In 1946 a group of Marxist students opposed to the Dictatorship of Elie Lescot, started a student movement that grew into a general strike ousting the Dictator.
Haitians overthrow a dictator, 1946
The Haitian President, Elie Lescot had been granted the powers of a dictator by his congress and was backed by the United States. He was representative of the mulatto ruling class during a time when black political radicalism was growing in Haiti. Lescot was also closely tied with the Dominican Dictator Rafael Trujillo. The Haitian student journal, Zinglins, had criticized President Lescot’s dictatorship and begun a call for freedom of press even as early as May 1945. The government quickly suppressed this opposition voice. However, the editors of another student journal, La Ruche, continued the criticism of the regime. On January 1, 1946 La Ruche published a paper declaring the year for the victory of democracy over “fascist oppression,” and calling for freedom of press.
Two days later, the police arrested the paper’s editors and the government prohibited the production of La Ruche. The editors were held in the prison in Port-au-Prince, the Haiti’s capital, for a day.
On January 4, Jacques Stephen Alexis, a young black medical student, met with the editors of La Ruche, Gerald Bloncourt, and several other Marxist student leaders to plan an action against the government and the suppression of their newspaper. They decided on a student strike to initiate a campaign to overthrow the Lescot regime. They spread the word to their fellow university and high school students that the strike would begin on Monday, January 7. They used coded messages to pass on information about the strike.
The strike leaders formed a new political party, Party Democratique Populaire de la Jeunesse Haitienne (PDPJH), and called for immediate elections, the release of political prisoners, and freedom of the press.
On Sunday, Gerald Bloncourt convinced a popular lecturer to speak on freedom in anticipation of the revolution. After the lecture they led a small march during which two of the leaders were arrested and held for the night.
The student strike began, as planned, the next day. The students told the press and the U.S. embassy of their plan to strike and march to the embassy for a demonstration.
The students marched out of their classes shouting, “Vive la Revolution.” Police beat them, so for protection the male students called on women from an all-girls school. The female students formed a wall around the demonstrators and the crowd began their march. They marched passed secondary schools to pick up more supporters and sang the national anthem along the way.
At the embassy, the demonstrators, which now consisted of students, some workers, and other citizens, encountered soldiers. The soldiers beat demonstrators and arrested several leaders. Later that day, Lescot banned demonstrations and national newspapers called on parents to control the youth.
On January 8, the student leaders worked on gaining the support of workers at all levels. Beatings against demonstrators by soldiers helped manifest this support. Storeowners shut down their shops and civil servants, laborers, teachers, and transportation workers joined the strike. Demonstrators in the streets banged pots. Four thousand people marched through Port-au-Prince to the presidential palace. These demonstrations continued the next day. Military soldiers persisted in their repression and arrests of demonstrators.
On January 10, as demonstrations continued in the streets, President Lescot declared martial law. In a speech to the entire nation, he stated that he would go to any measure to restore order. When a feminist organization later marched against the dictator, soldiers shot into the crowd, killing two demonstrators. In response to the shootings, demonstrators threw stones and started several riots throughout the day. Many other Haitian soldiers had refused to shoot at demonstrators, however.
Later that day Lescot’s cabinet resigned, unwilling to work for his regime any longer. The dictator was unable to organize another cabinet.
The strike included workers from every industry and had spread to cities around the country. U.S. owned businesses were forced to stop production during the strike. Upper class business people and workers formed a political organization in support of the students.
On January 11, representatives of the strike met with Lescot after previous negotiations and asked for his immediate resignation. Lescot told them he would resign in May. That afternoon, three military leaders took over government and placed Lescot under house arrest. They announced they would hold elections as soon as possible.
True to their word, the new regime held elections for congress and the presidency in May. Dumarsais Estimé, a black moderate politician loosely supported by PDPJH, was elected president and instated a mainly black cabinet. The Haitians had shifted the balance of political power away from the mulatto upper class and had successfully deposed Lescot.
Damien Revolt (1); Haitian democracy campaigns in 1956 and 1957 (2)
Parkman, Patricia. Insurrectionary Civic Strikes in Latin America 1931-1961. Cambridge: The Albert Einstein Institution, 1990.
Smith, Matthew J. Red & Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934-1957. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.
Heinl, Robert D. Jr., and Heinl, Nancy G. Written in Blood: The story of the Haitian People, 1492-1971. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1978.
Nicholls, David. “Ideology and Political Protest in Haiti, 1930-46.” Journal of Contemporary History 9 (Oct. 1974): pp. 3-26. JSTOR. Web. 28 Nov. 2009. .
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy:
Max Rennebohm 29/11/2009
Published on the Global Nonviolent Action Database