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Haiti Name Changed : Now, Life in Duvalierville Is a Cabaret

Times Staff Writer

The citizens of this town, built as a monument to an oppressive ruler and the last place in the Caribbean to bear a dictator’s name, are pleased to announce a change of address.

Not that the poor and often barefoot residents are moving away. But now, with the Duvalier dynasty toppled after 28 years, the townsfolk, using paint and shouts, have restored to their town its former name: Cabaret.

“Vive Cabaret (Long live Cabaret)!” they called out over the weekend, amid the beat of conga drums and the toot of off-key trombones. “Never again Duvalierville!”

The inhabitants were caught up in the continuing euphoria over the flight into exile of President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier last Friday, marking the end of the Duvalier dynasty.

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At the same time, they made it clear that a name change is not enough. They fully expect, against long odds, that a new government will bring a wealth of other novelties: work, food, water, schools and hospitals--all things in short supply or missing in their hometown.

“The people want progress, economic and social progress and political liberty,” said Father Vital Mede, a young parish priest whose preaching on freedom has made him a hero of Duvalierville--the new-old name of Cabaret is not yet official.

“This is, of course, why the (new military-led) government asks for moderation. But the people want results.”

Mede, who was born here, estimated that more than 80% of its 6,000 inhabitants are without work.

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“Most people go from friend to friend, relative to relative looking for a job or a handout,” he said. “Some own a few banana trees. That is their biggest source of income.”

Petitfrere Gilbert, a typical resident, said, “We have Sunday here seven days a week. We rest every day (for lack of available jobs).”

Gilbert recited a list of complaints that was common among a number of townspeople interviewed over the weekend.

School ‘Donations’

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Little food can be grown on the parched land. Drinking water must be trucked in from eight miles down the road. The closest hospital is in the capital of Port-au-Prince, 20 miles away. Education, nominally free, in reality has required a “donation” from impoverished parents to the government.

Until now, repressive measures under the Duvaliers, father and son, forced Haitians to voice grievances against the authorities in whispers, if at all.

“All we have here (in Duvalierville) are buildings with the name of the ex-president’s family on them,” said Gilbert, who describes himself as an unemployed philosopher.

Duvalierville lies north of Port-au-Prince along Haiti’s sharply indented west coast. Its curious combination of a few cinderblock houses on wide, paved streets surrounded by numerous mud-and-wood shacks bordering dusty pathways, showcases the meager accomplishments of the 28-year regime of the Duvaliers and points up its many failings.

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The cement homes, a sturdy church, a clinic and some public pavilions were built in 1962 by the government of President Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier, Jean-Claude’s late father and founder of the dynasty.

Never Came Back

The largesse resulted from a visit by the elder Duvalier after he was reportedly acclaimed by the inhabitants of what was then the small, ragged village of Cabaret. He proclaimed the inauguration of the new works, named the place after himself and never came back again.

The instant modernism ordered in place by Papa Doc was advertised as the wave of the future in Haiti. New industries nearby were to provide jobs. A water purifying plant would bring precious drinking water, homes would be turned over to peasants who squatted on the land and schooling would be free.

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A market and school were named after Jean-Claude’s mother, Simone. A boulevard and the town were named after Francois.

Despite such influential patronage, just about everything turned out wrong. A cement plant, a flour mill and a cooking oil plant opened nearby, but the jobs went to workers from Port-au-Prince.

The water purifying plant never began operation, although the machinery was--and still is--in place. The new homes ended up sheltering relatives of Duvalier supporters, and schools cost $3 a month. People here, when they have jobs, often earn as little as a dollar a day.

$150 a Year Income

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Thus, the town mirrors the poverty common throughout Haiti. Average individual income in the cities is $379 a year. In the countryside, it’s $150 a year.

More than 100 of very 1,000 babies die before the age of two. Overall, three deaths out of every 10 result from pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Eighty percent of Haitians cannot read.

Unlike other places in Haiti, little violence greeted the end of the Duvalier reign in the town that carried the family name. Anti-government demonstrations that preceded the dictator’s flight into exile failed to get past intimidating police road patrols.

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Members here of the fallen dynasty’s political militia, the dreaded Tontons Macoutes, have gone into hiding, and there have been no reported episodes of reprisal killings or lootings here.

On Sunday, a crowd of revelers paraded through town carrying aloft a distinctive blue Tontons Macoutes shirt. They said that its owner had “run out from under it” when he fled to the hills.

‘I have No Business’

Such restraint apparently should not be taken as a sign that the town lacks passion.

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“No military rule, no dictatorship,” said Juste Granville, a business school graduate who admits, “I have no business.”

“I know the government has no money, but they must do something (to bolster the economy),” he said.

As soon as the town’s name change is formally ratified by authorities of the new governing council, Duvalierville will join other place-name relics that once honored rulers in the Caribbean Basin.

In the Dominican Republic, Ciudad Trujillo became Santo Domingo again after the assassination of dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in 1961. In Nicaragua, what today is Puerto Sandino was named Puerto Somoza before dictator Anastasio Somoza was toppled by a revolution in 1979.

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The Duvaliers’ self-glorification here is quickly disappearing. A neon shrine to Francois Duvalier that adorned the entryway to town was shattered by rocks last Friday. Letters spelling out his name have been torn from public buildings.

On road signs marking the city limits, the word Duvalierville has been painted over and Cabaret scrawled in its place.


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