in Haitian Noirisme, in A. Isfahani-Hammond (ed.). The Masters and the Slaves. Plantation Relations and Mestizaje in American Imaginaries (pp. 67-88), New York: Palgrave-Macmillan.

Labelle, M. (1987). Idéologie de couleur et classes sociales en Haïti, Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal.

Wikipedia (2018). François Duvalierçois_Duvalier

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Haitian Tragedy. Part 2

Dumarsais Estimé, President of Haiti 1946-1950 (Wikicommons)

Elderly Haitians remember the postwar era with nostalgia. Their country benefited from the postwar doubling of sisal and coffee exports, as well as the boom in tourism. The resulting growth in government revenues made it possible to increase the national budget from 12 to 21 million dollars between 1946 and 1949. The civil service was expanded, and this expansion created a large black middle class (Labelle 1987, p. 56). Above all else, authoritarian mulatto rule had given way in 1946 to democratic black rule.

Yet discontent was high among the main beneficiaries of that era: middle-class blacks. Though much better off than the average Haitian, they preferred to compare themselves with middle-class mulattoes, who often enjoyed the trappings of inherited wealth: two-storey homes, French furnishings, and American cars. In addition to feeling jealous, they also resented having to conform to European norms: speaking, reading, and writing in French and not in Creole, practicing Catholicism and rejecting Vodou, straightening their hair (in the case of girls and women), wearing European-style dress, etc. This resentment strengthened the appeal of black nationalism for middle-class blacks.

In the 1970s, the anthropologist Micheline Labelle went to Haiti to survey middle-class mulattoes and middle-class blacks. The mulatto respondents saw differences between the two groups in terms of values:

[Mulattoes] have more stable fortunes because they know how "to make money work," although on an international scale, with few exceptions, huge fortunes are not to be found in Haiti. They have a sense of business, and they have administrative and economic competence.

In second place [in economic success], the same respondents pointed to the minority of blacks in power, who they said had gained very large fortunes through politics and not through personal effort and work. They [the blacks in power] did not know how "to make money work" or how to make the country progress. [They were] "demi-monde" people who had become millionaires, an elite completely created from scratch in 1946. (Labelle 1987, p. 191)

Labelle found the same discourse among many middle-class blacks:

On the one hand, I was told that "the mulattoes still hold the top," that they control the economy because they know how to earn money through their work and they make money "work" because they know how to produce and team up with each other. On the other hand, [the respondents] denounced the black man who gets rich through politics and who accumulates to show off, refuses to invest, spends outrageously, and does not know how to administer his assets. Few blacks are said to have a stable business, or a business well set up: "Wealth that is based only on politics may be swept away with the arrival of another [political] current," they said.  As for the blacks of the "middle classes" not involved in politics, their behavior was likewise stigmatized: when they have money they waste it like the people in power; otherwise they turn to the "culture" or take refuge "in the State":

"The Haitian finds it degrading to have to work. He envies the white man but doesn't think he should act the same way. He prefers to sit behind a bureau [...]. Those who are in politics hide their money in foreign banks. Never does the Haitian think he should make his capital bear fruit [...]." (middle-class black woman, 22 years old).1 (Labelle 1987, pp. 194-196)

"If you manage to get a good mulatto friend, that friendship is solid. You can count more on that friendship. Among blacks, there is much more distrust, because of their parvenu mentality" (middle-class black man, 42 years old) (Labelle 1987, p. 208)

When questioned on the relative honesty of the two groups, most of the middle-class mulattoes refused to comment. Of those who did, Labelle summarized their comments as follows:

The mulattoes, it is said, have more cohesion, solidarity, respect for their word when given, self-control, sense of responsibility, and scruples. The black man is cunning, mistrustful, thieving, untruthful, treacherous, politically irresponsible, and corrupt.

