'Baby Doc' Duvalier Returns To Haiti
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.
A one-time president-for-life in Haiti - who wasn't - made an unexpected return from exile last night. The former dictator known as Baby Doc arrived in Port-au-Prince. It marked the first time that Jean-Claude Duvalier has been to Haiti since he was deposed and fled to Paris in 1986.
NPR's Jason Beaubien reports on his surprise return to the Haitian capital.
JASON BEAUBIEN: Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier landed at the Port-au-Prince airport last night and was whisked out of the compound in a black Toyota SUV.
(Soundbite of crowd and sirens)
BEAUBIEN: Haitian police on motorcycles surrounded his motorcade and pushed back hundreds of cheering supporters from the airport gates.
Jean-Claude Duvalier was handed the presidency by his dying father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, in 1971. At the time, Baby Doc was just 19. He ruled Haiti for 15 years with the help of his father's Tonton Macoutes, hit-squads that killed off the Duvaliers' rivals and sowed terror in the nation.
But at the airport last night, young men - many of whom weren't even born when Baby Doc fled the country - praised the Duvalier period as a time of prosperity for Haiti.
Twenty-four-year-old Daverne Sanon said, now Haiti is just suffering.
Mr. DAVERNE SANON: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Sanon said all of the exiled presidents should be allowed to return. He says Haiti has suffered the earthquake, cholera and the current president, Rene Preval.
(Soundbite of a chanting crowd)
BEAUBIEN: Amidst chanting for Jean-Claude Duvalier, Sanon says young people want to be able to go back to school.
Thirty-five-year-old Robinson Marquis, who was standing nearby, said Baby Doc was Haiti's last great president.
Mr. ROBINSON MARQUIS: Since he left the country, we don't have no country. So I hope when he come back, we're going to have an army and a country. And the country is going to be beautiful again, say, like the way from way back since he been left since '86.
BEAUBIEN: Jean-Claude Duvalier flew back into Haiti on an Air France flight from the Caribbean nation of Guadeloupe. His long-time companion and publicist, Veronique Roy, arrived with him. Sources at the airport, who saw him clear immigration, say he was traveling on a red Haitian diplomatic passport.
Duvalier arrives as Haiti is in the midst of another political crisis. Presidential elections in November disintegrated into chaos, with 12 of the 19 candidates claiming there was massive fraud at the polls. Official results from the election still haven't been released. The second round of the race is in limbo. And it appears that President Preval's term will expire on February 7th, before a new head of state is chosen.
The Duvaliers' 29 years in power was one of the most repressive periods in Haiti's long, troubled history. In his book "Haiti: From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation," author Philippe Girard summed up Papa Doc and Baby Doc's legacy in five words: Charred bodies and swollen bellies.
In an interview with NPR last week, President Preval recounted a conversation he'd had with a U.S. diplomat about the fate that so many other former Haitian presidents have suffered. He speaks, at first, through a translator.
President RENE PREVAL (Haiti): (Through Translator) I said that for 25 years, it's not normal that no president was able to complete his term in Haiti.
President PREVAL: Except one. The one you are talking to.
BEAUBIEN: Presidential candidate Michel Martelly, also speaking to NPR last week, said the exiled former presidents remain an issue. Martelly said if elected, his administration would welcome back ousted presidents Jean Bertrand Aristide and Baby Doc Duvalier.
Mr. MICHEL MARTELLY (Haitian Presidential Candidate): I'd rather talk about clemency for everyone. So we stop talking about names. We want to talk country. We want to talk about solidarity, fraternity, one nation, one people with progress and move forward.
BEAUBIEN: Just three years ago, President Preval said that if Jean-Claude Duvalier returned from exile, he could face criminal charges for murder and embezzling millions of dollars.
But last night, Baby Doc returned to a hero's welcome. He was given an entourage of Haitian national police for security and he appeared briefly on the balcony of an upscale hotel, as a free man waving to a mob of supporters and journalists below.
He's scheduled to give a press conference later this morning.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.
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