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The Tonton Macoute (Haitian Creole: Tonton Makout) or simply 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 Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (VSN, Volunteers of the National Security). Haitians named this force after the Haitian mythological bogeyman, Tonton Macoute ("Uncle Gunnysack"), who kidnaps and punishes unruly children by snaring them in a gunny sack (macoute) before carrying them off to be consumed for breakfast.
After the July 1958 Haitian coup d'état attempt against President François Duvalier, he purged the army and law enforcement agencies in Haiti and executed numerous officers as he perceived them as a threat to his regime. To counteract this threat, he created a military force that bore several names. In 1959, his paramilitary force was called the Cagoulards ("Hooded Men"). They were then renamed to Milice Civile (Civilian Militia), and after 1962, Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (Volunteers of the National Security, or VSN). They began to be called the Tonton Macoute when people started to disappear for no apparent reason. This group answered to him only.
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. Anyone who challenged the VSN 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 Tontons Macoute throughout the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. His cruelty earned him the nickname "Vampire of the Caribbean". This particular name was earned by one of his endeavors of extorting blood plasma from locals for sale. Cambronne did this through his company "Hemocaribian" and shipped five tons of plasma per month to US Labs. He would also go on to sell cadavers to medical schools after buying them from Haitian hospitals for $3 per corpse. When the Hospital could not supply this, the local funeral homes would be used. In 1971, President Duvalier died and his widow Simone, and son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier ordered Cambronne into exile. Cambronne moved to Miami, Florida, US, where he lived until his death in 2006.
When François Duvalier came to power in 1957, Vodou was becoming celebrated for its purely Haitian heritage by intellectuals and the griots after having been let go for years by those with education. The Tonton Macoute was heavily influenced by Vodou tradition with denim uniforms resembling clothing like Azaka Medeh, the patron of farmers, and the use of the machete in symbolic reference to Ogun, a great general in Vodou tradition.
Some of the most important members of the Tontons Macoute were Vodou leaders. This religious affiliation gave the Tontons Macoute 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 Tonton 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. Even their title of Tonton Macoute was embedded in Haitian lore of a bogeyman who took children away in his satchel or his Makoute.
The Tontons Macoute were a ubiquitous presence at the polls in the 1961 presidential referendum, 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 constitutional referendum that declared him president for life.
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In 1985 the United States began to shut down funds to Haitian aid, cutting nearly a million dollars from it within a year. Nonetheless the regime pushed forward and even had a national party for the Tontons Macoute. Tonton Macoute day was 29 July 1985, and amongst festivities the group was bestowed new uniforms and was honored by all of Baby Doc's cabinet. In exuberance of celebration the Tonton Macoute went out into the streets and shot 27 people for the national party.
The lack of funds coming to the Tonton Macoute was a result of those funds being intercepted by the Duvalier dynasty which was sometimes taking nearly 80 percent of international aid to Haiti, then turning around to pay only 45 percent of the debts the country owed. This continued until the Tonton Macoute was left on its own when Baby Doc fled the country with an estimated $900m.
The Tonton Macoute remained active even after the presidency of "Papa Doc" Duvalier's son "Baby Doc" ended in 1986, at the height of the Anti-Duvalier protest movement. 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 Tonton Macoutes, and not the legitimate political party it claimed to be.
Led by Emmanual Constant, FRAPH differed from the Tonton Macoute in its denial to submit to the will of a single authority and its cooperation with regular military forces. FRAPH extended its reach far outside that of the Haitian state and had offices present in New York, Montreal and Miami until its disarmament and disbandment in 1994.
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Representation in other media
- The Comedians (1966) is a novel by Graham Greene about the struggle of a former hotel owner against the Tonton Macoute. It was adapted into a feature film starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Ustinov and Alec Guinness.
- Ton-Ton Macoute!, a 1970 album by Johnny Jenkins.
- "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.
- The Tonton Macoute is also mentioned in season 1, episode 9 of the television series Dexter. In the episode, an ex-Cagoulard is recognized and killed by Miami-Dade police sergeant James Doakes, who was formerly stationed in Haiti as an Army Ranger.
- Don Byron mentions the Tonton Macoute while describing Haitian immigrant Abner Louima's brutal interrogation by the NYC Police in his song "Morning 98 (Blinky)" from the 1998 album Nu Blaxploitation.
- The track "Tonton Macoutes" appears on the 1987 album Coup d'État by Muslimgauze.
- In the 2016 video game Mafia III, the New Bordeux Haitian Mob is composed mainly of refugees who fled Haiti to escape from persecution by the Tonton Macoute.
- In the television series The Thick of It, the character Malcolm Tucker jokes in response to why he enters a room without knocking that it is due to his "time with the Haitian death squads".
- In NSV, the character Nasalis states that in 1974 he felt sympathetic towards the Haitian national football team, not being aware of Jean-Claude Duvalier at the time. The character Erik replied that nonetheless the Tonton Macoute was already keeping an eye on him even then.
- In Toni Morisson's essay, "The Habit of Art", Morisson refers to the tragic practice of the Tonton Macoute targeting people who attempted to bury people that were murdered.
- Shrunken Heads (film), features the character Aristide Sumatra, a voodoo priest and former member of the Tonton Macoute, who uses his Tonton Macoute experience to train three shrunken heads in combat to fight criminals.
