Cit­i­zens en­dure a liv­ing hell on the ‘Is­land of the Damned’

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES - AN­DREW MALONE

THE FIRST in­de­pen­dent black state, set up 200 years ago af­ter a re­bel­lion by African slaves against colo­nial France, the moun­tain­ous is­land is home to rare birds and an­i­mals and mist-shrouded trop­i­cal forests.

But it is no par­adise for the coun­try’s nine mil­lion peo­ple. In­deed, the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake now bring­ing death and heart­break is the lat­est in a long line of tragedies to be­fall a place dubbed the Is­land of the Damned.

Those with the mis­for­tune to be born in Haiti – part of the is­land of His­pan­iola, shared with the Do­mini­can Repub­lic – have long en­dured a liv­ing hell.

With one in 10 un­der-40s in­fected with HIV, and mil­lions liv­ing in squalor and des­ti­tu­tion, thou­sands try to flee each year to the US by hang­ing on to any­thing that will float.

While hur­ri­canes, floods and earth­quakes have all dev­as­tated the land­scape over the years, the big­gest threat has come from hu­mans.

Suc­ces­sive dic­ta­tors have raped, mur­dered and even re­put­edly eaten their en­e­mies.

De­scribed by one com­men­ta­tor as an “in­ter­na­tional crime scene” rather than a coun­try, Haiti be­came in­fa­mous around the world dur­ing the reign of Fran­cois “Papa Doc” Du­va­lier, a for­mer doc­tor who mur­dered 100 000 peo­ple and for med a pri­vate band of killers called the Ton­ton Ma­coutes. Wear­ing their trade­mark mir­rored sun­glasses and de­signer T-shirts, th­ese mur­der­ers and can­ni­bals were named af­ter a ter­ri­fy­ing bo­gey­man from Haitian mythol­ogy, who car­ried off naughty chil­dren into slav­ery.

The Ton­ton Ma­coutes cut out the hearts, eyes and lungs of op­po­nents with ma­chetes, while Papa Doc, who stole al­most R12 bil­lion in for­eign aid, in­sisted that ev­ery tele­vi­sion and ra­dio pro­gramme had to be en­tirely in praise of his rule.

In power from 1957, Papa Doc made voodoo the coun­try’s of­fi­cial re­li­gion and claimed to be Baron Samedi, the re­li­gion’s spirit of death. He of­ten wore a top hat and tails while de­mand­ing the skulls of his dead vic­tims be brought to his palace in Port-au-Prince.

He col­lected blood from pris­on­ers who had been tor­tured and killed and sold it for $22 per half litre to US health groups.

He once or­dered the death of all black dogs in the coun­try af­ter a po­lit­i­cal en­emy was ru­moured to have trans­formed into one.

Even af­ter Papa Doc died in 1971 there was no respite for Haiti. Baby Doc, his de­ranged son, took over and con­tin­ued the ter­ror.

Af­ter 15 more years of blood­shed and op­pres­sion, the peo­ple fi­nally rose up in 1986 and Baby Doc was forced to flee into ex­ile in France.

But the tor­ment did not end with the Du­va­liers. Af­ter the coun­try’s first free elec­tions in 1991, the new pres­i­dent, Jean Ber­trand Aristide, was forced to flee af­ter a coup by cor­rupt mil­i­tary fig­ures keen to con­trol co­caine smug­gling routes.

In 1993, I watched as the might of the US mil­i­tary was re­pelled by mobs armed with stones and clubs when Amer­i­can troops ar­rived to re­store or­der.

Papa and Baby Doc were long gone, but gangs of Ton­ton Ma­coutes roamed the streets in trucks, ran­domly shoot­ing any­one they passed.

Aristide re­turned to power in 1994 with a big­ger US force – only to flee again af­ter threats that he would be hacked to death and eaten.

Since then, de­spite the pres­ence of an in­ef­fec­tive UN peace­keep­ing force, gangs have con­tin­ued to wreak havoc and mur­der through­out a coun­try where new graves are guarded to pre­vent bodies be­ing stolen for voodoo rit­u­als.

The most in­fa­mous of th­ese killers is the Can­ni­bal Gang, a group of sadists once led by a for­mer pris­oner with po­lit­i­cal as­pi­ra­tions, who was him­self shot in the eyes and had his heart cut out in 2004.

His gang lives on, mur­der­ing in­no­cent peo­ple and al­legedly eat­ing their or­gans.

As the world re­acted with pledges of help for the lat­est trau­ma­tised vic­tims of the Is­land of the Damned, res­cuers con­tin­ued their des­per­ate search for bodies and rel­a­tives waited for news.

For the peo­ple of Haiti, though, hope has al­ways been a rare com­mod­ity. – Daily Mail

Papa Doc Du­va­lier

Baby Doc Du­va­lier

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.