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1950-1957 - Paul Magloire

The power balance within the junta had shifted between 1946 and 1950. Lavaud was the preeminent member at the time of the first coup, but Paul E. Magloire, commander of the Presidential Guard, now a colonel, dominated after Estimé's overthrow. When Haiti announced that its first direct elections (all men twenty-one or over were allowed to vote) would be held on October 8, 1950, Magloire resigned from the junta and declared himself a candidate for president. In contrast to the chaotic political climate of 1946, the campaign of 1950 proceeded under the implicit understanding that only a strong candidate backed by both the army and the elite would be able to take power. Facing only token opposition, Magloire won the election and assumed office on December 6.

Magloire restored the elite to prominence. The business community and the government benefited from favorable economic conditions until Hurricane Hazel hit the island in 1954. Haiti made some improvements on its infrastructure, but most of these were financed largely by foreign loans. By Haitian standards, Magloire's rule was firm, but not harsh: he jailed political opponents, including Fignolé, and shut down their presses when their protests grew too strident, but he allowed labor unions to function, although they were not permitted to strike.

It was in the arena of corruption, however, that Magloire overstepped traditional bounds. The president controlled the sisal, cement, and soap monopolies. He and other officials built imposing mansions. The injection of international hurricane relief funds into an already corrupt system boosted graft to levels that disillusioned all Haitians. To make matters worse, Magloire followed in the footsteps of many previous presidents by disputing the termination date of his stay in office. Politicians, labor leaders, and their followers flocked to the streets in May 1956 to protest Magloire's failure to step down. Although Magloire declared martial law, a general strike essentially shut down Port-au-Prince. Again like many before him, Magloire fled to Jamaica, leaving the army with the task of restoring order.

The period between the fall of Magloire and the election of Duvalier in September 1957 was a chaotic one, even by Haitian standards. Three provisional presidents held office during this interval; one resigned and the army deposed the other two, Franck Sylvain and Fignolé. Duvalier is said to have engaged actively in the behind-the-scenes intrigue that helped him to emerge as the presidential candidate that the military favored. The military went on to guide the campaign and the elections in a way that gave Duvalier every possible advantage.

Most political actors perceived Duvalier -- a medical doctor who had served as a rural administrator of a United States-funded anti-yaws campaign before entering the cabinet under Estimé -- as an honest and fairly unassuming leader without a strong ideological motivation or program. When elections were finally organized, this time under terms of universal suffrage (both men and women now had the vote), Duvalier, a black, painted himself as the legitimate heir to Estimé. This approach was enhanced by the fact that Duvalier's only viable opponent, Louis Déjoie, was a mulatto and the scion of a prominent family. Duvalier scored a decisive victory at the polls. His followers took two-thirds of the legislature's lower house and all of the seats in the Senate.




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Page last modified: 02-08-2011 16:44:45 ZULU