The Duvaliers and the love for football: when “Baby Doc” asked the FIGC for help to bring Haiti to the World Cup

THE DARK SIDE OF THE WORLDS – EPISODE 3 – Rimet dreamed of a tournament that would “unite nations, bringing people together and making the world one big country”. That’s not exactly what happened. From France 1938 to Qatar 2022, the World Cup is also a story of wars, murders, cheating and dictatorial regimes. Episode after episode, we tell you the emblematic stories of the intertwining of football and power


The Haitian dictator FrancoisDad DocDuvalier he loved Italy for two reasons: the soccer And Benito Mussolini. The latter had been his source of inspiration for the creation of a private militia, i Tonton Macoute (name deriving from a character of Haitian Creole mythology, a sort of black man who frightened children), from the structure and methods based on those of the fascist OVRA, and which turned out to be crucial much in Duvalier’s seizure of power, which took place through electionsas much as in his fierce And brutal Consolidation. Leading a predominantly agricultural country but plagued by frequent famines, with low literacy rates and primitive medical facilities, Duvalier saw in the soccer – sport that he greatly appreciated – the right element to offer to the population and useful to guarantee long life to his regime.

For this reason, from the middle of 60’s began to invest money to create a national team as competitive as possible. In Haiti, and in Duvalier, one was missing hero to be placed at the center of the football rebirth. In reality, a national idol had already been there, even if he had worn the shirt of the United States and not that of Haiti. He was called Larry JoeGaetjens and was one of the first kings for a night in the history of the world cup, the absolute protagonist of the giant killing with which the USA World of the 1950 eliminated the football masters ofEngland, at their first world cup after three disdainful refusals. The goal was scored by Gaetjens, a Haitian accounting student who in the United States kept dishwasher. He didn’t even have American citizenship, but at the time for the United States Soccer Football Association it was enough to have applied for citizenship to be able to play for the national team.

After his football career, Gaetjens returned to Haiti and opened one laundry dry. He was one of the best known characters on the whole island. Gaetjens had never cared about politicsan area much frequented by his brother Gerardwho in the elections of 1961, those won by Duvalier with extensive use of corruption and intimidation, had publicly sided with the challenger Louis Dejoie. Two years later Joe Gaetjens was picked up out of his laundry by two Tonton Macoute and loaded onto a car. There was no news of him. Not even the intervention of Pele in 1971, when with his New York Cosmos organized a match at Yankee Stadium charity to raise money for Gaetjens’ family (his wife and three children), he got feedback from Haiti. The former idol remained one of the many disappeared, or disparus as they said on the island. According to the accounts of some former inmates once the regime fell, he was killed in the prison of Fort Dimance to Port-au-Prince after years of detention.

In the 70’s the national team of Haiti had grown considerably, so much so as to touch the qualification to the Mexican World of 1970 and to win, three years later, his first championship of the CONCACAF. But meanwhile Duvalier had died, leaving the power (became hereditary after Papa Doc was appointed President for life of Haiti) in the hands of his 19-year-old son Jean-ClaudeBaby Doc”, A lover of the good life, women and engines. Not for this, however, he forgot football, further increasing the flow of money destined for ball. Completely renewed the Sylvio Cator Stadiumfor a total cost of one million dollars, and built a new sports center.

Finally he turned toItaly to complete the entry of Haitian football into the continental elite, asking the Figs a coach interested in working on the island. The Trieste was chosen Hector Trevisan. “An emissary from the Farnesina“, The coach will remember years later,” he summoned me to Rome, airing the proposal. He told me it was a mission of character almost social. I procrastinated a couple of months and then said to Yes“. Trevisan qualified Haiti al World Cup of ’74being torpedoed shortly before the start of the tournament to make way for his deputy, Antoine Tassy, historical coach of the national team. “THE politicians“, Said the technician,” they decided to privately exploit that triumph on a propaganda level, preventing me from accompanying the team to Europe and managing the worldwide expedition in manner autonomous“.

Trevisan said he lived in Port-au-Prince in one kind of bubbleaway from the grip of violence And terror with which the regime crushed the island. Also players (“Some like SanonVorbe and Francillon they were potential champions ”, according to Trevisan) they were gods privilegedescaped a life in the fields or a meager wage in the city. Emmanuel Sanonthe other one-night king of Haitian football (he scored the only two goals in Haiti’s history in a World), said Duvalier was like a father.

At least until, in Germany Westthey did not see with their eyes the other side of the regime. Haiti lost the first World Cup match against Italy 3-1 after taking the lead with Sanon, who broke the unbeaten record of Dino Zoff. At the end of the game, Baby Doc phoned the players to congratulate them. But the harmony did not last long. The midfielder at the post-match anti-doping Ernst Jean-Joseph tested positive for one stimulating and was disqualified. He talked about asthma pills, but was denied by the national team doctor. Two Haitian officers broke into the Grunwald Sports Center and lo they beat brutally in front of the players and the press, then they dragged him into the car and put him on a plane bound for his homeland. “In those people’s eyes I saw a hate previously unknown to me ”, the defender will recall Fritz Plantin“The team was scared. Nobody slept that night ”.

Haiti lost to Poland 7-0 but, according to Plantin, the Poles were kind in not treading the hand against a team in disarrayso upset that the next day Baby Doc had the players call from Jean-Joseph for reassure them that was fine. Also lost the third meeting in a more contained way (1-4 against Argentina), the Haitian players returned home welcomed as heroes. Someone will be able to build, albeit with difficulty, one dignified career abroad (Sanon will play in Belgium), many will emigrate to the United States ending up working as taxi drivers or as workers, others will die in extreme poverty, of overdose or crushed by AIDS. But who will benefit most of all from the world adventure was Baby Doc Duvalierwhich will govern many others twelve yearsaccumulating enormous riches in a country increasingly exhausted, before being forced to flee one popular uprising.

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