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50 years ago in Haiti

March 21, 2020

A story from my relative youth

My employer at the time, Maclaren’s, in cooperation with an American firm, had an Intra American Bank Project to build a water system for Petionville, a part of Port au Prince in Haiti. After the project was over, they needed some spare parts, which would be very complicated, if not impossible, to import legally. I had a trip to the Montego Bay project scheduled, so I was asked to go via Haiti and take the spare parts with me. For some reason I flew business class with Air Canada to Miami, and got talking to a diplomatic courier who was also going to Haiti, We travelled together on the Air France flight to Port au Prince. I had some trepidation about going through customs. When the plane landed in Port au Prince I was summoned to the exit, where a Monsieur Limousin asked for my baggage tags. He then instructed the chief customs official to find my bags and take them to his car. Rather subtle smuggling I thought, but I had not realised before that Limousin was actually the deputy chief of the Tonton Macoutes, the much feared secret police of Papa Doc Duvalier. I had been told that he would take me to my hotel, where I should invite him in for a drink. He would then have one drink and leave, refusing a second drink or dinner. Little did they know, he indeed joined me for a drink, and accepted a second and a third, He said he would not accept dinner but as I had never been to Haiti before he would pick me up after dinner. The consequence was a long night of touring the night spots in his chauffeur driven Mercedes. Anywhere we went they cleared the people from the best table, and gave it to us, with of course attendant dusky beauties. I set a record for the Company’s Haiti expense accounts, but they were delighted as they had tried to take him out before unsuccessfully. The fact I spoke French probably made the difference.

Walking around Port au Prince at night was perfectly safe for a visitor, anyone bothering us would probably be shot. On a subsequent visit I was looking for a well location outside the city on a rough trail. When I returned to the road I was stopped at a road block and taken to police station with a machine gun pointed at me, where I was locked in cell. Once I had persuaded them to make an appropriate phone call, I had Limousin’s number, I was released with many apologies. There were a lot of road blocks around the city, where there were armed guards, I accidentally drove through one one night and my passenger said keep going, they may wake up!

The best spot to me was the monastery above the city, where the monks made about 50 types of flavoured rum. Free samples were available. After all that has happened since I was there, I sometimes wonder if the beer is still made from the water in the well I picked out the site for when I was arrested.

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  1. That’s quite the tail and although I have heard parts of it before it’s the first time for the whole story

  2. Wow, I never knew you’d been in Haiti, more less with these kinds of exploits. We were there with the boys in 1986 or 87, shortly after Baby Doc had been forced out and it briefly looked like things might improve for the people. Sadly, about 9 months later that proved be anything but the case.

  3. Robin Andrew permalink

    I don’t think I’ve heard those stories before dad. Wow. Who knew you were so well connected ? 🙂

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