HAITI: The New President

  • Share
  • Read Later

January's spontaneous general strike had turned out President Elie Lescot, but not Haiti's ruling mulatto elite. They dominated the new Constitutional Assembly elected in May. And they were all set to choose Lescot's successor last week when the volatile people they ruled caught fire.

Haiti's 3,000,000 poor blacks, who eat one meal a day and fight to live on about an acre of land apiece, had long been asmolder. Wartime speculation and spreading inflation left the masses ripe for rabble-rousing.

The Steamroller. Young Daniel Fignolé, a 28-year-old Socialist ex-mathematics teacher with a magnetic voice and brooding eyes, sparked the barrel of hatred. He picked a humdrum black soldier as the poor man's presidential candidate, promised the blacks the houses, cars and mistresses of the elite. When he visited poor black quarters, hordes of men, women & children in various states of undress pressed about his car, climbed on to it, beat voodoo rhythms on the fenders, danced and tumbled in ecstasy, roared: "Vive Fignolé. A bos la misère!"

In the elite's cool hilltop villas overlooking Port-au-Prince, the roar was all too audible. It was le rouleau compresseur —the "steamroller" as Fignolé's Mouvement Ouvrier Paysan was popularly called —trying to intimidate the Assembly into voting for its candidate.

Elite Assemblymen denounced the movement as fascist. The military junta met it with armored cars and mounted machine guns. The night before the election, voodoo drums beat feverishly in the lower town, and there were rifle shots. The Garde killed two, wounded 30.

When at last the Assembly met to vote, Port-au-Prince lay uneasy under the military. Then the rulers of the only country ever to see a successful Negro slave rebellion quickly elected Dumarsais Estimé, an old-line elite politician, to be President of Haiti for the next five years.