Jean-Claude Duvalier: His Place in Haitian History

Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  On January 16, 2011, Jean-Claude Duvalier – Bébé Doc  Doc – shocked the world by returning to the country he had tortured 25 years earlier.   I had half expected Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return in the political turmoil, but it never crossed my mind baby Doc would.   How could he return?  Under Duvalier’s presidency, thousands of Haitians were killed and tortured, and hundreds of thousands fled into exile.

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Michèle Montas, a Haitian journalist and a former spokeswoman for the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told CNN the night he arrived that she plans to file a criminal complaint against Duvalier.   She told CNN:

We have enough proof.   There are enough people who can testify.   And what I will do is go to a public prosecutor and there is a public prosecutor that could actually accommodate our complaints.

The most frightening thing is that the majority of Haitians were born after Baby Doc was forced into exile.   In the midst of an enormous power-vacuum, they are nostalgic for his power.   With cholera and political instability, post-quake Haiti is perhaps worse than it has been in 200 years since independence.   Nostalgia for Baby Doc’s strong rule might launch him back into power.

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According to Mac McClelland of Mother Jones:

The former dictator was greeted at the Port-au-Prince airport with cheering and celebratory chanting… The word from Duvalier is that he’s come to help his country. According to everyone on the street and on the radio, the Americans and the French conspired to bring him here to upset current president René Préval, who’s been accused of fixing his country’s recent elections.

In retrospect, I have heard that Baby Doc’s female companion has been in and out of Haiti for years, so I am unsure why this news has caught me off guard.   In Haiti, expect the worst always.

Jean-Claude Duvalier was the 33rd President of Haiti, in office from 1971 to 1986, when he was overthrown.   He followed in the footsteps of his father, the 32nd president, François Duvalier.   He became president as a teenager and is now only 59 years old.   His regime was as brutal as his father’s.

The Nixon administration liked Baby Doc’s approach and restored the U.S. aid programs for Haiti when he came to power.   Nixon very much admired this young leader’s style: opposition was not tolerated and the legislature remained a rubber stamp.

Much of the Duvaliers’ wealth came from the Régie  du Tabac (Tobacco Administration).   Duvalier used this tobacco monopoly and later expanded it to include proceeds from other government enterprises.   This was his slush fund – no balance sheets were ever kept.   His wife’s family was known for even more repulsive business practices, such as selling Haitian cadavers to foreign medical schools and trafficking in narcotics.

Almost all Americans who have visited Haiti have learned of the eradication of the Creole Pig.   In response to an outbreak of African swine fever virus on the island in 1978, U.S. agricultural authorities insisted upon total eradication of Haiti’s pig population.   The Program for the Eradication of Porcine Swine Fever and for the Development of Pig Raising (PEPPADEP) caused widespread hardship among the peasant population, who bred pigs as an investment.

In addition, anyone my age or older remembers that AIDS became a major problem in Haiti caused tourism to Haiti to decline dramatically in the early 1980s.   By the mid-1980s, most Haitians expressed hopelessness and helplessness, as economic conditions worsened and hunger and malnutrition spread.

According to Wikipedia:

Widespread discontent began in March 1983, when Pope John Paul II visited Haiti.   The pontiff declared that “Something must change here.”   He went on to call for a more equitable distribution of income, a more egalitarian social structure, more concern among the elite for the well-being of the masses, and increased popular participation in public life. T his message revitalized both laymen and clergy, and it contributed to increased popular mobilization and to expanded political and social activism.

Baby Doc’s grip began to loosen and his government unraveled.   Three years later, in 1986, he fled to France where he has remained 25 years until this week.   Having visited Haiti about every six months since 1999 – and intending to live there soon – I am very concerned for this nation that needs to be great once again.

Jean-Claude Duvalier

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About Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens

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Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce (www.lucefoundation.org) writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens. Bringing 26 years management experience within both investment banking and the non-profit sector, Jim has worked for Daiwa Bank, Merrill Lynch, a spin-off of Lazard Freres, and two not-for profit organizations and a foundation he founded. As Founder & CEO of Orphans International Worldwide (www.oiww.org), he is working with a strong network of committed professionals to build interfaith, interracial, Internet-connected orphanages in Haiti and Indonesia, and creating a new, family-care model for orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

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