Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who inherited Haiti's presidency from his father in 1971 at age 19 and relinquished it amid protests at age 34, died Saturday in Port-au-Prince. He was 63. Together, Jean-Claude and his father François—known as "Papa Doc" for his pre-politics career as a physician—ruled Haiti for 28 years beginning in 1957, a period that saw the murder or disappearance of tens of thousands of Haitians, as well as the country's slide into the worst poverty in the Western hemisphere.
"The Duvaliers zombified Haiti," Haitian-American journalist Garry Pierre-Pierre told The New York Times last year.
One way they did so was through a paramilitary organization François Duvalier founded to consolidate his hold on power. In a uniform of "straw hats, blue denim shirts, dark glasses, and machetes," in the words of the Washington, D.C.-based research organization the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, the militia known as the Tonton Macoutes was "the main tool for the maintenance of the regime's grasp on power."
Although this organization no longer formally exists, its legacy of paramilitary violence and sheer brutality still contorts Haitian modern political and economic cultures. ... The Haitians nicknamed this warlord-led goon squad the “Tonton Macoutes,” after the Creole translation of a common myth, about an “uncle” (Tonton) who kidnaps and punishes obstreperous kids by snaring them in a gunnysack (Macoute) and carrying them off to be consumed at breakfast.
"I remember those days, and I shudder," said Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, a professor emeritus of Africology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who fled Haiti with his family in 1964, at age 16. "It was absolutely brutal." He recalled classmates disappearing—mere teenagers taken preemptively before they could become adults who would oppose the regime. Observing Haiti after the elder Duvalier's death, Bellegarde-Smith was not hopeful conditions in the country would get better. The best that could be said of Baby Doc, he told me, was that "there were fewer murders under his reign."