I think he becomes paranoid about everything and everyone and the Duvalier regime, like many other Haitian regimes, was brutal, but Duvalier pushed it to an extreme. Either you were completely for it or you were against it. You couldn't remain neutral. He already saw enemies everywhere. Now, he had justification for seeing enemies everywhere because effectively there were enemies everywhere.
He felt extremely vulnerable and he felt he was in need of a petroleum god, really. And that's where the Tonton Macoute came from.
There were murderers, thieves, people who were serving time and they were recruited from there and given weapons and a blank check to do whatever you asked them to do.
If your president is in some sense synonymous with this supernatural taker of lives, then he is not to be messed with. And you were able to relish that. Duvalier thought of himself as a little God and as a little God who would rule Haiti in his own way. We saw a ruthless man exercising power only 800 miles from the US shores. A yacht makes its way through the choppy waters of Port au Prince Bay, 45 miles off the coast of the Caribbean nation of Haiti, on board are eight men, five Haitians, three Americans.
The Haitians are former soldiers who have been living in exile in the United States, dressed in full military uniforms. Their American comrades are incognito, dressed as tourists. It's July the 28th, 1958, and these sailors in disguise are about to launch a bloody insurrection against Haitian dictator Papa Doc Duvalier, their failure will be a grisly lesson for all who would follow in their footsteps. My name is Paul McGann and welcome to Real Dictators, the series that explores the hidden lives of tyrants such as Adolf Hitler, Chairman Mao and Kim Jong Il.
In this episode, we return to Haiti to follow the incredible true story of the man they call Papa Doc, told by those who survived his regime. This is real dictators. July 1958, the yacht carrying the would be rebels dropped anchor the passengers way to shore. They start to carry weapons from the boat to a small beach cabin. They think they've gone unnoticed. But just up the beach, local farmers have been watching them work and are about to report them to the local military police.
That evening, soldiers arrive at the beach to investigate as they trudge across the sand, they're hit by a volley of bullets. Four of the soldiers are taken out. The others make it to the hunt. But by now, their attackers have fled. Andrew Leek is a professor at University College London and an expert on Haitian history. They chartered a boat in Miami. In total, they were eight people who were going to go to Haiti, land and get rid of Duvalier.
So they get the boat. They land north of Corpus and it all starts Kozloduy wrong. The moment they land, they're spotted landing by some peasants who go and tell the local military who turn up in a jeep and there's a gun battle and they managed to get the better of the local military and steal the jeep. So that's their first means of transport. We've got a jeep now. We're going to pass. The leader of the band of renegades, former Army officer Alex Perskie, is at the wheel of the Jeep as it hurtles towards the capital.
But then the engine starts to widen and the jeep slowly grinds to a halt. They'd better change it up. So they commandeer a passing taxi. They get so far in the jeep, the jeep breaks down. They commandeer a tank top, which is a gaudily decorated form of local communal taxi in Haiti, if not the most inconspicuous thing that you could stage an invasion in. And they drive to in this to. In the middle of the night, Pascha and his unit arrive in a taxi at the Desalegn Barracks in Port au Prince.
This military base will be the scene of their great rebellion.
It seems like they've gone under the radar and they drove straight into the dizzily barracks, which is next door to the presidential palace. And everyone's asleep or drunk or playing dominoes or whatever they're doing. Amazingly enough, the eight of them managed to overpower quite easily those who are in the national palace. The first shots are fired.
Bernard Diedrich, a local reporter, a newspaper editor, gets the news that something is going down at the Desailly Barracks, he hurries straight over to take a look for himself. It happened early in the morning and I was woken not verify live not far from the palace. So I put a certain tie and went down to the palace and there was all hell breaking loose with 50 caliber machine gun fire. There was all kinds of shooting. I mean, there was such a noise, small, loud, cracking around the word spread around that there were 200 rebels.
This band of rebels actually tiny a number, but they'd killed three Haitian soldiers at the barracks and the holding about 50 more hostage. The commanding officers trussed up like turkeys. Now, it's the moment the rebels leader Pustka has been preparing for. If this revolution is going to have legs, he needs to convince the captive soldiers to join his cause. He launches into a speech desperate to bring them around to his way of thinking. But there is next to no enthusiasm among the hostages.