"There is more solidarity, less harshness among mulattoes. The mulatto world is centrifugal, while the black world is centripetal. The black man absolutely wants to get out of his milieu; he's ready to crush another black man. They say they can trust a mulatto more than a black man" (middle-class mulatto man, 54 years old).

"In my milieu it's said you must not trust black people. It's said they try to get a mulatto's trust in order to betray him afterwards. Put them in power, they'll behave irresponsibly, they'll destroy what has been done, they'll try to profit" (middle-class mulatto woman, 23 years old). (Labelle 1987, pp. 198-201)

Middle-class black respondents tended to see things differently:

"[Mulattoes] are hollow-headed. They have nothing except their big money. For them everything is calculated, even their marriages... their conscience is elastic. In marriage, the black man will go overboard for the woman he loves. For him [the mulatto man], he calculates; usually it's a matter of families, of dowries... Blacks are very much driven by hate because they're categorical, while the mulatto is cunning" (middle-class black woman, 55 years old). 

"It's said the mulatto is depraved [vicieux], and thieving: "Sé bèt visyeu, lâch" [It's a depraved and cowardly animal]. They flatter, love money, their governments are woven out of corruption. Sycophants. People recognize that, and they recognize it among themselves..." (middle-class black man, 42 years old). 

"Sé li ki vòlè [He's the one who steals], they're exploiters. They'll trick you every time. They don't consider this country to be their own because they're of foreign origin. They aren't like Haitians, so they have to get the most profit out of this position. Sé yo mêm k'ap manjé kòb pèi a [Only they eat the money of the country]" (middle-class black man, 26 years old). (Labelle 1987, pp. 210)

Nonetheless, some of the black respondents corroborated what the mulatto respondents had said. This was especially true for the older ones who had grown up under mulatto domination:

[For the older black respondents] the mulatto man is more honest than the black man. He acted with more tact and moderation in the past, more intelligence also. He is more respectful of the rules. He is more loyal, acts nastily less often [donne moins de mauvais coups], and hesitates more before doing so. (Labelle 1987, p. 204)

Rise of the black middle class and noirisme

The postwar empowerment of the black middle class radically changed Haiti's social and political landscape. Previously, power had been overwhelmingly in the hands of the mulatto community, with political conflict being between a mulatto-dominated Right and a mulatto-dominated Left. In this conflict, most black Haitians were indifferent bystanders. There was, however, a small but growing black middle class whose political leanings were noiriste (black nationalist) and whom the Right saw as natural allies in its struggle with the Left:

[...] noiriste intellectuals generally came from the emerging black middle class of the occupation period [...]. Paradoxically, despite the U.S. segregation policies and blatant racism, the possibilities for social mobility for blacks improved considerably during the occupation, since for the first time in Haiti's history large numbers of blacks received postsecondary education and entered into the civil service. (Kaussen 2005, p. 69)

It was especially this group that President Sténio Vincent (1930-1941) had in mind when he insisted on making his state addresses in Creole. Under Vincent, noiristes never suffered the persecution that Marxists did, probably because he never imagined that noirisme would become politically consequential.

Yet it did, partly because the black middle class continued to grow, and partly because the U.S. intervened to weaken the competing ideologies of Catholic authoritarianism and Marxism. In 1941, Roosevelt pressured President Vincent to step down:

Indeed, Roosevelt was not ready to support Stenio Vincent for a third term, because the State Department had discovered Stenio Vincent was encouraging and supporting a large political movement of Anti-Americanism. (Laudun 2008, p. 191)

In the context of that time "Anti-Americanism" probably meant Axis sympathies. Vincent was replaced by a weaker and more liberal leader, who in turn had to resign in 1946.

In the ensuing presidential election, all of the candidates were black, and the winner was a moderate noiriste, Dumarsais Estimé (1946-1950). The mulatto minority continued to wield much influence for another decade, but only behind the scenes. Even before the election of François Duvalier, they found themselves increasingly excluded from the political arena and viewed as tolerated guests in their own country. 

