Throughout history, mankind has seen the rise and fall of many ruthless dictators. One such malevolent dictator was François Duvalier. He was popular by the name Papa Doc.
Under his regime of suppression and terror, over 30,000 Haitians were killed and many more exiled. Here are 30 interesting François Duvalier facts that will intrigue you if you happen to love reading about dictators like Stalin, Hitler, Robert Mugabe, Mussolini etc.
Interesting François Duvalier Facts: 1-5
1. François Duvalier was the 40th President of Haiti. In 1950 he resisted a military coup and was elected as President of Haiti in 1957.
2. Born on April 14, 1907 at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, François Duvalier became a ruthless dictator and started a terror regime.
3. His most powerful weapon was a militia group known as Tonton Macoute that was formed from a purged military group.
4. He also made use of voodoo and personality cult (through use of propaganda and mass media) to strengthen his rule and declared himself ‘President for Life’ in 1964 and thereby eliminating any term limit for his rule.
5. During his regime, over 30,000 Haitians were murdered and executed and many more were sent to exile. All these activities were carried out by Tonton Macoute.
Interesting François Duvalier Facts: 6-10
6. His initial years as President were a period of relatively peaceful reign (not completely peaceful) when he took several steps to fight diseases successfully. This is precisely why he earned the title Papa Doc.
7. Ironically, Papa Doc’s father – Duval Duvalier was a justice of peace but Papa Doc himself became a ruthless dictator. His mother Ulyssia Abraham was a baker.
8. In 1934, François Duvalier earned a degree in medicine from University of Haiti and then served as staff physician in various local hospitals. He also studied public health for one year at University of Michigan.
9. During his early life, François Duvalier was not much into politics but rather stayed involved in his education. However in 1915 when United States started occupation of Haiti, he gradually became involved with politics.
10. United States was doing no good in Haiti but was rather involved in violently repressing political views of Haitian leaders. U.S. occupied Haiti for the mere sake of economic benefits. All these factors left a very strong impression on François Duvalier who was at that time very young.
Interesting François Duvalier Facts: 11-15
11. American interests were benefited by mulattos (people born from one black parent and one white parent) who formed the elite class of Haiti. However, the majorities of the Haitians were black and were extremely poor. François Duvalier was very much aware of the concealed political power of the black majority and also knew how much the black people hated the mulattos.
12. Dr. Jean Price-Mars, a Haitian author started a movement known as négritude and Duvalier became involved with the movement and started studying Voodoo. Later in 1938 he co-founded Les Griots – a journal.
13. François Duvalier became close to the then President Dumarsais Estimé in 1946 and soon became Director General of the National Public Health Service.
14. In 1949 Duvalier became Minister of Health as well as Minister of Labor. Soon President Dumarsais Estimé was overthrown in a coup by General Paul Magloire and Duvalier was forced into hiding until 1956. In 1956 an amnesty was declared and in the same year in December, Magloire left Haiti. After the resignation of Magloire, the rule of Haiti came into the hands of provincial governments.
15. In 1957 Presidential elections started where François Duvalier competed against Louis Déjoie. Louis Déjoie was a mulatto industrialist and land-owner.
Interesting François Duvalier Facts: 16-20
16. Louis Déjoie was defeated by Duvalier by a margin of 678,860 votes. The Presidential elections took place in September 1957. By October 22, 1957, major supporters of Déjoie were exiled and a new constitution was adopted.
17. By 1958 an army coup attempted to overthrow Duvalier but it was unsuccessful. The result was that the chief-of-staff was replaced and the Presidential Guard of the army was converted into an elite corp responsible for maintaining the power of the President.
18. Duvalier then replaced general staff with people loyal to him. In 1958, 5 Americans and 3 exiled Haitians attempted to overthrow François Duvalier but unfortunately, they had to lose their lives.
19. Tonton Macoute was formed in 1959 and was named as Milice Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (National Security Volunteer Militia). This rural militia was formed with the aim of extending Duvalier’s regime in Haitian countryside.
20. In 1959, an insulin overdose caused a massive heart attack and François Duvalier became unconscious for 9 hours. He was a diabetic. Some people think that the heart attack caused severe neurological damage and made him paranoid.
Interesting François Duvalier Facts: 21-25
21. Leader of Tonton Macoute, Clément Barbot was given power by Duvalier during his recovery. When Duvalier returned, he started accusing Barbot of planning a plot to overthrow him from power and immediately had Barbot imprisoned.
22. In 1963 Barbot was released but attempted to overthrow Duvalier by kidnapping Duvalier’s children. It was an unsuccessful plot which resulted in a massive hunt for Barbot who was eventually captured and shot in 1963.
23. Those who supported Barbot were also hunted down. Interrogation chambers were made where accused people were submerged in sulfuric acid. Sometimes Duvalier would peep through holes deliberately made on walls and sometimes would physically be present in those interrogation rooms.
24. By 1961, Tonton Macoute became twice as big as army.
25. Foreign-born bishops of Haiti were expelled by Duvalier in name of Nationalism. As a result, the Catholic Church excommunicated him.
Interesting François Duvalier Facts: 26-30
26. In 1966, Duvalier managed to earn a one-time permission from Holy See to nominate Haiti’s Catholic hierarchy. With this, the rich but minority mulattoes where were supported by the Church and protected by the military, lost control of Haiti.
27. In 1961, Duvalier redid the constitution and held new Presidential election despite the fact that his term was about to end in 1963. The new Presidential election was so rigged that Duvalier received 100% of the votes and why not? The new Presidential election did not have any opposing candidate. After the election, the new constitution prohibited any kind of re-election.
28. In 1964, the remarkably rigged constitutional referendum made François Duvalier the President for Life and vested him with absolute power and right to name his successor.
29. During his rule, François Duvalier misappropriated most of foreign aid and loans and directed the money to his personal bank account.
30. Inside Haiti, he started a regime of repression and terror. He had everyone shot (including Presidential Guards) who he thought were plotting against him. He gave power to his closest supporters who too used suppression and terror to enrich their bank accounts. Extortion, theft of government funds, bribery etc. became very common. Mulattos were gradually eliminated. Peasant land holdings were confiscated by government and allotted to militia members. Malnutrition and famine among the dispossessed increased significantly!
François “Papa Doc” Duvalier ruled for 16 years and died on April 21, 1971. His son Jean-Claude Duvalier became the next President. Papa Docs regime was THE MOST repressive regime in northern hemisphere and his legacy of torture, repression and dictatorship was taken forward by his son Jean-Claude Duvalier who later became known as Baby Doc.