Former Haitian Dictator, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, Dies

October 13, 2016

On Saturday, October 4, 2014, the former dictator of Haiti, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, died of an apparent heart attack in his hometown of Port-au-Prince at the age of 63. The former Haitian “President-for-life” had returned to his native land three years prior to his death after spending 25 years in self-exile in France.1 The exile was initiated by an uprising in 1986 that caused Duvalier, his wife, two children, and his mother to board a United States military airplane to France. Upon his return in 2011, Duvalier was faced with a plethora of charges including human rights violations, corruption, abuse of power, and embezzlement.2

Jean-Claude Duvalier rose to power in 1971 following the death of his father, François Duvalier, who had been Haiti’s leader since 1957, assuming the role of President-for-life in 1964. François garnered the nickname “Papa Doc” because of his skills as a medical doctor.3 Shortly preceding his death, “Papa Doc” was able to get the Haitian National Assembly to change an amendment which would allow him to appoint a successor younger than 40 years old. He died less than four months after the altered amendment, and his son, appropriately nicknamed “Baby Doc,” took over as President-for-life on April 22, 1971. Jean-Claude Duvalier was only 19 when he took the role as Haiti’s head of state, and was the youngest national leader in the world at the time. For the next 15 years, Jean-Claude would rule over Haiti in a similarly oppressive manner as his father had for the previous 14.1

During the the Duvalier dynasty, the Haitian population had lived in fear of the secret police, the Tonton Macoutes, later renamed the National Security Volunteers under “Baby Doc.” This paramilitary group would terrorize the citizens and political opposition to the existing regime, often killing them in gruesome fashion and displaying their victims’ bodies to the public to flaunt their power. According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, the Tonton Macoutes “consisted mostly of illiterate fanatics who were converted into ruthless zombie-like gunmen.” During the nearly 30-year long reign of the Duvaliers, this group killed more than 60,000 Haitians, while many more were sent to Fort Dimanche to be “silenced.”4

Fort Dimanche is to Haitians what Auschwitz is to the Jews, Rick Bragg of The New York Times writes. The article features a former prisoner at Fort Dimanche who was held in the prison for six months in the 1970s, named Rolande Michell. Michell was sent to Dimanche after the TonTon Macoutes labeled him a communist. He describes countless atrocities that he witnessed during his time in the prison where it is estimated that upward of 3,000 people were taken and never seen again. Those who stayed in the prison were held in small three-by-three-by-four-foot cells, and were subjected to various forms of torture. Prisoners were starved, beaten, electrocuted, dismembered, blinded, and castrated, and if they did not die, would often times be released to show the public why they should fear Duvalier’s regime.5

In January of 2011, “Baby Doc” made a surprise return to Haiti after a 25 year exile in France. Between his 2011 return and his death, Jean-Claude Duvalier was facing several severe charges, including embezzlement, abuse of power, and corruption. Although he could not initially be charged with human rights violations due to his expired statute of limitations, the charges were reinstated in February of 2014 for the crimes of rape, torture, and murder. However, Duvalier was never convicted as a result of his recent death.2


1. Castillo, Mariano. CNN. “Former Haitian Dictator ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier Dies at 63.”

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2. CNN Library. “Jean-Claude Duvalier Fast Facts.”

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3. USA Today. “Ousted Haitian Dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier Dies.”

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4. Council on Hemispheric Affairs. “The Tonton Macoutes: The Central Nervous System of Haiti’s Reign of Terror.” Available at:

5. Bragg, Rick. The New York Times. “Mission to Haiti: The Troops; The Auschwitz of Haiti for 3 Decades Gives Up the Secrets of its Dark Past.”

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About Author(s)

Asa Equels's picture
Asa Equels
Asa Equels is a junior undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh studying Hispanic Languages and Literatures, as well as pursuing a Certificate in Latin American Studies. He is a member of the university's Cross Country and Track and Field teams. After graduation, Asa plans on continuing his education in graduate school, and hopes to become a teacher/professor and cross country/track coach.