380. Intelligence Memorandum, OCI No. 0558/691 2

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Current Assessment of Haitian Security Forces


Stability is a special problem in Haiti because the sudden termination of President Duvalier’s brutal dictatorship would leave the country with no effective institutions or trained personnel to provide government services and continuity. During the past decade Duvalier has personally handled all major administrative matters. Through intrigue and manipulation he has monopolized channels of communication and subjugated all government organizations to his personal whim.

When change does come, available evidence suggests that succession will be controlled by the leaders of one or more of the security forces—the army, civil militia, and secret police. They are in the strongest position to act and will probably be the first to learn of any weakening in Duvalier’s leadership or of his death.

Of the three services, the army is probably in the best position to exercise political and administrative influence after Duvalier’s demise. It is the best organized and most cohesive, and in general its leaders are less closely identified with the excesses of the Duvalier government than those of the other security forces. Individual members of the militia and Ton Ton Macoute, however, could be expected to retain influence in some areas of the country.

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[Map of Haiti]

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The Military

1. During the occupation of Haiti (1915–1934), the US Marines created a multiservice army that was designed originally to combat the Cacos, a group of peasant insurgents. The army consists of a national constabulary with the small coast guard and air corps as subordinate branches, neither of which is significant militarily or politically. The country is divided administratively into nine military departments. The three departments in Port-au-Prince, which are called the Presidential Guard, the Dessalines Battalion, and the Port-au-Prince Police, are directly under the control of the President. Departments are subdivided into districts, sub-districts, and sections. The personnel strength of a military department is roughly equivalent to that of a US battalion. Companies garrison the provincial capital, platoons are in smaller towns, and squads are assigned to villages. In addition, a rural police force under the army operates in isolated areas. The system is useful in counterinsurgency operations. The police forces garrisoned throughout the country locate and isolate rebel forces, and a tactical reserve battalion in Port-au-Prince (Dessalines Caserncs) then goes to the scene of action to engage the enemy.

2. The army has a total strength of about 5,100 men, most of whom are untrained and poorly armed. In November 1966 Duvalier assumed direct command and supervision of the three military departments in Port-au-Prince. The troops there—numbering about 2,000—constitute Haiti’s only effective military Units.

3. Since 1957 President Duvalier has systematically purged all officers who might oppose him—particularly those who have demonstrated strong leadership ability—and has replaced them with individuals who owe him their allegiance. On one occasion, for example, he removed a dynamic, well-trained commander in Cap Haitien who had gained the respect of the people in his department. His replacement is a passive, dissolute person who is incapable of either action or betrayal. There is no evidence that any important military figure has built up a personal following.

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4. Duvalier has also retired or dismissed over 75 officers who were trained in US service schools. In 1961 he closed the Haitian Military Academy in order to deprive the junior officers of US instruction, and in 1963 he shut down the US Naval Mission. Little or no training has been conducted by the Haitian armed forces since then.

5. Of the 15 colonels now on active duty, only nine are graduates of the military academy. The newer officers have had no formal military training, and most of them reportedly received their commissions after they were pardoned for committing a murder, theft, or similar crime, in order to make them indebted to Duvalier. Neither the chief of staff of the army nor the general staff has effective control over the armed forces; they merely perform routine logistical and personal functions. The highest-ranking military officer, General Gerard Constant, the chief of the general staff, is generally characterized as weak, plodding and ineffectual.

6. Military units from Port-au-Prince so far have defeated all exile incursions, probably because the exiles were poorly led and lacked motivation and adequate support. The military have proved capable of effective action only against small isolated un-trained bands, and it is doubtful that the military could succeed against a highly mobile, well-trained, aggressive group operating over a widespread area. Weapons and ammunition have deteriorated, transport must be commandeered, and the communications network is poor.

The Militia

7. The National Security Volunteer Corps (VSN), popularly known as the civil militia, has existed since 1958, but was not officially authorized until 1962. Although its stated purpose was to maintain and preserve “the Duvalierist Revolution,” the real reason for its formation was to provide a counterpoise to the army. Institutional rivalry between leaders does not usually prevent the two forces from cooperating, and instances of conflict are rare.

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8. The civil militia comprises some 5,000 to 7,000 low-ranking civil servants, laborers, and peasants, approximately half of whom are armed. The only known requirements concern age and loyalty; all members must be between 18 and 60, and must swear loyalty to Duvalier. There is no substantive difference between the backgrounds of the leadership and the rank and file, but leaders are handpicked by Duvalier and are required to report all unusual events directly to the palace.

9. Although the militia is maintained in a status parallel to the regular armed forces, it is not organized, equipped, or trained for major military operations. It has never defeated an invading group with its own resources, but it has assisted the army in patrol and mop-up operations. During the most recent invasion attempt at Cap Haitien on 20 May 1968, the local militia forces provided the information upon which units of the Dessalines Battalion acted. In a paramilitary role the militia frequently provides guides and patrols for the army in isolated areas where its members are more familiar with the terrain and are closer to the people.

10. Although their weapons and uniforms awe the peasantry, militia leaders generally are not popular. Many commanders regard their positions as license to abuse their peasant neighbors and even to appropriate their property. Duvalier, recognizing this alienation of the peasants as a needless risk, periodically issues orders to curb such activities. In October 1968 he disarmed militia units in Cap Haitien and installed new leaders following reports of dissatisfaction among the residents of the area.

