Antoine Louis Leocardie Elie Lescot
Antoine Louis Leocardie Lescot become president of the republique of Haiti on May 15, 1941. Issued from a privileged society, he used his political influence during the second war to claim the higher position of the land. He ascended to the presidency in gaining power through his ties with the United States of America. He was a mulattoe, issued from the elites and the post war climate allowed his administration to reign over a period of political downturn after many political repression of the dissidents.
Elie Lescot was born at Saint Louis du Nord (Nord West of Haiti) on December 9, 1883 in a middleclass family. His father, Ovide Lescot is a resident in Cap-Haiti and decided to protect his pregnant wife, Florelia Laforest, from his political opponents. He chose to relocate her to St Louis du Nord under the protection of her sister Lea, wife of a Guadeloupean business holder and sometimes architect, Edouard Elizee. Ovide Lescot was the son of Pierre Joseph Lescot with Marie-Michelle Morin but he later re-married to Marie-Fortunée Deneau who gave him two daughters: Therese and Leticia. Therese became the wife of the well-known poet Oswald Durand while Laeticia will marry Chery Hippolyte, son of President Florville Hippolyte.
Florelia Laforest had an extramarital affair with president Sylvain Salnave before knowing Ovide Lescot and a son was born. She named him Leon Salnave and he became naturally at the age of 14 years, the chosen godfather to his young half-brother Elie Lescot. The ceremony of Christening was performed upon their return to Cap Haiti. Elie went to school. first at the “Freres de l’Instruction Chretienne du Cap-Haitien”, later at the “Lycee Philippe Guerrier and finally at the “College Sainte Marie”. He met Anthenor Firmin who married his brother Leon Salnave’s older sister (Rosa Salnave), and others like Nord Alexis, Turenne and Jean Gille. He travelled to Port-au-Prince to attend the State University School of Pharmacology and returned to follow courses at L’ “Ecole Libre de Droit du Cap Haitien”. He decided to work in the customs at Port de Paix where he pursued a carrier in the administration as an Interpreter.
Elie Lescot met his first wife in 1907, a widow, named Corinne Jean-Pierre, who died four years later (December 1911) and no kids were born from this union. He entered the world of Politics to become a Representative at the Legislative Chamber of Borgne in 1910, he was then 26. President Tancrete Auguste named him Judge at Port de Paix in 1913. Soon, he met his second wife, Georgina St Aude. The couple had eight children from the union.
In 1914, Oreste Zamor raise an army to fight Michel Oreste and Elie Lescot is seen on the side of Charles Zamor, brother of the president and then Minister of War and Marine. I can’t confirm what was his military experience and skills but at the end of the conflict, he needed to take refuge in the Dominican Consulate, once victory was awarded to General DavilmarTheodore, to safe guard his life. In 1915, during the American occupation, he is seen working as a teacher at a secondary school in Port de Paix while awaiting to be commissioned at the civil tribunal under President Sudre Dartiguenave. In 1917, he founded the first Public Library in Port de Paix. The same year, he is seen using his talents of photographer helping Haitian dissidents to obtain proper identity cards with pictures to start working for the American sugar companies in Cuba. His connection allowed him to secure a position of Consul at Antilla, Cuba in 1919.
In 1922, Elie Lescot, his wife and his children travelled to France where he took residence at “Gagny, en Seine et Oise” to get enrolled at the “Ecole Etienne” of art to master the photogravure technique of Batik, a novel artistic way to paint on tissue from Java. While welcoming his sixth child, a girl, he developed a crippling pneumonia forcing him to return to Port de Paix, in 1926. Unfortunately, Mrs. Lescot, after her last baby, felt ill and caught the Malaria. She died from its complications. Elie Lescot discovered the world of Politics but continued to pursue his photogravure work as a pastime. He used the Company Paul Auxilla to dispense his production mainly composed of ties, handkerchiefs, robes and dresses for women.
In 1927, under president Borno, he was appointed at Port de Paix secondary school as the Principal. President Louis Borno called upon his expertise in 1930 to oversee the activities at Damiens after the drama of Marchaterre. He becomes the State Secretary of Public Instruction, Agriculture and Labor. At age 46, he moved to Port-au-Prince to take function of his Ministry although he was not well known in the capital.
On the 22 April 1930, Elie Lescot accepted the position of Judge of Instruction at the civil court in Port-au-Prince. A new chapter in his life was written. Meanwhile, a candidate for the Chamber of representative in the Plateau Central, Elius Elie was murdered and the judge Elie Lescot denounced Joseph Jolibois Fils, a very popular candidate for Port au Prince. He resigned his present position to pursue the function of Commissary at the Cassation Court and Judge after being appointed by president Stenio Vincent.
On the 17 of May 1932, he is chosen as Secretary of State in the government of Stenio Vincent. All these activities around him, created a world of intrigues and changes in his personal life. The year before, it was instrumental in spreading around many Dominican refugees to Haitian cities like Jeremie in order to control their illicit activities against the government of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. He helped disperse the opposition rendering a smoother relation with our neighbor.
