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The Tonton Macoute (Haitian Creole: Tonton Makout) or simply as the Macoute was a special operations unit within the Haitian paramilitary force created in 1959 by dictator François "Papa Doc" Duvalier. In 1970 the militia was renamed the Milice de Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (Militia of National Security Volunteers or MVSN, perhaps named after the homonymous Italian Fascist paramilitary organisation). Haitians named this force after the Haitian Creole mythological Tonton Macoute (Uncle Gunnysack) bogeyman, who kidnaps and punishes unruly children by snaring them in a gunny sack (French: macoute) and carrying them off to be consumed at breakfast.
Reign of terror
After the July 1958 Haitian coup d'état attempt against President François Duvalier, he disbanded the army and all law enforcement agencies in Haiti and executed numerous officers. He created a paramilitary force in 1959, Milice de Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (Militia of National Security Volunteers or MVSN), two years after he became president, that answered only to him. He perceived a threat to his regime from the regular armed forces.
Duvalier authorized the Tontons Macoutes to commit systematic violence and human rights abuses to suppress political opposition. They were responsible for unknown numbers of murders and rapes in Haiti. Political opponents often disappeared overnight, or were sometimes attacked in broad daylight. Tontons Macoutes stoned and burned people alive. Many times they put the corpses of their victims on display, often hung in trees for everyone to see and take as warnings against opposition. Family members who tried to remove the bodies for proper burial often disappeared themselves. Anyone who challenged the MVSN risked assassination. Their unrestrained state terrorism was accompanied by corruption, extortion and personal aggrandizement among the leadership. The victims of Tontons Macoutes could range from a woman in the poorest of neighborhoods who had previously supported an opposing politician to a businessman who refused to comply with extortion threats (ostensibly as donations for public works, but which were in fact the source of profit for corrupt officials and even President Duvalier). The Tontons Macoutes murdered between 30,000 and 60,000 Haitians.
Luckner Cambronne led the Tonton Macoute throughout the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. His cruelty earned him the nickname "Vampire of the Caribbean". He profited by extortion carried out by his followers. In 1971, President Duvalier died and his widow Simone, and son Baby Doc Duvalier ordered Cambronne into exile. Cambronne moved to Miami, Florida where he lived until his death in 2006.
Some of the most important members of the Tonton Macoute were Vodou leaders. This religious affiliation gave the Macoutes a kind of unearthly authority in the eyes of the public. From their methods to their choice of clothes, Vodou always played an important role in their actions. The Tontons Macoutes wore straw hats, blue denim shirts and dark glasses, and were armed with machetes and guns. Both their allusions to the supernatural and their physical presentations were used with the intention of instilling fear and respect.
The Tontons Macoutes were a ubiquitous presence at the polls in the 1961 election, in which Duvalier's official vote count was an "outrageous" and fraudulent 1,320,748 to 0, electing him to another term. They appeared in force again at polls in 1964, when Duvalier held a rigged referendum that declared him President for Life.
The Tontons Macoutes remained active even after the presidency of "Papa Doc" Duvalier's son Baby Doc Duvalier ended in 1986. Massacres led by paramilitary groups spawned from the Macoutes continued during the following decade. The most feared paramilitary group during the 1990s was the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haïti (FRAPH), which Toronto Star journalist Linda Diebel described as modern Tontons Macoutes, and not the legitimate political party they claimed to be.
Representation in other media
- The Comedians (1966) is about the struggle of a former hotel owner against the Tonton Macoute.
- The Comedians (1967), adaptation of the book as a feature film, starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Ustinov and Alec Guinness.
- "Heaven Knows" a song by Robert Plant on his album Now and Zen, references the Tonton Macoute.
- The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), a horror film directed by Wes Craven, loosely based on the book of the same name, deals with Haitian Vodou and Duvalierist political repression.
- The Dew Breaker (2004) is a novel by Edwidge Danticat that features the Tonton Macoute as important in the plot.
- Prior to her solo career, Sinéad O'Connor sang in a band called Ton Ton Macoute.
- This terror group is also mentioned in season 1, episode 9 of the popular television series Dexter. Within the episode, a former member of the Tonton Macoute is recognized and killed by a Miami police officer that formerly was part of the US special forces stationed in Haiti.
