Duvalier’s return ‘a slap in the face’ to Haiti

The internet has been so full of reports on Duvalier’s return to Haiti that it has been difficult to select something to feature on the blog. This story, which summarizes speculation about the possible reasons for Duvalier’s surprising return, points to his failing health as a potential contributing justification for his untimely visit.

The shock of Jean-Claude Duvalier’s surprise arrival in Haiti has quickly spawned a speculative frenzy about why the former dictator has returned and what it could mean, especially amid the political vacuum that has followed November’s botched presidential election.

Duvalier’s arrival Sunday from Paris, where he has been living since his overthrow in 1986, had human rights organizations demanding that he be arrested and tried for crimes against humanity.

His presence in the country is “a slap in the face” to long-suffering Haitians unless he’s made to face justice, said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.

The Canadian government condemned Duvalier’s return, and a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged Haitians to respect democracy and the rule of law. Former governor general Michaëlle Jean, whose family fled Haiti in 1968 to escape the dictatorship of Duvalier’s father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, said she was “astounded” by news of his return. “Will a quarter-century of comfortable exile in impunity be enough to make Haitians forget the horrors, the suffering, the injustice as well as the human and economic cost of decades of Duvalierist dictatorship?”

That Duvalier’s return was unimpeded has raised questions.

“How could it happen without the complicity of France?” wondered Patrick Elie, a former secretary of state of public safety under twice-ousted former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. “It’s totally unacceptable. You don’t just do that to a country that has been through an earthquake, a cholera epidemic and a post-election crisis,” Elie told the Star.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a Twitter post that the U.S. was surprised by the timing of Duvalier’s visit. “It adds unpredictability at an uncertain time in Haiti’s election process.”

There is now much speculation about a possible return of Aristide, who, like Duvalier, was escorted out of the country on an American plane and has been living in exile in South Africa since 2004. “If Duvalier can come back, why not Aristide?” asked Melanie Newton, a history professor at the University of Toronto, who specializes in Caribbean affairs. “When he left the country he was the democratically elected leader. Duvalier cannot claim the same.”

A steady stream of relatives and former confidantes came to visit Duvalier in Pétionville’s upscale Hotel Karibe, including Henry Robert Sterlin, who was Haiti’s ambassador to France under Duvalier. “It is us, his friends, who asked him to come present himself because we wanted to see him,” Sterlin said. “It is a group of friends in Haiti; there are many people who want to see him. There are people who are getting older who say they don’t want to die without seeing Jean-Claude Duvalier. It’s us that forced his hand.”

Sterling said Duvalier “was deeply hurt in his soul after the earthquake” and wanted to see the state of the country.

Veronique Roy, Duvalier’s long-time French partner, dismissed speculation that current president René Préval had played a part in the dictator’s return. “There has been absolutely no contact,” she said. “Duvalier woke up in good form and he is very happy to be back in his country.” She said Duvalier’s visit would last only three days.

“I’m not here for politics,” Duvalier told Radio Caraibes. “I’m here for the reconstruction of Haiti.”

Duvalier’s apparent frailness, given that he is still only 59, had many wondering whether illness prompted his unexpected return.

Whatever the cause, Newton said Duvalier’s presence in Haiti threatens democracy because it lends legitimacy to members of the country’s business and land-owning elite who had been close to the Duvaliers, and who are still powerful figures.

Allowing Duvalier in and not putting him on trial “shows contempt for the democratic aspirations of Haiti,” said Newton. “If this man cannot be held legally responsible, then who?”

“Baby Doc” came to power in 1971 as a chubby, 19-year-old with a limp handshake, two days after the death of his father, who had ruled since 1957.

But the younger Duvalier similarly ruled Haiti with an iron first, employing the notorious Tonton Macoutes secret police to beat back any opposition.

Power allowed Baby Doc to live a playboy lifestyle until he married Michele Bennett Pasquet, an extravagant divorcée whose taste for the high life came to alienate Haiti’s mostly impoverished population. Their wedding in 1980 was said to have cost $3 million.

After his overthrow in 1986, Haitians took to the streets in celebration, as if a dark chapter in the country’s history had finally been closed.

The former dictator, meanwhile, was soon roaring around the Côte d’Azur in a shiny Ferrari, while his wife frequented the finest shops in Europe. By the mid-1990s — after a bitter divorce in which Bennett Pasquet is thought to have secured the lion’s share of any remaining money — Baby Doc was said to be living on the financial kindness of friends.

In 2007, Duvalier had publicly apologized for the “mistakes” he had made as dictator.

“If during my presidential mandate the government caused any physical, moral or economic wrongs to others, I solemnly take the historical responsibility,” Duvalier said.

For the original report go to http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/923376–duvalier-s-return-a-slap-in-the-face-to-haiti?bn=1

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