An appalling chronicle of Haiti’s ruinous progress, with Duvaliers major and minor serving as exemplars of venality.
Much of this book first appeared in 1988, when Abbott published Haiti: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy. In this revised edition, the author brings us up to the present. “Just as the story of the Duvaliers and the infamous regime they created continues years after the last Duvalier left Haiti,” she writes, “it surely began long before 1957, the year Papa Doc became President.” Abbott begins with the abominable French colonial period, when it was cheaper to work slaves to death in the cane fields—just buy more—than provide the basic means of survival. The earth-shaking slave revolt that bounced French, Spanish and British interests from the island soon slid into degeneracy, thanks in large part to the embargo placed on the country’s products by the United States, whose slave-holders feared the bad example and crushed the trade that would have ushered Haiti into the modern world. Bitter class divisions, unchecked violence and mulatto-black enmity also marred the country’s early years, as well as an atrocious period of American occupation, all of which Abbott spells out in passionate, excruciating detail. Then came Papa Doc Duvalier—again, such initial promise; he spoke of integrity and humility—whose reign of terror, pillage and debauchery was all about the micromanagement of greed and power through such vehicles as the voodoo and the paramilitary group the Tontons Macoutes. Abbott draws a forceful portrait of a tyrant who gradually destroyed the country’s agricultural base while massacring all dissent—the amount of grotesque violence in these pages is breathtaking—to create a poster child for international aid. So it goes, with one corrupt autocratic government following another, to the sorry spectacle of an earthquake a year-and-a-half ago still crippling the country today.
More than two decades later, Abbott’s theory of Duvalierism’s enduring legacy holds water.