1957-1986: The dictatorial Duvalier regime



1957-1986: The dictatorial Duvalier regime

François Duvalier, known as Papa Doc, was elected president with the army’s support in 1957 and ruled Haiti until his death in 1971. His son, Baby Doc, then replaced him and ruled until 1986. Papa Doc’s regime, the more brutal of the two, is said to be responsible for 30,000 to 50,000 assassinations and executions. The Duvaliers relied on a secret armed militia called [Tonton macoutes->207] (its official name was the Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale, or National Security Volunteers), which imposed a rule of terror on the Haitian population (Diederich and Burt, 2005). This regime qualified as a totalitarian one according to Trouilot (1990), who carried out a detailed study of the roots and forms of Duvalierism.

_ During this period, most of the killings and executions targeted small groups of individuals and therefore can not be listed here. The total number of political prisoners who starved to death, were executed, or died under torture in public or private prisons remains unknown. The regime did not formally record who was imprisoned and who was executed, nor did it even attempt to keep track of this. According to the National Palace Chief of Police, Jean Tassy, 2,053 individuals were killed from 1957 to 1967, in the police headquarters alone (Pierre-Charles, 1973: 56).

_ Beyond opponents of the regime, the targeted groups cannot be defined in traditional political terms, which made the Duvalierist violence fundamentally new (Trouillot, 1990: 166-170). Also, for the first time in Haiti’s history, women (Trouillot, 1990: 153 and 167), children and even infants were targeted by the regime. In several occasions, young children were tortured.

_ Contrary to the post-dictatorial periods in Latin America, efforts to record and document the killings and executions with precision were not successful, or were not officially recognized. The most exhaustive study was carried out by CRESFED, a local NGO (Pierre-Charles, 2000). For a detailed list of some of the victims of this regime, two victims’ and academic organizations’ web sites based in the United States can be consulted (Férère and Fordi9). For a detailed list of the most emblematic individuals responsible for executions and killings committed by [macoutes->207] and the military, see Pierre-Charles (2000: 45-49).

_ ** (Trouillot, 1990; Pierre-Charles, 1973 and 2000; Lemoine, 1996; Romulus, 1995)

1963 (April 26): In Port-au-Prince, [macoutes->207] carried out a series of assassinations of the families of alleged opponents to the government after a failed attempt to kidnap Papa Doc’s son Jean-Claude. macoutes typically raided a house of alleged opponents, killed its inhabitants, including elderly people, children and servants, with guns and machetes, before moving to another house of an alleged opponent of the regime. The Benoît, Edelyn and families were exterminated and their bodies left in full view in front of their houses. The Vieux family lost four of its members. Other individuals were killed in the street or while driving their car. The total number of victims was close to a hundred. Several dozens of people were also taken to the Fort-Dimanche prison in Port-au-Prince and were later “disappeared”, a method used afterward by the military regimes in Chile (1973-1989), Argentina (1976-1983) and Brazil (1964-1985). Most of the victims were from the military, social and intellectual elites of the country. The attempted kidnapping had been orchestrated by Clément Barbot, a macoute and former head of the secret services of Papa Doc, to whom he was close.

_ *** (Pierre-Charles, 2000: 85-86; Avril, 1999: 146-149; Interviews with witnesses)

1964 (August): Event known as the “massacre des Vêpres jérémiennes.” In the locality of Jérémie (in the Southwest of the country), army soldiers led by Lt. Abel Jerome, Lt. Sony Borge, Col. Regala and by [macoutes->207] Sanette Balmir and St. Ange Bomtemps killed 27 individuals (men, women and children); almost all of them belonged to educated mulatto families. All the perpetrators knew the executed families well. Several families from Jérémie (the Sansericq, Drouin and Villedrouin families) were entirely wiped out. A four-year child, Stéphane Sansericq, was tortured in front of his relatives before being killed. macoutes Sony Borges and Gérard Brunache extinguished their cigarettes in the eyes of crying children.

