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Haitians stunned by return of ‘Baby Doc’

Haitians stunned by return of ‘Baby Doc’
Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier (c.) gestures to supporters as police take him out of his hotel in Haiti. Haitian police took Duvalier to a waiting SUV and charged him with corruption, according to Reuters. AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa
By Howard Koplowitz and ivan pereira

The Haitian community is keeping a close eye on the return of the country’s former dictator, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, after 25 years in exile in France amid a nation full of uncertainty and rebuilding.

Duvalier, 59, who ruled Haiti with a ruthless hand from 1971 at age 19 until an uprising overthrew him in 1986, returned to the torn Caribbean nation Sunday and was arrested Tuesday by the national police on corruption charges after staying at a luxury hotel in a suburb of Port-au-Prince, the capital, according to Reuters.

Haitian authorities have not given a reason for detaining Duvalier.

The group Human Rights Watch claimed thousands were tortured and killed under Duvalier’s regime and hundreds of thousands fled into exile.

Baby Doc was preceded in power by his father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who died in 1971.

The younger Duvalier has not publicly given a reason for his return.

Louis Elneus of the Connecticut-based nonprofit Haiti Lumiere de Demain was in Haiti the day Duvalier returned.

“I saw his motorcade when he was going up to his hotel in Petionville,” Elneus said. “I think initially it was the shock of it because it was unannounced. I think [Duvalier’s return] could be a good thing for Haiti if we manage it well.”

Elneus, who came to the United States in 1989, said there is “a natural need for revenge and a natural need for blaming” of Haiti’s circumstances on Duvalier.

He said Duvalier’s return “would be a fantastic thing if you let the judicial system take its course.”

While Elneus said Duvalier’s victims need closure, he said there also should be reconciliation.

“I think the man is really sick,” he said. “He probably thought before he dies he wanted to face the Haitian people. After all, he was 19 years old. Let’s give Mr. Duvalier the opportunity to repent.”

Garry Pierre-Pierre, editor and publisher of the Brooklyn-based Haitian Times, said since Duvalier returned to Haiti, he should be prepared for the consequences of his visit.

“It’s a sad day for Haiti, but [I’m] glad he came back to face justice,” Pierre-Pierre said. “He was arrested and hopefully the justice system can handle a complex and complicated case like Duvalier.”

Cambria Heights resident and former City Council contender Clyde Vanel, the son of Haitian immigrants, said Baby Doc’s return was a shock to the Haitian diaspora in the city.

Vanel said the community does not believe Duvalier returned in an attempt to rule the country again.

“It is highly unlikely he came back to Haiti to be president,” Vanel said. “One thing is that Haiti is [in] this midst of uncertainty because of the election. As we speak now, we don’t know if they are going to have a run-off or re-election. I have been talking to people of my parents’ generation and they don’t think it is believable for Jean-Claude to come into this stage and make a run for it.”

According to the New York Post, there were problems in Haiti Nov. 28 with the nation’s first-round presidential election.

Vanel said Haiti is in a “dangerous time” and Duvalier’s return just complicates matters.

“People do fear that the situation could get worse,” he said. “We are dealing with a population that is mostly younger who don’t have first-hand knowledge of Duvalier, and folks need help. Anything could be a volatile stimulus or unrest.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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