Papa Doc Duvalier has only been in power a matter of months, but already his claws are buried deep in the nation's psyche. These soldiers have seen up close what Duvalier does to those who are disloyal. Pascoe's desperate now. He goes into an office, picks up a telephone and begins frantically calling his army contacts. But no one wants to hear. Then Pascha gets a nasty shock. He'd hoped to find an arsenal of weapons in the Paris weapons the rebels could use in their uprising, but these weapons are nowhere to be seen.
Well, they don't realize is the arsenal. They thought that the arsenal was in the gasoline barracks.
In fact, evaluate or remove the arsenal from Riseley barracks back into the presidential palace in the palace, President Duvalier sits at his desk dressed in his standard black suit. His eyes bore into the guard, briefing him on the rebels movement. Duvalier gives the order to evacuate his family to safety in a nearby embassy. He dismisses the guard from his presence. Now it's time to deal with this plot head on. Disvalue stands up, he picks up the receiver of the rotary dial telephone on his desk and calls down to the barracks, the man who answers on the other end of the line is the rebel leader, Pustka himself.
Paschi demands that Duvalier stepped down from the presidency immediately. That's hardly likely to happen. It's an absurd request made by a desperate man with no real bargaining power. Down the corridor from Perski, the other seven rebels watch over the captured soldiers, one of the rebels reaches into a pocket for his cigarettes, but he's run out of smokes. So he takes one of the hostages to one side, at which point one of the invaders decides that he'd like one of his favorite Haitian cigarettes, which he has another chance to smoke when he was in Miami.
So he sends somebody out from the gasoline bags to go and buy some cigarettes.
Little does he know this soldier he sent to the store is none other than Papa Doc's personal driver. Instead of heading to get tobacco. The soldier runs straight to his boss. Papa Doc can hardly contain his glee when he hears that this so-called rebel force numbers only eight men.
John Maki is author of Papa Doc Portrait of a Haitian Tyrant.
Duvalier was under threat almost from the start. Fortunately for him, most of the attempted coup attempts, if you like, were comic opera affairs. And this one was particularly so because there were only eight of them involved. But the second thing was that the Haitian people themselves failed to respond to what they thought was happening. And the barracks, in other words, of this attempt was being made to overthrow the president.
Then inside the barracks, one of the hostages makes a desperate, dramatic break for freedom. The next thing that happens is that one of the soldiers that they've overpowered and tied to a chair manages to fall backwards out of a window, free himself and go to the prison and confirms the information that there are only eight people in this in this invasion force, at which point they find their courage and they they send detachments of soldiers and they surround the barracks.
Papa Doc takes off his trademark black brimmed hat. He replaces it with an army helmet. He changes from his tailored suit into a military uniform. He picks up the 45 caliber handgun from his desk and holsters it in his belt. It's time to crush this uprising. As the sun rises.
On September the 29th, Duvalier orders his troops into the desolate barracks surrounded by heavy machine guns. There's no way out for the rebels. So what followed was just an exercise in butchery. Once Duvalier became aware that there were only eight of them in the barracks, he obviously sent in his man and the whole thing was over quite quickly.
It's not long before Peski, leader of the rebels, is killed, taken out by a grenade. There's a battle and they're all killed eventually. And that was typically burlesque attempt to overthrow Duvalier. Eight people that nearly succeeded where he worked for the fact that somebody fancied a cigarette. Absolutely crazy. Duvalier has triumphed, but the failed coup is a warning that he cannot trust the Army even after it's been purged, the military is a ticking time bomb. This is a pivotal moment in Haiti's history.
Papa Doc decides once and for all that if he cannot trust his own soldiers, then to truly secure his power as president, he will need a brand new force all of his own. The attempted paskey invasion and overthrow of his regime certainly confirmed Duvalier. It his paranoia. He already saw enemies everywhere. Now he had justification for seeing enemies everywhere because effectively there were enemies everywhere and not just in his own country, but exiles in the United States, in the Dominican Republic as well.
