The Jeremie massacre (1964)


The Jeremie massacre (1964)

Post by » Sun Jul 20, 2003 11:10 am

On Monday October 11, 1964 - I may be off by one week here - I was sitting in my last year of class in primary school in Jeremie, a city in the Southwestern part of Haiti, when I heard some roof hammering noise that changed the face of the city ever since. The events that followed represent to me the legacy of Francois Duvalier's reign in Haiti. Almost the entire elite of the city was wiped out overnight. Jeremie became like a body without a soul.

The noise I heard came from across the city square where the populace was removi
ng metal sheeting, and anything else that could be removed, from the largest store in the city, "Chez Desquiron," owned by Pierre Sansarick. The city square stood between the "Freres de L'Instruction Chretiennee (F.I.C.)" primary school I was attended and the street where Sansarick's store was located. On the third side of the square, next to the St Louis' church, Gerard Guilbaud's store was located and also being ransacked. On the fourth side of the church, there was the open-air market where all house tables in Jeremie got their supplies daily. Across the open-air market, Pierre Sansarick's house was located and was forced open for public pillage. This house later became the headquarters for the V.S.N. (Volontaires de la Securite Nationale), the official name for the Tonton Macoutes. It is not clear whether it happened the same day, but the residences of Gerard Guilbaud, Victor Villedrouin and Louis Drouin's business were forced open for public looting.

The religious brothers of our school quic
kly released us after the looting started. My mother was working in a pharmacy across the City Square, 100 yards from the F.I.C school. I crossed the square and walked to the pharmacy when I saw hundreds of people going and coming out of Chez Desquiron in a frenzy with their hands full. My mother quickly guided me inside. The populace was having a field day. They took everything in the looted stores and houses, including the doors and windows. Many of them had difficulty carrying the loot. They went to nearby houses to hide the stolen articles and came back for more. Schools remained closed for the rest of the afternoon and weeks after that. Later in the afternoon, a gendarme in police uniform gathered people at street corners, played a rallying march on his trumpet, and read the police communiqué that the town was under general curfew after 6:00 p.m until 6:00 a.m. There were no other means for the city authorities to communicate to the population in a hurry. It is not very clear to me exactly how long schoo
ls remained closed. Maybe those who remembered what happened then can fill in here.

Folks, I was 11 years old when this happened. In 1960 Jeremie , at 11, you were not allowed to take part in the adults' conversation when they visited your house, once you finished parading before them for greetings. Therefore, I missed a lot of the logic of the killings that took place during that time and maybe some important facts. Except that Francois Duvalier, directly or indirectly, was eliminating the mulattos as part of his social and racial revolutions. Some details may not be exactly as I stated it here. But the fact remains that these people got killed during the Duvalier's reign, under direct or indirect orders from him, and their possessions looted first by the authorities who executed the massacre, then by the masses to whom they were opened for public pillage. The real authorities at the time, as was perceived then, were First Lieutenant Abel Jerome for the armed forces and police, and Sanete Balmir f
or the Tonton Macoutes.

The killings were so horrific that I had problems understanding how humanity can get that low. After arresting Pierre Sansarick and decided his fate, they entered his house at night took and killed everything that moved. They killed his wife; a wife sister, Edith; his son, Pierre Jr; the son's wife, Graziella; Pierre Jr's infant baby; another son - I don't remember his name; his teenage son, Reynold; an underage daughter; and even house maids living in the house. Many people claimed that the house's dogs did not get spared. And if that was not enough, some of the people who executed the killings went afterwards to brag that they killed the infant baby by piercing with a bayonet and that "li tordie tankou ve" (he squirmed like a worm). That was Francois Duvalier's signature fight to stay in power. Once one member of a family opposed him, the whole family had to die to eliminate future threats to his hold to power for life. Obviously, I was not a witness to the killings but t
hat was the story reported by the grown-ups that trickled down to us youngsters, at the time.

The Duvalier's people also killed Gerard Guilbaud and his wife whose maiden name was Drouin. It was also reported that she was pregnant at the time. They went to Victor's Villedrouin's house in Bordes took and killed him, his wife and children, including his very popular young teenager at school, Frantz Villedrouin. They also arrested and killed Louis Drouin.

The common denominator in all these massacres was that all the people executed were light skinned mulattos. The actions made all light skinned mulattos of Jeremie living in fear that one night would be their turn, until they left the city. Again, it is not clear whether all the people killed were for the same reason or excuse. I certainly hope that some members on this list or historians can elaborate a little bit on the facts surrounding these massacres. In the case of Pierre Sansarick, his arrest occurred after he and his sons tried repeatedly
to collect from the military authority chief the gas he and the police have been buying for weeks at their pump without paying.

