Originally: The New Face of Macoutism: Headless Cadavers
Exclusive translation by Haiti Democracy Project
A wave of death seems to have come upon Haiti, affecting every sector of society, even the churches. Meanwhile, the calls for help are answered by improvisation, based upon the urgency of each case, while the resources of the country are thinning away, if not wasted by inaction. Since 1957, state terrorism has been used as if the law no longer existed, although the law was piously evoked, or perversely interpreted, or created as needed to justify the crimes of the regime. It is since that time, in 1957, that the Haitian government became involved in crime, when its rhetoric of defiance and violence was coupled with the most sadistic practices of torture and simple elimination of individuals. Without realizing that, at the end, the government would cease to be normative and destroy itself in this bulimia for death. When, for the fun of it, children cut off the head of a police officer coming back home from work, it is the entire society which is self-destroying by a reduction of itself to nothing in the horror and sterility of death. When the victims are chosen at random, this roulette game does not only destroy one life, it destroys the reason to live together, and animalizes the relationship between people. A regime of this type, predator and murderer, becomes the center of corruption, a kind of apocalyptic animal, the master of terror who imposes silence and obedience.
What was at the root of that anger and violence? Was it exasperation in the civil society and in the political families, following the American occupation and, later, after the multiple interventions of the military, who took over in 1946 to put a stop to the “revolution,” and then overthrew the Estime government in 1950, to remain in power for the next six years? Unable, at that point, to manage a reasonable transition toward democracy, the military had no choice but to stick around, waiting for its next opportunity to seize power again. Then followed nine tumultuous months, with plenty of noise and agitation. Once more, the military played the role of schoolmaster and eventually installed as president a doctor who had worked for the American Sanitary Mission (MSA) in a program to eradicate yaws and malaria, and who was not expected to cause any big problem.
That doctor, however, was not a greater friend of democracy than was the military. Even before General Magloire left for exile, specialized groups supporting Dr. Duvalier had used explosives, and, right after Duvalier was sworn into office on September 22, 1957, a team of military men serving in the palace, along with hooded civilians (soon to be called the “Tonton Macoutes”) headed by Clement Barbot, the self-appointed head of the secret police, undertook to eliminate the other political groups. Afterwards, they attacked the media and uncooperative elected officials, such as Thomas Desulme (who then lost two sons), Jean David, Jean Belizaire, Senator-Pastor Yvon Emmanuel Moreau, Representative Frank J. Seraphin, and later they undertook to subdue the students, the labor unions, and even the Catholic Church (three bishops, fifty-two priests, and two religious orders?the Jesuits and the Holy Spirit Fathers?were expelled). Besides silence and obedience, three choices were available: go to jail, be killed, or leave the country? It took seven years to do the job and reach the vigorously-sought objective: absolute power, and the proclamation of Duvalier as president-for-life. During that period of nightmare, those who had previously enjoyed the status of citizens were living in an anachronistic and timeless republic, governed by a psychopath whose speeches were broken and mystico-heroical, and who did not mind watching torture and directing with gusto the scenarios of executions.
The strongman calling the shots was not General Anthonio Th. Kebreau (whose middle initials “Th” were translated into “Thompson” in the popular language), in spite of the support that he had given to Duvalier, and that he received himself from Trujillo. Kebreau was too new in politics and too hesitant for that time, and the military was silently divided by open or unspoken political differences, but mostly by Duvalier?s insidious propaganda among the enlisted men and warrant officers, based on ethnic mysticism.
The brain and the hand behind this work was Clement Barbot
This man, always in black suit and wearing black sunglasses, handling his machine gun like a drum major, inspired fear wherever he went, even by the rattling sound of his DKW jeep. The head and organizer of the “hooded men,” soon to be called “Tonton Macoutes” in the popular language and named, after July 29, 1958, the “National Security Volunteers” (VSN), did not look at all like the anticipated image of a “macoute.” Since September 22, 1957, when Francois Duvalier was proclaimed president of the Republic for a term of six years, the man with the dark glasses was handing out his business card as the “Chief of the Secret Police.” The team operating under Barbot from the national palace, including civilian and military men, had other concerns than acting as democrats. Dr. Duvalier?s “sacred mission” was about something else. It was about his person. It had but one name: “pouvwa” (power).
