Tonton Macoutes – The Boogeymen of Haiti

The force was created in 1959, only two years after François Duvalier became president, due to the threat posed to the dictator by the regular armed forces. After an attempted coup d’etat against him in 1958, Duvalier disbanded the army and all law enforcement agencies in Haiti, and executed all high-ranking generals. The Tonton Macoute wore straw hats, blue denim shirts and dark glasses, and were armed with machetes and guns.

Tonton Macoutes at their 1984 Anniversary Parade

Duvalier employed the Tonton Macoutes in a reign of terror against any opponents, including those who proposed progressive social systems. Those who spoke out against Duvalier would disappear at night, or were sometimes attacked in broad daylight. Tonton Macoutes often stoned and burned people alive. Many times the corpses were put on display, often hung in trees for everyone to see. Family members who tried to remove the bodies for proper burial often disappeared themselves, never to be seen again. They were believed to have been abducted and killed by the MVSN, who were called the “Tonton Macoutes” as a result. Anyone who challenged the MVSN risked assassination. Their unrestrained state terrorism was accompanied by corruption, extortion and personal aggrandizement among the leadership.

Luckner Cambronne was a particularly fierce head of the “Tonton Macoutes” throughout the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. His cruelty earned him the nickname “Vampire of the Caribbean”. He profited by extortion carried out by his henchmen and by supplying corpses and blood to universities and hospitals in the United States. After Duvalier’s death, he was ordered into exile by Duvalier’s widow, Simone, and son. Cambronne left Haiti in 1971 for Miami, Florida, where he died on 20 September 2006 at 77.

Some of the most important members of the Tonton Macoutes were vodou leaders and this religious affiliation gave the Macoutes a sense of unearthly authority in the eyes of the public. From their methods to their choice of clothes, vodou always played an important role in their actions.

The victims of Tonton Macoutes could range from a woman in the poorest of neighborhoods who had previously supported an opposing politician to a businessman who refused to “donate” money for public works (which were the source of profit for corrupt officials and even the dictator himself). Tonton Macoutes murdered more than 60,000 Haitians.

The Tonton Macoutes were a ubiquitous presence in a rigged 1961 election in which Duvalier was unanimously reelected to another term, and once again in 1964 when Duvalier held a rigged referendum that declared him President for Life.

The militia existed under Jean-Claude Duvalier, the son and successor of François Duvalier, until the younger Duvalier was ousted in 1986. However, massacres led by paramilitary groups spawned from the Macoutes continued during the following decade. The most feared paramilitary group during the 1990s was the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haïti (FRAPH) which Toronto Star journalist Linda Diebel described as modern Tonton Macoutes and not as the political party they claimed to be.

With machete. You Shall Not Pass!!

The Tonton Macoutes finally receive their comeuppance in 1986:


Wikipedia – Tonton Macoutes

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