On the 15 May 1934, Elie Lescot lose his ministerial position at the state department but is nominated Ambassador in the Dominican Republic. This allowed him to develop a closer relationship with the dictator Raphael Trujillo. He was later appointed as Ambassador to the United States, at Washington DC This last position will help him lay down the groundwork for his future presidency in Haiti.
In 1935, President Stenio Vincent took the opportunity to settle a controversy between Haiti and Santo Domingo by signing a pact restituting 62,956 squares feet of disputed land back to Haiti. Discussions at the National Assembly to recommend both presidents Rafael Leonidas Trujillo and Stenio Vincent for the Nobel Price of Peace were recorded. Elie Lescot was still Haitian Ambassador to Santo Domingo when he took part in a delegation in Argentina to participate at the OTAN under the supervision of the US president Franklyn Delano Roosevelt in 1936.
Lescot remained close to Rafael Trujillo but secretly worked at discouraging Stenio Vincent from looking for a third mandate. He kept close ties with Demosthene Calixte ex commanding officer at the National Guard, Julio Jean-Pierre Audain, ex private secretary and also Duluy Lamothe ex officer in the National guard. He used a game of intimidation to discourage Stenio Vincent for reaching his goal.
Lescot and Vincent had different visions for the country. Frederick Duvignault an allied of Vincent, figured on the list of candidates to succeed Vincent but Lescot planned his ascension in using his contacts at the State Department in Washington DC. Elie Lescot became rapidly the chosen one to succeed Stenio Vincent in 1941, although he encountered a strong opposition from the Haitian Congress. His nomination was certainly backed out by his powerful neighbor, the dictator Rafael Trujillo who assured his victory by possibly ways of intimidation, leading to a suffrage of 56 voices on 58. Some deputies may have contested the results especially the legislator (Deputy) Max Hudicourt, but this did not stop Elie Lescot from becoming the 31st president of Haiti.
When he took commands, Lescot appointed himself his Military commanders among them, his own son Roger, a lieutenant. The black bourgeoisie expressed some disdain. He soon declared war to Germany and its allies once he heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor and joined the United States into the second world war. He imposed a suspension of the constitution and requested unlimited executive powers from the parliament. Political opponents were kept at distance and were subjected to physical harassments and surveillance by security forces.
The second war bought a penury of rubber when the East cut off all supply. The United States discussed with the government of Haiti an ambitious program to expand the wartime production of rubber in the countryside of the country. Not too many remember much about SHADA. In fact, SHADA was the “Societe Haitiano-Americaine du Development Agricole” financed by a grant of 5 million dollars, from the Export-Import Bank of Washington DC. November 11. The US Rubber Development Corp gave SHADA a war production contract.
The production of rubber started in 1941 with the military support of the United States army and managed by the American agronomist Thomas Fennell. Almost 50,000 (200 Kilometer square) acres of land were cleared for planting the “cryptostegia vine” able to produce latex. At the end, more land was needed, affecting the cultivation of our farmers in the north of the country. Peasant’s families were forcedly displaced from their home allowing the government to cut millions of fruit-bearing trees in Jeremie. Their houses were invaded or razed, forcing the Haitian Minister of Agriculture Maurice Dartigue to address the matter with the agronomist Fennell, asking him to respect the sovereignty of the Haitian peasant. Unfortunately, the project finally failed because of an insufficient production of rubber and once the program cancelled, the US government offered a sum of $ 175.000 in compensation to the displaced families of peasants.
Elie Lescot counted so much on this program to revive the Haitian dormant agriculture but the termination of the SHADA project imposed an unexpected unemployment for 90,000 people with an economy already sinking, hurting his public image. The government was near bankruptcy and faced debts of re-payments. By this time, Elie Lescot was unable to count on his relations with Santo Domingo and Rafael Trujillo which deteriorated over the years especially after the murder of thousands of Haitian workers.
A sugar factory in La Romana (Zafra: 1941-1942) requested hand power for their sugar cane harvest and the Dominican company entered in contract with the businessman Oswald Brandt requesting him to furnish around 1700 Haitian employees. Gontran Rouzier, the Haitian Under State Secretary insisted that a contract between both governments needed to be implemented, especially after the incident in which Trujillo murdered thousands of Haitian workers 4 years prior. Trujillo was re-elected but the relation between the two presidents become hostile. In 1944, Trujillo even plotted to kill Elie Lescot at Belladere. In response, Lescot welcomed Juan Bosh with open arms and helped him secure a loan of 20,00 dollars through the BNRH (Banque Nationale de la Republique D’Haiti) which Bosh only re-paid partially.
Elie Lescot beefed up his military Guards and started a system of rural police in forming police chiefs, called “Chefs section”. These chiefs were ruling by intimidation. Soon army soldiers in low ranks were plotting a rebellion in 1944. Many were punished once the plot was discovered and some lost their life in this process, others were court-martialed. The same year, Lescot extended his presidential term from 5 years to a seven years but was unable to muzzle the opposition which encourage many student demonstrations until a true revolt started in Port-au-Prince.