No one had any idea that, behind the image of a doctor who had worked with the American Sanitary Mission, was a psychopath on his way to absolute power, who had once said to Barbot: “I will have to eliminate two hundred to three hundred persons a year.” It was already the formulation of one of Aristide’s major political rules, stated during a visit at the Police Headquarters: “Zero Tolerance”. Deep inside himself, Duvalier knew that he could establish his absolute power only by physically eliminating all his opponents. To neutralize the military, in addition to the bloody political purges (during which more than 125 officers disappeared, including 70 on April 26, 1963 only), he had to establish an absolute control over the weapons and ammunition, always carefully counted, while he paralleled the military with the VSN force, which answered to himself alone. Moreover, he had to maintain a level of terror which precluded any idea of revolt. The word “politics” became a taboo. The Haitian people were even supposed to forget about the word “elections.” Laws were promulgated to rationalize the actions of the regime. There is nothing like an administration operating outside the law, to use the law like a boomerang. The principle was that all citizens were presumed guilty. Guilty of what? Of existing. Permanent suspicion was then the rule. If it’s not you, it’s your brother. That lasted twenty-nine years. That is still here.
The Duvaliers, father and son, are gone. But their heritage remains. It was the military, who inherited power in 1986. The heritage of the “Macoute” system is thus among us, and still survives in spite of the magnitude of the democratic movement. From that heritage, Aristide kept neither the military nor the Macoutes. One could believe for a while that he was about to choose the road of nonviolence, the utopia of a society without weapons, free from the terror of weapons. But in his rhetoric, Aristide was stuck with the romantic vision of the people in arms. He built a network of armed groups which, each one in its own turf, is supposed to maintain “peace” by all means made available by their assault rifles. Those groups, generously funded, established a power system organized in cells and remunerated by stipends. Under Aristide, state terrorism is fragmented, and will express itself through the grassroots level of the lumpen proletariat. Thus are resolved the problems of employment and security, when gangsterism is given an official capacity, consecrated by the “Zero Tolerance” principle. That horizontal terrorism is designed to ensure that the charismatic leader turned mafia boss will stay in power, but it also weakens the state, which is shattered by the petty and sadistic games of populist “Macoutism,” and the carnival of insane criminality.
The Aristidian system unfolds in the country in a pattern similar to a mafia, characterized by the allegiance of individuals, whether gang leaders or not, to the person of a boss, and the hard core of that system is a suburban network linked to the shantytowns, while the rest of the country is handled by urban and communal organizations. On top of that, an important element is drug trafficking, since money is the second driving force in the system. The speeches are bilingual, seductive, and democratic, and dominated by code words chosen to appease the “white man” (dialogue, peace, partnership), while the vernacular is used, albeit metaphorically, to spread the rule of the game: “Kill the enemy.” We can then see that the abolition of the military does not in any way mean here, as in the case of Costa-Rica, an intensification of the culture of democracy. What we see, instead, is the deployment of a network of murder, based on the intensive distribution of weapons and money, which makes it unnecessary to create job opportunities. What we see is the normal outcome of a populist anarchy.
During his three-year period in Washington, the circumstances were such that Aristide was paid with the annual revenues of Teleco, frozen by the United States after the coup d’état. Since then, with the help of several American friends and supporters in the Haitian diaspora, Aristide built a network to collect money from telephone calls and other services. An agreement with the Fusion Company even allowed him to use personally the telephone-service revenues deposited in a special account in Panama. It was just the beginning of a spider web, like a new version of the former Agency of Tobacco Control (Régie du Tabac), where literacy programs, cooperatives, and school cafeterias mixed with the businesses of rice, books, cement, metal sheets, iron bars and sugar, while the national budget, which had not been voted for several years, allowed all sorts of manipulations, and while certain institutions, conveniently recognized as public services, were used to avoid paying taxes and customs dues. Therefore money was not a problem, and it was “given” generously. The name for that was “partnership.” Another name was “nationalism,” when they needed to rob the state agencies. Along with money, weapons were distributed lavishly, and many issues could therefore be settled, including the confiscation of properties and appropriation of government lands, particularly with the power of seduction of the man from Tabarre.
However, the use of weapons can only yield what weapons were made for: destruction and death, just as fire is supposed to burn. Several African countries went through that sad experience. Below is a diagnostic by a political analyst who is beyond any suspicion of partisanship, Claude Moise, about the results of those policies after fourteen years: “A tragic mess: administrative waste, large-scale corruption, programmed insecurity, destruction of state institutions, increase of poverty, social banditry, profound penetration of society by drugs, moral deterioration, devastated national economy, and now terrorism, such is the legacy of Aristide.” (Claude Moise, Editorial in Le Matin, October 15?18, 2004)
To that should be added the tragic acknowledgment of Transparency International. Haiti, 2003, is number-one, the top country in the world for corruption. The new edition of dictatorship under Aristide’s government has been a sad experience for all Haitians. Although that edition took its own shape, it was cast in the old mold of the Haitian political system, based on the pursuit of absolute power, a personal power which ignores the law to impose its own law, in a blind logic of destruction and death.