HAITI: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy by Elizabeth Abbot

HAITI: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy

Email this review


Journalist, editor, historian, sister-in-law to the leader of the coup d'État that ousted the Duvalier regime: Abbott is uniquely positioned to write a well-informed account of Haiti's tragic past and present. This she has done with commendable objectivity. Haiti's colonial experience set most of the terms of its subsequent history. French landowners built a wealthy mercantilist colony upon an abattoir of black slavery: this brutal, savage exploitation killed almost a million in the course of a century. No wonder, then, that Haiti's war of independence devastated the land in a racial bloodbath and left it facing insurmountable problems: a narrowly based and ruined agricultural economy; the absence of viable political institutions; long-term racial tensions. Blacks, united by poverty and voodooism, came into increasing conflict with mulattoes, who controlled the economy and administrative networks. Political instability led to revolving-door regimes based on army support and terror squads. In time, Papa Doc Duvalier emerged as the one leader who could manipulate national distress and black aspirations into support for a stable regime. The price of that stability proved horrendous. Duvalier became a dictator, then demented tyrant, his role marked by abuses and atrocities. The poor grew poorer, while the elite ransacked the economy and allowed its agricultural base to go to ruin. Papa Doc's son inherited the nightmare, but proved incapable of maintaining his father's highly personalized reign of terror. History with a human face, effective, moving, written with surprising and admirable restraint.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1988
Publisher: McGraw-Hill