The Rural Police

11. In addition to the army and the militia, there are also approximately 500 unpaid rural police who are technically responsible to the army but in practice lead isolated and essentially independent existences. Rural policemen are usually known as section chiefs and may employ several peasants armed with machetes, whips, and whistles to assist in maintaining peace.

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12. The coverage of the country by rural police and by the militia would make an undetected clandestine landing of guerrilla forces extremely difficult. The population density, which is one of the highest in the world, also serves as a passive defense against infiltration. Strangers are quickly found and identified, and natural suspicion of foreigners plus peasant curiosity act favorably for Haitian security forces. Furthermore, with the army garrisoned throughout the country and involved in police activities, all suspicious events are watched closely and promptly reported.

Service Duvalier

13. The Service Duvalier acts as Duvalier’s personal investigative unit. Little is known about its operations, except that it employs agents, conducts investigations, and sometimes uses torture and murder in its operations. Its members are militiamen whose numbers fluctuate from 10 to 30 depending on the President’s fancy.

The Ton Ton Macoutes

14. The term Ton Ton Nacoutes (Creole for “uncle boogeymen”) is applied loosely to active Duvalier supporters who are inclined to use terrorism, and are particularly amoral and brutal in their behavior. These individuals accord close personal loyalty to Duvalier and in return are given carte blanche to do as they wish without fear of interference from or punishment by civil or military authorities. Among them are cabinet members, leaders of the militia and army, and a collection of thugs and former criminals. Some are taxi drivers or chauffeur guides who keep a close watch on tourists. The Ton Ton Macoutes belong to no organization and can best be described as a legalized Mafia whose sole mission is to maintain Duvalier in power.

15. Certain key personalities who receive favors from the President occupy special positions outside the normal structure of the various security organizations. For example, although administrative civil departments are usually separate and distinct from military departments, one militia commander, Eralien Damier [Page 8] in the Department of the Center, has combined militia and civil responsibilities by being a prefect as well. There is nothing exceptional about Damier’s dual role. Zacharie Delva, militia leader in the Artibonite, exercises considerable power outside his region. During the recent reorganization of the militia in Cap Haitien, Delva acted as a supervisor and brought some 600 of his own militiamen with him to back up his decisions and orders.

16. In addition, some of Duvalier’s favorites enjoy special economic privileges which increase their power and influence. Leading Ton Ton Macoutes such as Luc Desir, Colonel Gracia Jacques, and Elois Maitre have license to operate illegal businesses and participate in smuggling operations.


17. The structured confusion that pervades Duvalier’s government challenges analysis and prevents an authoritative assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the security forces. Consequently, predictions regarding their role in the post-Duvalier period must be tentative.

18. The Ton Ton Macoutes will probably not be a major force after Duvalier because of their lack of organization. However, because they are the most hated and feared members of Haitian society and several have amassed fortunes through their relationship with Duvalier, it is probable that some may attempt either to seize power quickly or to back other military and civilian leaders in order to retain their present positions.

19. Practically none of the VSN commanders can be singled out as potential leaders, despite the important part many play in present day Haiti, because their powers are derivative, being exercised only at the sufferance of the President. A possible exception is Zacharie Delva, chief troubleshooter for Duvalier and the only militia commander who uses the title “national leader” regularly. Delva [text not declassified] who is apparently completely loyal to the President. There is no evidence that he has acquired any power base outside his region in the Artibonite.

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20. Those who control the instruments of power—in this case guns—and who exercise some authority over a command structure are most likely to determine Duvalier’s successor. Although Duvalier has seriously weakened the army, the tactical units in Port-au-Prince still retain an esprit de corps and have access to the best military hardware. Consequently, the army will probably be in the forefront of the successor movement. At present, however, none of the key personnel has demonstrated any special leadership capabilities, and it would be highly conjectural to designate anyone as a probable heir-apparent. It is even conceivable that the military would turn to someone outside their ranks to serve as President.


Mortars: 60-mm (US) 21
60-mm (Belgium, Brandt) 30
81-mm (US) 6
81-mm (Belgium, Brandt) 22
Rockets: 2.36-in rkt launcher (US) 8
Artillery: 75-mm gun (US) 6
105-mm How (US) 4
37-mm AT (US) 10
57-mm AT (US) 4-6
Armor: Lt Tk, M5A1, w/37-mm gun (US) 9
Scout car (US) 6
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Status of Equipment

The US no longer exports arms and ammunition to Haiti. Procurement of equipment is not centralized, and the many different types and makes in use create serious logistical problems. The main arsenal is located on the palace grounds in Port-au-Prince. President Duvalier reportedly is the only person with direct access to the arsenal, which is allegedly guarded by trusted militia guards whom the President personally supervises.

Fighters: F-51 (US) 4
Transports: C-47 (US, Douglas) 4
C-45 (US, Beechcraft) 1
310 (US, Cessna) 1
Trainers: T-28 (US, North American) 2
T-6G (US, North American) 3
PT-19 (US, Fairchild) 2
B-25 (US, Boeing) 1
Total 18

Only eight aircraft (five transports, three trainers) are flyable, and all eight are operationally assigned.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 785, Country Files, Latin America, Haiti, Vol. I. Secret; No Foreign Dissem. Prepared in the Office of Current Intelligence and coordinated with the Office of National Estimates and the Clandestine Services, Central Intelligence Agency.
  2. CIA provided an assessment of Haiti’s security apparatus and its potential for controlling events in the event of President Duvalier’s demise.