First, a little background context:
Haiti timeline before Greene’s “comedians” disembark at Port au Prince
Big thanks to JamesC for working out the following timelines. James’ latest version appears first, just beneath the Preface.
Narrator Brown’s “present” is 1965; the rest is flashback
The principal anchor point to get the sequence straight is to realize that Brown is looking back and writing at some point not long after the US occupation of the Dominican Republic (which shares with Haiti the island of Hispaniola) that began on 28 April 1965. That is the present; the rest is flashback (sometimes flashback within flashback is at work: Part Three  ii is the prime examplar of this as Brown sits in the lobby of the Ambassador Hotel).
All I would add is that the following paragraphs are an iterative attempt to sort out and make sense of the novel’s fragmented and shuttling time sequence and to do so by identifying time-and-event-related references in the text (so there’s a bit of repetition as I stumbled about). These text references are then plotted against known historic milestones in US, Dominican, and Haitian history (with a couple of forays into events of the 1930s and ’40s: e.g., Imphal; Brown’s 1934 meeting with his mother). The exercise was (at least for me) useful in understanding the shifting events — but of most value in appreciating Greene’s striking craft as a story teller, even apart from the art of his characterizations, his themes, and his political acuity (whether one shares his views or not).
First PSYWAR battalion trooper hands newspaper to Dominican civilian
The time line really is like some knot one has to pick apart, isn’t it? As to Greene’s choice of the 1948 US election for Smith’s moment of fame, here are some thoughts that come from thinking about Brown’s comings and goings in Haiti. I think ’48 does gibe well for the reasons below.
Brown, of course, makes two arrivals in Haiti: the first is when he comes at his mother’s invitation (he had seen her but once, in Paris in 1934, since she left him at the College of the Visitation in Monte Carlo [Part One  ii]) when he comes alone by plane after a stop in Kingston, Jamaica; the second is when he returns from the US on board the Medea after fleeing Haiti the first time.
Brown’s First Arrival in Haiti:
Brown’s earlier arrival in Haiti (his first as we are told in the Part Two flashback concerning his mother’s invitation and its consequences) occurs, of course, in the run-up to Duvalier’s election in September 1957. That election campaign began some time after December 1956 when the military dictator Magloire had to flee Haiti, following his loss of popularity over the theft of recovery funds collect to respond to damage from Hurricane Hazel (some 14 months earlier in October 1954 — Hazel is mention in The Comedians, as I’m sure you will have noticed). Dr. Magiot’s reference to fearing the possible election of a country doctor unknown to Brown makes it clear Brown’s first arrival in Haiti must have been sometime in 1957, but enough before September to make Duvalier unknown to Brown.
Brown’s Second Arrival in Haiti:
Smith’s visit coincides with Brown’s return to Haiti (his second arrival) on board the Medea. That return is after Brown had flown, at some indeterminate date (though it could not have been very long before, because his hotel staff had not completely dissolved) to New Orleans and on to NYC. While it is hard to say just when that return would have been, yet, an educated guess is possible — and it’s not likely to be too far off the mark: If Brown’s second escape from Haiti to the Dominican (where he is aided in Santo Domingo by Smith, who happens to be staying at the Ambassador Hotel) can be assigned (and evidence in the text suggests it can be) to sometime in D.R. President Juan Bosch’s seven-month term, then the date of Brown’s second escape from Haiti must be (may be?) sometime between late-February and late-September 1963, when Bosch was still in office and not yet ousted by a military coup.
Judging from just how quickly events roll out after Brown, Jones, and Smith arrive in Port-au-Prince, the Medea must have docked some time in the second half of 1962 — as near as I can guess (and guess it is).
Why Greene chose the 1948 Truman-Dewey election year into which to inject Smith’s splinter candidacy, instead of the Ike-Adlai elections of ’52 and ’56, I can only guess. Possibly, being 14 years and four election cycles back, the ’48 election was long just enough back to seem vaguely within memory, but still not sharply recalled, at least as to who the splinter candidates (save Strom Thurmond) were. In 1962, Truman was still alive and in the news (recall his famous open spat with JFK at the Los Angeles convention), and Truman had been out of the White House a mere nine years around the time the Medea would have docked. (Truman was still alive when The Comedians was
published, though his health had been in decline since a fall in 1964.) There were a number of splinter candidates in 1948, including a Prohibition party candidate (Watson) and a Socialist VP-candidate named Tucker P. Smith (a name that somehow resonates with Smith, our Vegetarian party character).
That’s my best guess in trying to unravel Greene’s time line. I must confess I find it an enjoyable brain-teaser to sort it out, because the historical events all lie in memory.
Here is a revision to the time line proposed in an earlier email (see below):
The revision concerns only the first segment of his in-Haiti years that Brown describes: these two in-Haiti segments are, first, his initial arrival in Port-au-Prince at his mother’s invitation and, second, his return there after his flight to New Orleans and thence to New York.
