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Baby Doc Returns

Sunday, January 23, 2011
Former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier waves to supporters from the balcony of a rented guest house where he is staying in Port-au-Prince. Duvalier returned last Sunday to Haiti after nearly 25 years in exile. AP Photo

Former Haitian leader Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has called for national reconciliation in his most extensive speech since he returned to the country on Sunday after 25 years in exile. He said his surprise return had been prompted by last year's earthquake and his desire to help rebuild the country. Duvalier also wanted “to express deep sorrow for all those who say they were victims of my government.” He is being sued for torture and other crimes against humanity. The re-appearance of “Baby Doc” in Haiti last Sunday took many by surprise. But developments suggest Duvalier was badly misinformed about the kind of reception he would receive. After being questioned for several hours by prosecutors, the former leader was charged with embezzlement and misappropriation of funds, charges he has long denied.

Duvalier and his late father, Francois, known as Papa Doc, were accused of siphoning off up to US$300 million during their time in power, although there is no accurate record of this. But human rights groups within Haiti and internationally are pressing for Baby Doc to also stand trial for the widespread human rights abuses committed during his rule. Once again, exact details are difficult to prove, but it has been estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 Haitians were killed by the paramilitary Tontons Macoutes or “Bogeymen” under Papa Doc and then Baby Doc. When Duvalier arrived back in Haiti, some 2,000 supporters turned out to receive him at Port-au-Prince airport.

But it appears that the current government under President Rene Preval could not allow him to try to exploit Haiti’s difficult political situation. Speaking in French and Creole at a news conference in a rented guest house, Duvalier said he hoped for a rapid resolution to the political crisis in Haiti. There was no clear-cut winner in the first round of presidential elections in November, and there has been prolonged haggling as to who should stand in the run-off. Born in 1951, Baby Doc ruled the country after his father’s death in 1971 to 1986, when he was deposed by the armed forces following widespread popular unrest and fled to exile in France. Papa Doc first came to power in 1957, when he is said to have won elections.

A popular figure at first, he became increasingly authoritarian, keeping control of the country thanks to the Tontons Macoutes who acted with impunity to silence any opposition. In 1964 Papa Doc had himself declared president for life. By the early 1970s, Papa Doc’s health was failing and he had the National Assembly declare that his son Jean Claude should take over, also as president for life. Handed the presidency at age 19, Duvalier made some attempts to modernise and reform the Haitian state but his rule was as arbitrary and authoritarian as his father’s, and he was known to be greatly influenced by his mother, Simone Ovide Duvalier. In the end, he proved so inept at resolving Haiti’s deep-seated problems that there were constant outbreaks of popular unrest.

In February 1986 the armed forces toppled him in a bloodless coup. Baby Doc went off to live in exile in the south of France. He lost most of his wealth following a bitter divorce in 1993, and some US$6  million he held in Swiss bank accounts has been frozen since 1986. In recent years, Duvalier has depended on financial support from his followers, living in a small Paris apartment.

Haiti’s Recent Timeline


1956 - Voodoo physician Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier seizes power in military coup and is elected president a year later.

1964 - Duvalier declares himself president-for-life and establishes a dictatorship with the help of the Tontons Macoute militia.

1971 - Duvalier dies and is succeeded by his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude, or “Baby Doc”, who also declares himself president-for-life.

1986 - Baby Doc flees Haiti in the wake of mounting popular discontent and is replaced by Lieutenant-General Henri Namphy as head of a governing council.

1988 - Leslie Manigat becomes president, but is ousted in a coup led by Brigadier-General Prosper Avril, who installs a civilian government under military control.

1990 - Jean-Bertrand Aristide elected president in Haiti's first free and peaceful polls.

1991 - Aristide ousted in a coup led by Brigadier-General Raoul Cedras, triggering sanctions by the US and the Organisation of American States.

1994 - Military regime relinquishes power in the face of an imminent US invasion; US forces oversee a transition to a civilian government; Aristide returns.

1995 - UN peacekeepers begin to replace US troops; Aristide supporters win parliamentary elections, Rene Preval, from Aristide's Lavalas party, is elected in December to replace Aristide as president.

1997 - Political deadlock; new government named.

1999 - Preval declares that parliament's term has expired and begins ruling by decree following a series of disagreements with deputies.

2000 - Aristide elected president for a second non-consecutive term, amid allegations of irregularities.

2001 - 30 armed men try to seize the National Palace in an apparent coup attempt; 12 people are killed in the raid, which the government blames on former army members.

2002 - Haiti is approved as a full member Caricom.

2003 - Voodoo recognised as a religion, on a par with other faiths.

2004 - Celebrations marking 200 years of independence turn into uprising against Aristide, who is forced into exile. An interim government takes over.

2006 - In the first general elections since Aristide was overthrown, Rene Preval is declared the winner.

2010 - 300,000 people are killed when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hits the capital Port-au-Prince and its wider region.

2011 - Presidential election run-off vote scheduled to be held on January 16 is postponed because of row over who should be on ballot.



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