Jean-Pierre Cloutier

Note : Part of book review series.

The post-Duvalier era has already prompted several authors into putting in book form their perceptions of the why's and how's of the 30-year rule of Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier. One of the latest installments, and certainly a major contribution to the documentation efforts deployed by the literary crowd, is DUVALIER: Le pouvoir sur les autres, de pere en fils by Bob Neree, Deschamps, 238pp., $14.00.

Henri-Robert "Bob" Neree, 37, is a medical doctor who also holds a Masters degree in Political Sciences. Most of his professional life has been shared between public administration and journalism, often combining both. As a political commentator, he anchored a radio program on Radio Metropole called "La Politique des Autres" (The Politics of others). He had previously written in the daily "Le Nouvelliste" and had been the director of a short-lived weekly publication "Jeune Presse." He then moved into government circles, first as counselor at the technical cabinet of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then as chief of Cabinet of the last three ministers of Interior of the Duvalier regime. During this time, Neree is reported to have been the New York-published "Haiti-Observateur" Deep Throat inside the Port- au-Prince white house. After the downfall of Jean-Claude Duvalier, Neree became the Port-au-Prince bureau chief of Haiti- Observateur.

His proximity to the power circles qualifies Neree as a privileged observer, but the strenght of his book lies not with inside anecdotes (although there are some tangy ones throughout the text) but with a powerful analysis of the political theories on which Francois Duvalier based his "hereditary" form of government. In his foreword, the author hints at a foreign influence on Duvalier's political doctrine: "Hence, you are about to read an analytical essay articulated around a central thesis, that Dr. Francois Duvalier only adopted and applied to the letter a political philosophy elaborated in detail elsewhere, by a gentleman alien to the land of Haiti, and whom we will call the mentor of the dictator".

My first reaction was to think that Neree was referring to Nicholas Machiavel, the 16th century author of one of the great classics in political sciences, "The Prince." Insiders, right or wrong, had often reported the fascination that Jean-Claude Duvalier had for "The Prince" and for the concepts Machiavel had developed in what was originally written as an extended letter of advice to Laurent de Medecis "The Magnificent." However, I stood corrected reading Neree's book, as he unfolded an intricate structure of influence that was to shape nearly three decades of the Haitian political life.

According to Neree's hypothesis, one has to go back to Gerard de Catalogne, one of Francois Duvalier's close associate and press advisor. He contends that the introduction to Francois Duvalier's "Oeuvres Essentielles," (Essential Works) written by de Catalogne, "yields extremely important elements of reflexion for whoever seeks to understand the lines of force within Dr. Francois Duvalier's political beliefs." Among these precepts, "the hereditary transmission of power will remain the most typical and appalling approaches of Duvalierism" says Neree. He further asserts that this theme is recurrent within de Catalogne's text, that one cannot escape the fact that a staunch defender of French dynastic governments is mentioned: Charles Maurras. There are other defenders of the "strong regime" political option mentioned by de Catalogne, but Maurras seems to be the one whose ideas dominate. But not only does de Catalogne mention Maurras, Bob Neree reveals that both men actually worked together in the 1920's, time at which Maurras was proposing to re-establish monarchy in France. Strong parallels exist between Maurras' texts and de Catalogne's preface to the "Oeuvres Essentielles" and they all lead to one main concept: the perennity of power assured by hereditary transmission.

The transmission of power by Francois Duvalier to his son Jean-Claude finds in Maurras a clear and precise ideological support. Charles Maurras wrote: "The son of a diplomat or a merchant will find, in his father's conversations, in his family and society circles, in the tradition and customs that will surround and support him, the means to advance more rapidly that anyone else, either in commerce or diplomacy. The career of his family will have made him find the way of the least effort and of the greatest useful effect, that is to say of the best human performance." Neree quotes several texts by Maurras, and by other authors of corresponding ideology, all pertaining to Duvalierists concepts, all said to have influenced Dr. Francois Duvalier.

Although the search for the origins of the Duvalierist political theory occupies a good part of {.fa timesitl}Duvalier: le pouvoir sur les autres de pere en fils{.fa times}, several other aspects of the Duvalier era come under the analytical mind of Bob Neree: The relations between Church and State, the circumstances that led to Jean-Claude Duvalier's departure, and a brief analysis of the militia, the "tonton macoutes." Having had my curiosity piqued, I went to my bookshelves and retrieved my four-volume collection of "Oeuvres Essentielles" (Second edition, 1968, out of print) and re-read the Gerard de Catalogne introduction (appropriately located in Volume 1). I indeed found a reference to Charles Maurras, but also mentions of a plethora of authors, foreign and Haitian. Among the numerous quotes, one that I had forgotten, and attributed to Jean-Price Mars: "In fact, the democratic principles contained in our codes and charters are empty of any sense because there are discordant with the real state of our mores, and only serve to justify the exploitation of the mass by the elite." This, along quotes, was used by Gerard de Catalogne to justify the "raison d'etre" of the Presidency for Life concept, but Price-Mars' text was originally published in 1917 in "La Vocation de l'Elite."

Duvalier: le pouvoir sur les autres, de pere en fils is a very well written piece of analysis on Haiti, on the Duvalier era, and also on some of the enduring aspects of the Haitian political psyche. A must for anyone serious on understanding this country.

However, (on a personal note, and not intended at discrediting Bob Neree's book) I was not quite wrong (at least in this instance) in my assumption that Machiavel could have inspired the country doctor in formulating his political theories. The analogies are quite remarkable, especially in Chapter II of "The Prince" where the writer discusses "hereditary principalties." In these states, power is handed from father to son by simple right of birth. No specific leadership ability is required, no chance factor involved. Being installed without violence, the hereditary prince does not risk hurting his subjects, and these hereditary states seem easier to rule than "new" states. "It is in the seniority and in the long duration of a government in which the memories or the desire for change vanish; because each change leaves the corner stone of expectations for the next one" wrote Machiavel. Amazing how De Principatibus written in 1513 remains so current...


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On this site: May 18, 1997