I think it's emphasising the importance of having a large, well-armed, well-trained and loyal palace guard. During that initial attempt to overthrow him, he really was fretting in his study in the presidential palace and he really did think he was about to be overthrown. And it was only then that he received this intelligence that that was a very, very small group of them which emboldened him to take positive action against them, which he promptly did.
The fact that the invaders of some of the invaders were former army officers that told me something. He told him that he can count on the armed forces and that they had loyalties that weren't perhaps uniquely four for him. This led him to think that he needed to force a parallel force to the army that was not just as strong as the army, but was, if anything, even stronger. And that could keep the army in check. And there will be loyal specifically to him if he decides that he needs his own gang.
And that gang has to be meaner and bigger and tougher than the army. Papa Doc orders the creation of the volunteers for national security. This force will become better known by the name of an ogre from Haitian folklore, the Tonton Macoute. He felt extremely vulnerable and he felt he was in need of a petroleum god, really. And that's where the Tonton Macu came from, this feeling that he needed people around him that he could trust and who shared his taste for ruthlessness.
In Haitian mythology, the Tonto Macoute is a terrifying bogeyman used to frighten children into good behavior. If you don't do as you're told, the Tonton Macoute will get you.
Papa Doc's macoutes will be even more terrifying than the legend, they had a uniform of a kind. I mean, the lower ranked ones were dressed in denim. The higher ranked ones were dressed in dark suits, the signature emblem of the Tonton Macoute with the shades. They always wore shades. But the most significant thing about them was they were given carte blanche to do anything in the way of violence to ensure that Papa Doc's interests were best served. They would whisk away entire families if need be, and they would give them free reign to do it, to do more or less what they liked as long as it served the interests of the regime.
They specialized in the visit. During the night when everyone was asleep, they would turn up, kick in the door, drag the suspect out of bed, take them away, never be seen again. Before the days of Papa Doc Francois Benyam was an elite sniper in the Haitian army, but when the dictator came to power, he suspected Benway of disloyalty. Duvalier massacred Manuel's family, turning him into a fugitive in his own country. Benowa remembers the Tonton Macoute and the fear they inspired the Macoute plumb the lowest depths of society in their drive to recruit personnel.
There were murderers, thieves, people who were serving time and there were recruited from there and given weapons and a blank check to do whatever you asked them to do, so long as their allegiance was to the religious person.
This is all that was required and they were giving authority to do whatever they pleased with their trademark dark sunglasses. Duvalier's trusted foot soldiers strike terror into the hearts of ordinary Haitians. They will become a key pillar of this regime in time. They will outnumber even the regular army. But running a private militia is expensive to build and maintain a security force on this scale. Disvalue needs funds, lots of them. He also needs weapons and hardware to equip them.
The best possible source of cash is the country Papa Doc hates most the United States. The US has no love for Duvalier's autocratic regime. Good luck trying to get money out of the State Department. But then the dictator gets a lucky break that changes the terms of the game. In January 1959, Fidel Castro wins his revolution. Cuba, just 50 miles across the Windward Straits from Haiti shores, becomes communist. James Ferguson is author of the book Papa Doc, Baby Doc, The Rise of Castro and the Cuban Revolution was an absolute boon for Duvalier because it took the heat off him in terms of the State Department worrying about the Caribbean.
Hitherto, they had approved his election in 57 and then pretty quickly noticed that something odd was going on, that human rights were being violated. But with the rise of Castro, Duvalier was very, very well placed to present himself as a bulwark against communism and to demand a more liberal attitude from the states and to demand more money in terms of aid.
Communist Cuba is a threat to security and stability in the Caribbean and to the United States itself. America needs allies in the region, suddenly the is the one holding all the cards, he tells the Americans that he is staunchly anti-communist. For now at least, he might not stay that way. Who could tell what the future holds? Communist Haiti, it's a terrifying prospect. This is a bargaining tool Duvalier will be able to repeat time and time again, but he was extremely lucky in many respects.
Political events outside of Haiti went in his favor. The Cuban Revolution, 1959. What could have been better than that were not the existence of Castro for the Cuban revolution. I don't think Duvalier could possibly have stayed in power for as long as he did because he used it as a constant threat hanging over the Americans to say, oh, well, you know, if you don't give me another sort of 50 million dollars in aid, I might just have to look elsewhere, maybe east, you know, or maybe to our friends over the Windward Straits paradox.
