Arrested: Exiled Former Dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier Returns to Haiti
Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who inherited the presidency of Haiti in 1971 at the age of nineteen and ruled it with a brutal hand until he was driven into exile in 1986, was taken from his Port au Prince hotel this afternoon by police and prosecutors. Duvalier turned up in Haiti Sunday after living in France for the last twenty-five years, to the professed surprise of representatives of both the French and Haitian governments. The Miami Herald reports that Duvalier has been arrested on unspecified charges and has been taken to a courtroom in the capital city.
Many Haitians are too young to remember the misery of the years of Baby Doc's murderous rule, when political opponents were routinely extinguished and his thuggish private army, the "Tonton Macoutes" terrorized the tiny nation. Duvalier came by his methods of governing honestly: His father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier was even more brutal during his reign of terror from 1956 until his death in 1971. In a statement urging that the Baby Doc be prosecuted, Human Rights Watch estimated that Baby Doc and his father caused the deaths of 20-30,000 Haitian civilians during their reign of terror and torture. However, at least one news report suggests that it might be difficult to find a basis for prosecuting him. Still, Amnesty International's Haiti expert, Gerardo Ducos, explains why Duvalier should face trial:
Despite these horrors, some Haitians welcomed Duvalier's return -- hoping that his strongarm tactics will bring stability to a nation still reeling from last year's massive earthquake and ongoing cholera epidemic. Here is the AP's report on Duvalier's arrival Sunday:
Emily Troutman has a nice feature for AOL news that captures the way in which some Haitians' desperation over their current circumstances leads them to cast the Duvalier era with a rosy nostalgic glow.
The drama surrounding the former dictator comes amid turmoil over the legitimacy of last fall's presidential election. Current president Rene Preval and the Organization of American States (backed by the U.S. and France) have been accused of trying to rig the election in favor of Preval's favored successor. The OAS' team of international observers validated the election results last November, despite the acknowledgment of widespread irregularities.
Many question the role of France and the United States in Duvalier's sudden reappearance in Haiti. Emptywheel at Firedoglake notes cables from Wikileaks stating that the U.S. actively intervened to keep Duvalier from returning. She asks what's different this time. According to the Miami Herald, the White House has voiced its disapproval of Duvalier's return, citing its "unpredictable" potential impact on the fragile nation. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs spoke to reporters briefly about Haiti during this afternoon's press briefing.
For continuous updates on this unfolding story, see Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles' twitter feed from Port Au Prince: @jacquiecharles.
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