Duvalier Compounds Haitian Chaos

It seems as though 25 years can sanitize even the most corrupt and oppressive regimes and bring on a wave of nostalgia.

Tags: Haiti
Amiel Ungar , | updated: 08:43

Papa Doc Duvalier
Papa Doc Duvalier

Haiti is battling a cholera epidemic, recovery from last year's massive earthquake is lagging behind.  November's fraud-and-violence- marred presidential elections have turned into a shambles because no one knows for certainty who the runner up is in order to have a 2nd ballot runoff.

Into this chaos arrived Jean Claude Duvalier, known as Baby Doc. This is an appropriate name, since his father Dr. Francois Duvalier was known as Papa Doc. This was Jean Claude's first visit since he was ousted from power in 1986. 

Tthe Duvaliers ruled and looted Haiti from 1957 to 1986 with the assistance of a murderous militia called the "Tontons Macoutes", and the exploitation of voodoo to cow a superstitious population.  Baby Doc came to power at the age of 19 in 1971 upon his father's death and succeeded to his title as president for life.

However, in 1986 Baby Doc was ousted. US President Ronald Reagan, seeking to democratize the Americas, and Pope John Paul II, seeking moral regeneration, greased the skids for Duvalier. When baby Doc went into exile no country would grant him asylum, but France allowed him a shadowy existence at first in the splendor of the French Riviera where he and his glamorous wife Michelle managed to go through the $800 million that he looted from his country. When the money ran out, so did Michelle, who had originally wed Jean Claude in a $3,000,000 marriage with each guest taking home $8,000 as a souvenir.

Lately, Baby Doc has been propped up financially by Haitian low income workers who remain mesmerized by the Duvalier legend as if they were former royalty. When the earthquake struck Haiti, Duvalier magnanimously pledged $8 million that he no longer had title to.  Still, he has managed to maintain contact with home  from Paris  and has attempted to build support and when he showed up at the airport in Port Au Prince he was greeted by 2000 supporters. He told the audience "I came to help my country" but also admitted that "politics is the only thing I know how to do."

Jean Claude providentially bought a return ticket to France for January 20.  He may have reason to move up his departure date. Human rights organizations are clamoring that he be arrested. During the reign of father and son, an estimated 40 to 60,000 Haitians are reported to have been killed and 100,000 more had to flee. So far the Haitian authorities do not consider him a threat and have allowed him freedom of movement. The passage of time and the collective failure of the Duvaliers' successors have added a touch of nostalgia for his failed regime.