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Monday, January 24, 2011

It would seem even God has forsaken Haiti

Whimpering “deep sorrow”, former Haitian president Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier returned home on Sunday, January 16th. When tyrants present themselves, it’s time for lessons to would-be copycats.

Baby Doc’s rule ended ignominiously 25 years ago, three years after even a visiting Pope John Paul II said, “Something must change here.” Few moaned the departure. Haitians hoped for a better future.
Instead, misfortunes followed. Early last year, even  God seemed to have forsaken Haiti. A devastating earthquake struck. Then a cholera outbreak visited. Presidential elections last November produced no outright winner. A runoff scheduled the day Baby Doc arrived was postponed. Despite all the woes, seekers of a piece of the stale pie abound. Well, there’s promised billions in donations to rebuild the country....

US Congresswoman Maxine Waters has a soft spot for Haiti. In a statement following Duvalier’s unexpected return from exile in France, Waters said, “The plot to control Haiti has gone from the absurd to the ridiculous.” In reality, the plot has always been tragic. Here’s a very condensed history:

A lost Spanish sailor, Christopher Columbus, stumbled on an island, the western of which is now Haiti, in 1492. Since them Haiti has seesawed from good to bad times, mostly bad. The size of Belgium, Haiti at one time had the misfortune of receiving a third of African slaves in the Atlantic trade. At another time, it produced more sugar than all the British colonies in the Caribbean.

Best of all, Haiti is the only country with one historical accolade. Slaves successfully revolted. They declared one of the oldest, and Black at that, republics in the Americas. Napoleon Bonaparte, the terror of Europe, could do nothing. Courtesy of France’s demand of 90 million gold francs reparation, Haiti remained a debt slave until 1947.

Fast forward through turmoil and US Marines occupation to Dr Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, the 32nd Haitian president. He took office in 1957. A reputed humanitarian while health minister, he established a most repressive and corrupt rule. He manipulated voodooism to instil fear on Haitians. His secret police had an apt name, Tonton Macoutes, a voodoo monster. He accumulated more debts.

Upon the death of Papa Doc in 1971, Baby Doc assumed father’s title, President-for-life, at 19. Although he left much of the running of the country to his mother and father’s cronies, by all accounts Baby Doc remained a Tonte Macoutes. A life of luxury in Europe would turn into pecuniary embarrassment, now camouflaged with “sadness” and “apology.” He said he returned, “To help.” His lawyer says he hasn’t ruled out a “political role.” He must have friends to that end.

Haitians of goodwill exist. They should stymie that. As a former journalist Michele Montas, who fled Baby Doc’s tyranny pointed out, records of his crimes exist; so do witnesses. The Telegraph easily found one, Robert Duval, a 57-year survivor of Duvaliers’ Auschwitz.

Haitians should put Baby Doc, 59, on trial. They have an opportunity to put an end to a spiral of bad leadership, in a civilised way. The international community should make help to that endeavour a priority.

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