Haitians, he had been warned, were too poor to be taxed. There had even been mutterings among the coffee-colored aristocracy about an armed rising. But last week, as President Dumarsais Estimé's income-tax law—the first in Haiti's 144-year history—went into effect, Haitians were too absorbed by the things Estimé was doing with his record-breaking $13,000,000 budget to take much notice of the new tax.
Chichi aristocrats and ragged mountain peasants alike chattered excitedly about the model town of Belladère, on the Dominican border. At a cost of some $600,000, government architects and engineers had transformed it from a cluster of thatched huts, huddled beside a dirt road, into a glistening modern village. To feed it, Estime had cut roads through the fertile mountains around Belladère, organized collective farms, and told the peasants that the government would provide five carreaux (16 acres) of land, with tools and seed, for each family who would work the land.
Two other such towns were already being planned, native industries had been developed, unemployment was down 25%. As tourist bait, the government had started building broad avenues and pavilions for next year's International Exposition at Port-au-Prince, and a new law required businessmen in the. capital's downtown district to install glass show windows and hang out electric signs.
The source of all this energy, jet-black Dumarsais Estimé, 48, was elected two years ago, largely on the strength of his opposition to the dictatorial mulatto President Elie Lescot. The grimly ambitious son of a back-country peasant, Estimé gets up each morning at 4:30, breakfasts on orange juice. Before 5, he tackles the pile of papers on his desk and with 45 minutes out for lunch and slightly more for dinner, works until midnight.
In Port-au-Prince last week, peasants were singing: "Estimé, c'est bon papa; he makes his people step ahead." The pro-government papers printed flowery poems of praise, in which every pronoun referring to Estimé was capitalized. To at least one Haitian, that was carrying things too far. Snorted waggish Senator Alphonse Henríquez: "Another Christophe! Another Toussaint L'Ouverture! Another Jesus Christ! . . . Hell! A motor in a pair of
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