Antoine Louis Léocardie
Élie Lescot (December 9, 1883 – October
20, 1974) was the
President of Haiti
President of Haiti from May 15, 1941 to January 11,
1946. He was a member of the country's mixed-race elite. He used the
political climate of World War II to sustain his power and ties to the
United States, Haiti's powerful northern neighbor. His administration
presided over a period of economic downturn and harsh political
repression of dissidents.
1 Early life
2 Wartime election
3 Failed rubber cultivation program
4 Decline and exile
Lescot was born in
Saint-Louis-du-Nord to a middle-class mixed-race
family, descended from free persons of color in the colonial era. He
Port-au-Prince to study pharmacy after completing his
secondary education in Cap-Haïtien. He settled in
work in the export-import business.
After his first wife died in 1911, Lescot entered politics. He was
elected to the Chamber of Deputies two years later. After a four-year
stay in France during the United States occupation of
Haiti (1915 to
1934), he returned and held posts in the
Louis Borno and Sténio
Vincent administrations. Four years later he was named ambassador to
the neighboring Dominican Republic, where he forged an alliance with
President Rafael Trujillo. He moved to Washington, D.C., after being
appointed as ambassador to the United States.
His close political and economic ties to the United States helped lay
the groundwork for his ascendancy to Haiti's presidency, and he
received the State Department's tacit backing for his campaign to
Sténio Vincent in 1941. Prominent members of the Chamber of
Deputies opposed his candidacy, arguing
Haiti needed a black president
from a majority African ancestry. Taking the advantage of Trujillo's
influence, Lescot was said to buy his way into power. He won 56
out of 58 votes cast by legislators. Deputy
Max Hudicourt claimed the
margin of victory was due to intimidation and beatings of legislators.
Lescot quickly moved to consolidate his control over the state
apparatus, naming himself head of the Military Guard and appointing a
clique of white and mixed-race members of the elite to major
government posts, including his own sons. This action earned him great
disdain among Haiti's large majority of ethnic Africans.
Poster from U.S. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations
Branch. News Bureau, 1943
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Lescot declared war on the Axis
Powers and pledged all necessary support to the Allied war effort. His
government offered refuge to European Jews on Haitian soil in
cooperation with Trujillo. In 1942 Lescot claimed the war required the
suspension of the constitution and had the parliament give him
unlimited executive powers. Political opponents were subject to
physical harassment and surveillance by security forces.
Failed rubber cultivation program
As an Axis blockade cut off rubber supplies from the East, Lescot's
administration began an ambitious program, in cooperation with the
United States, to expand wartime production of rubber in the Haitian
countryside. The Export-Import Bank in Washington granted $5 million
in 1941 for the development of rubber plants in Haiti. The program was
called the Société Haïtiano-Américane de Développement Agricole
(SHADA) and managed by American agronomist Thomas Fennell.
SHADA began production in 1941 with the provision of ample military
support per contract with the US government. By 1943, an estimated
47,177 acres (190.92 km2) were cleared for the planting of
cryptostegia vine, which was considered to yield high amounts of
latex. The program eventually claimed over 100,000 hectares of land.
Farmers in Haiti's northern countryside were lured from food crop
cultivation to meet increasing demand for rubber.
Lescot energetically campaigned on SHADA's behalf, arguing the program
would modernize Haitian agriculture. The United States also promoted
the project with a robust public relations campaign. Peasant families
were forcibly removed from Haiti's most arable tracts of land. After
nearly a million fruit-bearing trees in
Jérémie were cut down and
peasant houses invaded or razed, the Haitian Minister of Agriculture,
Maurice Dartigue, wrote to Fennell asking him to respect "the
mentality and legitimate interests of the Haitian peasant and
city-dwellers." But yields did not meet expectations, and insufficient
amounts of rubber were produced to generate significant exports.
Droughts contributed to poor harvests.
"The worst thing that can be said of SHADA is that they are doing
[their operations] at considerable expense to the American taxpayer
and in a manner that does not command the respect of the Haitian
people", concluded a survey by the US military. The US government
offered $175,000 as compensation to displaced peasants after
recommending the program's cancellation.
Lescot feared SHADA's termination would add the burden of higher
unemployment (at its height it employed over 90,000 people) to a
sinking economy and hurt his public image. He asked the Rubber
Development Corporation to extend its closing of the program gradually
until the end of the war, but was refused.
Decline and exile
With his government near bankruptcy and struggling with a flagging
economy, Lescot pleaded unsuccessfully with the United States for an
extension on debt repayments. Relations between Lescot and Trujillo in
Dominican Republic broke down. In
Haiti he expanded the corps of
the Military Guard, including a core of light-skinned commanding
officers. A system of rural police chiefs, known as chefs de section,
ruled by force and intimidation. In 1944 low-ranking black soldiers
plotting rebellion were caught, and seven of them were executed
That same year Lescot extended his presidential term from five years
to seven. By 1946, his attempts to muzzle the opposition press sparked
fierce student demonstrations; a revolt broke out in Port-au-Prince.
Black-empowerment noirists, Marxists, and populist leaders joined
forces in opposition. Crowds protested outside the National Palace,
workers went on strike, and the homes of authorities were ransacked.
Lescot's mulatto-dominated government was highly resented by Haiti's
predominately black military Garde.
Lescot tried to order the Military Guard to break up the
demonstrations, but was rebuffed. Convinced their lives were in
danger, Lescot and his cabinet fled into exile. A three-person
military junta took power in his place and pledged to organize
elections. In the immediate aftermath of Lescot's exile, an
independent radio and print press flourished and long-repressed
dissident groups expressed optimism about Haiti's future. Dumarsais
Estimé eventually succeeded Lescot as head of the republic, becoming
Haiti's first black president since the US occupation.
^ "Showgirl Daughter of Ex-President" (Vol.5 No.9). Jet. March 18,
1954. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
^ a b c d John Pike. "
Haiti - 1941-1946 - Elie Lescot". Retrieved 21
Smith, Matthew J. Red & Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and
Political Change, 1934–1957. Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 2009.
Haiti: HAITIAN RUBBER TIMELINE. Retrieved August 10, 2010.
President of Haïti
Heads of State of Haiti
Council of Secretaries of State
Executive Government Council
ISNI: 0000 0000 7821 6371
BNF: cb16715586j (da