This may be out of character in this post, but I think I have to add it. My mother was in charge of Pharmacie Centrale, a drugstore located in the front part of the house inhabited by the survivors of Lucien Pratt, who died of natural causes a year or two before 1964. His survivors were his wife, who was also a Sansarick, his mother-in-law, Mrs. Tom Sansarick, his four children, Colette, Marie Helene, Primerose, Reynold and an adopted child, Nicole. Graziella Sansarick, a member of the massacred Pierre Sansarick's household was the daughter of Mrs. Tom and thus, the aunt of the children. I used to play with the children, especially Reynold Pratt, about two years younger than me, who was my friend. Sheer terror and pain invaded their house after the disappearance of the Sansaricks. At the time of the looting, there was still some hope that some of the disappeared or arrested
people could still be alive. Access and meetings with the children became difficult, and Mrs. Tom seemed to be always crying. She stayed in the third floor of the house and did not leave it.

A few weeks after October 11, 1964, the children called me and asked to play with them one Saturday afternoon. We all made a circle and held hands to play "la ronde." Then we started moving in unison, singing a song that says "Avant de nous separer, il faut rire et s'amuser, voyons.qui dans la danse.est le plus beau.salue le.quelle personne vous aimez? (Before we separate.we must laugh and have fun . see who is the most beautiful .which person do you love?). Then, taking turn after each round, you must kiss a chosen person. When it was my tun, I kissed each of the girls at first. At the time, I had a huge teenager's crush on Marie Helene. Even though the kisses were on the cheeks, the opportunity to kiss Marie Helene made me pay no attention to the words of the song. The more kisses I gave or received, when it w
as my turn, the happier I was. When it was over, I went home dreaming. The next time I came to the pharmacy, I went to the side door to go the Pratt's house. As I was crossing the side door of the pharmacy that gave to their front yard and the door to their living room, my mother informed me that the whole family has secretly moved out of town the day after the kissing game "la ronde." Then I realized that the whole game was a way to tell me good-bye without putting their lives in danger unnecessarily. I never saw them again since. I always hoped that they were able to leave the country unharmed and alive. I was happy they left Jeremie because of the danger for their lives. At the same time, I was sad to lose such endearing friends.

After the Pratt's left, the majority of mulattos' families living in Jeremie who were not killed moved out of the city. From then on, it was a downward slide for Jeremie. After finishing high school (Baccalaureate I), the majority of the bright youngsters produced by the
city would seek a career elsewhere. To this day, there was never another store like Sansarick's "Chez Desquiron" in Jeremie. Most of the hardware articles that could be bought there now have to be ordered in Port-au-Prince and sent by the weekly ferry. That's if you have someone in Port-au-Prince who is willing to make you the favor of buying it there and another one to carry it on the overloaded and, at times, leaky ferries for you to Jeremie. The movie theaters were reduced to one, Cine Fox. Electricity blackouts became more frequent because of lack of gas. The square's benches wore down and were not repaired. The trees on the square were left untrimmed and the open-air market spread and took over part of the square. The 28-passenger plane that used to make the trip between Port-au-Prince, Cayes and Jeremie every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday stopped coming in for lack of business and other related reasons.

Everybody in Jeremie was living in fear. All young adults felt that they had to join the
Tonton Macoutes for fear of not being labeled anti-Duvalier. That label was a death sentence that could be pronounced against you by anyone, for one reason or another, who did not like you. The massacred families I cited here were just a few of the many people who got killed or disappeared during the Duvalier regime under direct or indirect orders from him. Though I cannot find words to describe the horrors perpetrated during this regime in Jeremie, the criminal and inhumane nature of Francois Duvalier was epitomized to me in his handling of the rebellion of the 19 officers against him. Please allow me to make a reference not necessarily related to Jeremie. After having killed the 19 officers that included Harry Tassy, Michel Josma, Yvan Madiou, and others, Francois Duvalier went on a speech to the nation on radio and roll called the names of each officer individually and answer "ABSENT" after calling each name. By the way, when Francois Duvalier was addressing the nation on radio, all radio stations had to
carry it if the owners or operators cared about the station and their lives.

What kind of people enjoy killing a one-year old baby for political reasons, or go to a whole nation and answered "ABSENT" to the roll calling the names of each and every one of the 19 people he just killed for political reasons?We should not forget these things, even if we forgive.


Let us not forget that Raoul Cedras's father was the Duvalierist mayor of Jeremie during this time. He was directly involved in logistics for the local macoute chief who took part in the massacre. One report has Madame Cedras actually participating by substantiating a rumor of a large cache of diamond jewelry owned by the matriach of the Sansariq family. They reportedly tortured her to death in an attempt to find its location before unceremoniously putting a bullet in her brain. She wore a large diamond engagement ring which Madame Cedras cove
ted and had previously tryed to purchase from her. The transaction was rebuted by the elderly Madame Sansariq as it was a family heirloom.

This was a much discussed topic in the inner circle of Lavalas prior to the appointment of Cedras as the Chief of Staff of the Army in 1991. One faction said that this was evidence that his family history made him an unfit selection for the position while another held the line that his appointment would be a strong symbol of the new "marriage" that must take place between the people of Haiti and the armed forces. While the attempt at symbolism won out, as a valiant attempt at reconciliation and transformation of the army, history has ultimately judged the outcome of that decision.

I welcome any other version of the incident. I have been collecting differing versions and accounts of this horrible massacre for many years now and someday hope to recount and recreate the incident in my next film.