5 reasons why Haiti's Jean-Claude Duvalier is infamous

Outside the posh hotel where Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has lodged since unexpectedly returning to Haiti on Jan. 16, supporters of the former dictator have gathered in a show of support, some of them yelling: “The revolution is going to start!”

They seemed drawn by nostalgia and embellished memories of the Duvalier era, which lasted for nearly 30 years. “Baby Doc” Duvalier became the successor to the regime in 1971 when at the age of 19 he took over from his father, "Papa Doc" François Duvalier (indeed, he started off as a physician). As the following five slides attest, Baby Doc's infamy precedes him.

Ramon Espinosa/AP Photo
Haiti's former dictator Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier gestures to supporters on the balcony of his hotel room in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday Jan. 19.

1. Tonton Macoutes

When he took over the leadership of Haiti in 1971, "Baby Doc" Duvalier also became head of the feared paramilitary force that his father created in 1959. Known as the "Tonton Macoutes," which is the name of a Haitian Creole mythological character who kidnaps children and eats them for breakfast, the denim-wearing and machete-wielding private militia was mostly comprised of uneducated fanatics fiercely local to Papa Doc and Baby Doc.

Vodou leaders were also members, giving what came to be called the Militia of National Security Volunteers (known as MVSN, for its French acronym) an almost-religious aura. Opponents were killed in the night and their bodies were often placed on public display. "The Duvaliers are estimated to have ordered the deaths of between twenty and thirty thousand Haitian civilians," Human Rights Watch said in a statement this week.

Employing vodou leaders and illiterate peasants was integral to the Duvalier's method of overseeing the torture and murder of political opponents and robbed public funds, biographer Elizabeth Abbott writes in Foreign Policy. “Duvalier's genius lay in how he designed their hierarchical structure, chose their (usually humble) social origins, and included priests (voodoon and Christian) and rural section chiefs who ruled their fiefdoms with iron fists and reported personally to him any subversive activity or even thought.”

Even after Baby Doc fled in 1986 and the Tonton Macoutes disbanded, citizens remained on guard. The following year, as The Christian Science Monitor noted during its election coverage at the time, thousands of peasant supporters of presidential candidate Louis Dejoie II chanted: "Tonton Macoutes can throw stones; we don't care. When Louis comes, the earth will tremble."

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