Yeah, right. It is inconceivable that Baby Doc, 59, would return to the country where there are outstanding criminal proceedings against him without knowing that some powerful foreigners have his back.
With dozens of Haitian SWAT team police outside and a helicopter hovering overhead, Haitian government prosecutor Aristidas Auguste and investigating magistrate Gabriel Ambroise met for about an hour with Duvalier in his suite at the posh Hotel Karibe in Pétionville on Jan. 18 and then took him unhandcuffed to their offices downtown for more questioning, before allowing him to return to his hotel. Ambroise will now weigh the evidence, which sources say is solid and massive, that Duvalier, his former wife Michelle Bennett, and other cronies embezzled over $300 million (and by some counts almost triple that) during the course of his rule from 1971 to 1986. However, Judge Ambroise’s ruminations might take as long as three months, which lends the whole episode an air of “grimas,” as they say in Kreyòl, a face-saving show. Duvalier should have been arrested immediately at the airport, most Haitians say. Instead, he was escorted by Haitian police and United Nations occupation troops to his hotel.
“Usually in Haiti a thief gets unceremoniously dumped into a pickup and carted off to a stinking cell to await trial in a few years or never,” quipped author and journalist Amy Wilentz on Twitter. Duvalier will await his improbable indictment dining on grilled conch at the Karibe.
He has this luxury because he has surely received a wink and a nod from powerful government sectors, even if not the official ones, in either the U.S. and/or France, the two nations which helped prop up his regime with economic and military aid. The U.S. also flew Duvalier out of Haiti on Feb. 7, 1986 on a C-130 loaded with his sports cars and motorcycles and his wife’s furs, while France has hosted his golden exile and protected him from prosecution ever since.
Duvalier’s lawyer is Gervais Charles, the head of the Haitian Bar Association. He makes the dubious claim that the files pertaining to the charges against Duvalier were all destroyed in the earthquake and that, anyway, the statute of limitations on the embezzlement proceedings, undertaken by several governments against Duvalier since 1986, has run out.
But Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) says this is unlikely.
“The statute of limitation on these financial crimes is something like five years after the last instance of investigation by a judge into the case,” he said, noting that
“a July 3, 2009 order from the First Court of Public Law of the Federal Court of Switzerland said the Haitian government had informed it of criminal proceedings against Duvalier as late as June 2008.”
On Jan. 17, the IJDH along with the International Lawyers Office (BAI) in Port-au-Prince issued a statement urging the Haitian government
“to comply with Haitian law” by arresting Duvalier for embezzlement on the basis of rulings and investigations in both Haiti and the U.S..
The statement also pointed to “Duvalier’s human rights violations, including the torture and disappearances of political dissidents at the Fort Dimanche prison and other crimes committed by organizations under his control, including the Armed Forces of Haiti and the Volunteers for National Security (Tontons Macoutes). Mr. Duvalier is not protected against prosecution by any statutes of limitations” for these violations because they are
“crimes against humanity, which are imprescriptible under international law.”
Meanwhile, former political prisoners and
other victims like youth sports trainer Bobby Duval and former
journalist Michelle Montas (Duvalier’s thugs destroyed her
husband’s radio station in 1980) expressed their outrage that
Duvalier was in Haiti without being immediately arrested and
The standard storyline being repeated
today is that Baby Doc inherited François “Papa Doc”
Duvalier’s repressive dictatorship in 1971 and continued it
until the Haitian people rose up and chased him out of the
country 15 years later.
History is, of course, a good
deal more complicated than that, and between the elder and
younger Duvalier regimes there are important differences, an
analysis of which can help us decipher, or at least make an
educated guess about, what lies behind Duvalier’s sudden return.
Throughout most of its 207
years, Haiti has had two ruling classes: the grandon, Haiti’s
big landowning class, and the comprador bourgeoisie, an
import-export merchant class based in the coastal cities,
primarily the capital, Port-au-Prince. These two ruling groups
carried out a bitter rivalry for political power in the capital,
control of which gave one an upper hand over the other. This
rivalry explains why Haiti’s history is checkered with at least
32 coups d’état. The grandon often organized rural militias
which would run bourgeois presidents out of the capital, and the
bourgeoisie often ousted grandon presidents with the standing
Papa Doc, a former country
doctor who came to power in a military sponsored election in
1957, was a classic representative of the grandon, who extract
surplus value from peasants through a form of semi-feudal
share-cropping called the two-halves system or dèmwatye. The
arch-reactionary grandon were often hostile to encroaching
foreign capitalists, who sought to turn peasant sharecroppers
into starvation-wage-earning workers. This put Papa Doc at odds
with Washington officials, but they needed him as a bulwark
against the spread of communism from revolutionary Cuba, only 60
miles west across the strategic Windward Channel.