The mulatto community had few other options during this time of increasing exclusion and marginalization. Many had invested their energies in the Catholic authoritarianism of Sténio Vincent, but that ideology had come to an end with the end of the Second World War. Others had turned to Socialism and Marxism, but that option too was becoming problematic. In 1944, their main intellectual leader, Jacques Roumain, had died under mysterious circumstances. In the late 1940s, the United States pressured Estimé to distance himself from his radical leftist allies.

Initially, his administration included a coalition of dissidents who led opposition to previous regimes. But Estimé learned the United States viewed his government unfavorably as radically left-wing. As the coalition broke up, fiery labor leader Daniel Fignolé and socialist George Rigaud were eased out of the cabinet. Estimé would later attempt to solidify ties to the United States by exaggerating the communist threat to his government. (Wikipedia 2018).

With the Left sidelined and the Right eradicated, the way was now clear for an increasingly radical black nationalism. "Estimé's noiriste government represented a significant departure from previous administrations. Government jobs, including cabinet positions, were overwhelmingly held by black professionals instead of members of the light-skinned elite" (Wikipedia 2018). Mulatto families who had previously gone into politics or the civil service now had to turn to the private sector (Labelle 1987, p. 66). 

Middle-class blacks thus became direct beneficiaries of noirisme, and its most ardent supporters.

To be cont'd


1. When identifying her respondents, Labelle uses the term "bourgeoisie" for the mulatto middle class and "petty bourgeoisie" for the black middle class. (Labelle 1987, p. 40)


Abbott, E. (1988). Haiti. A Shattered Nation, London: Duckworth Overlook  

Kaussen, V. (2005). Race, Nation, and the Symbolics of Servitude in Haitian Noirisme, in A. Isfahani-Hammond (ed.). The Masters and the Slaves. Plantation Relations and Mestizaje in American Imaginaries (pp. 67-88), New York: Palgrave-Macmillan.

Labelle, M. (1987). Idéologie de couleur et classes sociales en Haïti, Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal.

Laudun, M. (2008). To Set the Record Straight. From Slavery - Independence - Revolution to the United States of America Intervention and Occupation 1915-1934, Victoria (BC): Trafford

Wikipedia (2018). Dumarsais Estiméé

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Haitian tragedy. Part 1

Jacques Roumain (1907-1944) - poet, anthropologist, and founder of the Haitian Communist Party

Haiti is the most African of all countries in the New World, the average Haitian being 95% African by ancestry. In comparison, the proportion is 77-82% for the average Jamaican (Simms et al. 2010) and 30% for the average Brazilian from Bahia, the most African part of Brazil (Pena et al., 2001). This is not because Haiti never had a substantial European or mixed population. Before the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), the country was 8% white, 5% mulatto (gens de couleur), and 87% black.

The Revolution led to a mass emigration of whites and to ethnic cleansing of those who remained.

On 1 January 1804, Dessalines proclaimed Haiti an independent nation. Dessalines later gave the order to all cities on Haiti that all white men should be put to death. The weapons used should be silent weapons such as knives and bayonets rather than gunfire, so that the killing could be done more quietly, and avoid warning intended victims by the sound of gunfire and thereby giving them the opportunity to escape.

[...] Dessalines did not specifically mention that the white women should be killed, and the soldiers were reportedly somewhat hesitant to do so. In the end, however, they were also put to death, though normally at a later stage of the massacre than the adult males. The argument for killing the women was that whites would not truly be eradicated if the white women were spared to give birth to new Frenchmen.

Before his departure from a city, Dessalines would proclaim an amnesty for all the whites who had survived in hiding during the massacre. When these people left their hiding place, however, they were killed as well. (Wikipedia 2018a)

The mulattoes fared better than the whites, but they too suffered during the Revolution and its long aftermath. From 1799 to 1800 many were killed and many more fled the country during the Guerre des couteaux (the War of Knives), which pitted the mulatto-dominated south of the country against the black-dominated north. This regional rivalry, and its racial overtones, continued between the President of Haiti, Alexandre Pétion, in the south, and the King of Haiti, Henri Christophe, in the north.

