Haiti’s “Baby Doc” Surprise Return From Exile

Vanessa Estime

After a tumultuous year of trying to rebuild Haiti from the ground up following the devastating January 12 earthquake, an on-going

Former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier talks to the press at a rented guest house in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday Jan. 21, 2011. Duvalier returned Sunday to Haiti after nearly 25 years in exile, a move that comes as his country struggles with a political crisis and the stalled effort to recover from last year's devastating earthquake. Duvalier said Friday it was the earthquake that brought him back to Haiti and that he wants to help with the reconstruction. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

controversial general election, and a shocking cholera outbreak that left the nation scarred, the Caribbean island witnessed yet another unexpected event—the return of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

During his reign as President from 1971 to 1986, thousands of countrymen were tortured or killed and hundreds of thousands fled the country in fear. Despite the poverty that ravaged the land, Duvalier maintained an extravagant lifestyle by making millions of dollars in the drug trade and selling parts of cadavers. With pressure coming in from the Reagan Administration to renounce his title and give up his power, Duvalier self-exiled himself to France twenty-five years ago.

However, on Sunday, January 16, Duvalier flew in from Paris, France stating that, “I’m not here for politics. I’m here for the reconstruction of Haiti.” Despite his good intentions, his presence still sent bad reactions throughout the land. Many were and still are afraid that his return will only bring back the division and violence that were evident during his presidency.

Political analyst and former director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, Jocelyn McCalla, said this according to the Associated Press: “Part of what he does by getting back into Haiti is bringing back the old battle lines. People are going to start talking about being pro- or anti-Duvalier…it intensifies the instability.”

Others, however, were taking on a much more positive approach to Duvalier’s return. Henry Robert Sterlin, former ambassador spoke on behalf of Duvalier and said that he was merely concerned and wanted to see the effects of the earthquake on his homeland. “He was deeply hurt in his soul after the earthquake,” Sterlin said according to the Associated Press. “He wanted to come back to see the actual Haitian situation of the people and the country.”

While current President Rene Preval made no immediate response to the situation, he did mention in 2007, that Duvalier would “face justice for the deaths of thousands of people and the theft of millions of dollars if he returned.” This is exactly what happened. After his return to Haiti, Duvalier was met with a flight ban preventing him from leaving the country because of the court order rising against him.

On January 18, Duvalier was charged with corruption, embezzlement of public funds, and criminal association. As of now, the charges are being investigated by a judge in Haiti who will determine whether a criminal case should commence for the stolen public funds and human rights abuses during Duvalier’s fifteen year reign.