Tonton Macoutes Duvalier's Fiendish Legacy

When Francois Duvalier assumed the presidency of Haiti in 1957, he instituted a brutal secret police, Tonton Macoutes. The term translates to Uncle Gunnysack in English, based on a children's fairytale, in which the ogre would kidnap disobedient children and devour them. Duvalier co-opted the name and used the secret police to control and terrify people.


Tonton Macoutes spread fear among Haitians, kidnapping them sometimes in the dead of night. Or by day, lynching their burned bodies, leaving them to molder away under the hot sun. The smallest perceived infraction against Duvalier brought on the evil wrath of Tonton Macoutes.

A primary tactic Tonton Macoutes used to intimidate the masses was to suggest the death squads possessed Voodoo powers. A hex placed upon a family member meant no one in the community would hire or conduct business with them, or they would be targeted themselves.

Tonton Macoutes were also extortionists, forcing the poor to give homage to Duvalier with monetary pledges. Duvalier easily won re-election in 1961 as a result of the Tonton Macoutes. His power became unassailable when the people made him President for Life in 1964.

When Duvalier died in 1971, his son, Jean-Claude assumed power in name only. This was enough to keep the Tonton Macoutes in place as a tool of absolute repression. Eventually, he was run out of Haiti, and splinter groups formed from the Tonton Macoutes. These groups continue on today, but their activities are not as wide-spread or observable as before.

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