Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
February 14, 1986
Vengeance has been varied against 'Macoutes'
Report from: Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Paul Vericain sat quietly on his front porch the other morning, smiling and smoking a cigarette, hardly behaving like a man who ran for his life five days earlier because a mob wanted to kill him.

Until last Friday, life had been good to Vericain, mayor of the affluent Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville and commander of the local post of the tonton macoutes. The macoutes - officially, the Volunteers for National Security - had for 28 years been a legendary force of terror behind the ruling Duvalier family; President Jean-Claude Duvalier used to brag that they were his personal army.

But last Friday, Duvalier fled the country, and with him vanished the authority that the macoutes had wielded ruthlessly over the Haitian people.

The people struck back.

Crowds surrounded Vericain and a few of his macoutes in their two-story concrete headquarters. "They came after us," he said. "We had to protect ourselves. We fired a few shots in the air."

Eventually, it took U.S.-trained troops from the regular army to rescue Vericain and his militiamen from the wrath of the crowd. Other macoutes were not so fortunate. In Port-au-Prince, scores of militiamen reportedly were beaten or hacked to death by mobs in a two-day catharsis of vengeance. Witnesses said that one mob paraded the head of a macoute around on a stake.

Haiti's new National Council of Government announced Monday that the macoutes had been disbanded. In an effort to prevent more mob violence, the army took some of the macoutes into protective custody, including the shadowy director of the organization, a woman who uses the name Max Adolphe. Other militiamen have gone into hiding.

Vericain, on the other hand, on Wednesday sat in his comfortable but modest home overlooking Petionville, the army guards having left the day before.

"Me, I don't care what happened to the rest of the macoutes," Vericain said. "I'm finished with them. To hell with them. They took all the money and look at me - they left me broke."

The immediate dissolution of a powerful force estimated to number between 11,000 and 15,000 men is an example of Haiti's many contradictions. So is Vericain sitting peacefully at home while other macoutes lie heaped in the capital's morgue. In the wake of Duvalier's flight, the anger of the people, known for decades as the most impoverished in the Western Hemisphere, has been surprisingly selective. Mobs ransacked the homes of Duvalier and some of his closest associates, but the homes of other rich people - not known to be as closely related to the regime - have not been touched.

Similarly, while some macoutes were hunted down and killed, others were merely hassled. Witnesses described some who were merely stripped of their hated blue uniforms and displayed in public in their underwear.

The Haitian people apparently have tried to fit the punishment to the crime.

The macoutes were not a monolithic, well-organized militia. They were far more than the denim-clad thugs who stood on street corners armed with weapons ranging from compact machine guns to ancient bolt-action rifles. They were more like a government-sanctioned Mafia.

"I just want you to know," Vericain said, smiling so his pencil-thin mustache curled at the edges, "that not all macoutes were savages."

Many middle-class Haitians joined the macoutes and never wore a blue uniform. Macoute leaders sold them membership cards in kind of a protection racket - the card, when flashed, commanded respect.

"Some joined the macoutes to protect themselves from the macoutes, not because they believed in Jean-Claude Duvalier," one Petionville businessman said.

In Petionville, it is widely believed that Vericain made much of his money by selling such memberships. He denied it. He also said that the militia under his command was disorganized and that he could not control recruiting or discipline.

"Well, you know, it's true they did some bad things," he said. "I never did them. But when I heard of the incidents, I told the soldiers not to do it. Sometimes, they gave me the nickname of 'the Preacher.' "

Vericain, who said he was in his 60s, wore a cream-colored leisure suit and a white sport shirt that did not hide his paunch. Around his neck was a gold chain and, on his finger, a gold ring on which the initial "P" was drawn in diamonds. In the driveway, beside the potted plants and pine trees, was parked a new four-wheel-drive Jeep. A toothless maid served coffee in tiny cups with gold-plated spoons.

"The other guys, they took all the money," he said."They took me for a dupe. They thought I was soft. That's what's really bothered me. I didn't come out of it with anything, while some of the others, they got rich in six months. Me, I have to sell my house to keep up my standard of living."

That standard of living began to take shape in 1959, Vericain said, when he was asked to join the new militia organized by Jean-Claude's father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Like most of the original members, Vericain was a member of Duvalier's political party, which had won the 1957 national election. Duvalier nicknamed the militiamen the tonton macoutes, a Creole phrase roughly meaning "bogyman."

Duvalier formed the group to serve in the national defense, but in reality, the macoutes functioned primarily as an internal security force. Duvalier's creation was a shrewd political move: Two Haitian presidents had been ousted in the 1950s by army coups, and the macoutes effectively split military power between the militia and the army. (Four of the six members of the current National Council of Government are in the army.)

"It was a force created to keep the regime in power," Vericain said.

Under Francois Duvalier and his son, the macoutes were given carte blanche to enforce the laws and repress dissent. The blue-uniformed militiamen would beat or jail anyone who criticized the government, Haitians say, but their services were not exclusive: Most macoutes could be bought with a bribe.

Human rights organizations make no precise estimates, saying only that the macoutes killed "thousands" while they controlled the country through terror. Backed by the full authority of the government, the macoutes could get away with anything.

"Some joined for the good of the country," Vericain said. "Some came for the good of themselves, to get money or to get land. There were even some who joined the macoutes to get a woman, to have the authority to take a woman by jailing or killing her man."

The procedure for joining the militia, never public, is still not known. What is clear, though, is that these days none of the macoutes want anything to do with it.

Jean-Claude Duvalier's plans to flee Haiti were kept a secret from the macoutes, a government official said this week, because it was feared that the fiercely loyal militia would fight with the army to try to keep the dictatorship in power. After all, the official said, the macoutes "had the most to lose."

But when Duvalier slipped out of the capital and flew away to France in predawn darkness, the organization dissolved as quickly as the men could shed their blue uniforms.

"After I heard that the regime fell," Vericain said, "I burned all my uniforms, burned all my cards, I burned everything blue. I turned in my arms. I feel relieved now. . . .

"He's really a vagabond," he said, "to do something like that to us, to leave us. He left us to be lynched by the mob." home page   
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