François Duvalier (French pronunciation: ?[f???swa dyvalje]; 14 April 1907 – 21 April 1971), also known as Papa Doc, was the President of Haiti from 1957 to 1971. He was elected president in 1957 on a populist and black nationalist platform and successfully thwarted a coup d’état in 1958. His rule, based on a purged military, a rural militia known as the Tonton Macoute, and the use of cult of personality, resulted in the murder of 30,000 to 60,000 Haitians and the exile of many more.
Prior to his rule, Duvalier was a physician by profession. His profession and expertise in the field acquired him the nickname “Papa Doc”. He would run in a unannounced one day election, would "earn" a second term. He took the title of President for Life in 1964, after another faulty election, and remained in power until he died in 1971. He was succeeded by his son, Jean?Claude, who was nicknamed “Baby Doc”.
Duvalier was born in Port-au-Prince in 1907, son of Duval Duvalier, a justice of the peace, and baker Ulyssia Abraham.His aunt, Madame Florestal, raised him.:51 He completed a degree in medicine from the University of Haiti in 1934,and served as staff physician at several local hospitals. He spent a year at the University of Michigan studying public health:53 and in 1943, became active in a United States-sponsored campaign to control the spread of contagious tropical diseases, helping the poor to fight typhus, yaws, malaria and other tropical diseases that had ravaged Haiti for years. His patients affectionately called him “Papa Doc”, a moniker that he used throughout his life.
The United States occupation of Haiti, which began in 1915, left a powerful impression on the young Duvalier. He was also aware of the latent political power of the poor black majority and their resentment against the tiny mulatto elite.Duvalier supported Pan-African ideals, and became involved in the négritude movement of Haitian author Jean Price-Mars, both of which led to his advocacy of Haitian Vodou, an ethnological study of which later paid enormous political dividends for him. In 1938, Duvalier co-founded the journal Les Griots. In 1939, he married Simone Duvalier (née Ovide), with whom he had four children: Marie?Denise, Nicole, Simone, and Jean?Claude.
In 1946, Duvalier aligned himself with President Dumarsais Estimé and was appointed Director General of the National Public Health Service. In 1949, he served as Minister of Health and Labor, but when Duvalier opposed Paul Magloire’s 1950 coup d’état, he left the government and resumed practicing medicine. His practice included taking part in campaigns to prevent yaws and other diseases. In 1954, Duvalier abandoned medicine, hiding out in Haiti’s countryside from the Magloire regime. In 1956, the Magloire government was failing, and although still in hiding, Duvalier announced his candidacy to replace him as president.:57 By December 1956, an amnesty was issued and Duvalier emerged from hiding, and on 12 December 1956, Magloire conceded defeat.:58
The two frontrunners in the 1957 campaign for the presidency were Duvalier and Louis Déjoie, a landowner and industrialist from the north. During their campaigning, Haiti was ruled by five temporary administrations, none lasting longer than a few months. Duvalier promised to rebuild and renew the country and rural Haiti solidly supported him as did the military. He resorted to noiriste populism, stoking the majority Afro-Haitians’ irritation at being governed by the few mulatto elite, which is how he described his opponent, Déjoie.
François Duvalier was elected president on 22 September 1957. Duvalier received 679,884 votes to Déjoie’s 266,992. Even in this election, however, there are multiple first-person accounts of voter fraud and voter intimidation.:64
After being elected president in 1957, Duvalier exiled most of the major supporters of Déjoie. He had a new constitution adopted that year.
Duvalier promoted and installed members of the black majority in the civil service and the army. In July 1958, three exiled Haitian army officers and five American mercenaries landed in Haiti and tried to overthrow Duvalier; all were killed. Although the army and its leaders had quashed the coup attempt, the incident deepened Duvalier's distrust of the army, an important Haitian institution over which he did not have firm control. He replaced the chief-of-staff with a more reliable officer and then proceeded to create his own power base within the army by turning the Presidential Guard into an elite corps aimed at maintaining his power. After this, Duvalier dismissed the entire general staff and replaced it with officers who owed their positions, and their loyalty, to him.
In 1959, Duvalier created a rural militia, the Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (VSN, English: National Security Volunteers)—commonly referred to as the Tonton Macoute after a Haitian Creole bogeyman—to extend and bolster support for the regime in the countryside. The Macoute, which by 1961 was twice as big as the army, never developed into a real military force but was more than just a secret police.
In the early years of his rule, Duvalier was able to take advantage of the strategic weaknesses of his powerful opponents, mostly from the mulatto elite. These weaknesses included their inability to coordinate their actions against the regime, whose power had grown increasingly stronger.
In the name of nationalism, Duvalier expelled almost all of Haiti’s foreign-born bishops, an act that earned him excommunication from the Catholic Church. In 1966, he persuaded the Holy See to allow him permission to nominate the Catholic hierarchy for Haiti. No longer was Haiti under the grip of the minority rich mulattoes, protected by the military and supported by the church; Duvalier now exercised more power in Haiti than ever.