In of Haiti from 1957 to 1971. As

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Last updated: April 17, 2019

In 1957, Francois Duvalier was elected president of Haiti as a black nationalist on a populist platform garnering him support by distinguishing him from former light-skinned elite politicians.

In fact, Duvaliers race and background as a Voodoo student and medical doctor differentiated him from his predecessors as he was a voice of the majority in Haiti who ultimately increased national pride and Haitianized the Roman Catholic Church. As the predominant religion in Haiti, Catholicism constituted 80% of the population; however, it was Voodoo that historically functioned as a social glue. In 1941, the Roman Catholic Church purged Haiti of Voodoo temples, destroying drums, alters, ritual elements, and symbols. Duvalier used principle tactics of authoritarian leaders to gain power as president and he utilized his platform to transform religion in Haiti.The aim of this investigation is to analyze how Francois Duvalier’s dedication to Voodoo caused him to treat opposition from the Roman Catholic Church thus changing religious tensions in Haiti from 1957 to 1971. Ultimately, this investigation aims to examine Duvalier’s association with Voodoo and how this relationship impacted his relations with the Roman Catholic Church in an effort to distinguish a transformation in Haitian religious tensions.

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This investigation is orchestrated utilizing diverse sources extending from scientific explorations of conflicts in Haiti to Duvalier’s own beliefs on his exhortation of power and his religious background. Because of their in depth explanations expressing profound research and analysis, two sources present higher significance to understanding Duvalier’s actions regarding religion in Haiti. The first source is a fact-based exposition on Duvalier’s actions as the leader of Haiti from 1957 to 1971.

As a study conducted through the Library of Congress Federal Research division by Helen Chapin Metz, the source is valuable through its factual descriptions of Duvalier’s background as a student of Voodoo and his desire to implement force to weaken the Roman Catholic Church due to its vast influence. However, the undeniable disapproval of his actions is prevalent as Duvalier expelled the United States mission of 1963. The purpose this research serves is to provide a detailed explanation of Duvalier’s actions as leader such as confiscating property, arresting opposers, and exhaling bishops. Additional value is present through its interpretation of Duvalier’s progressive actions such as hatianizing the Roman Catholic Church, ultimately providing opportunities for the black urban middle class. Nevertheless, this content is limited through its lack of empirical evidence and unconscious bias due to its restricted national perspective stemming from the USA. The second source is a book titled Haiti Renewed: Political and Economic Prospects written by Robert I Rotberg, an American professor, in 1997. Its purpose is to explain  the roots of Voodoo in Haitian culture as a spiritual discipline while simultaneously developing the Roman Catholic Church’s discernment with the folklorique school of Voodoo. Its content identifies Roman Catholicism as the official religion of Haiti and its ties with the elite class.

It considers the opposing views of Voodoo as a complex and contradictory system which ultimately created unity within the government. The value of this book stems from its access to a wide variety of sources ensuring that it was thoroughly researched and able to provide analysis through cause and effect as it was written later. However, Rotberg is limited through his unconscious bias as an American historian and his ability to use hindsight to make evaluations of informative data.561InvestigationIn 1860, the Vatican signed a concordat recognizing Haiti as a country and established the first presence of Roman Catholicism in Haiti. However, the church was highly critical of Voodoo and it led campaigns to re-educate the public in 1896 as well as in 1941. In Haiti, Voodoo was not considered so much a religion as it was a spiritual system and discipline in conjunctions with Haitian nationality and ethos. It interweaved indigenous beliefs with Christian ideals to create a national identity of solidarity with shared values and a sense of community. A previous student of Voodoo, Duvalier gained credibility and fame in the 1940s through his medical practice by nearly ending typhus and yaws in the general population thus becoming the minister of health in 1949.

