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Daniel Fignolé (1913 - 1986) was a Haitian politician who became Haiti's provisional head of state for three weeks in 1957. He was one of the most influential leaders in the pre-Duvalier era, a liberal labor organizer in Port-au-Prince so popular among urban workers that he could call upon them at a moment's notice to hold mass protests, known as "woulo konpresè" Template:Mdash Haitian Creole for "streamroller."

Early life

Fignolé was born in the coastal town of Pestel to an impoverished family and moved to Port-au-Prince in 1927 at age 14 to seek education and work. Despite constant ill health because of chronic malnutrition, he excelled in school and was accepted to one of the city's most prestigious institutions. He made a living tutoring the children of Haiti's wealthy elite.

Political rise

He co-founded in 1942 a newspaper called Chantiers with a liberal noiriste political slant. In it Fignolé lambasted Haiti's mulatto elite for their selfishness and argued for broad social programs to uplift the majority black-skinned poor. Then-president Elie Lescot responded to harsh critiques by closing the paper, firing Fignolé from his government teaching position, and placing him under police surveillance.

Fignolé continued his political activity, quickly becoming known among Port-au-Prince's poor working class as 'le professeur' for his impassioned orations, writing, and leadership of labor strikes. By 1946, he was known for having the power to instantly flood the streets with the urban poor in demonstrations. These flash mobs were called "woulos," or steamrollers.

The following year he agreed to lead Mouvement Ouvrier Paysan (MOP), which would become most organized labor party in Haitian history and largest mass organization in the pre-Duvalier era. It included factory workers, dockworkers, hydraulic workers, gas station workers, barbers, desert chefs, and laborers from other sectors. He wanted to run for the Haitian presidency, but at age 33 he was barred by the Haitian constitution.

Fignolé was at various points spied on, beaten, and imprisoned by authorities for his labor activism. Fignolé and Francois Duvalier shared in common a noirist politics of black empowerment, and collaborated at times in political dissent against ruling regimes. Under the government of Dumarsais Estime, Fignolé briefly held the post of minister of education. He refused to tone down his attacks on the mulatto elite, saying, "If anyone thinks they can stop what I am doing for my people, I will be forced to use my woulo to destroy them!" But unlike Duvalier, Fignolé had little political support in the countryside beyond the capital city.

Short-lived presidency

On 25 May 1957, amidst a chaotic election process and spiraling civil strife, Fignolé was designated as provisional President because of his unsurpassed popularity in Port-au-Prince. As Fignolé descended the steps of the National Palace on the day of his inauguration, crowds of ecstatic supporters waving MOP flags streamed into the streets and converged on the palace grounds. He pledged to raise the daily wage and expressed determination to remain in office, angering his opponents.

Although Fignolé promised an Franklin D. Roosevelt-style New Deal[1] and was explicitly anti-communist, his politics had long made him suspicious in the eyes of the Cold War era American administrations. U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Allen Dulles warned President Dwight D. Eisenhower that Fignolé had "a strong leftist orientation." The administration refused to recognize the Fignolé government, whose political program was seen as "comparable with the Soviets." Eisenhower told the French Embassy in Washington that he was worried Fignolé "might eventually become another Arbenz," referring to the social-democratic President of Guatemala overthrown three years earlier in a CIA-backed coup d'etat.

With foreign governments and most elements of Haiti's traditional power structure arrayed against him, Fignolé could not hold onto power. After just 19 days, the Haitian armed forces, with U.S. foreknowledge, broke into the presidential chambers. They seized Fignolé, forced him at gunpoint to sign a resignation letter, and bundled him into a waiting car.

From exile in New York Fignolé blamed Duvalier, a rival candidate for President, for his overthrow. But his demands for reinstatement fell on deaf ears. For days, rioting Fignolé supporters in poor districts were gunned down by soldiers under Antonio Kebreau's military regime. The morgues filled with thousands of bodies, according to media reports.[2]

With ties to the army, Duvalier won a sham election and became head of state. His family's brutal dictatorship, supported by the United States, would last over thirty years.

Return from exile

In 1986 after the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier, who succeeded his father, an ailing 73-year-old Fignolé returned from a long exile to Port-au-Prince. Scores of supporters welcomed him at the airport. He died a few months later.


Further reading

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