To offset the bourgeoisie’s and
Washington’s influence over the Haitian Army, François Duvalier,
a student of Machiavelli, established his own militia, the
infamous Tonton Macoutes. Their reign of terror and violence is
legendary, immortalized in Graham Greene’s novel The Comedians
and Bernard Diederich’s and Al Burt’s exposé Papa Doc: The Truth
about Haiti Today.
The elder Duvalier used the
Macoutes to beat back several Washington-sponsored (and ratted
on) invasions during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
But there was a sea-change in 1969 when Papa Doc received
President Nixon’s envoy, Nelson Rockefeller. Shortly afterward,
cheap labor U.S. assembly factories began setting up in Haiti.
When Papa Doc died of natural
causes in 1971, he passed the title of “President for Life” (won
in a 1964 referendum that some 2.8 million people voted for and
only 3,234 against) to then 19-year-old Baby Doc, and the
sweat-shop sector began to take-off.
Jean-Claude had gone to Haiti’s
finest schools with the bourgeoisie’s children, developing a
taste for fancy women, fast cars, and a less brutish reputation.
He began to offer a “reformed” Duvalierism, called “Jean-Claudism,”
in response to the Carter administration’s call for “human
rights” in Latin America. Carter’s crusade was actually the
beginning of a U.S. policy shift away from strong-arm and
corrupt dictators like Duvalier to façade democracies which were
backed by so-called multinational peace-keeping forces.
The push to reform the Duvalier dictatorship did not stop with
Reagan’s election in 1980 as the old guard Duvalierists had
hoped. Jean-Claude did crack down on journalists that year,
exiling many of them. He also married archetypal bourgeois
princess Michelle Bennett. That marriage begat an ugly new
offspring, a kind of Macoutized bourgeoisie, which would become
more familiar to the world during the 1991 and 2004 coups d’état
against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
At the same time, the comprador
bourgeoisie was transforming into a more assembly industry
variant, typified by “Jean-Claudiste” and later
coup-backing families like the Apaids, the Bouloses, the Brandts,
and the Mevs.
Washington became peeved as Jean-Claude and
his crew skimmed off millions of development aid dollars into
Swiss bank accounts, money that was supposed to build better
roads, water systems and electrical networks to serve expanding
U.S. sweatshops and other foreign investments. Even the Pope
visited Haiti in 1983 and warned that “Things must change here.”
Finally, in 1986, the U.S. decided to give Jean-Claude the boot,
fully expecting they could easily install a puppet in
Among the democratic activists
fighting for that change a quarter century ago was René Préval,
now Haiti’s president. Like activist businessman Antoine Izméry
and radio journalist Jean Dominique, Préval came from Haiti’s
“enlightened bourgeoisie,” which was inspired by the
anti-imperialist struggles of the 1960s and 1970s and dreamed of
a democratic Haiti. Préval along with Izméry were the two who
pushed Aristide , a former parish priest, into the electoral
ring for president in 1990 against the neo-liberal U.S.-backed
candidate, former World Bank economist Marc Bazin.
Six years later, Préval himself
was Haiti’s president, thanks to Aristide’s long coattails. But
over the past 15 years, he has compromised repeatedly with the
U.S. empire he once vowed to fight, bowing to their demands that
Haiti privatize its state enterprises, lower its tariff walls,
and allow U.S. military aircraft and vessels to enter Haitian
airspace and waters any time they please.
Préval has gradually been
turned into Washington’s patsy, often happily but sometimes
grudgingly, doing its bidding. Until now.
Washington and Préval are
presently at loggerheads over the disastrous Nov. 28 elections,
which Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council claims should go to
a second round between neo-Duvalierist former First Lady Mirlande Manigat, who supposedly came in first, and Jude
Célestin, the candidate of Préval’s party Unity.
But the Organization of American States (OAS), acting on
Washington’s behalf, has issued a report that orders Préval to
change the second-place candidate to neo-Duvalierist former
konpa musician Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly. “There is nothing
to negotiate in the [OAS] report,