- In author Shannon Mayer’s Forty-Proof series, the 4th installment (titled Midlife Ghost Hunter) uses a voodoo zombie army called the Tonton Macoutes as the main villain’s army. The story takes place in New Orleans.
- In the TV Series JUSTIFIED Season 5 Episode 01 "A Murder of Crow's" the Tonton Macoute is mentioned by the lead character of the series, Raylan played by actor Timothy Olyphant, while questioning a Haitian suspect that by his appearance & attitude is portrayed to be a likely former member of the group. Raylan mis speaks the name (sarcastically) as Tom Tom Macoo as a means to insult or attempt to agitate the Haitian character.
- In the TV series "Two and a Half Men", Season 3 Episode 17: "The Unfortunate Little Schnauzer", Archie Baldwin makes a reference to Tonton Macoute in his UN jingle for orphaned children.
- Dexter (television series) Season 1 Episode 9 (Father Knows Best) references Tonton Macoute, also referring to them as"The Boogymen". In the episode, Doakes has an altercation with Jacques Bayard, a past member of Tonton Macoute. LaGeurta and Doakes speak about the atrocities committed by Tonton Macoute.
- Roxane Gay's short story "A Cool, Dry Place" (in ayiti) features characters who recall losing their parents to the Tonton Macoute.
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- Taylor, Patrick (1992). "Anthropology and Theology in Pursuit of Justice". Callaloo. 15 (3): 811–823. doi:10.2307/2932023. ISSN 0161-2492. JSTOR 2932023.
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. 19 (2): 121–122. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.623.758. doi:10.1177/0308275X9901900202. ISSN 0308-275X. S2CID 145185450. 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 (eds.). 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 978-0-88738-158-4. LCCN 87-25532. OCLC 16804468. OL 4977156W. Retrieved 22 September 2015.
- Danticat, Edwidge (1994). Breath, Eyes, Memory (in English and Haitian Creole). Vol. 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. 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. ISBN 978-1-58367-303-4. LCCN 2012015221. OCLC 828494729. OL 16618213W.
- Galván, Javier A. (2012). Latin American Dictators of the 20th Century: The Lives and Regimes of 15 Rulers. p. 100. ISBN 978-1476600161. Retrieved 9 April 2017.
- Verner, Dorte, ed. (2007). Social Resilience and State Fragility in Haiti. p. 68. ISBN 978-0821371886. Retrieved 9 April 2017.
- Dupuy, Alex (2006). The Prophet and Power: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the International Community, and Haiti. p. 35. ISBN 978-1461645368. Retrieved 9 April 2017.
- Constant, Isabelle; Mabana, Kahiudi C., eds. (2013). Antillanité, créolité, littérature-monde (in French). p. 114. ISBN 978-1443846325. Retrieved 9 April 2017.
- Henley, Jon (14 January 2010). "Haiti: a long descent to hell". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 15 July 2015.
- Abbott, Elizabeth (21 July 2011). Haiti: A Shattered Nation. Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 978-1-59020-141-1.
- "Duvalier, 64, Dies in Haiti; Son, 19, Is New President". The New York Times. 23 April 1971. Retrieved 5 October 2021.
- Charles, Jacqueline (26 September 2006). "Obituary: Luckner Cambronne" (PDF). Miami Herald. Archived from the original on 11 July 2009.
- 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. ISBN 978-1594779954. LCCN 2006-28676. OCLC 748396065. OL 8992653W.
- "Get to know a Lwa: Kouzen Zaka". 18 May 2016. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
- "Ogou- Vodou, Voodoo Spirit, Lwa of the Nago Nation". Haitian Vodou, Voodoo, Las 21 Divisiones and Sanse. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
- Schmidt, Bettina E. (2011). "5. Anthropological Reflections on Religion and Violence". In Murphy, Andrew R. (ed.). The Blackwell Companion to Religion and Violence. Blackwell Companions to Religion. Vol. 42. John Wiley & Sons. p. 121. ISBN 978-1444395730. 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. p. 202. ISBN 978-0549507789. 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 978-0671686208. LCCN 90024770. OCLC 22767635. OL 1680900W.
- Abbott, Elizabeth (21 July 2011). Haiti: A Shattered Nation. Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 978-1-59020-141-1.
- "Haiti: a long descent to hell". the Guardian. 14 January 2010. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
- "DUVALIER FLEES HAITI TO END FAMILY'S 28 YEARS IN POWER: GENERAL LEADS NEW REGIME; 20 REPORTED DEAD". The New York Times. 8 February 1986. Retrieved 5 October 2021.
- COHA (11 March 2010). "The Tonton Macoutes: The Central Nervous System of Haiti's Reign of Terror". COHA. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
- "Revolutionary Front for Haitian Advancement and Progress (FRAPH) Front Révolutionnaire pour L'Avancement et le Progress Haitien (FRAPH)". www.globalsecurity.org. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
- 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 978-1-4000-4114-5. LCCN 2003060788. OCLC 52838918. OL 1806976W.
- McNeil, Legs (April 1990). "Sinead". Spin. Vol. 6, no. 1. p. 54. ISSN 0886-3032.
- "Muslimgauze - Coup D'Etat". Discogs. Retrieved 22 September 2016.
- "Muslimgauze.org - Discography - Coup D'Etat".
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