In a surprising move, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned to Haiti on Sunday from exile in France 25 years after being driven out by mass protests. He didn’t speak to reporters and statements from those who spoke with him would only say that he was happy to be back in Haiti:
Baby Doc, along with his father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, were feared and reviled by Haitians for their long reign of terror. The Duvaliers tortured and killed their political opponents with impunity, backed by the Tonton Macoute secret police.
In 1986 Haitians danced in the streets when the young, pudgy tyrant was driven to the airport in a black limousine and flown into exile in France. But a handful of loyalists have been campaigning to bring Duvalier home, 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.
The prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, said that if Duvalier was involved in any political activities, he was unaware of them. “He is a Haitian and, as such, is free to return home,” the prime minister told the Associated Press.
In 2007, President Rene Preval said that Duvalier could return but would have to face justice for the deaths of thousands of people and the theft of millions of dollars.
With the prodding of world wide protests, the Préval government made good on their word arresting Duvalier and charging him with corruption:
Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was charged with corruption and the theft of his country’s meagre funds last night after the former Haitian dictator was hauled before a judge in Port-au-Prince
Two days after his return to the country he left following a brutal 15-year rule, a noisy crowd of his supporters protested outside the state prosecutor’s office while he was questioned over accusations that he stole public funds and committed human rights abuses after taking over as president from his father in 1971.
“His fate is now in the hands of the investigating judge. We have brought charges against him,” said Port-au-Prince’s chief prosecutor, Aristidas Auguste.
He said his office had filed charges against Duvalier, 59, of corruption, theft, misappropriation of funds and other alleged crimes committed during his period in power.
Those charges seem pretty mild for someone as the New York Times says “is widely blamed for one of the darkest chapters in the country’s history – and whose government has been accused of kidnapping, torturing and murdering thousands of political opponents.”
There are more than a few questions about not just the reason for Duvalier’s return but why he was not stopped from returning to a country devastated by an earthquake, in the midst of a cholera epidemic and disputed elections. Marcy Wheeler at FDL details the efforts that were made blocking Duvalier’s return in 2006:
Five years ago, BabyDoc Duvalier applied for a passport for Haiti, threatening to return in a period leading up to elections. As a series of Wikileaks cables make clear, the US pressed hard-with apparent success-to prevent his return to Haiti. One cable shows the US asking France, on January 11, 2006, whether it could prevent Duvalier from leaving that country. Another shows the US raising concerns about Duvalier with Haiti Prime Minister Latortue that same day, and again on January 16. And the US raised the same concerns with the Dominican Republic, first (as far as we can tell from the cables) on January 11 and then again on February 7, 2006.
So what happened? The US made a concerted effort to stop his return in 2006. As Marcy asks, was the Obama administration unable to stop him, or did they choose let him return?
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) has some questions, too. In a statement released yesterday, Rep, Waters expressing her concern and demanding that Duvalier be prosecuted for human rights violations but called for an investigation into his return:
It is absurd and outrageous that anyone would even think to take advantage of this situation to facilitate Baby Doc Duvalier’s return to Haiti. Unfortunately, he has returned, and it is important to ask why. Who assisted Duvalier in his return? Where did he get the money to pay for his return? Were any officials of the U.S. Government aware of his plans to return? Was the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) aware? If so, was any action taken to stop him from returning or to ensure that he would be arrested and prosecuted for his crimes and not allowed to usurp power if he did return?
I am deeply concerned that the wealthy elites of Haiti who supported the Duvalier regime in the past, along with the assistance of international agencies, may have encouraged Duvalier to return in the hope that the flawed elections will create a power vacuum that could allow him to take power once again. I am even more concerned that OAS officials may be wittingly or unwittingly helping to create precisely the type of power vacuum that would enable him to do so.
It is important that we determine what role U.S. officials played, if any, in facilitating Duvalier’s return. It is even more important that we determine what role the U.S. Government will play moving forward.
Lots of questions, indeed.
Up Date: There is some positive news about the 25 year battle to recover the funds stolen by Duvalier and deposited in a Swiss bank account. The assets were frozen by Switzerland which until the new change in the law were only able to freeze the assets “for a limited period to allow space for attempts to seek restitution through the courts, a measure it stretched to its very limit with the assets from Haiti.”
As of February 1 a new law will allow The Haitian government to recover funds held in Swiss bank.