I have a confession to make—
I’m a tad bit apprehensive here in Haiti today—
Since, as many of you know by now, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier arrived in Port-au-Prince Sunday evening. If that doesn’t blow your ever-lovin’-Haitian mind, nothing can, nothing will.
It’s in honor of this less-than-happy happening, that today I offer another “If only I (k)NEW(s)!” update from Port-au-Prince.
First, a brief overview:
Sunday night former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier landed unexpectedly at the Port-au-Prince airport. He had been exiled in France for nearly 25 years. Duvalier, son of the infamous and brutal “Papa Doc” became “president for life” when his father died in 1971 and he himself continued to brutalize the Haitian people for 15 years, until exiled in 1986. Many believe he may have ulterior political motives for returning at this time, wanting to fill the power vacuum left here after a fraudulent presidential election in November.
Duvalier history in Haiti:
–Francois “Papa Doc,” Duvalier, a medical doctor, served as president from 1957-1986.
–In 1959 Papa Doc established the Tonton Macoutes, a secret police, that terrorized Haitians for nearly 27 years.
–Papa Doc had political opponents imprisoned and/or executed. Some estimate as many as 30,000 were killed.
–Papa Doc died in 1971, having named his 19-year-old son as his successor.
–Baby Doc continued the atrocities begun by his father: “prison camps, torture, arbitrary executions, extrajudicial killings . . .” in the words of Amy Wilentz (see her book The Rainy Season).
–In 1986 a coup exiled Baby Doc and his family to France.
–Haitians danced in the street, knowing he was gone.
On Sunday at 5:50 pm Duvalier, along with his wife, arrived in Port-au-Prince aboard an Air France flight from Paris. 59-year-old Baby Doc, wearing a dark blue suit and tie, is said to have kissed the ground upon deplaning. From the airport, where he told reporters only, “I’m here to help,” Duvalier traveled in an SUV to Petion-ville’s Karibe Hotel. (Petion-ville is the up-scale Port-au-Prince suburb Sara and I call home.)
Sources indicated that Baby Doc traveled to Haiti on a diplomatic passport, but it’s not clear which country issued it. Though most find this hard to believe, a senior aid of current President Preval said it did not become clear to Haitian officials that Duvalier was returning until the plane he traveled on stopped on the Caribbean island of Guadaloupe.
It’s the timing of the former dictator’s return to Haiti that seems suspect, his arriving on the day a final run-off presidential election was to be held, one day before the head of the OAS (Organization of American States) was scheduled to meet with President Preval to discuss the outcome of a vote recount. The OAS findings were leaked to the press a week ago and suggested the OAS would recommend that Jude Celestin, candidate from president Preval’s political party, and Preval’s hand-picked successor, be eliminated from a final round of elections, due to massive election “irregularities”—namely ballot boxes having arrived at polling places already stuffed with votes for Celestine.
Because of this, some, both in Haiti and abroad, believe Duvalier has arrived for political purposes, hoping to fill a power vacuum here in Port-au-Prince. It’s this fear that has lead the United Nations to restrict the movement of its staff until further notice (or until Baby Doc’s motives for coming can be clarified).
We can only wait ourselves, since Duvalier’s press conference scheduled for Monday was postponed and is expected to be held today, Tuesday, instead.
Finally and, perhaps, more importantly, some journalists and academic experts are asking if this return of Baby Doc’s will prompt Jean-Bertrande Aristide to come home, as well, or at the very least drive Aristide supporters to the streets demanding that their exiled hero be allowed to return.
A few good news articles you might want to read:
–“’Baby Doc’ Duvalier returns to Haiti in a surprise move”—a piece from CNN.com.
–“Haiti’s ‘Baby Doc’ in surprise return from exile”—at Yahoo news.
–“Duvalier Meets with Advisers as Haiti Holds its Breath”—from the New York Times.
Remember, as I’ve said before, that here in Haiti it’s hellaciously hard to get good news. And by “good news” I mean accurate news. More often than not I throw my hands in the air and exclaim in utter and complete newsless-ness, “C’est la vie, la vie.” Indeed—whatever will be will be—cause I’m not gonna be able to change it and I’m sure as hell not gonna know about it ahead of time.