But the rival mulatto-run South was a source of never-ending bitterness, and in 1811 Christophe renewed his war against Pétion. Pétion's victory provoked in the "Black King" a hatred of mulattoes "so deep and fiend-like, that nothing would satisfy the direness of his vengeance but the utter extermination of that race," wrote one of his contemporaries. (Abbott 1988)

Christophe died in 1820, and Pétion's successor, the mulatto Jean-Pierre Boyer, seized not only the north but also the Spanish part of the island of Hispaniola. After Boyer's ouster in 1843, and the loss of Spanish Hispaniola the following year, Haiti went through almost two decades of turmoil.

The late 19th century: re-Christianization and re-Francization

Stability gradually returned after an 1860 agreement with the Vatican to reintroduce Catholic churches, schools, hospitals, and other institutions, thus creating much of the infrastructure of a modern society. Catholic colleges emerged as incubators for new ideas, and Haiti in general, especially its elites, became re-Christianized and re-Francized (Delisle 2003).

The late 19th century was thus a time of relative peace, and it was during this time that the country's mulatto minority began to thrive. Traders from Germany, Italy, and the Levant arrived, and many married into mulatto families. German traders in particular began to play a pivotal role:

The small German community in Haiti (approximately 200 in 1910) wielded a disproportionate amount of economic power. Germans controlled about 80 percent of the country's international commerce; they also owned and operated utilities in Cap Haïtien and Port-au-Prince, the main wharf and a tramway in the capital, and a railroad in the north. (Sommers 2016, p. 10)

Fears of a German protectorate

Germany itself took an interest in Haiti:

Germany made overtures in 1912 to the then existing Haitian regime for a cession of Saint Nicholas Mole as a German coaling station, for German control of Haitian customs, and for preferred port rights, all to be based on a German loan of $2,000,000. When this negotiation became known at Washington, Germany was called upon for an explanation. The charge was denied in 1914, but at that time Germany stated that no scheme of reorganization or control in Haiti could be thought of unless European nations were permitted to exercise the same rights as the United States. This German statement constituted nothing less than a challenge to the Monroe Doctrine. (Tinker 1922, p. 50)

In the three decades leading up to the First World War, Imperial Germany was expanding its overseas empire and may indeed have been seeking to impose a protectorate on Haiti with help from the mulatto minority. This was certainly the suspicion of the United States, which began a longstanding policy of supporting black nationalists in Haiti as a counterweight to its mulatto leaders, who were seen as more likely to collude with other outside powers, first Germany and later Cuba and the Soviet Union. To this end, the U.S. supported a series of black nationalist presidents in the early 20th century, the last one being Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam (March to July 1915):

[...] he was already notorious throughout Haiti for ordering the massacre of civilians in the mulatto-dominated town of Jacmel while commandant there. [...] And like so many black presidents before him, Sam looked for enemies within the ranks of the mulatto elite. One of his first presidential acts was to charge scores of mulattoes with political dissidence and imprison them [...] (Abbott 1988)

This crackdown produced a backlash:

As the fifth president in five turbulent years, Sam was forced to contend with a revolt against his own regime, led by Dr. Rosalvo Bobo, who opposed the government's expanded commercial and strategic ties with the United States. Fearing that he would share the same fate as his predecessors, Sam acted harshly against his political opponents, particularly the better educated and wealthier mulatto population. The culmination of his repressive measures came on 27 July 1915, when he ordered the execution of 167 political prisoners, including former president Zamor, who was being held in a Port-au-Prince jail. This infuriated the population, which rose up against Sam's government as soon as news of the executions reached them.