Voodoo was prevalent in Haiti from colonial times when slaves believed they could incur pain upon their masters with dark practices. It was also the driving force in the Revolution that allowed Haiti to become the first independent country in the Caribbean. As a student of Voodoo, Francois Duvalier opposed the church more than his predecessors and detested its alliance with foreign powers and the mulatto elite. Over time, the Roman Catholic Church gained an immense following in Haiti, with 80% of Haitians identifying as Catholic. Roman Catholicism was proclaimed the national religion and it came to govern the state, its structure, and the rise of the elite minority.

Due to this, Duvalier entered the presidential election as a Catholic and won power in 1957 under a platform of black pride. Because of its profound influence towards the Haitian people, Duvalier exploited Voodoo to maintain complete control as President. Duvalier bore a resemblance to Iwa Baron Samedi, an intermediary between God and humans in Haitian Voodoo folklore who resembled a corpse. Duvalier used this similarity to prey on the public’s fears of the dark side of Voodoo by insisting he ruled with the blessings of Iwa and claiming he could bring a wrath of pain upon those who opposed him.

As a born leader with a charismatic yet determined cult of personality, Duvalier was able to charm his way into presidency. However, it was his threats and use of military force to drive away opposition that allowed him to maintain power in Haiti and change religious tensions through an economic and personal agenda. As a systemic discipline, the exploitation of Voodoo is prevalent in the houngans, Voodoo priests, and mambos, Voodoo priestesses, who request sacrifices from disciples in form of money or food. Duvalier instituted this exploitation in his treatment of the  Roman Catholic Church which he viewed as a threat to his authority. The Roman Catholic Church was the only local institution with sizable support from the public that could create opposition to his regime and lead to his downfall as it had to leaders of countless other regimes.

Duvalier’s treatment of opposition was extreme as he ordered the burning of political enemies right after his election in 1957; however, most of his focus was turned towards the church. In 1959, Duvalier began expelling foreign priests garnering a gathering of one thousand worshippers. These individuals were met with Duvalier’s troops who were equipped with M-3 submachine guns that routed the public back to their homes ultimately injuring several. This violent approach towards peaceful opposition portrays Duvalier’s personal agenda to undermine Catholicism in Haiti. Duvalier believed in Voodooism because it had strong ties to Haitian nationality; therefore, he despised Catholicism for its roots in foreign administration and elite mulatto leadership.Furthermore, Duvalier treated opposition from the Roman Catholic Church by co opting clergy members, confiscating church property, and arresting bishops. In 1960, Duvalier expelled the French Archbishop Francois Poirier who renounced his actions.

These actions were executed to not only decrease the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, but Duvalier also aspired to improve the Haitian economy by increasing opportunities for the poor, black majority. By 1964, Duvalier had expelled the entire Jesuit order in Haiti. The vatican excommunicated Duvalier, yet he had no qualms about the proceedings. To Duvalier, a lack of foreign intervention in Haiti was essential to retaining his authority. However, in 1966, the Vatican bargained with Duvalier to end the oppression of the Haitian Church in return for jurisdiction in creating an indigenous hierarchy.  On October 25 in 1966, Duvalier succeeded the nationalizing the church. It was approved by the Vatican and Duvalier was appointed as the head of the church with the ability to appoint archbishops and bishops with the approval of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic Church, the Holy See.

This power granted Duvalier loyalty from the heads of the church which in turn decreased his opposition and increased Haitian nationality within religion. The Vatican agreed to these conditions to restore the faith of the people; however, the true victory went to Duvalier who utilized his power to ensure longevity to his position.Duvalier took advantage of his newfound position and decided to nominate four black and one white bishop. The creolization of the church aspired to promote black upward mobility by removing foreign influences and replacing the elite mulatto with the black working class. These promotions extended into the military and even into Duvalier’s own Presidential Guard and his army, the Tonton Macoutes. Duvalier’s ultimate goal was not to improve religious tensions, in fact he worsened conflict with his desire to control every aspect of Haiti. Duvalier was in charge of Haitian economics, politics, the military, and eventually the religious hierarchy. This authoritarian stance towards religion agitated foreign religious leaders and the Vatican as it undermined true religion.

