François Duvalier known as "Papa Doc" (possibly April 14, 1907 - April 21, 1971) was the President of Haiti from 1957 and later dictator (President for Life) from 1964 until his death.

Early life

He was raised in Port-au-Prince and trjhlained as a doctor, serving in rural areas. There he won acclaim for helping the poor fight typhus and other diseases. He married Simone Ovide in 1939, and became director general of the national health service in 1946. In 1949, he served as minister of both health and labour. After opposing the coup of Paul Magloire, he was forced into hiding until an amnesty in 1956.

Elected in 1957

Backed by the army, Duvalier won the 1957 Haitian elections; he had campaigned as a populist leader, attacking the "noirist" elite. Duvalier revived the traditions of vodun and later used them to consolidate his power, claiming to be a hougan himself. Duvalier deliberately modeled his image on that of Baron Samedi in an effort to make himself even more imposing.

Consolidated power

He worked to consolidate his rule; after surviving an attempted coup in mid-1958, he purged the army. He then rewrote the constitution and then staged a single-candidate, sham election in 1961 : the official count was 1.32 million votes for Duvalier and none against. He established himself as president for life in 1964 and his rule assumed a more brutal and repressive character. Wary of the army, he created a militia in 1959, known as the MVSN (Milice de Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale), patterned after the Italian fascisti Blackshirts from 1962, to protect his power outside the capital. The MVSN became better known as the Tonton Macoute (or Makout). Because they received no official salary, they had to make their living through crime and extortion. To protect his person, Duvalier used the Garde Présidentielle.

In 1966, Duvalier persuaded the Vatican to allow him to nominate the Catholic hierarchy for Haiti. Ideologically, Duvalier perpetuated his notion of black nationalism by allowing Haiti to appoint its own bishops. Practically, Duvalier consolidated his power and sought to expand control over religious authorities, a potential challenge to his authority.


Duvalier came under pressure from the government of John F. Kennedy due to evidence of corruption over aid. Aid was officially suspended in 1962 but the pressure eased following the death of Kennedy. The country assumed the mantle of an anti-communist presence to balance that of nearby Cuba. After Kennedy's assassination, Duvalier claimed that the killing was a result of his placing a curse on Kennedy.

In April 1963, Haiti was almost attacked by the Dominican Republic. Only the lack of senior military support for Juan Bosch y Gaviño prevented the Dominicans invading; instead, the conflict was mediated by the OAS.

By the mid-1960s it was clear that Duvalier had no intention of stepping down. In June of 1964 he proclaimed himself president for life and began to create a personality cult around the image of himself as the physical embodiment of the Haitian nation. Like some of his predecessors, Duvalier was often rumored to be contemplating making himself Emperor of Haiti, and ruling the nation as a monarch.

Reign of terror

Within the country Duvalier used both political murder and expulsion to suppress his opponents; estimates of those killed are as high as 30,000. Attacks on Duvalier from within the military were treated as especially serious; in 1967 bombs detonated near the Presidential Palace led to the execution of twenty Garde Présidentielle officers. His reign of terror kept the country in his grip until his death in early 1971, after he had set his 19-year-old son Jean-Claude Duvalier to succeed him.

Beaucoup de gens avait peur du Papa Doc parce qu'elles croyaient qu'il etait un houngan, c'est a dire un qui pratique le Vaudou (Voodoo).

Tortuga freeport

Beginning in 1967, Texas entrepreneur Don Pierson came into contact with representatives of the Haitian government in Washington, DC, while he was attempting to lease or sell a ship which had been used by Swinging Radio England broadcasting off the coast of England. In 1971 this marketing effort resulted in a 99-year contract being drawn up between financial interests represented by Don Pierson and the government of Haiti, for the development of a freeport on the island of Tortuga, which is the same year that "Papa Doc" died.

His son "Baby Doc" then took power and upon learning of a new multimillion dollar contract between the Freeport and Gulf Oil Corporation, Jean-Claude Duvalier expropriated the entire venture, causing it to collapse in 1974.

Preceded by:
Antonio Thrasybule Kebreau
President of Haiti
Succeeded by:
Jean-Claude Duvalier

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