Eclectic Rant: Why Did Baby Doc Duvalier Return to Haiti?

By Ralph E. Stone
Tuesday January 25, 2011 - 01:21:00 PM

Like a bad penny, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier arrived in Haiti on January 16, 2011. No one seems to know why Baby Doc returned and what effect, if any, his return will have on the country. 

Let's look back a bit at Haiti's tragic history. We cannot just blame last year's earthquake, the subsequent cholera epidemic, and hurricane for all the death and destruction in Haiti. Blame François "Papa Doc" Duvalier and Baby Doc -- the Duvalier dictatorships -- for looting the nation for 29 years. The Duvaliers put an estimated 80 percent of world aid into their own pockets with the complicity of the U.S. government who wanted the Duvaliers and their militia, Tonton Macoutes, as compliant allies. The Duvaliers' death squads murdered as many as 60,000 opponents of the regime. What the Duvaliers didn't steal, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) finished off through its "austerity" plans. The austerity plan meant cutting government services. 

In 1991, five years after Baby Doc fled, Haitians elected a priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who resisted the IMF's austerity dictates. Within months, the military, with a wink and a nod from George HW Bush, deposed him. In 2004, after Aristide was re-elected President, he was kidnapped and removed again, with a wink and nod from George W. Bush. He is now in exile in South Africa.  

Recently, Aristide sent out a letter saying he was ready to return to Haiti. His return is a principal demand of his Fanmi Lavalas party, which has been blocked from partipating in elections. 

Haiti was once the wealthiest in the hemisphere. Haiti's wealth was in slaves. Then the slaves rebelled and Haiti has been paying for it ever since.  

From 1825 to 1947, France forced Haiti to pay an annual fee to reimburse the profits lost by French slaveholders caused by their slaves' successful uprising. Rather than enslave individual Haitians, France simply enslaved the entire nation by forcing Haiti to pay an annual fee to reimburse the profits lost by French slaveholders caused by their slaves' successful uprising. Then Haiti had to pay France 90 million gold francs in order for it to recognize Haiti's independence.  

Haiti is now the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. It owes global creditors $1 billion, which it will never be able to pay. There is a movement to convince nations to cancel these debts so that every possible future dollar goes towards rebuilding a stronger Haiti, rather than servicing old international debts.  

Now, we have the return of Baby Doc to Haiti. A Haitian judge will now decide whether Baby Doc should be tried for corruption, embezzlement, torture, arbitrary imprisonment, crimes against humanity, and other allegations. 

I cannot believe, however, that Baby Doc would voluntarily return to Haiti without negotiating a deal for amnesty or leniency beforehand. Reportedly, there is still some nostalgia for the good old bad days of the Duvalier dictatorships.  

And how will Baby Doc’s return and the possible return of Aristide effect Haiti's presidential election? U.S. Representative Maxine Waters (D. CA) has called upon the government of Haiti “to set aside the flawed November 28th [presidential] elections and organize new elections that will be free, fair and accessible to all Haitian voters.” The Organization of American States (OAS) has now proposed a new round of voting between musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly and the former first lady Mirlande Manigat, the two top vote getters according to OAS tallies. But before the OAS report, provisional results showed Martelly first and Jude Celestin, the governing party candidate, second. Martelly's supporters rioted in many cities. If Martelly is chosen to be in the runoff with Manigat, Celestin supporters will probably riot. The two runoff candidates will ultimately be chosen by Haiti's election officials. Baby Doc arrives in the midst of this volitile situation. Coincidence? 

It should be noted that the next Haitian president will preside over a fortune in pledged reconstruction funds, and the international community should be striving to ensure that a democratically elected, legitimate Haitian government is put in place to make sure those funds are properly spent. I am sure Baby Doc would love to help spend those funds. 

Why did Baby Doc return to Haiti? And what if Aristide returns? Only time will tell. But Haiti and the world should be concerned.