_ The websites mentioned above list most of the victims. These assassinations were ordered by dictator Papa Doc himself as a part of reprisals against an embryonic anti-Duvalier guerrilla group known as Jeune Haiti that had landed in the region (but none of them were in Jérémie). In fact, the killing also had ideological and racial dimensions, as [Duvalier->206] relied on a political ideology known as noirisme (“Blackism”), through which he claimed to promote the black masses against “mulatto elites.” Hence, the Duvalier dictatorship targeted mulatto sectors of society, seen as prone to political opposition, but also as illegitimate members of the nation.

_ None of those responsible for the killings and none of the perpetrators were brought to justice. In 1986, after the departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier, Colonel Regala, who sent the order to execute the Sansericq family, became one of the members of the ruling junta.

*** (Chassagne, 1999: 235-262; Pierre-Charles, 2000: 94-102)


1964 (July-August): Following a raid on June 24, 1964 by an anti-Duvalierist, Dominican Republic-based guerrilla group in the southeastern region of the country, the [macoutes->207] and the army carried out a vast repression operation and killed about 600 people in the towns of Mapou, Thiotte, Grand-Gosier and Belle-Anse. One of the killings has remained in collective memory as the “massacre of the peasants of Thiotte.” Men, women, children, infants and elderly people suspected either of having helped the guerrilla movement, or of not having opposed it, were slaughtered by the macoutes. Several families were entirely exterminated. A nine-year old child from one of them managed to escape but was later found and then brought to the Presidential Palace, where he was allegedly put to death by [François Duvalier->206] himself.

_ ** (Pierre-Charles, 2000: 90-94)

1967 (June 8): 19 military officers and high-ranking officers were killed in Fort-Dimanche by a firing-squad led by François Duvalier himself. All the victims were Duvalierists and close to the Duvalier family, or to Papa Doc himself. The rationale for the execution remains uncertain. The 19 officers may have been suspected or accused of treason by Duvalier, but historians reject this hypothesis and emphasize Duvalier’s the terrorist methods: he sometimes had his closest allies killed to ensure even greater submission from the military and the population. Statements by several officers have established that they did not know the reasons for their execution. The members of the firing squad, chosen by Duvalier himself, were high-ranking officers who were all relatives or close friends of the victims.

_ *** (Avril, 150-174 ; Pierre-Charles, 2000: 87-90).

1969 (April 5): Event known as the “massacre de Cazale.” In the village of Cazale (sometimes spelled Casale or Casal), North of Port-au-Prince, army soldiers and [macoutes->207] killed several dozen peasant families. A few weeks earlier, several young, light-skinned members of the Communist Party, a political party persecuted by the regime, including Alex Lamaute and Roger Méhu, had taken refuge in this town, assuming that they would blend into a population regarded as generally light-skinned (for having harbored many Polish soldiers after the war of independence). At the same period, locals had been embroiled in a tax dispute and had refused to pay taxes on the sale of agricultural products, which had alienated the Duvalier regime further. On April 3, several macoutes arrived in the area, set several houses on fire and raped an unknown number of peasant women. The following day, after the macoutes arrested two peasant leaders opposed to taxes, the local population burned down the mayor’s office and took down the black-and-red flag of the Duvalier regime (the original Haitian flag was blue-and-red). On April 5, 500 soldiers and macoutes arrived in the area and started the killing. At the end of the day, 25 bodies were found but 80 had disappeared and were never found. This represented the largest “forced disappearance” under the Duvaliers. Several families were entirely wiped out. In addition, 82 houses had been looted and torched. Cattle was killed or taken away by looting soldiers. Women were forced to dance and “celebrate” with the soldiers who stayed in the village.

_ *** (Benoit, 2003: 6-9; Pierre-Charles, 2000: 112-113)

1969 (April 14): About 30 young members of the Haitian Communist party, imprisoned in Fort-Dimanche, were executed outside the prison. A wave of repression hit the members and supporters of the Communist party during 1969, especially in Cap Haitian and Port-au-Prince. According to Pierre-Charles (2000), there were several hundred victims during this year alone.