Sam fled to the French embassy, where he received asylum. The rebels' mulatto leaders broke into the embassy and found Sam. They dragged him out and beat him senseless then threw his limp body over the embassy's iron fence to the waiting populace, who then ripped his body to pieces and paraded the parts through the capital's neighborhoods. (Wikipedia 2018b)

Woodrow Wilson, fearing an imminent German invasion of Haiti, ordered American troops to occupy the capital and then the entire country. The occupation was resisted by bands of guerillas called "cacos," who took up arms in the First Caco War (1916) and the Second Caco War (1918-1920). Some historians state that Germany aided the rebels, even to the point of creating a Caribbean front of the First World War. For instance, we read that "they [the rebels] received considerable support from the German government and entrenched German-Haitian elite" (Wikipedia 2018c). This seems doubtful, given the distance from Europe and American control of the sea lanes. The Second Caco War did receive support from the mulatto minority, particularly from exiled leader Rosalvo Bobo, being "another episode in the long struggle of the mulattoes against black rule" (Beede 1994, p. 83)

American occupation (1915-1934)

So Haiti became an American protectorate instead of a German one. Although the mulattoes benefited from the occupation, particularly from the political stability and the building of roads and other infrastructure, many remained its strongest opponents and, for this reason, sparked a renewal of Haitian nationalism. 

In the 1930s and 1940s blacks discovered unexpected allies in the many mulatto intellectuals who, shattered by their personal encounters with crude white racism, also sought meaning in their diluted African ancestry. [...] In belittling Africa and aping Europe, the elite had betrayed Haiti's millions. No more! declared the new nationalists. Internal racism must die, and favored Haitians must work with and on behalf of the suffering masses. But the first task was to rid Haiti of the invader. "Man, you are a stranger and you tread the soil that my father trod," wrote fiery mulatto writer Jacques Roumain.

Roumain and dozens of other nationalist writers were arrested time and time again, condemned by American courts-martial and sentenced to fines, imprisonment, and even hard labor. The result was a politicization of intellectuals, driven by persecution from poetry to pragmatic action. Roumain founded the Haitian Communist Party. Price-Mars and future nationalist President Sténio Vincent formed the Patriotic Union, attracting a membership of sixteen thousand that organized resistance to the occupation (Abbott 1988)

This renewal of Haitian nationalism took three forms: Catholic authoritarianism, black nationalism (noirisme), and Marxism.

Catholic authoritarianism

This political current was limited to the mulatto community, particularly those with a strong Catholic orientation. They looked to Catholic teachings of that time (corporatism, rejection of liberalism) with a view to rebuilding Haiti as an orderly society. Their examples were Mussolini in Italy, Franco in Spain, Pétain in France and, closer to home, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.

Initially, Catholic authoritarianism was the most successful of the three competing forms of Haitian nationalism. It was in fact the dominant ideology after the American occupation, when Haiti was ruled by two strong-arm presidents: Sténio Vincent (1934-41) and Elie Lescot (1941-46). Supporters of Vincent, in particular, saw in him an authoritarian leader like those of Europe. In 1936, the president of the Club des amis du Président Vincent wrote:

Let us propagate and establish Vincentisme in order that, like fascism in Italy and Hitlerism in Germany, he becomes for us, Haitians, a school of civic-mindedness and loyalty; so that in his shadow and under his aegis, we may constitute a squad of men capable of perpetuating the regime of order, peace, and justice instituted by President Vincent. For our country to develop normally and progressively, we need in power for another quarter-century an entire succession of heads of state trained in the school of Vincentisme. (Péan 2015)

Neither Vincent nor Lescot left a lasting mark on Haitian society. As mulattoes, they lacked genuine support among the black majority and, more critically, among the largely black military. Furthermore, both had ties to Trujillo, who, in 1937, ordered the killing of some 15,000 to 20,000 black Haitians living on the Dominican side of the border. Meanwhile, Trujillo was seeking to whiten Dominican society through European immigration; even Jewish refugees and Spanish Republicans were welcome. Deep down, Vincent and Lescot shared Trujillo’s pro-European and anti-African bias. Among other things, they supported the efforts of the Church to root out Vodou and impose behavioral norms, such as monogamy, that were in fact European norms.

