Duvalier's return to Haiti: Not really a big surprise

The international community's reaction to the former dictator's return is disproportionate. Did they really not know?

Todd Baer January 22, 2011
Jean-Claude Duvalier, also known as Baby Doc, has been planning his return to Haiti for at least six months. The former dictator has had a small but active political party lobbying for his return. His girlfriend Veronique Roy and a handful of supporters have been laying the groundwork for his arrival. In certain parts of the capital Port-au-Prince he has support from the people; the Duvalier name is spray painted on the sides of some buildings. But when he returned on Sunday, 24 years and 11 months after he was deposed, world leaders reacted with shock and condemnation.

US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said in a Twitter post that the United States was surprised by the timing of Duvalier's visit.
"It adds unpredictability at an uncertain time in Haiti's election process."

Didier Le Bret, the Ambassador of France in Haiti, told reporters in a press conference that the French government had no idea that Duvalier was traveling to Haiti.

The UN secretary general's spokesperson Martin Nesirky said Mr Duvalier's return had come as a "total surprise" to the organisation's mission in the country.

But a former Haitian government official who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity confirmed that Duvalier's trip had been planned for months and said the French and Americans certainly knew about it before hand.

"For 25 years, JC Duvalier has not been allowed to come to Haiti. He has an expired diplomatic passport. He did not come here on his own without certain guarantees," she said.

The worst kept secret in the world

If Duvalier's return was supposed to be a secret, it was the worst kept secret in the world. I first heard about Duvalier and his grand plan to come back to Haiti and possibly grab power in June. The country is full of Teledjol, the creole word for gossip, but this seemed real and very plausible.

I was able to get his phone number and personal email from sources, which unbeknownst to me, few journalists had. I called his mobile phone with a Washington area code, which connected me to his secretary in Paris, and I set up an interview. He agreed to a date in late June.

After Duvalier agreed to the interview I became more sceptical. Why would he go on the record with his plan to return to Haiti if he was really serious? He had announced his intentions to return in the past and had not delivered on his promise. His secretary asked for an outline of what I wanted to discuss and I sent it off. Three days later the interview was canceled. This is when I knew Duvalier was going back and it was just a matter of time.

Exactly why he returned to Haiti is still a mystery. "I can't imagine him trying to take over power. How can he take over? Who would wish for him to take over?” the former Haitian government official said.

The question that should be raised is how it possible that Haiti's main patrons, the United States, France and the United Nations didn't know about Duvalier's plan?

Has the world forgotten about Haiti?

Haiti is a country occupied by the world; UN troops, diplomats, dozens of NGOs and journalists. The fact that anyone is surprised is perhaps a clear indication of how little attention people on the ground and around the world are paying to what is really happening in Haiti one year after a devastating earthquake killed more than 200,000 people.

Perhaps the only thing surprising about Duvalier's return is that he arrived through the in Port-au-Prince on a commercial airliner. One would think a former dictator accused of murder and mass corruption would have to sneak into the country on a private plane and land in a smaller city if the international community did not approve of his trip.

On Tuesday, Haitian prosecutors presented formal charges of corruption against the former dictator. He was not arrested, only brought in for questioning. It could take up to 3 months for a judge to decide whether Duvalier will go on trial.

Another source who did not want to be identified called this 'theatre', saying Duvalier, in the end, would not be prosecuted for crimes committed during his presidency.

The source also said that Duvalier would not be leaving Haiti anytime soon, and suggested he is the best president Haiti has had in 25 years.

"He's going to remain here. Jeann Claude is an usher compared to Aristide and Preval," he said.
Todd Baer An award winning Lebanese-American television journalist and international TV news consultant. He has spent the last year working as a freelance correspondent for Al Jazeera English; most recently in Beirut, Lebanon. As a television news consultant, Baer has trained staff and helped launch DAWN News, GEO News and Dunya in Pakistan, Aaj Tak in New Delhi, SAAM Marathi in Mumbai and K24TV in Nairobi, Kenya. He started his career in 1997 by covering the first ever US-Iran wrestling match since the Islamic Revolution.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Husker Swim | 13 years ago | Reply Great article. Duvalier is a criminal and thief plain and simple. I can't believe he was allowed back. The gaul of that narcissist "Baby Doc" and shame on everyone who help facilitate his return.
Christine Tyson | 13 years ago | Reply Duvalier is a criminal and should be tried for his persecutions of the Haitian people. He should be jailed and all the money that he embezzeled should be applied to the building of homes and schools for the Haitian population! Amen.
Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