The Creation of the Tontons Macoutes, July 29, 1959
- Friday, July 29, 2011 7:32 PM
In July of 1958, A group of former Haitian military officers headed by former Lieutenant of the Haitian Armed Forces, Alix 'Sonson' Pasquet gathered in Miami, Florida to conspire an uprising to overthrow Francois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier.
Duvalier had been in power for less than a year by this time, being elected in October of 1957. His political capital had waned, the changes the people expected had not come. Opposition had gain much political ground.
Before coming to power, Haiti had seen a turbulent period from 1956 - 1957 where four governments including a military junta had been installed. The state was weak and instability was on every breath. By the summer of 1958 the cycle was ripe to start again.
Lieutenant Pasquet, and other former Lieutenants of the HAF, Lieutenants Henri 'Riquet' Perpignan and Phillipe 'Fito' Dominique, left Miami for the Bay of Port-au-Prince with 5 American mercenaries aboard a yacht called the 'Molly C'.
For unknown reasons the Molly C would be diverged and would become beached on the coast of Montrouis . Lieutenant Alix Leveille, assigned to the city of Saint Marc and three soldiers went to investigate the crashed ship.
A firefight broke out, one of the soldiers of Saint Marc died on the spot, the two others including Leveille were injured and rushed to the hospital. Doctor Edgar Ledan who treated the wounded men said that the invaders fired first. Ledan was unable to save either of the men. One died that night, the other, a few days later.
The invaders ditched the Molly C, commandeering a pick-up truck which they drove to Port-au-Prince. In Saint Marc, Colonel Max Laurenceau heard of incident on the beach but relayed it to Port-au-Prince, First-Lieutenant Charles Joseph Lemoine quite late. The incident remained unknown to the higher echelns of the army until the following day.
Former lieutenants, now invaders, were familiar of with the National Palace and the Casernes Dessalines (military barracks behind the palace) so their arrival, a surprise, found no resistance. The soldier who opened the gate for them was killed immediately another, the night duty officer, Theopile Nazaire, veteran of 25 years, was killed as well.
The proceed to kill Sergeant Preston, a sharpshooter, responsible for the deaths of Hans Wolf, Donatien Dennery, Lespinasse and Desrivieres all on a single day in May of 1957. The barracks were completely taken over by the invaders by the killing of two other soldiers, the Jean-Louis brothers.
The men of the Molly C had taken gotten hold of munitions and were now heavily armed. The rest of the soldiers in Casernes Dessalines were held hostage and a panic reached the National Palace by this point.
President Francois Duvalier later wrote of the night:
"Pasquet then asked me to identify myself, my title and position. I answered: 'President of the Republic and Commander in Chief of the Haitian Armed Forces.'"
"Then, the small raving mad man dared to order the Head of State to surrender with a white flag because, according to him, he was in control of the National Jail, the Police Headquarters, the Coast Guard Headquarters, and all the military outposts around Port-au-Prince."
An account of what happened next claims that Papa Doc donned the uniform of a soldier (a private in the Haitian Army) to facilitate his escape in the mist of confusion.
The report says that Papa Doc was ready to leave and had contacted the Columbian Embassy to seek political asylum where he planned to go with his spouse, while his children, under the protection of Captain Pierre Merceron would be brought to the Liberian Embassy.
Papa Doc thought there were more than thirteen invaders, and that they had the support of the entire battalion of Casernes Dessalines. He scheduled his departure for the next morning at dawn.
Something went wrong for the invaders.
The Molly C invaders could have been overconfident. Perhaps there was a plan that involved members of the Coast Guard, the Police and the Army. But reaching Port-au-Prince prematurely, precipitated by the incident that took place earlier on the coast of Montrious, may have changed the agreed-upon strategy and thrown off the participants.
So what occurred in the night of 28 July to 29 July 1957 may well have not been a planned coordinated attack with supported elements to rejoin the group.
It seems to be a rather hasty decision, and/or these men may have been sold a bill of goods because no army, police or coast guard personnel was willing or prepared, as they initially thought, to lend them essential support. Another consideration is that, to carry out the battle plan, Pasquet was counting on all the weapons and ammunitions that were stored in the Casernes Dessalines, unaware that they had been moved to the National Palace.
In the morning hours, Lt. Pasquet tried in vain by phone to convince and rally other young officers to join his uprising. He called the National Prison and told Major GĂ©rard Constant to set free several political prisoners, in particular ex-lieutenant Raymond Chassagne and ex-captain Max Corvington.
The Major, wanting to know what was going on, and not liking the fact that a lieutenant was ordering him, went to the National Palace where he met with Captain Claude Raymond, the Presidentâ€™s aide-de-camp. Captain Raymond had earlier spoken by phone with Pasquet who had urged him to join the rebellion against Duvalier.
By dawn, Colonel Louis Roumain, who was inside the Casernes and held prisoner during the heavy pounding of the Casernes by machine guns, escaped by falling from a window breaking away from the chair where he was tied up.