(The back-and-forth shuttling of Brown’s account and of his reminiscences of his early life, his pre-Haiti years, is a separate matter. That he held a position of some responsibility in war-time London suggests his age circa 1940 was likely mid-30’s or so, perhaps as much as 40; but that matter is left vague. At the time he is narrating his story in the novel, he twice or more describes himself as old. As we know, he writes just post-LBJ’s invasion of Santo Domingo in 1965. Brown would seem to be 60-ish, suggesting a birth year of circa 1905; but that too is vague. Incidentally, Greene was born toward the end of 1904 — not to identify author and character with each other, however.)
Back to the dating of Brown’s initial arrival in Port-au-Prince:
A couple of hints in Part One  iii (pp. 75 and 91 of the Viking Uniform Edition) help to place the time of Brown’s first arrival in Haiti at his mother’s invitation. Looking back from 1965 (the year US troops were sent to Santo Domingo), Brown describes his initial arrival thus: “Port-au-Prince was a very different place a few years ago.” Then, he elaborates, though the capital was dirty and corrupt, even beggars had at least some hope. Later in that same subsection, after he is settled in the Trianon, Brown dines with Dr. Magiot who expresses his fear of impending political changes: “I fear a small country doctor. His name would mean nothing to you now. I only hope you don’t see it one day stuck up in electric lights over the city. If that day comes I promise you I shall run to cover.” This would date Brown’s first arrival and his inheritance of the hotel Trianon as not long before Dr. François Duvalier was first elected and took office as President of Haiti in September and October 1957. (With the backing of the military, Duvalier had run a populist, noiriste campaign against his mulatto opponent. This was before military elements tried in mid-1958, to oust him in a failed coup and before he supplanted the military with his rural militia, the MVSN or Tonton
The later events — following Brown’s return to Haiti from the US — can fairly be placed in the late JFK and early LBJ years (1962-65). But again, save for being able to match Brown’s references to historic events (Bosch’s presidency of the Dominican Republic and LBJ’s dispatch of forces), the time line is hazy.
Do others find the time line of The Comedians a bit hard to unravel? I know I did and so I tried to sort it out.
Here’s what I’ve been able to unravel:
It appears that, at the start of Part One, Brown, as narrator, is looking back on his Haitian experience and is writing in Santo Domingo some time after April 28, 1965.
That was the day when the US Marines and 82d Airborne were dispatched to Santo Domingo by LBJ to stop the civil war that had broken out between the junta and the supporters of Dominican President Juan Bosch, who had two years earlier been ousted from office by a junta after his brief term from February 27 to September 25, 1963. (As a time benchmark, Bosch’s ouster was about a month before the Diem brothers were overthrown in Saigon and just two months before JFK’s death.) Bosch himself had become president in 1963 after the nearly two-year period of unrest in the Dominican following the assassination of President Raphael Trujillo on May 30, 1961. That was about a month after the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.
Greene tips us as to the rough timing, but does not make it explicit.
At the start of Part Three  i, Brown looks back to describe his trip to meet Schuyler Wilson at the mining estate: “[…] there were no roadblocks in those days in the Dominican Republic and all was peace — there was no military junta — the American Marines had not yet landed.” The only period in Dominican history that answers this description of Brown’s trip to the mining estate can be the February-September 1963 rule of President Juan Bosch. This interval would mesh, if just barely, with the undetailed references in The Comedians to deteriorating US-Haiti relations: namely, Duvalier’s barring, on June 14, 1963, the return of US Ambassador Raymond Thurston, who had gone to Washington for consultations about declining relations (the US had earlier maintained that as Duvalier’s elective term had ended on May 15, he thus was no longer constitutionally in office — a position that enraged Duvalier).
(Background: François Duvalier, of course, took power in Haiti in October 1957. After an unsuccessful 1958 coup against him, Duvalier in 1959 created his paramilitary force to counterbalance and then supplant the unreliable army, calling it the Milice Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (National Security Volunteer Militia), more commonly known as the Tonton Macoute (or TTM — Tontons Macoute as Greene prefers). It grew quickly to largely replace the army.)
So, given that the TTM are already in firm control when Brown arrives, given further that he must have taken a couple of years to put the Trianon on a sound footing, only to see it decline (prompting his trip of some length to New York, traveling through Idlewild, which he calls it at the end of Part Three  i, and which was not renamed JFK until December 1963), and given finally that his trip to the Dominican mining estate had to be during Bosch’s 1963 term, the events of the book must (to avoid anachronism) unfold somewhere between 1960 and mid-1963. The comment in Greene’s “Dear Frere” introduction suggests he may have revised the novel a bit between the April 1965 Dominican invasion and its publication — which may account for the haziness of its time line.