A group of popular leaders went on strike and a large crowd manifested in the streets and around the national palace, voicing their discontent. Soon, in the military ranks, a division among the high ranked officers, was noted. Attempts at breaking the demonstrations failed. Elie Lescot felt a menace for his life. He was forced to resign and flew into exile. A three-person military junta took over the commands of the country and pledged to organize future elections. President Dumarsais Estime succeeded to President Elie Lescot and become the first black president in the post US occupation era.
The Administration Lescot created “The State University of Haiti” to dispense superior education (Law # 469, on December 27, 1944). The “Nationalization of the Lottery” from Mr. Edouard Esteve (Law # 122, on March 19, 1942). The construction of “Cite Notre Dame” (Cite Elie Lescot) in Cap Haiti (law # 35, on 24 September 1943). The Sanatorium (Law # 299, on July 23, 1943). A mandatory social service was implemented for any new physician to pass two years in provinces after their regular training. An airport at Chancerelles (Bowen Field) for military and commercial flights (Law # 218 on October 1942). Many other projects were studied but didn’t see light, like the Hydro-electrical plants of Basin Zim, Peligre and Saut d’Eau, because of the lack of financial support. Many of our military pilots participated in the war activities as part of the Tuskegee black squadron unit in Alabama. They saw action over the skies of Berlin at the end of the second World War.
President Elie Lescot went into exile in Canada with empty pockets. Some will report that he lived in an extreme poverty because the government of Estime refused to allocate him a pension. He has not used money from the finances of the country to fill up his bags. He left enough liquidity to allow his successors to initiate large projects of infrastructure. He needs to be given credit for trying to build up a strong economy. He bought public computability into his administration. Many believed that he was with Christophe, Boyer, Leconte. Borno, a president who left an administration with a lot of discipline in the affairs of the country.
Elie Lescot was a Haitian lawyer, ex-president of Haiti who has kept many different functions in the previous governments. He was an Ambassador, a Judge and fill up the position of Minister. We can keep going telling about his actions as a political man but we have also to add that he received many decorations for his actions like the Grand Cross Juan Duarte in Dominican Republic, the Vasco Nunez de Balboa in Panama, the Carlos Manuel de Cespedes in Cuba, Honeur et Merite in Haiti, Collar Libertador in Venezuela, Gran Collar in Aquila Azteca in Mexico, and Gran collar del Merito in Chile. What a Curriculum!
it has been reported that President Elie Lescot described in his memoires the difficulties he encountered working on the sidewalk of “Rue Lorimier”? in the south of Montreal, selling items like ties. In fact, he went to Ottawa and continued to perform in his favorite art, the Batik photogravure to feed his family. He finally received his presidential pension at the term of the Estime presidency when a military Junta headed by Colonel Paul Eugene Magloire, General Frank Lavaud, Colonel Antoine Levelt took the direction of the country in hand, on January 11, 1946.
President Elie Lescot was allowed to return to his native Haiti in 1956 under the administration Paul Eugene Magloire. He lived a quiet life among his family members, allowing him to write his memoires. I kept in souvenir, this retired president I knew, very calm and loving, telling stories to the kids of the neighborhood at his in-law residence (St Aude) on John Brown avenue (Lalue). We were then nine or ten years old and we enjoyed sitting around him to listen to his narration. He died silently on the 20 October 1973 at his residence in Laboule. He was 91. May he rest in Peace.
I want to thank Pierre Lescot, his grandson for reviewing this manuscript. I used in reference the book he published on the life of such an honorable man: “Parcours Meconnu de Elie Lescot, Ancient President d’Haiti” and other references as noted below.
Maxime Coles MD
1. Matthew J Smith (Dec 2004). “Vive 1804, The Haitian Revolution and the Revolutionary Generation of 1946”. Caribbean quarterly. Taylor and Francis Ltd 50 (41) pp 45-41.
2. John Pike: Haiti 1941-1946/ “Elie Lescot” 21 December 2014.
3. Haitian Rubber Timeline. (Haiti, August 2010).
4. Smith, Matthew J, Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism and Political Change, 1934-1957. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.
5. Imprimeries de l’Etat D’Haiti, Bulletin des Actes et Lois 1941-1946.
6. Lescot Pierre: “Parcours Meconnu de Elie Lescot, Ancient President d’Haiti”.
7. Turnier Alain: “Quand la Nation Demande des Comptes”.
8. Claude B. Auguste: Apercu sur l’Histoire de L’Union Nationale Des Etudiants Haitiens (UNDEH).
9. Monitor Journal Publications: 1941-1946.
10. Haiti Observer: 17 April 2013.
11. Marcel B. Auguste: Elie Lescot, Coup d’oeuil sur une administration 1941-1946.
12. Compagnie Biographique: Livre Bleu d’Haiti.
13. Julio Jean-Pierre Audain: Les Ombres d’une Politique Nefaste.
14. Roger Lescot: Souvenirs De Mes Douze Ans Dans l’Armée d’Haiti.