Roger Lafontant, Tonton Macoutes, and the Failed 1991 Coup d'Etat
A loyalist supporter of President François Duvalier, a despot whose family ruled Haiti for three decades, Roger Lafontant was appointed Minister of Interior and National Defense in 1972, under Jean-Claude Duvalier, the son of the elder Duvalier. But his personal ambitions caused Duvalier to re-assign him as consul in Montreal, Canada. However, hereturned to Haiti in 1983, and was promoted to higher office as Minister of State for the Interior and National Defense. Apparently, he had learned his lesson.
When Jean-Claude Duvalier was ousted in 1986, Roger Lafontant escaped into exile in the Dominican Republic. Upon his return in 1990, he ran for the Union for National Reconciliation presidency, but the Provisional Electoral Council rejected his bid, ostensibly, because he was wanted on an arrest warrant.
During the Haiti campaign season in 1990-1991, Lafontant attempted to take control of the presidency, before Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a popular candidate who was expected to win, could claim office. He falsely asserted that he had the support of the Haitian Military High Command to attempt the coup. However, General Herard Abraham of the Military High Command hotly censured the coup. Abraham had learned about an insurrectionist group "in the pay of Roger Lafontant" (who) "hijacked the provisional President of the Republic, Ertha Pascal-Trouillot." Abraham reassured the Haitians that "the armed forces of Haiti . . . condemned the "terrorist act" and (will) "take all steps to ensure that the situation returns to normal."
The international community and the Organization of American States (OAS) also vehemently disapproved the attempt to overthrow the provisional government of Haiti. After the coup had failed, through the intervention of loyalist soldiers, the OAS Permanent Council met at once to discuss the current state of affairs in Haiti and lent their support to the provisional government. During the attempted coup in Port-au-Prince, Roger Lafontant and his co-conspirators slaughtered 75 people and injured over 150. The Haitian authorities immediately arrested him, his 12 co-conspirators, and Tonton Macoutes militia members.
At Lafontant's jury trial, in July 1991, during which he declined to testify, or be defended by a public defender, the 12-member panel heard testimony for nearly 24 hours, from 24 witnesses, deliberated until dawn, and convicted him and 21 of the accused abettors, sentencing the man to a life term in prison, as well as nearly all of his abettors. The death penalty at his trial could not be considered because the Haitian constitution abolished it in 1987. It was in prison that he met his end as a murder victim.
The conviction of Roger Lafontant was viewed as partial payment for the Duvalier dynasty's three decades of tyranny, and symbolized the end of their despotic rule. The Information Minister of Haiti, Marie-Laurence Lassegue rejoiced that "justice at last has been done in this country." The Duvalier regime officially ended when Jean-Claude, the younger, escaped into exile in France in 1986, after another political uprising.
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