Haiti Table of Contents
Troops of the Leopards Corps in camouflage uniforms
Courtesy United States Department of Defense
When Jean-Claude Duvalier ("Baby Doc") came to power in 1971, the country's security forces became less abusive, but they still used some brutality. During Jean-Claude's regime, the balance between the VSN and the armed forces changed. The new regime sought to realign these competing power bases, if only to ensure control over the nation's security apparatus. Furthermore, JeanClaude 's half-hearted attempt to open Haiti to the outside world and to secure renewed foreign assistance from the United States suggested a need to restrain the abuses of the VSN, which included more than 9,000 members and an informal circle of thousands in early 1986.
The creation of the Leopards counterinsurgency unit, with United States' support, provided the regime with a relatively modern tool for responding to internal threats. The Leopards also provided Baby Doc with a new force, the capability and the allegiance of which bridged the gap between the armed forces and the VSN. A reorganization integrated some senior VSN members into the army, effecting a partial merger of Haiti's two security institutions. In 1972 the Military Academy reopened, and a politically well-connected class--the first since 1961--graduated in 1973. The reopening of the academy represented a small step toward reprofessionalizing the military. Some modernization of army equipment was also undertaken during this period.
The armed forces entered the 1980s as a mere shadow of the powerful, disciplined, trained institution that had existed forty years earlier. Although the army successfully repelled a number of attempts against the regime, it ultimately failed to prevent Duvalier's fall under pressure from his own populace. With lastminute assistance from the United States, the army's senior leadership provided the political transition required to ease Duvalier out of power in February 1986. A number of senior officers pushed for Duvalier's abdication, despite strong resistance from Jean-Claude and the senior leadership of the VSN. The army was interested in protecting itself from the explosive sociopolitical situation in Haiti in late 1985 and early 1986. Nationalism and concern for the best interests of Haiti exerted only a secondary influence on the officers' actions.
The armed forces largely escaped the immediate wrath of a population clearly bent on putting an end to Duvalier rule. Popular violence had erupted in 1984, and it continued into early 1986 in an expanding sequence of local revolts. In its waning days, the regime relied heavily on the VSN and on limited local police capabilities to curb violence. Many Haitians detected the fissures growing in the nation's security apparatus, and some rumors held that the army would move against Duvalier. These rumors, however, proved incorrect; still, Duvalier's inability to contain the widespread rioting through political measures and the VSN's failure to control the unrest placed the military in a pivotal position. Conscious of his precarious hold on power, Duvalier reshuffled the cabinet and the military leadership in the last days of 1985, but to no avail. Reports of brutal excesses by the increasingly desperate VSN further weakened Duvalier's position.
The army became discontent with the crumbling regime. In several instances, troops refused to fire on demonstrators, and in a few cases, army personnel turned against the VSN. According to one account, several senior military figures threatened Duvalier and his wife, Michèle Duvalier, at gunpoint.
Data as of December 1989