With the outbreak of WWII, the United States took an increasingly dim view of Vincent's authoritarian rule. To varying degrees he was an ideological kin to the Axis powers, especially Italy but also Vichy France, Hungary, and Croatia. In 1941, Roosevelt pressured him to step down and hand power over to Lescot, who adopted a more liberal style of governance. With the end of the war, Catholic authoritarianism disappeared throughout most of Europe, and Lescot's position became less tenable. Matters came to a head in 1946 when he jailed the Marxist editors of a student journal, an action that triggered a wave of student strikes and protests by government workers, teachers, and shopkeepers. He resigned, under pressure from the military.   

Black nationalism (noirisme)

In the late 1920s, many Haitian intellectuals embraced indigénisme and négritude as a means to protest the American opposition and also the elite's emulation of French culture and rejection of Haiti's African roots. Ironically, both movements were based in metropolitan France and owed much of their popularity to an interest in “Otherness,” bordering on exoticism, that was popular there during the interwar years. Even in Haiti itself these movements became known via French books and magazines, and their initial adherents were, more often than not, Francophile mulattoes. One of them was Jacques Roumain, who in 1927 founded La Revue Indigene: Les Arts et La Vie, a journal of Haitian art and culture. Initially a folklorist and anthropologist, he became more and more involved in politics.

Indigénisme was supported by another Haitian anthropologist, Jean-Price Mars. Like Roumain, he championed négritude and called for a rehabilitation of Haiti's African culture. In particular, he argued that vodou was a religion on a par with Christianity with its own deities, priesthood, theology, and morality. Unlike Roumain, he was black and never embraced Marxism (Wikipedia 2018e). Nonetheless, unlike the black nationalists, both of them simply wanted an honest assessment of Haitian culture that would equally acknowledge its African and French roots.

Noirisme went much farther than indigénisme:

Whatever the "Indigéniste School" had to say, the noiristes radicalized it completely. More than having a dual French and African past, Haiti had an "African element" which could only be directed by real, authentic Black Haitians, who were much closer to the poor and disenfranchised populace. Vodou was no longer an important religious expression among others; it was the supreme link between Haiti and Africa. Haiti not only had to be governed by Blacks to reflect the country's majority, it had to be governed by a charismatic and autocratic Black, since liberalism was a "White" political system. Haitians were thus entirely biologically determined to be the people that they were and the real enemies of the state were Mulattoes with their "mulâtrisme." (La Revue Indigène 2014)

The noiristes gained ground during the mid to late 1930s, in large part because the Vincent administration jailed, killed, or exiled so many of their Marxist rivals. Like Jacques Roumain, they wrote and published their ideas. Unlike him, however, they were never prosecuted, even though their ideas would have much more radical implications. Noirisme circulated especially via the pages of Les Griots, a “scientific and literary” journal co-founded in 1938 by a young François Duvalier.


In 1934, Jacques Roumain founded the Parti communiste haïtien (PCH), a small group made up overwhelmingly of mulatto intellectuals—a fact that black nationalists loved to point out. Mulattoes were attracted to Marxism partly out of idealism and partly because the noiristes wouldn't have them. The only other alternative was Catholic authoritarianism, and it lost its appeal with the outbreak of the Second World War.

1n 1936, with the end of the occupation, the Vincent administration disbanded the PCH and repeatedly prosecuted Roumain, eventually forcing him into exile. In New York City he conducted ethnographic research for Columbia University before he finally returned to Haiti upon Vincent's departure from office. In 1943, he founded the Bureau national d'ethnologie and went on to write a collection of poetry, a novel, and a paper on Haitian archaeology. A year later, at the age of 37, he died of either illness or poisoning (Wikipedia 2018d).

