The Disaster of 'Baby Doc' Duvalier's Return to Haiti

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Last week, former Haitian President Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier returned to Haiti, ending his 25-year exile after a 1986 popular uprising had ousted the notoriously corrupt ruler. As the still deeply troubled Haiti lurches toward a presidential election, Duvalier is seeking a return to power, which everyone agrees is the last thing that Haiti needs. Within two days of arriving in Port-au-Prince, he was officially charged with embezzlement and corruption. Here's what reporters and Haiti-watchers are saying about Duvalier's return, his ambitions, and what it means.

  • Baby Doc's Brutal Record  The BBC reminds us that "Jean-Claude Duvalier was just 19 when he inherited the title of president-for-life from his father, Francois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier, who had ruled Haiti since 1957. Like his father, he relied on a brutal militia known as the Tontons Macoutes to control the country." That record came up this week when Duvalier was "sued for torture and other crimes against humanity" by "a former United Nations spokeswoman, Michele Montas, and three Haitians who were jailed during Mr Duvalier's 1971-1986 rule."
  • 'The Ghosts of Duvalier'  Foreign Policy's Elizabeth Abbott examines Duvalier's brutal reign and how its awful legacy lives on.
Duvalier left behind Duvalierism, a system of government too profoundly entrenched to truly eradicate. And it's Duvalierism, with or without its figurehead, that explains, among other tragedies, the near paralysis of the René Préval government's response to the 2010 earthquake that killed nearly 300,000, decimated the civil service, smashed buildings, and obliterated the landscape. More recently, it explains the government's attempt to pervert the electoral process by engineering the victory of Jude Celestin, Préval's protégé.
  • Get Him Out of Haiti  The New York Times editorial board insists that Duvalier be made to "answer for his squalid legacy of disappearance, torture and murder." They fume, "Duvalier has nothing to offer the country that he and his father, François Duvalier, who was known as Papa Doc, looted and brutalized for decades. Every moment that Jean-Claude Duvalier spends free in Haiti adds insult to catastrophic injury."
Rumors are flying on the street and in newscasts that the Americans and/or the French orchestrated his return to mess with President René Preval, who's been accused of corrupting the recent, still-contested elections. (Both governments have denied knowing about the trip or its purpose). Another theory is that Preval invited Duvalier here just to arrest him, as a means of taking attention off the elections and the abysmal post-earthquake conditions. Another's that the 59-year-old Duvalier's unhealthy appearance is proof that he's terminally ill and just wanted to come back to Haiti to die. Or perhaps he came to get back into politics.
  • In It For the Money?  The New York Times' Ginger Thompson pushes back on fears that Baby Doc wants another shot at power. "Duvalier’s risky return home from France may have been driven by another motivation: money. Though Mr. Duvalier has long been accused of looting $300 million from Haiti before fleeing nearly 25 years ago, his lawyers and friends have said that much of his money was squandered on a lavish lifestyle of jewelry, chateaus, fancy cars and a very expensive divorce from his ex-wife."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.