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Duvalier’s Macoutized Nostalgia

Haiti: The Order That Never Was

by PATRICK SYLVAIN

As the country rapidly disintegrated into institutionalized chaos, with Port-au-Prince, the epicenter of disorder, Haitians of a certain dispositions are always complaining about yesteryears of “order” that never were.

Order is often confused with lawfulness.

The nostalgia for “order” under the Duvalier regimes have always been a problematic reading, forgetting that the reign of terror that brought about fear, did not cultivate respect in an ethical way. I am referring to an ethic of civility for the nation, and for citizenship, one that would establish a sustainable order because the nation have had viable institutions that raised and sustained ethical beings, not predators. The order that the Duvalier regimes imprinted upon the land was one of sheer terror, a colossal madness unleashed like a ticking bomb. Each government since 1986, wired their own fuses and imploded the nation to the chaos that has Duvalier asking, “What have you done with my country?”

Mr. Duvalier, what they have done to “your” country is what your terror-obsessed father, and your narrow-minded macoutized self had done with it since 1957, a structural uprooting of institutions and of talents that left the country bare, diseased, vulnerable, and acrid. The distance past so often seems better than the present, especially when the past is never fully linked to the present. Mr. Duvalier, the corrupt and dictatorial President that we have today, or the inept President we had yesterday, or even the stubborn and one man presidency we had prior to that, is part of the same tumor, the malignant cancer your father had exacerbated.

Of course, to be fair, your father was also a part of another cancer that’s been growing in Haiti since independence. You are “a son of a great nationalist” you boasted, forgetting that nationalism creates and have created phobias. The nationalistic version of your father, and yourself for that matter, was a monstrosity of the Macoutized state that created a schizophrenic nation that hacked itself as if confronted with external mortal enemies.

We’ve known terror and madness; first from the French, then the Americans, and then from myopic Haitians. We are expert on terror. Terror does not equate to order, and “your” country is also my country, the country of my father that he and his brothers and many of his friends were forced to leave. The 36,000 henchmen (VSN), the 10,000 soldiers, and the 6,000 police officers (without counting their family members and card carrying VSN supporters) contributed in creating a culture of fear, a culture of survival as if they were scavengers during a time of famine. Let’s not forget the hundred of thousands of Haitians sold to the Dominican Republic to cut sugar cane, and the thousands who died at sea fleeing the hell that Haiti had become. Nostalgia is not warranted.

The problem with recollecting the past in nostalgic terms is very often a false recreation of a life imagined in comparison to the abject present. Certainly, no one would want to live in a condition of abject poverty, to see one’s country ridiculed, rejected, and discounted amongst the relatively functional nations.

However, nostalgia accompanied with nationalistic shame and pride is simply a bad mixture. One that does not allow room for rational thinking in light of nationalistic frustration when chaos seem to engulf sanity, particularly when the desire for order is overwhelming. Indeed, the country is mired in corruption, senseless crimes and repulsing poverty. But, let’s not fool ourselves, the structural crimes, the controlled corruptions, the disappearances and the privatization of the law by those associated with the state is the pillar, the foundation of the morass that Haiti is in today. So, Mr. Duvalier, your family’s Macoutized reign was a hell imposed on the nation.

The privatization of law through Duvalier’s successful monopolization of power placed the Macoutes in a role that was of primary importance to the state, as they, by legal dictum, had blanket authority to either repress or suppress dissent and discourage social upheaval and coups d’etat. As a result, VSN (Macoute) headquarters proliferated across the country (principally in the large urban centers), and created an effective system of restraint that ensured socio-cultural conformity, the ideals of which filtered through a range of institutions as they coalesced around the Macoutized state.

The Macoutized state became the emblematic vehicle of resistance to supposed foreign intervention, mulatto economic supremacy, Vatican interference, liberal and democratically oriented university education, and organized labor. The Macoutized state transformed the nation into an obedient, non-pluralistic entity where political action depended upon the blessings of the supreme executive. In Duvalier’s Macoutized state, political clientelism and the systematic expediency of brute force were the most effective tools in creating a source of state power that was inescapable, apprehending any and all challenges to its legitimacy. The mode of operation was terror.

François Duvalier’s Macoutized state, although not totalitarian in the classical sense, is the quintessential Latin-American dictatorship that seems to grow in strength after each failed attempt to unseat it. At the same time, it benefited from the existence of Castro’s Cuba while the United States engaged with it in a hegemonic war against communism and its potential to spread throughout the Caribbean region. Placing itself in a position of alignment with the US, François Duvalier’s strong stance against communism brought reinforcements to his state-controlled apparatus. Jean-Claude Duvalier was a continuation of the executive state-controlled apparatus of terror that gangrened the society.

With each political and/or, military challenge that Duvalier overcame, the mythology of his invincibility was further embedded in the psyche of the population who had largely been seduced by power and his “love and guardianship” of the black nation. The supremacy of his being became even more entrenched as rank-and-file individuals joined the Macoute corps not only to serve the president, but also to enjoy the benefits of wielding the law for personal gain.

Not surprisingly, privatized law as enjoyed by the Macoutes allowed guided clientelism and opportunism while Duvalier became the supreme subject of cultural aggrandizement, seduction and fear. Hence, Mr. Duvalier (Baby Doc), your dad’s version of nationalism, as well as your version were nothing but state terror under the guise of defending the sovereignty of the nation.

What nation? A nation that abandoned its people in a savage state of widespread illiteracy, destitution, and utterly rendered them defenseless against police and Macoute abuses. Let’s not forget that the expression of the Macoutized State power rested in the capture and execution of all who plotted against you and your father (the Duvaliers), turning violent victories into national gains as institutions mirrored and folded into the ideals of the Macoutized nation. Duvalier’s tactical propaganda was extensive, as David Nicholls remind us, for “several years cars carried the slogan, ‘To wish to destroy Duvalier is to wish to destroy Haiti.”

Indeed, you and your clan have destroyed Haiti.

Patrick Sylvain is a contributing editor to Boston Haitian Reporter, where this article originally appeared.