The significance of Duvalier’s treatment of Roman Catholic opposition is clearly seen in the Haiti clergy. In 1970, there were 123 Haitian priests and 118 foreign priests; however, in 1980 the priests significantly declined to 114 Haitian priests and only 78 foreigners. The new clergy was profoundly local and had a strong emphasis on tolerance to Voodoo practices. These new priests enabled Voodoo to exist, ultimately rooting it in Haitian nationalism.

Francois Duvalier succeeded in maintaining power while simultaneously injuring religious tensions that were only resolved until after his rule.Following Francois Duvalier’s, his son Jean Claude Duvalier was appointed president of Haiti. Unlike his father, Jean Claude’s identity was not rooted in Voodooism; therefore, he undermined its importance in Haiti. The Roman Catholic Church supported this hands off approach causing religious tensions to ease once Duvalier was no longer in control. The Church went as far as to support the 1987 constitution which permitted Voodoo practices.

Ultimately, Duvalier’s personal history with Voodoo and violent oppression towards the Roman Catholic Church was detrimental to religious tensions in Haiti. Francois Duvalier’s dedication to Voodoo and fear of the power of the Roman Catholic Church forced him to decentralize the power of the church through expulsions, arrests, and deportations of priests and other key religious individuals. Voodoo is a symbol of Haitian nationalism and, although it is contradictory, it creates unity between the people through the creation of similar values and aspirations.

Duvalier was instructed under the curriculum of Voodoo and considered himself a houngan. Prior to Duvalier, Roman Catholicism and Voodoo coexisted peacefully. However, Roman Catholicism was the official religion of Haiti, therefore, the church proved a sizable obstacle in Duvalier’s goal of lifetime presidency with unlimited power. Consisting of French elites, the Roman Catholic Church was a bad representation of Haiti.

From 1959 and until 1961, Duvalier commanded the expulsion of Catholic priests and bishops regardless of threats made by the Vatican. Religious tensions in Haiti reached a pinnacle when the papal nuncio was withdrawn. By 1966, Duvalier had reintegrated the Roman Catholic Church and was made head of the church, awarding him with the ability to appoint bishops and pack the parishes with loyalists. Ultimately, Francois Duvalier sparked religious conflict in Haiti in order to absolve religious opposition to his rule, establish a profoundly Voodoo political system, and gain complete control over Haiti.ReflectionThe challenges facing a historian differ dramatically from those facing a scientist or mathematician in the sense that historians rely on human accounts of events and have to infer causation. When a scientist poses a question, they have a strict guideline to carry out the procedure entitled the scientific method. This method takes them step by step in establishing a hypothesis and eliminating error. For a historian, the method of identifying and analyzing historical events is particular to each topic and the information present.

Historians are limited by human error, misinformation, differing accounts, and bias. During the historical investigation, I often had qualms about making claims. For example, my investigation established evidence that would make Voodoo essential in Haiti due to its roots in nationalism and colonial culture.

However, statistics provided room for error as 80% of Haitians identified as Roman Catholic and Duvalier’s expulsions of priests were met with large gatherings of peaceful protestors. This caused me to question whether the importance of Voodoo was legitimately ingrained in Haitian society or if it seemed this way due to Duvalier’s influence as president. Additionally, I found it difficult to find sources with an accurate portrayal of why the Vatican decided to bargain with Duvalier and award him authority over religious hierarchy in 1966. The Vatican, a large and imposing foreign body surely had more than enough power to ensure the dominance of Roman Catholicism in Haiti without giving in to Duvalier’s excessive demands. I questioned why they felt the need to play by his rules.

The answer to these questions is found in the global context of the time period with the ongoing Cold War tensions. As Duvalier was against communism, the USA and the Vatican found it in their interest to deal with the bigger issues at hand. Mathematicians would not face this problem as their work deals with proven facts and is not influenced by outside political and social factors. Ultimately, the challenges facing a historian differ from scientific and mathematical challenges but, they can still be overcome through further research and evaluation.

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