Haiti could be described as a country of nearly 5 million people, and one man -- that man being President Francis Duvalier, "Papa Doc".
Haiti could be described as a country of nearly 5 million people, and one man -- that man being President Francis Duvalier, "Papa Doc". Having survived six assassination attempts and ten attempted invasions of his country, Duvalier has also endured a lengthy catalogue of illness including diabetes and at least two heart attacks. Since taking power in 1957 as President, Duvalier has been reported to be near death from illness several times. Recently he was again reported to be seriously ill, and did not attend a parade in the capital yesterday (14 April) honouring his 64th birthday. Unofficial reports said that he may have been taken out of Haiti for urgent medical attention, but a government spokesman in Port-Au-Prince explained the President's absence by saying that doctors had told him to take a rest.
Duvalier became President in 1957 under a constitution that did not allow him a second term, but he changed constitution and then proclaimed himself President for life in 1964. Duvalier has ruled the country with a firm, sometimes brutal, hand through the use of elite para-military force called the "Tonton Macoute", and a deep seated belief in the Voodoo religion. In recent years Duvalier has come out of his self-imposed seclusion and made several public appearances, thought to show his people and the world that rumours of his imminent death were unfounded. On 2 January of this year in a Message to the Nation, Duvalier announced that he would hand over power to youth when the time came. Although he did not specifically mention his 20 year old son, Jean Claude, the Army Chiefs pledged their allegiance to him and Jean Claude. On January 31st the people of Haiti went to the polls and passed a referendum to ratify Jean Claude to succeed his father.
Haiti is the only Negro nation, the only French speaking republic in America, and one of the oldest independent countries in the New World. It is also one of the poorest countries in the world. Some reports say that only one in every two hundred of the population earns an income, with many having to beg or barter in order to survive.
If Duvalier is near death, the success of his son's rise to power is tenuous. Jean Claude is virtually unknown to the people and has not been schooled in the stormy politics of this Caribbean island nation.