P.B. at The Economist:
TO LITTLE pomp and widespread confusion, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the former dictator of Haiti, returned to his country on January 16th, a quarter century after fleeing to exile on the French Riviera. Mr Duvalier arrived on an Air France flight a little before six in the evening, and a few hundred people greeted him outside the airport. A convoy of Haitian national police then accompanied him to a glitzy hotel in a suburb of Port-au-Prince, the capital. Along with his Haitian companion, Veronique Roy, and a smattering of associates, he dined on a grilled conch and promised a press conference. But in the morning, about a hundred reporters waited in vain for Mr Duvalier to appear. A shabbily suited spokesperson cited “capacity problems” at the hotel and promised that the ex-dictator would talk tomorrow.
Little is known about the intentions of Mr Duvalier, who simply said upon arrival that he had “come to help”. His trip may well have been prompted by Haiti’s current political turmoil—its presidential run-off election, originally scheduled for yesterday, has been postponed indefinitely because of arguments over who should participate. But with both the Haitian government and the UN peacekeeping force keeping mum, speculation is running rampant over what he has in mind. One theory holds that the French sent him to pressure René Préval, the president, to accept the findings of a report by the Organisation of American States, which called for the government’s presidential candidate, Jude Celestin, to be dropped from the run-off. (The French embassy has denied any involvement). Another contends that Mr Préval himself cooked up the visit as a “Wag the Dog”-style ploy to distract the country. “Do you hear anyone talking about the election this morning?”, quipped Louis Henri Mars, an anti-violence campaigner. A less popular interpretation is that the stooped, haggard Mr Duvalier just wants to spend his last days at home.
It is also unclear why Mr Duvalier, a torturer, kidnapper and thief—although a less brutal ruler than his father and predecessor, François—has not been arrested. The Haitian government reiterated in 2008 that its criminal proceedings against him were ongoing, and he faces a $500m judgment in the United States. Haiti has no statute of limitations for misappropriation of public funds, and international law holds that crimes against humanity can always be prosecuted.
Chris Rovzar at The New Yorker:
Baby Doc has said he returned to “help” Haiti as it recognizes the anniversary of last year’s calamitous earthquake, and will hold a press conference today. He hopes to remain in the country for three days, though while there he could be arrested and charged for atrocities committed during his rule.
Given how poor, pathetic, and desperate Haiti is the return of Duvalier to power isn’t entirely inconceivable, unless the United States and the rest of the OAS were to weigh in to make sure it doesn’t happen. Nonetheless there is absolutely good that can come from Duvalier’s return, and the one thing that is truly sad about this whole situation is that, in many ways, Haiti is no better off today than it was on the day the Baby Doc Duvalier was flown to France on a U.S. Air Force jet.
Duvalier, 19 years old when he officially took power and tossed out at age 34, wouldn’t leave his cushy exile in France merely to act on behalf of the OAS, or even to counter the OAS. It’s difficult to imagine any reason for Duvalier to be in Haiti except to seize power once again. It’s about the most propitious time for a power grab; we have a disputed and almost certainly corrupt election, starvation, epidemics, and the ravages of natural disasters still plaguing the nation. That kind of chaos breeds dictators more often than not, and the return of a ready-made dictator might make it even easier to seize control.
Peter Worthington at FrumForum:
What to do about Haiti?
How can Canada improve the situation, a year after the earthquake and the return of Baby Doc Duvalier?
The answer: Nothing. More devastation ahead.
In Haiti, some 95% of the rubble resulting from the quake has still to be removed. Without moving the rubble, how can reconstruction begin?
The answer: It can’t, and won’t.
A million are living in tent cities a year later. About the only significant change is a surge in pregnancies after the quake – two-thirds of them unexpected, or unplanned. And a plunge in the age of these mothers.
Some predicted this as soon as word of the catastrophic quake got out. No amount of humanitarian aid will change things. Haiti seems one of those corrupt, basket economies that defies improvement.
Worse, now, that Baby Doc is back.
Aside from blaming Nepalese troops on UN duty for the cholera outbreak, there’s very little evidence of accountability in Haiti.
Regardless of how cholera started, lack of clean water is an invitation for cholera and other water-born diseases.
Jonathan Katz at Salon:
Haitian police led ex-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier out of his hotel and took him to court Tuesday without saying whether he was being charged with crimes committed under his brutal regime.
A contingent of police led the former dictator known as “Baby Doc” through the hotel and to a waiting SUV. He was not wearing handcuffs.
Duvalier, 59, was calm and did not say anything. Asked by journalists if he was being arrested, his longtime companion Veronique Roy, laughed but said nothing. Outside the hotel, he was jeered by some people and cheered by others.
The SUV drove in a convoy of police vehicles to a courthouse, even as dozens of Duvalier supporters blocked streets with overturned trash bins and rocks to try to prevent the former dictator from going to prison.
The courthouse was thronged with spectators and journalists trying to get in to view the proceedings. It was not immediately clear whether the session would be open to the public — or what, if any, charges had been filed against him.
His removal from the hotel came after he met in private with senior Haitian judicial officials met inside his hotel room amid calls by human rights groups and other for his arrest.
The country’s top prosecutor and a judge were among those meeting with the former leader in the high-end hotel where he has been ensconced since his surprise return to Haiti on Sunday.