A doctrinaire Marxist, he considered class to be more important than race. Unlike many Marxists, however, he had a gift for speaking simply:

What are we? Since that's your question, I'm going to answer you. We're this country, and it wouldn't be a thing without us, nothing at all. Who does the planting? Who does the watering? Who does the harvesting? Coffee, cotton, rice, sugar cane, caco, corn, bananas, vegetables, and all the fruits, who's going to grow them if we don't? Yet with all that, we're poor, that's true. We're out of luck, that's true. We're miserable, that's true. But do you know why, brother? Because of our ignorance. (Wikipedia 2018d)

In 1946, Marxist parties were again permitted to exist, and two came into being: the PSP (Parti socialiste populaire) and the PCH (Parti communiste haïtien). The PSP, like the first PCH, had an overwhelmingly mulatto membership.

The philosophy of the PSP represented the most stark contrast to the noirisme of the other radical groups. The mostly elite intellectuals in the PSP privileged class struggle over color divisions as the most important threat to Haitian society. Like the PCH in the thirties, they argued that a reorientation of the polity based on color would not bridge the country's fundamental economic cleavage. Noirisme, for them, was a political weapon used by the black middle class to attain control of the country but promised little for the welfare of the poor. (Smith 2009, p. 87)

The new PCH, unlike the old one, drew its membership from the black middle class and was closer to noirisme. Its members considered the color question in Haiti to be an "essential aspect of the present class struggle in Haiti." "The PSP, they argued, evaded the color question because the party was largely milat and consequently feared the threat a black government might pose to their status" (Smith 2009, p. 87)

To be cont'd.


Abbott, E. (1988). Haiti. A Shattered Nation, London: Duckworth Overlook

Beede, B.R. (1994). The War of 1898 and U.S. Interventions 1898-1934. An Encyclopedia, New York: Garland Publishing.

Delisle, P. (2003). Le catholicisme en Haïti au XIXe siècle, Paris: Éditions Karthala.

La Revue Indigène (2014). Noirism in Haiti, December 29, 2014.

Péan, L. (2015). Haïti-1915/100 ans : L’occupation américaine et les Volontaires de la Servitude Nihiliste VSN, AlterPresse, January 8

Pena SDJ, Di Pietro G, Fuchshuber-Moraes M, Genro JP, Hutz MH, Kehdy FdSG, et al. (2011) The Genomic Ancestry of Individuals from Different Geographical Regions of Brazil Is More Uniform Than Expected. PLoS ONE 6(2): e17063.

Simms, T.M., C.E. Rodriguez, R. Rodriguez, and R.J. Herrera. (2010). The genetic structure of populations from Haiti and Jamaica reflect divergent demographic histories, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 142, 49-66.

Smith, M.J. (2009). Red & Black in Haiti. Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change 1934-1957, The University of North Carolina Press.

Sommers, J. (2016). Race, Reality, and Realpolitik. U.S.-Haiti relations in the lead up to the 1915 occupation, Lanham, Lexington Books.

Tinker, C.A. (1922). The American occupation of Haiti and Santo Domingo, The American Review of Reviews, 66(1), 46-60.

Wikipedia (2018a). 1804 Haitian Massacre.

Wikipedia (2018b). Vilbrun Guillaume Sam.

Wikipedia (2018c). United States occupation of Haiti.

Wikipedia (2018d). Jacques Roumain

Wikipedia (2018e). Jean-Price Mars

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Update: Women and red hair

The online magazine Evopsy has posted a summary, in French, of the paper on red hair that I wrote with Karel Kleisner and Jaroslav Flegr. It can be found here.

The online magazine Cultura VRN has posted a summary, in Russian, here.

Please let me know about any other magazines that might be interested in this topic.


Frost, P. (2018). Pыжая женщина – уникальна, Cultura VRN, January 15

Frost, P. (2018). La rousse est particulière, Evopsy, January 7

Frost P, Kleisner K, Flegr J (2017) Health status by gender, hair color, and eye color: Red-haired women are the most divergent. PLoS ONE 12(12): e0190238.