Haiti: Loyalists Seek Dictator's Return
Monday, April 23, 2007; 3:11 AM
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Haitians danced in the streets to celebrate the overthrow of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, heckling the tubby, boyish tyrant as he was driven to the airport in a black limousine and flown into exile in 1986.
Most Haitians hoped the rapacious strongman known as "Baby Doc" had left for good, closing a dark chapter of terror and repression that began under his late father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier.
But now, a handful of loyalists are campaigning to bring Duvalier home from exile in France, launching a foundation to improve the dictatorship's image and reviving Duvalier's political party in the hopes that one day he can return to power democratically.
His backers concede life in Haiti could be brutal for Duvalier's opponents but are nostalgic for the relatively stable period the country experienced, compared to the upheavals of recent years.
"Since Jean-Claude left, there's no work, no food, no nothing. Only burning tires, people getting killed and kidnappings," Jesus Duvernois, 71, said at a gathering last week to mark Papa Doc's 100th birthday. "Without Duvalier, there is no country."
Dozens attended the gathering in a house in a leafy suburb of the Haitian capital, including ex-military officers, a leader of the Duvalier regime's ruthless militia and Baby's Doc's French fiancee, Veronique Roy. They sipped fruit punch, tapped their canes to old Haitian compa tunes and pined for the past while looking at black and white photos from the Duvalier era.
"I'm going to die a Duvalierist, but I hope Jean-Claude comes back before that happens," said Yvette Jean Phillipe, 63, who prays for Baby Doc's return.
But hatred for the former regime runs so deep in Haiti that it is highly unlikely the 55-year-old would ever be voted into power. Victims of the Duvalier regime are offended even by the suggestion.
"The only reason he should come back is to go to jail for all the money he stole and the people he killed," said Bobby Duval, a former soccer star who was starved and tortured while locked up for 17 months under the Duvalier regime for speaking out against human rights abuses.
The younger Duvalier was named "president for life" at age 19 following his father's death in 1971. An estimated 60,000 people were killed during the 29-year father-and-son dictatorship, while many others were maimed by the dictatorship or forced into exile. If Duvalier returns, many Haitians believe he would be arrested and charged with murder and misappropriation of $120 million in public funds _ allegations he has denied.
His supporters founded the Francois Duvalier Foundation late last year to promote positive aspects of the dictatorship, including the creation of most of Haiti's state institutions and increased access to education for the country's black majority. Loyalists also offer pro-Duvalier lectures for youths and want to start a Duvalier-themed library and Web site.
Duvalier's National Unity Party was recently reconstituted and plans to enter candidates in December's Senate race. That would mark the party's first participation in a national election since Duvalier was toppled 21 years ago.
The party hopes he can one day democratically reclaim power. But while Duvalier announced in 2004 his intention to return to Haiti, he has denied plans to run for president.
Haiti has embraced democracy since the Duvalier regime, but the transition has been rough. The country has suffered through repeated coups, a brutal right-wing military regime and a bloody 2004 uprising that toppled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Today, U.N. peacekeepers provide the only real security. Haiti has only a few thousand police for a country of 8 million. Unemployment and despair are rife, leading thousands of Haitians to flee to the United States in rickety boats each year.
The democratically elected government of President Rene Preval, a one-time anti-Duvalier crusader who was elected last year, has struggled to stamp out street violence.
Duval, the ex-soccer star who now runs the L'Atletique d'Haiti sports academy for poor youths, said Duvalier's return _ however improbable _ would only deepen Haiti's turmoil.
"If you really want to polarize this society, bringing back Baby Doc would do it," he said.