_ * (Pierre-Charles, 2000: 105-113).

1969 (July 22): Massive execution of left-wing political prisoners, who had been arrested during the previous days and weeks. They were taken from Fort-Dimanche and executed, at night, in Ganthier, a village Northeast of Port-au-Prince, and then thrown into a mass grave.

_ * (Pierre-Charles, 2000: 125-129)

1971 (April 21) – 1986 (February 7): Regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier (“Baby Doc”)

The regime of terror and assassinations imposed by the [macoutes->207] and the military continued but no large-scale killings occurred during this period.

1977 (September 21): Eight political prisoners, who had been detained in Fort-Dimanche for several years, were taken out of their cells and shot by a firing squad in Morne Christophe, outside Port-au-Prince.

_ ** (Pierre-Charles, 2000: 78)

1986 (January 31): Army soldiers led by Colonel Samuel Jérémie killed nearly one hundred people in Léogane (Southwest of Port-au-Prince) during a demonstration of peasants who were (prematurely) celebrating the departure into exile of Jean-Claude Duvalier. (No subsequent reports from international human rights organizations mention this killing).

_ * (NCRH, 1986: 27-28)

1986 (February 7): [Déchouquage->208] of the Duvalier regime. Following Jean-Claude Duvalier’s flight and exile, a crowd of half a million people took to the streets of Port-au-Prince, chased macoutes and destroyed the symbols of despotism. The number of their victims remains unknown. According to Hurbon (1987), several macoutes were stoned and others were burned alive. In Delmas 31, the crowd discovered 7 prisoners at the private residence of [macoute->207] Ernst Bros (Pierre-Charles, 2000: 56). Most of the victims of this “popular justice” lived “downtown” and, therefore, were macoute chiefs of lesser importance or even “miserable wretches” (Trouillot, 1990: 155). About fifty Ougans and Mambos (priests and priestesses of the Voodoo religion) were killed for their links or alleged links with the Duvalier regime. Several dozens of individuals believed to be werewolves or witches were lynched by the mob.

_ * (Hurbon, 1987: 10-11, 155 and 143; NCHR, 1986: 53-59; Interviews with witnesses)


1986-1991: Military Coups and post-Duvalier repression

Between the fall of the Duvalier regime in 1986 and the December 1990 election, a series of short-lived military governments and coups d’Etat punctuated the 5-year inter-regnum. After a short period of collective hope, political repression resumed. Several notorious [macoutes->207], such as William Régala, one of those responsible for the Vêpres Jérémiennes, were promoted to political posts. During this period, the social movements fighting for the establishment of democracy, human rights and the rule of law were persecuted by the military, former macoutes and paramilitary groups called “attachés.” The military killed political activists and journalists and organized their “disappearance.” According to Pierre-Charles (2000: 208), more than 1,500 people disappeared between 1986 and 1990, most of them under the rule of General Henri Namphy, between March and October 1987.

1986 (April 26): Event known in collective memory as the “massacre of Fort-Dimanche.” Army soldiers and “attachés” opened fire on a peaceful demonstration attempting to honor the victims of the Duvalier regime in the Fort-Dimanche prison (the date of April 26th was also in reference to the 1963 killing). The number of victims was 15 according to collective memory and 8 according to the Human Rights Watch report (1996). To this day, no judicial inquiry has been opened on this event.

_ *** (NCHR, 1986: 18-19; Human Rights Watch, 1996)

1987 (July 1-3): Army soldiers killed 22 workers on strike in the harbor of Port-au-Prince. The strikers were part of a broader movement for democracy. To this day, no judicial inquiry has been opened on this event.

