Opinion: Exiled President Jean-Claude Duvalier returns to Haiti



Kyle McDonald

When an exiled dictator attempts to valiantly return to his native land, he’s sure to raise more than a few eyebrows. The startling news on Sunday that Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier touched down on Haitian soil, after 25 years of exile in France, definitely raised both of mine. His reason for return is a mystery, swirled by speculation.

Duvalier became “president for life” of Haiti in 1971 after his father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, handed over control. During his 15 years as president, Duvalier is accused of funneling millions of dollars into offshore bank accounts and according to Human Rights Watch, thousands of Haitians were killed and tortured and hundreds of thousands fled into exile. In 1986, Duvalier was exiled from surmounting political protests and international pressure. Since his shocking return, human rights activists across the globe are calling for Haiti to prosecute Duvalier and hold him accountable for his crimes.

My biggest concern is whether or not Haiti’s government is stable enough to carry out the task. The country hasn’t exactly had a calm political environment since Duvalier left. He wasn’t the last president to be exiled, either. That would be Jean-Bertrand Aristide, as recent as 2004. Within the past year Haiti has also experienced a devastating earthquake, cholera epidemic and an unresolved presidential election.

Duvalier’s comeback is certainly a bold move—he picked a hell of a time to show his face. As I see it, his return serves as an opportunity to capitalize on a struggling nation torn apart by years of political instability, natural disaster, disease and extreme poverty. Time has passed since he shamefully departed Haiti and perhaps he hoped that by now, when more than half of Haitians are too young to remember his rule, the crimes faded from the memory of Haitian citizens.

After his return, Duvalier stated, “I wanted to show them my solidarity; to tell them that I am here. I am well disposed and determined to participate in the rebirth of Haiti.”

Maybe Duvalier believes he can portray himself as a hero coming to the help of his destabilized country. He even made the honorable gesture of donating $8 million to humanitarian aid to for Haitian relief — money that he his accused of taking from the country in the first place.

Then again, maybe the man needs a job after he and his now ex-wife ran around the globe spending Haitian money before she eventually divorced him and scored a fat stack of alimony. Maybe he wants to take advantage of a weak judicial system and a violent political climate where Haitians don’t know who to trust to run their government.

Like I said, speculations are swirling.

Whatever the reason may be behind Duvalier’s return, I firmly believe that Haiti needs to hold him accountable for his actions. If they can successfully prosecute Duvalier, some faith in a fair system could be restored in the Haitian people, while hopefully shutting the door for good on a repressive regime. If unsuccessful, I fear that Haiti’s history of struggle will continue to repeat itself.

Kyle McDonald is a senior magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].