Blackmail works. The United States cannot risk Haiti as well as Cuba turning its eyes eastwards. Better the devil. You know, America sends millions of dollars in financial aid as well as a detachment of Marines to train Duvalier's security forces. It's an ironic twist of fate. 45 years earlier, in 1915, US Marines occupied Haiti at the height of World War One, seizing control of the country. Now they are at the beck and call of Haiti's dictator complicit in his reign of terror.
Former ambassador to the United States and Haitian presidential candidate Raymond Joseph remembers the boost this gave to Papa Doc's brand. Duvalier thought of himself as a little God and as a little God who would rule Haiti in his own way. And suddenly he did that. We saw a ruthless man exercising power only 800 miles from the U.S. shores and allowed to do it because he called himself anticommunists.
Armed with state of the art weapons, the Tonton Macoute will become more terrifying than ever. With America, the country he loathes now forced to bolster his regime, it seems that Duvalier has secured his position for good. But this self-styled Superman does, in fact, have an Achilles heel. Papa Doc is a diabetic. On May the 24th, 1959, at his desk in the presidential palace, Duvalier starts to get shooting pains in his chest and arms. He collapses and falls into a coma.
He succumbed to a massive heart attack. Possibly due to an insulin overdose. Coming across the stricken dictator, Duvalier's aid administers a glucose injection, this is vital in saving his life. Then Papa Doc is whisked away off the island and across the narrow stretch of ocean to Cuba. He's not even been in power a year before he was struck down by a massive heart attack. He was diabetic. He'd been with his life diabetic. And I don't know to what extent that fed into the problems with his heart, but possibly his life was saved in terms of the initial first aid and then by the Americans who treated him, I believe, at Guantanamo.
Finally, nine hours later, Papa Doc regains consciousness. It might seem right now in his private hospital room that Duvalier is out of the woods, that everything will be as it was, but in fact, the president has woken up a changed man.
Author James Ferguson, he was reportedly in a coma for quite a long period, and there is some evidence that it's very hard to prove that this may have created some brain damage or some long lasting change in his behavior.
He's been in a coma for nine hours. Now he's awake, but as Duvalier returns to power, it's clear his time in the netherworld between life and death has profoundly changed him. Author John Maki, there are some close to the valley who claim that after that illness, he became a different person. It was almost as if he had become something else that had been transformed, if you like, by the combination of his physical frailty and his increasing realisation that he needed to be something other than a human being to survive as president of Haiti.
The man they call Papa Doc has always been steeped in Haitian folklore. His political career evolved out of his work as a doctor when he administered penicillin up and down the country to farmers and peasants suffering from disease. His miraculous cures for the debilitating bacterial infection. Yours really were magic in the eyes of many of his patients. Many Haitians are convinced their president is a practitioner of the national Creole religion, voodoo. Now, in the aftermath of his coma, Papa Doc fully embraces his voodoo aura.
He begins to actively play the role of a powerful voodoo demigod or lower, there's one lawyer in particular that he's channeling. Its name is Baron Samedi. But some of the Haitian folklore is the ultimate terrifying figure. He is the person who stalks the graveyard at night, his Dacian Grim Reaper. So if your president is in some sense synonymous with this supernatural taker of lives, then he is not to be messed with and Duvalier would relish that. And so if out in the villages, people thought that the president was in some sense somebody that could do him no harm whatsoever, but somebody is the head of the cemetery is one of the most powerful voodoo gods.
And Papa Doc used to dress himself in black all the time and with a big humbug hat in his head, just like Bo Sandy is portrayed. So in the mind of the people he led them believe those who believe in voodoo, let them think that he himself is born. Somebody who had a particular way of speaking of low-Pitched lisping, sibilant sort of voice. Duvalier himself started to affect precisely that voice. He affected the the dressing down somebody which was the from the tables on the top hat, the way that his face was was expressionless as well when he spoke.
All of this was a very conscious projection of the persona of somebody. For some in Duvalier's orbit, it's clear that living the role of Baron Samedi is no political game. The dictator has become mentally unstable. It's very difficult to know the extent to which Duvalier himself became a victim of his own projection of his own myth, the extent to which he really believed that he was in a sense bound someday absolutely for certain, was that he knew how to manipulate it.
