Ex-dictator Duvalier returns to Haiti, stunning observers
May disclose plans today
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc’’ Duvalier returned to Haiti yesterday after nearly 25 years in exile, a surprising and perplexing move that comes as his country struggles with a political crisis and the stalled effort to recover from last year’s devastating earthquake.
Duvalier, wearing a dark suit and tie, arrived on an
“He is happy to be back in this country, back in his home,’’ said Mona Beruaveau, a candidate for Senate in a Duvalierist party who spoke to the former dictator inside the immigration office.
Beruaveau said he would hold a news conference today.
There were no immediate protests in reaction to his return and very few people were aware that the former dictator had returned.
In fall 2007, President Rene Preval said Duvalier could return to Haiti but would face justice for the deaths of thousands of people and the theft of millions of dollars.
Haitians danced in the streets to celebrate the overthrow of Duvalier in 1986, heckling the tubby, boyish tyrant as he was driven to the airport in a black limousine and flown into exile in France. Most Haitians hoped the rapacious strongman had left for good, closing a dark chapter of terror and repression that began under his late father, Francois “Papa Doc’’ Duvalier.
But a handful of loyalists have been campaigning to bring Duvalier home from exile, launching a foundation to improve the dictatorship’s image and reviving Baby Doc’s political party in the hopes that one day he can return to power democratically.
Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said if Duvalier is involved in any political activities, he is not aware of them.
“He is a Haitian and, as such, is free to return home,’’ the prime minister said.
The Duvaliers tortured and killed their political opponents, ruling in an atmosphere of fear and repression ensured by the bloody Tonton Macoute secret police.
The end of his reign was followed by a period known as deshoukaj or “uprooting’’ in which Haitians carried out reprisals against Macoutes and regime loyalists, tearing their houses to the ground.
Duvalier has been accused of pilfering millions of dollars from public funds and spiriting them to Swiss banks, though he denies stealing from Haiti.
Duvalier’s return comes as the country struggles to work through a dire political crisis following the problematic Nov. 28 first-round presidential election.
Three candidates want to go onto a second round. The Organization of American States sent in a team of experts to resolve the deadlock, recommending that Preval’s candidate be excluded.
The news floored Haiti experts and has thrown the country’s entire political situation into question. Immediately speculation began about what other exiled leaders might return next.
“I was shocked when I heard the news and I am still wondering what is the next step, what Preval will say and obviously what [exiled former President Jean-Bertrand] Aristide will be doing,’’ said Robert Fatton, a Haitian-born history professor at the University of Virginia and author of “The Roots of Haitian Despotism.’’
“If Jean-Claude is back in the country I assume Aristide will be trying to get back as quickly as possible.’’