- Taylor, Patrick (1992). "Anthropology and Theology in Pursuit of Justice". Callaloo. Johns Hopkins University Press. 15 (3): 813. doi:10.2307/2932023. ISSN 0161-2492. JSTOR 2932023. (subscription required (. ))
After François Duvalier was elected president with popular support in 1957, he created his own security force because he did not trust the army. (Its popular name, tonton makout, is taken from a tale about an uncle who carries off children in a bag on his shoulder.)
- Bernat, J. Christopher (1999). "Children and the Politics of Violence in Haitian Context: Statist violence, scarcity and street child agency in Port-au-Prince" (PDF). Critique of Anthropology. Sage Publications. 19 (2): 121–122. doi:10.1177/0308275X9901900202. ISSN 0308-275X. Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 December 2013.
Assisted by contemporary factions of the notorious tonton makout – the rightist, army-supported civilian death squads – Cedras completed what would turn out to be the bloodiest coup d'etat in recent Haitian history.
- Fouron, Georges E. (2009). "2. Leaving Home § 4. 'I, Too, Want to Be a Big Man': The Making of a Haitian 'Boat People'". In Okpewho, Isidore; Nzegwu, Nkiru. The New African Diaspora. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-253-35337-5. LCCN 2009005961. OCLC 503473672. OL 23165011M.
The strength of his government was invested in a non-salaried paramilitary civilian militia known as the Tonton Makout (Uncle Knapsack). Staffed by informers, spies, bullies, neighbourhood bosses and extortionists, the Makout freely used extreme violence, terror, and intimidation to cow the population out of all illusions of destabilising the regime.
- Fass, Simon M. (1988). "Schooling". Political Economy in Haiti: The Drama of Survival. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. p. 250. ISBN 0-88738-158-8. LCCN 87-25532. OCLC 16804468. OL 4977156W. Retrieved 22 September 2015.
- Danticat, Edwidge (1994). Breath, Eyes, Memory (in English and Haitian Creole). 16. New York: Soho Press. ISBN 978-1-56947-142-5. LCCN 94-38568. OCLC 29254512. OL 1806978W. Retrieved 22 September 2015.
- "The Tonton Macoutes: The Central Nervous System of Haiti's Reign of Terror". Council on Hemispheric Affairs. 11 March 2010. Archived from the original on 26 May 2015.
- Filan, Kenaz (2007). "1.2. The Roots of Haitian Vodou". The Haitian Vodou Handbook: Protocols for Riding with the Lwa. Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books. p. 21. ASIN B003GDFRQ0. ISBN 978-1-59477-995-4. LCCN 2006028676. OCLC 748396065. OL 8992653W.
- Sprague, Jeb (2012). "1. A History of Political Violence against the Poor § The Blood-Soaked Record of the Duvaliers". Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti. New York: Monthly Review Press. p. 33. ASIN B00BCKYXIC. ISBN 978-1-58367-303-4. LCCN 2012015221. OCLC 828494729. OL 16618213W.
- Henley, Jon (14 January 2010). "Haiti: a long descent to hell". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 15 July 2015.
- Charles, Jacqueline (26 September 2006). "Obituary: Luckner Cambronne" (PDF). Miami Herald. Archived from the original on 11 July 2009.
- Schmidt, Bettina E. (2011). "5. Anthropological Reflections on Religion and Violence". In Murphy, Andrew R. The Blackwell Companion to Religion and Violence. Blackwell Companions to Religion. 42. John Wiley & Sons. p. 121. ISBN 978-1-4443-9573-0. LCCN 2011002516. OCLC 899182009. OL 16190447W.
- Kellough, Gretchen Elizabeth (2008). "5. Mythological and Fantastic Female Communities § Breath, Eyes, Memory". Tisseroman: The Weaving of Female Selfhood within Feminine Communities in Postcolonial Novels (PhD). Ann Arbor: ProQuest. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-549-50778-9. OCLC 466441492.
- Abbott, Elizabeth (1991) [1st pub. 1988]. Haiti: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy (Rev. and updated ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-671-68620-8. LCCN 90024770. OCLC 22767635. OL 1680900W.
- Greene, Graham (1966). The Comedians (book). New York: The Viking Press. ASIN B0078EPH2C. LCCN 66012636. OCLC 365953. OL 106070W.
- Danticat, Edwidge (2004). The Dew Breaker (1st ed.). New York: Knopf. ISBN 1-4000-4114-7. LCCN 2003060788. OCLC 52838918. OL 1806976W.
- McNeil, Legs (April 1990). "Sinead". Spin. Vol. 6 no. 1. p. 54. ISSN 0886-3032.