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#2281:Francois Duvalier topic - Antoine responds (fwd)
From: Guy Antoine <GuyAntoine@windowsonhaiti.com>
> Today, François Duvalier remains one of the most controversial
> figures of Haïtian politics. The mere mention of his name will raise
> passionate reactions from Haïtians (and possibly others). They
> will either criticize or praise his accomplishments.
Once again, I must ask what are those accomplishments? We can be
dispassionate (which is exceptionally hard in view of Francois Duvalier's
crimes!) and rational, and still ask: "Just what were his accomplishments?"
What is the legacy of Francois Duvalier?
> What is important is the confusion that remains concerning the
> man and his ideology. Myths and stories are still being told
> concerning the man and his movement.
I would suggest that what is important is not the confusion, but the
unvarnished truth. Myths and stories abound (I don't know for instance that
Duvalier kept his enemies' body parts in a refrigerator). I don't know
about this, and frankly I don't care about those details, because I am not a
psychoanalyst. But the truth is that entire families including small
children were wiped out by Duvalier on suspicions that specific members of
those families were plotting against him. This is well documented, and
others may go into the details if they care to, but the point that I want to
make is that those crimes were not mere "myths and stories". Hundreds (and
probably more, but I had rather be conservative) of people across Haiti were
sent to jail, torture, and death, during the various anti-communist
campaigns. Lawlessness was rampant, and may have been exceeded only during
the Cedras/Francois/Constant years. There are scores of books that relate
the Duvalier period, but most importantly, there are few families in Haiti
that can say that one of theirs was not victimized by the Duvalier regime,
and his reign of terror through the VSN (Volontaires de la Securité
Nationale), better known as the "Tonton Macoutes".
Are there myths about Duvalier and his henchmen? Certainly! In addition,
Duvalier did not DIRECTLY order many of the heinous crimes that are
attributed to him. Many of his subordinates had a field day. But, the fact
remains that he tolerared them, and compensated them for their loyalty.
Since he was THE MAN in charge, you have to make the case that he was
responsible for those crimes as well.
One particular scene still gives me the shivers. I must have been around 14
years of age, and I had already witnessed public executions and dead bodies,
without much reaction, since I really did not know any other system of
government. Furthermore, your environement teaches you techniques for
survival really quickly. But this, I cannot forget, like a recurring
There was this old man in "Cap-Haitien", probably in his late sixties, who
naturally unemployed, used to sit every day in front of the Orthodox
Catholic Church, talking to friends. Well, one day, he got arrested because
one of his "friends" told the authorities about his prediction that the
ex-President Magloire was planning a comeback to Haiti. Well, if you lived
in Haiti during that period of time, you can almost imagine the rest...
Anyway, an army lieutenant in Cap, whom I personally know, was charged with
taking the prisoner to Duvalier who wanted to interrogate the old man
It turns out that the old man simply suffered from a form of verbal
diarrhea, and absolutely had no connection to Magloire, and he was not privy
to any of Magloire's plans, if there were any such plans. Well... Duvalier
decided that it was best to set an example, anyhow. So the man was returned
to Cap, and the two Cap-Haitien radios "Radio Citadelle" and "La Voix du
Nord" kept blasting the "communiqué" (official communications, preceded by
the characteristic call to immediate attention music) that the population
was duly invited to go and witness the execution of the man in front of the
Orthodox Catholic Church on Rue A, precisely where he committed his serious
On the day and the hour in question, appropriately during lunch recess,
thousands of people converged in front of the Church, including myself and
hundreds of school students. Why? Because that is where Papa Doc and the
media had persuaded us to be, this was "a happening" in a city where there
was not much happening... Well, the old man was tied to the big old almaond
tree directly in front of the Church. Just prior to his execution, the
vicar of our Catholic Parish went to him, and heard his confession, and
blessed his soul, soon to be departed. Nothing too emotional so far, we
were dealing with sheer inevitability. What was to follow was not that
The task of the execution was assigned to a SINGLE soldier. He stood a few
feet away and waited for his order. "Feu!" and he shot. The old man got
hit in the mid-section somewhere and straightened himself out, instead of
collapsing as expected. "Feu!" The soldier shot again... same result.
"Feu!"... nothing doing! This went on a few times like this. The old man
was hit each and every time, he was bleeding badly, but unbowed. This must
have been embarrassing to the Army. Imagine... and unarmed old man, tied
to a tree, and having received his last rites, and he could not be finished
off. Later on, I reflected that the executioner must also have feared for
his job. So, finally, he made SURE. He calmly aimed for the head. "Feu!"
and the next two seconds I will never forget, and this has come pretty much
to symbolize the Duvalier Presidency for me from that moment on. Half of
the old man's head was blown away, his brains splattered on the almond tree
and all around. His body finally collapsed. For most of the population,
this was too much to bear. A panic sort of set in, as people immediately
and rapidly began to disband. Nobody said a word, but you could see it on
their faces. They had just witnessed something horrific, something that
Papa Doc's zombification had not managed to desensitize them about.
Weeks later (perhaps a couple of months!), I surmounted my feelings and
walked past the Church and hazarded a look at the almond tree. It was still
stained with the old man's brains and blood.
I had not travelled yet any place else on Earth, to have a different sense
of normalcy, but at that moment I knew that there was something incredibly
wrong about my country.
Later on, this Lieutenant who flew the old man to Duvalier and back, was
asked what he would have done, had he been charged to carry on the
execution. This Lieutenant, an otherwise "decent man", responded: If
Duvalier asked me to arrest and kill my own mother, I would have no choice
but to do so. Spoken calmly, pragmatically, realistically. This was, after
all, the Era of Duvalierism.
Guy S. Antoine
Look thru & Imagine!