He was clearly imbalanced, but not completely delirious, I think. So he was always able to control his insanity and to translate into an image of terror into a projection of terror. Robert Fatton is a Haitian professor from the University of Virginia and an author on Haiti and its dictator. As a boy in the 1960s, Faten watches his home country from abroad. From this distance, it's easier to see that Papa Doc's transformation into Baron Samedi is fueled by paranoia and insecurity.
I remember I was leaving at the time in France and then in Spain, my parents getting letters from Haiti and they were writing with code words, essentially, I think it becomes paranoid about everything and everyone. And the Duvalier regime, like many other Haitian regimes, was brutal. But Duvalier pushed it to an extreme. And the paranoia that Duvalier had is simply the fact that he thought that everyone was against him. Either you were completely for him or you are against him.
You can remain neutral. With his voodoo credentials established, Duvalier makes a move that confirms that democracy in Haiti is dead and buried. Papa Doc decides to overturn the Constitution. At present, it only allows him a single term in office. Right now he'll settle for six more years. But if the Constitution is ripped up once, who's to say it won't happen again? Duvalier has no intention of retiring. He calls an election for April the 30th, 1961, and there's only one name on the ballot for president.
This isn't an election, it's a coronation. Well, elections, it's it's a farce. There was an election, but it was not an election. There was no real electoral process. It was a decision that Duvalier made and the result was predetermined. I mean, there were reports, for instance, that in some districts of the district that 7000 voters, 20000 vote. It was absolutely blatant and everyone knew that. I mean, it's not as if it was a secret that the elections were rigged and it was a predetermined exercise.
It was a ritual to celebrate. Francois Duvalier is the regime. Papa Doc wins the election by an astonishing one point three million votes to zero. Duvalier claims that not one Haitian has cast a vote against him. The New York Times reports that Latin America has witnessed many fraudulent elections throughout its history, but none more outrageous than the one which has just taken place in Haiti. This election is a high point of despotism. But this is only the beginning of paradox, second term of office.
It'll be twice as authoritarian as the first, but there is no real opposition, the opposition is vanishing, trade unions are being eradicated, student strikes are put down. The commercial sector also no longer has the will to oppose devaluing any type of strike. So it becomes increasingly clear that opposition to Gevalia means defeat. That's when the regime becomes totally brutal, absolutely paranoid. It becomes a beast. This is when the market now are going to come with a vengeance.
Using his private militia, the Tonton Macoute, Papa Doc embarks on an era of absolute terror. The rule of law is dead in the water. Even the most self respecting citizens can have their lives turned upside down in an instant on the whim of Duvalier or one of his stooges. Rape, murder and robbery are widespread, perpetrated by those supposed to be maintaining order.
The president's dreaded paramilitaries, they were given to a large extent to total license to do what they pleased. And so brutality became institutionalized and pervasive throughout the island. It was a system that I mean, if you want to put it in a context, probably similar in terms of silencing population as the Stasi in East Germany, people were afraid to talk and that people were killed. People were brutalized for no reason. So it was the capricious type of violence.
Even people who had nothing to do with politics were systematically brutalized. Duvalier's Tonton Macoute are everywhere. They've infiltrated every stratum of Haitian society. No one is safe. No one is immune from the threat of random violence.
I had a friend who went to Port au Prince on a cruise ship. They were looking out from the upper decks across the docks and the peasants were leaping into the water next to the ship because the passengers were throwing coins into the water. The peasants were diving in to try and get the coins. Suddenly, a black sedan drew up alongside with a load of Tonton Macoute that they got out with machine guns and started to fire on the peasants in the water and killed them.
And of course, the water was full of blood. The corpses were sinking and rolling around in the water. And the passengers were absolutely horrified, which again indicates the huge gulf that existed between what you might call Western expectations and what Duvalier's thugs thought about preserving the reputation of the regime. They felt that the fact that the peasants were diving into the water and begging the rest of it was in fact undermining the message that the Valley was seeking to get across, that he was the leader of a successful and relatively prosperous nation that was making its way in the world.
