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#2447: Duvalier - Jeremie Massacres 1964 (fwd)


Keywords: Drouin, Duvalier, Guilbaud, Jeremie, Macoutes, Massacres, Pratt, 
Sansarick, Villedrouin 

On Monday October 11, 1964 - I may be off by one week here - I was sitting in 
my last year of class in primary school in Jeremie, a city in the 
Southwestern part of Haiti, when I heard some roof hammering noise that 
changed the face of the city ever since. The events that followed represent 
to me the legacy of Francois Duvalier's reign in Haiti. Almost the entire 
elite of the city was wiped out overnight. Jeremie became like a body without 
a soul.

The noise I heard came from across the city square where the populace was 
removing metal sheeting, and anything else that could be removed, from the 
largest store in the city, "Chez Desquiron," owned by Pierre Sansarick. The 
city square stood between the "Freres de L'Instruction Chretiennee (F.I.C.)" 
primary school I was attended and the street where Sansarick's store was 
located. On the third side of the square, next to the St Louis' church, 
Gerard Guilbaud's store was located and also being ransacked. On the fourth 
side of the church, there was the open-air market where all house tables in 
Jeremie got their supplies daily. Across the open-air market, Pierre 
Sansarick's house was located and was forced open for public pillage. This 
house later became the headquarters for the V.S.N. (Volontaires de la 
Securite Nationale), the official name for the Tonton Macoutes. It is not 
clear whether it happened the same day, but the residences of Gerard 
Guilbaud, Victor Villedrouin and Louis Drouin's business were forced open for 
public looting.

The religious brothers of our school quickly released us after the looting 
started. My mother was working in a pharmacy across the City Square, 100 
yards from the F.I.C school. I crossed the square and walked to the pharmacy 
when I saw hundreds of people going and coming out of Chez Desquiron in a 
frenzy with their hands full. My mother quickly guided me inside. The 
populace was having a field day. They took everything in the looted stores 
and houses, including the doors and windows. Many of them had difficulty 
carrying the loot. They went to nearby houses to hide the stolen articles and 
came back for more. Schools remained closed for the rest of the afternoon and 
weeks after that. Later in the afternoon, a gendarme in police uniform 
gathered people at street corners, played a rallying march on his trumpet, 
and read the police communiqué that the town was under general curfew after 
6:00 p.m until 6:00 a.m. There were no other means for the city authorities 
to communicate to the population in a hurry. It is not very clear to me 
exactly how long schools remained closed. Maybe those who remembered what 
happened then can fill in here. 

Folks, I was 11 years old when this happened. In 1960 Jeremie , at 11, you 
were not allowed to take part in the adults' conversation when they visited 
your house, once you finished parading before them for greetings. Therefore, 
I missed a lot of the logic of the killings that took place during that time 
and maybe some important facts. Except that Francois Duvalier, directly or 
indirectly, was eliminating the mulattos as part of his social and racial 
revolutions.  Some details may not be exactly as I stated it here. But the 
fact remains that these people got killed during the Duvalier's reign, under 
direct or indirect orders from him, and their possessions looted first by the 
authorities who executed the massacre, then by the masses to whom they were 
opened for public pillage.  The real authorities at the time, as was 
perceived then, were First Lieutenant Abel Jerome for the armed forces and 
police, and Sanete Balmir for the Tonton Macoutes.

The killings were so horrific that I had problems understanding how humanity 
can get that low. After arresting Pierre Sansarick and decided his fate, they 
entered his house at night took and killed everything that moved. They killed 
his wife; a wife sister, Edith; his son, Pierre Jr; the son's wife, 
Graziella; Pierre Jr's infant baby; another son - I don't remember his name; 
his teenage son, Reynold; an underage daughter; and even house maids living 
in the house. Many people claimed that the house's dogs did not get spared. 
And if that was not enough, some of the people who executed the killings went 
afterwards to brag that they killed the infant baby by piercing with a 
bayonet and that "li tordie tankou ve" (he squirmed like a worm). That was 
Francois Duvalier's signature fight to stay in power. Once one member of a 
family opposed him, the whole family had to die to eliminate future threats 
to his hold to power for life. Obviously, I was not a witness to the killings 
but that was the story reported by the grown-ups that trickled down to us 
youngsters, at the time.

The Duvalier's people also killed Gerard Guilbaud and his wife whose maiden 
name was Drouin. It was also reported that she was pregnant at the time. They 
went to Victor's Villedrouin's house in Bordes took and killed him, his wife 
and children, including his very popular young teenager at school, Frantz 
Villedrouin. They also arrested and killed Louis Drouin. 

