PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Shouting "Duvalier or death!" members of the disbanded Tonton Macoutes militia returned to Haiti's political stage yesterday, formally reorganizing to join Haiti's army against possible foreign attack.
The rebirth of the Macoutes dramatically illustrates the rise of anti-democratic elements in Haiti since the army overthrew elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991.
Holding up a portrait of former dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, a Macoute spokeswoman declared the militia members "already occupy the four corners of the country. Now we are in readiness."
"We are here to tell the army it is not alone," said Bertha Desaint, cheered by 100 Macoutes surrounding her in a downtown office. "We will defend our country to the end, even if it turns to dust and ashes."
At a news conference, Desaint said the Macoutes would defend their country with "machetes, knives, rocks, pickaxes" and voodoo.
"Our genius," she declared, "will destroy their planes and helicopters by remote control!"
A mile away, hundreds of Haitian soldiers and police, carrying old carbines, paraded around the presidential palace in a show of unity. Marching three abreast, the soldiers goose-stepped through the palace gates at the end.
Duvalier formed the Macoutes after coming to power in 1957 to ensure he would not be overthrown by the military. The force, named after a Haitian bogyman who kidnaps children in a sack, became widely feared because it could kill, extort and steal at will.
The Macoutes melted away moments after a popular uprising in 1986 ousted Duvalier's son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. However, hundreds of Macoutes were lynched by revenge-seeking Haitian mobs.
Macoutes began resurfacing individually after soldiers overthrew Aristide in 1991. In recent months some have joined new army-backed paramilitary organizations.
Some former Macoutes have reversed their previous denials of membership. They include the president of Parliament's lower house, Frantz Robert Monde, who was visiting Washington, D.C., yesterday.
Members of army commander Raoul Cedras' family also were Macoutes, and the father of Haiti's powerful police chief, Lt. Col. Joseph Michel Francois, was a leader of the Duvaliers' presidential guard.
Cedras and Francois led the military coup against Aristide, a parish priest who gained national popularity for daring to speak out against the Duvalierist terror.
Desaint acknowledged some Macoutes "made mistakes, but not more than those made after 1986," when the Duvalier dictatorship ended.
She said the Macoutes, officially known as the National Security Volunteers, had 300,000 members. But analysts say that many Haitians joined the militia to avoid persecution and that the number of active members was probably around 30,000.
Human-rights groups accuse the Macoutes of untold thousands of human-rights abuses, including murder, torture and rape. The main goal of the 1987 Haitian Constitution, overwhelmingly ratified in a popular vote, was to prevent the resurgence of Duvalierism and the Macoutes.