Roumain confirmed to Captains Henri Namphy and Jean-Baptiste Hilaire that the number of assailants was only eight. A few minutes later, Lieutenant Pierre Holly who also escaped from the Casernes gave the same information to Captains Charles Pierre-Louis and Kesner Blain.
Around the same time, Lt. Charles Lemoine, whose office was located across from Casernes Dessalines in the Military Hospital, had a good view of the invaders entering the Casernes in the Pick Up (Tap-Tap) that was initially commandeered from Montrouis. Using a short cut by jumping the wall facing the Blood bank building, behind the Military Hospital, went to the Army Headquarters (Quartier General) to confirm that the group counted not more than eight members.
The four above-mentioned captains were the ones who provided the military response to the assault on the Casernes Dessalines. They placed and used 30 and 50 caliber machine guns in strategic positions. One was placed to cover the southwest corner of the Casernes (the area known as Semaphore) another heavy machine gun was set up by the National Museum behind the grand stand known as â€śles Tribunesâ€ť on the Champ de Mars covering the eastern entrances and the part of the Casernes facing the Champ-de-Mars; another machine gun was positioned in front of â€śPalais de Justiceâ€ť (the high court building) to cover the southwest entrances as well as the street in front of the Casernes.
Soldiers were positioned in front of the â€śQuartier Generalâ€ť (Army Headquarters), and the ministry of Finance Building. The main effort of their forces was in the National Palace backyard facing the back of the Casernes Dessalines. They effectively surrounded the Casernes Dessalines, and all the escape routes the rebels would be able to use.
When Duvalier was told that there was only eight men, he decided to stay and fight. He wrote in his memoirs:
I put on my military uniform as Commander in Chief; picked up his rifle and helmet. I waited for dawn with cohorts of supporters and gave the order to attack. With heavy 30 and 50 caliber weapons in my possession, and the armored vehicles I ordered into the streets and quickly defeated the enemy.
But the assault on the rebels was not an order that the President gave according to the reports. The four Haitian Army Captains headed by Captain Henri Namphy, were the ones that initiated the go ahead to open fire on the Casernes.
The battle on the Casernes Dessalines
The assault on the Casernes Dessalines started with a grenade thrown inside the Commandantâ€™s office where Alix Pasquet was making phone calls. His head half blown off, he laid on his back looking at a picture of Duvalier on the wall. That picture had a bullet hole in it.
Arthur Payne was next to go. He draped himself in a mattress, and asks for mercy claiming to be an American news reporter. His legs were covered with bandages. He must have been the one wounded at the beach. No mercy was given; he was killed with a burst from an automatic weapon.
The body of â€śFitoâ€ť Dominique was also found in the same room. He had more bullet holes in him than a strainer. His hand was still grasping the handle of a machine gun.
Near him another body was found, that of Joe Walker, the Captain of the Molly C. His tattooed arms formed a cross around his neck, next to an empty pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes. He had a bullet hole in the ear.
At the other end of the room, seated behind a desk, was Dany Jonesâ€™ body. He had a bullet hole in the forehead.
The three surviving rebels (Kersten, Hickey and Perpignan) tried to escape by crossing over the military hospital (HĂ´pital Militaire). Their strategic retreat in the Bois de ChĂŞnes was cut short. (Bois de ChĂŞnes is a gully that runs behind the military hospital)
Hickey was armed with a sub-machine gun. As he ran, a soldier noticed him and shot him down in the yard of the military hospital.
A wounded Perpignan ran in the yard of Dr. Mondestinâ€™s clinic. He asked a young boy to hide him in a chicken coop, but as the roar of the mob coming from down the street drew near, the boy overtaken by fear tried to run away and got killed by Perpignan.
The sound of gunfire gave away his position, and lead to his death. His naked body was later mutilated, pulled throughout the streets of the city, and brought to Duvalier at the National Palace.
The last one to die was Kersten who had simply walked out of the Casernes, trying to mingle with the crowd. But once recognized, he was killed by machete. His mutilated body was also dragged in the streets of Port-au-Prince before being taken to the morgue.
By 9 AM, it was all over. All the invaders were dead. Duvalier dressed in a military uniform, helmet on, wearing a forty-five colt in a holster and another in his belt, posed for pictures. He later led a triumphant procession of cars in Port-au-Prince, accompanied by Captain Claude Raymond and one of his Cabinet Ministersâ€™ named Duvigneau.
Later on that day, many congratulatory messages arrived at the National Palace. Among them, those of two former Haitian Presidents: Franck Sylvain and Elie Lescot. The irony of the moment is that Henri Perpignan is a former aide-de-camp to President Lescot, and also the nephew of Mrs. Elie Lescot.
Thus ended the events of 28 to 29 July 1958 recorded as the first armed attack against President FranĂ§ois â€śPapa Docâ€ť Duvalier, and from which he drew his aura of invincibility!
It was on this day, in remembrance of this victory, that a year later on July 29, 1959 that the Tontons Macoutes officially came to being.
Source: Fordi 9