The common denominator in all these massacres was that all the people 
executed were light skinned mulattos. The actions made all light skinned 
mulattos of Jeremie living in fear that one night would be their turn, until 
they left the city. Again, it is not clear whether all the people killed were 
for the same reason or excuse. I certainly hope that some members on this 
list or historians can elaborate a little bit on the facts surrounding these 
massacres. In the case of Pierre Sansarick, his arrest occurred after he and 
his sons tried repeatedly to collect from the military authority chief the 
gas he and the police have been buying for weeks at their pump without 

This may be out of character in this post, but I think I have to add it. My 
mother was in charge of Pharmacie Centrale, a drugstore located in the front 
part of the house inhabited by the survivors of Lucien Pratt, who died of 
natural causes a year or two before 1964. His survivors were his wife, who 
was also a Sansarick, his mother-in-law, Mrs. Tom Sansarick, his four 
children, Colette, Marie Helene, Primerose, Reynold and an adopted child, 
Nicole. Graziella Sansarick, a member of the massacred Pierre Sansarick's 
household was the daughter of Mrs. Tom and thus, the aunt of the children. I 
used to play with the children, especially Reynold Pratt, about two years 
younger than me, who was my friend. Sheer terror and pain invaded their house 
after the disappearance of the Sansaricks. At the time of the looting, there 
was still some hope that some of the disappeared or arrested people could 
still be alive. Access and meetings with  the children became difficult, and 
Mrs. Tom seemed to be always crying. She stayed in the third floor of the 
house and did not leave it.

A few weeks after October 11, 1964, the children called me and asked to play 
with them one Saturday afternoon. We all made a circle and held hands to play 
"la ronde." Then we started moving in unison, singing a song that says "Avant 
de nous separer, il faut rire et s'amuser, voyons…qui dans la danse…est le 
plus beau…salue le…quelle personne vous aimez? (Before we separate…we must 
laugh and have fun … see who is the most beautiful …which person do you 
love?). Then, taking turn after each round, you must kiss a chosen person. 
When it was my tun, I kissed each of the girls at first. At the time, I had a 
huge teenager's crush on Marie Helene. Even though the kisses were on the 
cheeks, the opportunity to kiss Marie Helene made me pay no attention to the 
words of the song. The more kisses I gave or received, when it was my turn, 
the happier I was. When it was over, I went home dreaming. The next time I 
came to the pharmacy, I went to the side door to go the Pratt's house. As I 
was crossing the side door of the pharmacy that gave to their front yard and 
the door to their living room, my mother informed me that the whole family 
has secretly moved out of town the day after the kissing game "la ronde." 
Then I realized that the whole game was a way to tell me good-bye without 
putting their lives in danger unnecessarily. I never saw them again since. I 
always hoped that they were able to leave the country unharmed and alive. I 
was happy they left Jeremie because of the danger for their lives. At the 
same time, I was sad to lose such endearing friends.

After the Pratt's left, the majority of mulattos' families living in Jeremie 
who were not killed moved out of the city. From then on, it was a downward 
slide for Jeremie. After finishing high school (Baccalaureate I), the 
majority of the bright youngsters produced by the city would seek a career 
elsewhere. To this day, there was never another store like Sansarick's  "Chez 
Desquiron" in Jeremie. Most of the hardware articles that could be bought 
there now have to be ordered in Port-au-Prince and sent by the weekly ferry. 
That's if you have someone in Port-au-Prince who is willing to make you the 
favor of buying it there and another one to carry it on the overloaded and, 
at times, leaky ferries for you to Jeremie. The movie theaters were reduced 
to one, Cine Fox. Electricity blackouts became more frequent because of lack 
of gas. The square's benches wore down and were not repaired. The trees on 
the square were left untrimmed and the open-air market spread and took over 
part of the square. The 28-passenger plane that used to make the trip between 
Port-au-Prince, Cayes and Jeremie every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 
stopped coming in for lack of business and other related reasons. 

Everybody in Jeremie was living in fear. All young adults felt that they had 
to join the Tonton Macoutes for fear of not being labeled anti-Duvalier.  
That label was a death sentence that could be pronounced against you by 
anyone, for one reason or another, who did not like you. The massacred 
families I cited here were just a few of the many people who got killed or 
disappeared during the Duvalier regime under direct or indirect orders from 
him.  Though I cannot find words to describe the horrors perpetrated during 
this regime in Jeremie, the criminal and inhumane nature of Francois Duvalier 
was epitomized to me in his handling of the rebellion of the 19 officers 
against him. Please allow me to make a reference not necessarily related to 
Jeremie. After having killed the 19 officers that included Harry Tassy, 
Michel Josma, Yvan Madiou, and others, Francois Duvalier went on a speech to 
the nation on radio and roll called the names of each officer individually 
and answer "ABSENT" after calling each name. By the way, when Francois 
Duvalier was addressing the nation on radio, all radio stations had to carry 
it if the owners or operators cared about the station and their lives.

What kind of people enjoy killing a one-year old baby for political reasons, 
or go to a whole nation and answered "ABSENT" to the roll calling the names 
of each and every one of the 19 people he just killed for political reasons? 
We should not forget these things, even if we forgive.