Papa Doc wants it to be like this, he wants chaos, unpredictability, random outbursts of state sponsored violence flaring up all over the capital city and the province is beyond it. Ruling in this way, he is bringing to life the great lesson of his political idol Machiavelli that it is better to be feared than loved. Torture was pervasive. There were public executions, public hangings, sometimes their bodies would be left in the street for days to decompose so that people would see what a entailed.
Duvalier has a torture chamber installed inside the presidential palace, it sits adjacent to his private apartment, there's even a peephole so he can watch interrogations from the comfort of his quarters.
I remember hearing one of his speeches after an attempted coup. He essentially said that the opposition was like a bunch of ants and that he would crush them with his foot just walking over them and that no one could resist the power of Duvalier. I remember at soccer games, for instance, when Duvalier came to soccer games, he had two huge black Mercedes and Mercedes would come on the field itself. And there were facts behind the two goals. And you couldn't exit the stadium until he had left.
That gives you an idea of the persona and what he was trying to convey to the Haitian population.
A violent voodoo populism is the order of the day. As the Blood-curdling Macoutes storm, Catholic churches and cathedrals laying waste to the clergy and worshipers inside, there were thousands of anonymous victims of devaluation in buildings and police stations all over the country, people being tortured to death and shot and murdered because they would give their daughter to the local macoutes or because they would give their business. Nobody knows how many people that the Macoutes killed across Haiti because most of them are anonymous and they're not buried anywhere.
They just buried in the streets most of the time. Papa Doc lurks in his heavily fortified palace. When he does venture out, it's under heavy guard. On the rare occasions that he walks the streets amongst his bedraggled and downtrodden people, he puts on PR performances of the crudest kind to show that he cares for his people. He hands out bundles of petty cash. It is a way of proving to himself how much his people love him. I remember Duvalier and his car throwing money at people and people running to get, you know, a dollar or something like that.
To me, that was utter indignity. Fortunately, my family and extended family, very few people were affected directly and some of them went into exile. But we managed to escape from most of it. But a significant portion of the Haitian population was directly affected. And if you are not directly affected, you are directly affected by the destruction of the economy, the destruction of a sense of of being a citizen of a country. Haiti is desperately poor.
It's a long time since it enjoyed wealth and riches in the 19th century, freshly independent from colonial friends.
The idea that he was a defender of the poor Haitian, that makes no sense. I mean, the people who suffered most were really the poorest Haitians.
Now, in the 1960s, terrified of communism taking hold in the Caribbean, America and its allies are funnelling resources into the country. Up to now, the United States government has tolerated Duvalier, he might be terrible, but at least he's not in league with the Soviets. But America cannot be held over a barrel by this crackpot dictator. Washington has been providing millions of dollars a year in aid to Haiti, but it's unavoidably clear that the money is being siphoned off by those at the top.
There was no real ideological reason for this. It was all about money. I think it would be wrong to dignify Duvalier ism with the name of an ideology of green ideology. It was generalized kleptocracy. It was the mob running a country. Duvalier has overplayed his hand. President John F. Kennedy decides to lay down a marker. Kennedy cuts the financial code, he directs his administration to start looking for ways to reintroduce democracy to the island, with the US president rallying against him and a key revenue stream drying up.
It seems paradox time in office may be running out, but then the unthinkable happens. Next time on real dictators. A rumour circulates Duvalier has made a journey into the hills of Haiti's interior. He's been to a cave. It's a sacred voodoo site. There he found something particularly horrifically useful. Papa Doc has absolute free reign over the country and its population. He looks set to rule until the end of his natural life. But beyond that, what will his fiefdom look like?
That's next time on real dictators. Real Dictators is presented by me, Paul Morgan, the show was created by Pascal, who's produced by Joel de Down, edited by James Tendo and Katrina Hughes. The music was composed or assembled by Oliver Baines from Flight Brigade. The strings were recorded by Doree McCallie. The sound mixer is Tom Pink. The sound recordist is Robbie Stamm. Real Dictators is a noisy and world media writes co-production. If you haven't already, we'd love you to follow us wherever you listen to your favorite shows or check us out at Real Dictators Dotcom.