My PTSD seems to be back. I can scarcely watch the news. In the day, I easily spent five to six hours watching, reading to keep informed and bring my analyses into my classroom. Watching the news every hour on the hour was a family tradition inherited from my grandfather who had the same regimen, till he died at 89 in full command of his faculties. His career became his life in fact, and as a pre-teen, I was regaled by stories of his exploits at his diplomatic posts in Paris, Geneva, at the Vatican, in Washington, and elsewhere. In effect, his stories were part of his country’s history, though I did not know this as a child. So how and where and when did the PTSD enter my brain, subverting my hitherto comfortable childhood?
In 1957, after a protracted electoral campaign, a physician, Dr. Francois Duvalier was “elected” to the presidency, with the help of the United States, against arguably better candidates more in tune with the Haitian citizenry. Senator Louis Dejoie, an agronomist trained in Belgium, an aristocrat who looked exactly like Ronald Reagan, had won over the population. However, the army leadership and the American government reversed the results, and proclaimed Duvalier the victor. A FOIA request to the State Department revealed the subterfuge years later. Subsequently, the New York Times later informed us that the entire leadership of the armed forces had been compromised, and were paid informants of the CIA, from their early years as sub-lieutenants until they reached the rank of general. I knew some of these people.
I was to stay up late that night to meet Senator Dejoie, since I was going to meet our next president, my mother told me. He came to my grandfather’s home at 88 avenue John-Brown, at 10:00 P.M., in his chauffered black Cadillac, with his body guards in tow. It was no secret that my family favored his candidacy, and our troubles started then. I was nine years old. My grandfather had just resigned his post as the oldest ambassador in Washington, D.C. at age eighty, as the political situation was souring in Haiti.
As Duvalier consolidated his power, aided by his anti-communist stance, the death of those who might, someday, oppose his rule, increased. Children were also killed. I lost a cherished friend, Mondy, who was 14 when he was murdered. The godfather of my sister, Marie-Francoise-Elisabeth-
The economy collapsed. We were once ahead of the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Bolivia. No longer. Corruption became a major factor, as hundreds of millions found their way to numbered Swiss accounts. The president kept reelecting himself, then declared that he was president-for-life, a title he transferred to his 19 year-old son upon his death. The U.S. Navy, within view, saw to it that there would be a smooth transmission of power between Papa Doc and Baby Doc. It was in the interest of the United States, not that of the Republic of Haiti. My childhood consisted of martial law, of nightly curfews, of executions by firing squads that were televised as warnings to the rest of us.
When President Kennedy was assassinated, the American embassy asked my grandfather to pen a few words that were published in its newsletter. He did so. By that time, there had been a falling out between Duvalier and Kennedy. Soldiers invaded our gardens in central Port-au-Prince, and arrested my grandfather who was then eighty-six years old. The maid, seeing the soldiers approaching, ran to the library where a superb photograph of Louis Dejoie hung, and buried it under a fresh pile of leaves that our gardener had amassed that morning. That might have saved our lives!
By a miracle, my grandfather was released after several hours of a menacing tongue-lashing by the Foreign Minister Monsieur Rene Chalmers, angry that kind words were said about Kennedy. Only my grandfather’s international stature saved him. At that point, my father – who had been shot at — decided to leave Haiti, and we settled in Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands–a favorite place for Haitian exiles in the 19th century, then the Danish West Indies.
When I hear that there might not be a transfer of power on January 20th, 2021, and when I see private militias being asked by Trump to “stand-by,” I shudder. Will I experience at the end of my life what I went through as a child and young man? Canada will not admit a man my age as an immigrant. I checked.