Friday, March 7, 2014

The Moses of Port-au-Prince


On the heels of the US occupation in Haiti, many political and social mechanisms were set in place that would lead to an elite, fair skinned class and a poor darker skinned class. Several fascist style leaders would be in control of Haiti upwards until the 1940's and 1950's. This further widened the economic gap between the rich and the poor and entrenched racial/social barriers in the country. While there were several elitists that would keep the needs of the poor class in their agenda, Willie Lynchism was in full effect. To the poor dark class; elitist were not to be trusted. In the same many elitist in the country did not want to over-extend their agreement with rights for the poor in fear of losing status and being ostracized.

A noirisme movement or Négritude movement for a strong black political power was thus born amidst an increasing poor black class in the capitol. While the light skinned class in Haiti held all political power and economic power it was time for change. In comes Daniel Fignolé.

Fignolé moved into the city at the age of 14 and would work and school until he became a mathematics professor at College Odeide, Petit Seminaire College St-Martial, and Lycee Petion. Fignolé’s ideals would come from several Haitian idealists, socialism, and the heavy noirisme movement that was brewing in the country. He would often frequent Sunday debates with elitists that would draw many of his own students. He and several other partners (François Duvalier) included, went on to found a liberal newspaper called Chaniers in 1942 with a goal to “establish in Haiti true democracy in the freedom, equality, and culture of the nation.” His newspaper often called for reform under current president Lescot and was forcibly shutdown by then president. He was then forced to write for other newspapers often under pseudonyms.


Fignolé would find himself unemployed and in turn devoted himself solely to political activism in which he was an excellent orator; delivering his speeches in Kreyol. This being at a time where French was seen as a language of higher class. In a country lacking of good education he would gain the nickname, “le professeur” and become somewhat of an urban legend among the labor movement, poor class, and unemployed in Port-au-Prince with his electric style of speaking. He could generate flash mobs of people referred to as “woulos” or steam rollers that would flood the streets at a moment’s notice. 

His power in Port-au-Prince was so unmatched by any and all political leaders at the time. He went on to leading the Mouvement Ouvrier Paysan ("Peasant Worker Movement" or MOP) in his bid for a presidential election. Although he was barred from running for president, on May 25th, 1957 he would be ushered in as provisional president by demand of the masses and popular vote.

Like many other countries with radical socialist, anti-elitist presidents or leaders, this drew the eye from America. Under President Eisenhower, Vice-President Nixon, and CIA-director Allen Dulles, Fignolé was seen as a threat to US interests. The red scare was heavy and his views were quickly associated with communism although he never sided with the ideals of communism. His own plan was even related to FDR's new plan. Fignolé’s idea of redistributing the country’s wealth and not favorable to the US put him in the sights of the CIA. The US did not recognize Fignolé as president during his time in office. During Fignolé’s time in office, Haitian ties with African Americans was cut off because of their own civil rights movement (NAACP being a large force to call an end to the US occupation of Haiti ending in 1934) This disconnect was largely due to the death of Walter White an advocate for Haiti in the NAACP.

Without international support it was Fignolé versus the United States. Not only was Fignolé not in good with the US but he lacked support outside of the capitol in Haiti. On June 14th, 1957 a military coup (thought to be backed by the CIA) ousted President Daniel Fignolé. He would go into exile in New York. Haiti was then under military rule, Fignolé supporters massacred and then the Duvalier family would hold a brutal dictatorship of the country for years to come. Fignolé would return from exile after the Duvalier regime and pass away at 73 a few months later. Thus is the story of the 19 day, progressive, labor movement, and charismatic President of Haiti, Daniel Fignolé.

Written by: E. Rey


Smith, Matthew J. Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934-1957. The University of North Carolina Press, 2009. Print


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  2. Thank you for this information.
    Have you written more about my grandfather?
    Pierre Daniel Fignole III

    1. That is great to meet you, thanks for taking the time to read. My grandfather actually was a friend of yours and co-worker at some point back in the day. We should definitely connect email my account at send me an email!

  3. Awesome read!! Always eager to learn about the civil rights movement outside of the United States.