Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier becomes president of Haiti

The high point in the history of Haiti, a tiny but densely populated island off Cuba’s east coast, arguably came after the slave rebellion and independence led by Toussaint L’ouverture. The series of leaders that followed were ineffective at best and detrimental at worst, and decades of political and economic instability followed. Out of that chaos by the middle of the 20th century emerged one notable character — Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier.

On this day, September 22, in 1957, Francois Duvalier was elected by a wide margin to the presidency of Haiti, with his followers taking two-thirds of the House seats and all of the Senate.

Francois promised to reform the country’s constitution, but mostly just solidified his rule. He “won” reelection by a popular vote margin of 1.3 million to zero, and used the sham legitimacy to declare himself, as did his predecessors, “President for Life.” His son “Baby Doc” ruled no better for 15 years before exiling himself to Paris, only to decide to return to Haiti after the devastating earthquake in January of 2010.