Joshua Keating provides a a brief summary of Haiti’s history over the last fifty years.
I encountered some of the turbulence of Haiti’s politics very indirectly back in the mid-80s, when I was working for Florida National Bank in Miami. I was part of a three-person team involved in commercial credit review, and was located in an office the luxuriousness of which was far out of proportion to my humble station. We worked on the third floor of the Alfred I. DuPont Building – a beautiful specimen of Art Deco constructed in the late 30s. The offices we occupied had previously served as the location for the executive management of Florida National; the head of our little group had the office that had belonged to Ed Ball, when he was in Miami (the trustee for the Alfred I. Du Pont estate, Ball had served as chairman of Florida National - headquartered in Jacksonville - for many years, and was Du Pont’s brother-in-law; he died in 1981). The other junior person had the office which had belonged to the former president of the Miami branch of the bank, and my office was, in fact, the old board room: marble floors, marble walls, and an enormous marble-topped brass table that had to be installed in the room before the exterior wall was completed, because it would never have come in through the door. I sometimes felt rather like the Doge of Venice in such surroundings, though the smallness of my paycheck inevitably and cruelly brought me back to reality. Bank executives had relocated to another floor as senior staff levels increased, and since the bank needed to stick us somewhere, we were plopped down in these rooms of almost oriental splendor.
In any event, I worked at the end of the table nearest a group of windows that opened out onto the street. In the mid-1980s, revolts broke out across Haiti against the regime of “Baby Doc” Duvalier (son of the notorious “Papa Doc”), and he fled the country in 1986. It was sometime in late 1985 or early 1986; I recollect that it was a pleasant, sunny day, and I had opened the windows. Late in the afternoon, a crowd began gathering in front of the Haitian consulate (across from my building and perhaps thirty yards further up the street). There were some angry shouts, which eventually rose to a series of frenzied chants, as the crowd – made up of Haitian political refugees, and now become a mob – began trying to break into the consulate. I learned subsequently that it had been the intention of the mob leaders to drag the Consul General into the street and…well, have words with him, to put it mildly. As I drove out of the parking garage to go home, I remember the sound of a roaring crowd and police sirens in the distance. It was a fascinating end to what had been a mundane day at the office (from the perspective of public spectacle, second only to the spontaneous demonstrations by the local Cuban-American community during the Mariel boatlift, when everyone seemed convinced – wrongly, as it turned out – that the Castro regime was teetering; on that occasion, I got trapped in the middle of an impromptu parade, which included a truck full of Cuban-American paramilitary types, and the crowds were cheering ecstatically. I was pretty ecstatic, myself, as nothing would have given me greater pleasure than to have seen Castro fall; sadly, of course, he and his brother and their vile police state linger still).
Not related to Haiti at all, but perhaps of some interest to those who are curious about the super-rich and the rumors that always seem to plague them, I recall reading an interview in Forbes magazine many years ago in which one of DuPont’s grandchildren claimed that Ed Ball and his sister-in-law successfully conspired to murder Alfred DuPont, the cause of whose death in 1935 was ruled a heart attack. The only thing I can now find in connection with that interview is the postscript to this online biography of DuPont. While I don’t recollect many details from the interview, I do remember thinking at the time that the evidence, such as it was, was extraordinarily thin.