_ *** (ICHR, 1988; Wilentz 1990; Pierre-Charles, 2000: 141)

1987 (July 23): Event known in collective memory as the “Jean-Rabel massacre.” In the vicinity of Jean-Rabel (in the Northwest of the country), paramilitary groups led by [macoutes->207] and acting upon orders from a local land oligarch, Rémy Lucas, killed at least 139 peasants (300 according to various human rights groups and the OAS, and 1,042 according to Nicol Poitevien, one of the self-proclaimed assassins). Even the most conservative estimate makes it one of the largest massacres on a single day in Latin America in the 20th century. This massacre occurred a few days after Lieutenant-General Namphy, one of the leaders of the ruling junta at the time, visited the area and publicly supported the Lucas family and their rights to the land they claimed. The dysfunctional Haitian judicial system, plagued with incompetence and the lack of resources, was unable to carry out and conclude its investigation of this event. Faced with considerable pressure from human rights groups, the Minister of Justice eventually issued an arrest warrant on September 13, 1995. In January and February 1999, Rémy Lucas, Léonard Lucas and Jean-Michel Richardson were detained for a short period. On July 23, 1999, the Minister of Justice created a judicial commission to supervise the investigation which, to this day (May 2005), has still not been completed.

_ *** (ICHR, 1988: 81; United Nations, 2000: 9)

1987 (July 29): Army soldiers fired on a crowd protesting against the army’s celebration of the anniversary of the foundation of the [macoutes->207]. The total number of victims, 22, was disputed. Soldiers collected several bodies, which were not seen again.

_ * Pierre-Charles (2000:143).

1987 (November 29): Event known in collective memory as the “massacre de la ruelle Vaillant.” Under the rule of General Namphy, at dawn on an election day, a group of 50 to 60 armed men, composed of soldiers in civilian clothes as well as macoutes, killed at least 16 civilians in a polling station of the Ecole Nationale Argentine Bellegarde, a school in Port-au-Prince. The soldiers first shot at voters in the waiting line with automatic weapons, before continuing their attack with machetes inside the polling station. The fact that most of the victims were killed with machetes indicates that this was an attempt to terrorize the population and impede the voting process on that day. The total number of victims in Port-au-Prince that day was at least 34, although an observer interviewed by the ICHR (1988: 84) quoted the figure of 200. According to Danroc and Roussière (1995: 21), 60 other individuals were killed in the département (district) of Artibonite alone, also in an attempt to obstruct the election.

_ In 1991, the Minister of Justice of [President Aristide->209]’s first government accused army General Williams Régala, who was Minister of Defense at the time, of having ordered the killing and hence, requested his extradition from the Dominican Republic, where he was living in exile, but to no avail.

_ *** (ICHR, 1988: 81-84; Danroc and Roussière, 1995: 21; ICHR, 1992)

1988 (September 11): Event known as the “massacre de Saint-Jean Bosco.” Under General Namphy’s rule, unidentified armed men (probably former macoutes) killed at least 13 individuals (and wounded 80 more) inside the Saint-Jean Bosco church in Port-au-Prince, during Sunday mass. The assault lasted three hours, during which the attackers faced no opposition from the army, whose barracks were located opposite the church. This church was the parish of the priest (and future President) [Jean-Bertrand Aristide->209], then a staunch opponent of military rule and Duvalierism, who may have been the original target of the attackers, before he was evacuated from the church. In 1991, the Minister of Justice of President Aristide’s first government accused Frank Romain, who was Mayor of Port-au-Prince at the time, of having organized the killing and hence, requested his extradition from the Dominican Republic, where he was living in exile, but to no avail.

_ *** (ICHR, 1988: 22-23 and 103; ICHR, 1992)

1990 (March 12): Event known as the “massacre de Piatre” (also pronounced Piâtre or Piastre). Under the rule of interim President Ertha Pascale Trouillot, in the rural area of Saint-Marc (in the Artibonite discrict, North of the capital), three dozen army soldiers and armed local civilians killed 11 peasants, in the villages of Piatre, Déjean, Dupervil, Ka Jan and Ti Plas, in the context of a land conflict between local peasants and big landowners. In December 2003, more than 13 years after the event, the investigative magistrate (who was the seventh to work on the case) issued a report indicting 53 suspects, including the various landowners and General Prosper Avril, for nine charges including murder.

_ *** (United Nations, 2000: 9, NCHR, 2004)


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