Gaetjens had been gone from Haiti for six years when he returned to Port-au-Prince in 1953. A chanting, dancing crowd met him at the airport with a banner that read THE BEST PLAYER IN HAITI, THE USA AND THE WHOLE WORLD. Well-wishers followed him through immigration and lined the road into town, and by popular demand Joe suited up for L'Étoile's game that night, playing through his exhaustion from the travel. He went on to represent Haiti in its World Cup qualifier against Mexico that December. But, almost 30, he suffered from chronic nosebleeds as well as that bum knee.
When the U.S. squad came to Haiti a few months later for a Cup qualifier of its own, Gaetjens, by now retired, had Bahr, Keough and other former teammates over to the family house. He correctly assured them that they would have no trouble beating their hosts. His reasoning was classic Joe: The Haitian coach, he said, had the players in lockdown.
Gaetjens moved gracefully on with his life after soccer. In 1955 he married Lyliane Defay, his first cousin, and in the backyard of their house on a corner lot in the Christ Roi neighborhood he planted rosebushes and fruit trees. Two dry-cleaning shops and a sales job with Colgate-Palmolive, both successes with the help of his celebrity, made him prosperous, and he would hand out money freely to friends—a habit, his nephew James says, "that drove Lyliane nuts." He coached youth teams as well as L'Étoile and, briefly, the Haitian national team. And he remained close to Daniel Beauvoir; each had been best man at the other's wedding, and as the years passed, they became godfathers to each other's children. Joe and Lyliane had three boys in three years, and she would one day say, "[Joe] wanted a football team." But life in Haiti had already begun to change.
In 1957 Duvalier, a self-described country doctor, emerged from a violent presidential campaign with a dubious victory. The Gaetjens family had supported a rival candidate, Louis Déjoie, a milat businessman to whom they were distantly related and whom Joe's brother Gérard had served as an adviser. Within months of Duvalier's taking office opponents began plotting coups and invasions, and the new president blamed the election's losers for each unavailing assault on his rule. Soon he formed the Tontons Macoute, a citizens' militia named after the bogeyman of Haitian folktales, who stuffed children into his macoute, or straw satchel. With their sunglasses, pistols and machetes, they menaced civilians with impunity, seizing property, kidnapping and killing.
In July 1958 an exiled army captain named Alix Pasquet boarded a launch in Florida with seven other men and made for Haiti with plans to attack the National Palace. A former soccer star and president of the Haitian Football Federation, Pasquet had tipped off some of his old soccer connections to his plans and had expected one, Joe Gaetjens's friend Daniel Beauvoir, now an army captain, to join the cause or at least remain neutral. But after Pasquet's men improbably seized the barracks adjacent to the palace, Beauvoir led a detachment of troops that helped lay siege to the invaders and ultimately kill them. The dictator blamed his old opponent Déjoie, now in exile, for the assault, and sentenced him to death in absentia.
In the aftermath Duvalier came to rely on the Macoutes even more. Each failed invasion or assassination attempt fed his aura of invincibility and caused him to lash out more indiscriminately. Over nearly three decades Papa Doc and his son and successor, Jean-Claude (Baby Doc), brutalized Haiti. Hundreds of thousands of people would flee the island, and tens of thousands more would be murdered or made to disappear during that period—"[a] night," in Graham Greene's phrase, "impossible to deepen."
A favorite tactic of Duvalier's was to target an extended family for even the suspicion of a rebellious act by one of its members. Round them up, shoot them, slice them up, women and children first, so the men would have to watch. Or—perhaps a worse fate—imprison them in the regime's temple of human misery, Fort Dimanche, where tuberculosis, typhoid, diarrhea and/or malnutrition would kill them slowly if a summary execution didn't.
"Two years after Duvalier came to power, a group of military officers came close to overthrowing him," says Gérard Gaetjens's son, James, 64, who lives in Miami. "They said that [Joe's brother] Jean-Pierre was part of the plot." By 1963 Duvalier had begun to personally interrogate and torture prisoners, and more than half the national budget, some $28 million, was being spent on the Macoutes and related agents of repression. In a declaration pitched to the poor, voodoo-believing Haitian, Duvalier said that year, "They cannot touch me.... I am already an immaterial being."
On June 14, 1964, Papa Doc made himself President for Life. Around the same time exiles in the Dominican Republic, including Jean-Pierre Gaetjens and another brother, Fred, launched a guerrilla campaign. Duvalier called them the Camoquins, after a foul-tasting antimalarial drug, and the insurgents wore the name as a badge of honor. Over the ensuing weeks a wave of arrests and reprisals washed over the country, some supervised by Duvalier himself. "Everyone was just waiting for their turn to come," says Matho, the only one of Joe's siblings never to settle outside Haiti. "It was constant terror."
Members of the family pleaded with Joe to flee, none more insistently than Gérard, who had served time in Fort Dimanche. No, Joe replied, I'm not political. I'm well-known, keep my nose clean and teach soccer to kids. Besides, Daniel—by 1964 Beauvoir had cycled through a turn as the Port-au-Prince police chief—will protect me.