‘Baby Doc’ adds a new twist to Haiti’s latest woes

Miami HeraldJanuary 18, 2011 

PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc’’ Duvalier remained holed up in a swank hotel Monday, receiving visits from the secret police that once terrorized the country and fueling fears that his return will deepen a political crisis from disputed presidential elections.

The visit caused foreign governments to scramble. Canada and the United States denounced his return, with Canada releasing a terse statement referring to Duvalier as a “dictator.”

Meanwhile, the French denied suggestions that it was complicit in his arrival from France, where he has lived since he fled into exile amid a popular revolt 25 years ago.

“This was no plot. We did not know he was coming,” French Ambassador Didier Le-Bret said, adding that he only learned about Duvalier’s intended visit after he boarded an Air France flight from Guadeloupe.

He immediately notified Haiti’s foreign affairs minister and prime minister, he said.

“He’s not a focal point of the French government,” Le-Bret said. “He’s a simple French citizen, he’s allowed to do what he wants to do.”

The Obama administration expressed concern and worry that Duvalier’s sudden appearance could have “an unpredictable impact’’ on Haiti’s delicate political state.

Haiti’s government, meanwhile, sought to downplay Duvalier’s presence and its impact on the country as it wrestles with who will replace President René Préval as he nears the end of his five-year presidential term.

The government announced that a controversial report on the presidential elections will officially be handed over to the Provisional Electoral Council, which will determine which candidates among the three front-runners should advance to a runoff.

Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, said Monday that he “had no opinion’’ on Duvalier’s visit. Instead, he sought to downplay the impact of the OAS election report, which suggests that popular singer Michel ‘‘Sweet Micky’’ Martelly replace government-backed candidate Jude Celestin in the runoff.

The report, Insulza said, is based on “calculations’’ and not results.

“It’s not in our power to give results,” he told The Miami Herald. “We are not publishing any kind of results.”

Préval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive have disputed the report, saying its conclusions were based on faulty methodology. Insulza, who defended the findings, said he was “in no position to change the report.”

But the focus Monday was less on who would enter the runoff, and more on Duvalier, who returned to the country shortly before 6 p.m. Sunday. Throughout the capital, victims relieved their trauma as his friends and supporters smiled with nostalgia, arguing that the country was better during his rule.

“After 25 years, we are nostalgic,’ said an elderly woman who identified herself as Madame Gerard Destin, who visited Duvalier. “He’s happy that we were able to see each other again after 25 years. He wants peace, unity and love.”

Ralph Brossard, 53, an urban planner said he, too, was happy to see the dictator’s return and hoped that more exiled presidents would follow.

Duvalier’s father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, he said, was a witness at his parents’ wedding more than 50 years ago.

Still, even he was baffled by the visit and its timing, particularly after visiting Duvalier at the Karibe hotel.

“What’s happening is Préval’s last stand,” he said. “Préval doesn’t want to go into exile. This is his last card. I think he made a deal for Duvalier to return.”

Préval has not publicly commented on the return, but those close to him said he was as surprised as everyone.

Bellerive said the passport Duvalier used to leave France was issued in June 2005 by the then U.S.-backed interim government of Gerard Latortue. It expired last year.

Others who have seen the travel documents confirmed that the passport was expired.

Haiti was calm Monday as the crowds that greeted Duvalier at the airport were replaced at his hotel by three dozen journalists waiting for the chance to talk with Duvalier. A planned news conference was canceled.

Human rights groups in Haiti and the U.S. demanded Duvalier’s arrest as victims, such as United Nations official Michel Montas, relivedtrauma from the Duvalier’s reign of terror.

“I am outraged, angry and dismayed that this could happened,” said Montas, a former journalists and radio station owner who spent six years in exile after being jailed for 10 days, then expelled in 1980.

Montas said she had no explanation for her treatment. She said she plans to file a civil action against Duvalier for “arbitrary arrest, forced exile, torture.”

“What bothers me the most is the fact that so many people seem to have forgotten what happened,” she said. “When I talk about Nov. 28, 1980, when our radio station was ransacked, destroyed, when all of the journalists present at the station were arrested -- young people have no notion that something like this could have happened.

“I tell them that the price that we paid for freedom of the press they are enjoying right now was a price paid in blood. Journalists died, they were killed.”

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