'Baby Doc' Duvalier Taken Into Custody In Haiti

Guests

Jason Beaubien, NPR correspondent
Jose Raul Perales, senior program associate, Latin American Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center

Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as "Baby Doc," has returned to Haiti. The former Haitian dictator had been living in France since his exile in 1986. He was president of Haiti from 1971 to 1986, succeeding his father, "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Police in Port-au-Prince have taken him into custody.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

Haitians and the international community surprised this past weekend when former President Jean-Claude Duvalier returned to Haiti after almost 25 years in exile. Duvalier and his family fled to France aboard a U.S. military plane in 1986 after a popular uprising that protested corruption and poverty, most of all, the abuses of his private militia, the Tonton Macoute. Haiti is still grappling with the effects of last year's earthquake, the political instability of last November's disputed election and a cholera outbreak.

In a few moments, we'll talk to Jose Paul - Raul Perales of the Woodrow Wilson Center. If you have questions about Jean-Claude Duvalier's life and legacy, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org.

In the meantime, we go to NPR's Jason Beaubien, who joins us from the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. And Jason, nice of you to be with us.

Jason Beaubien, are you there? Jason, can you hear me?

JASON BEAUBIEN: I'm both on - I can hear you down the line. I'm not sure you can hear me. I'm both on the cell phone and the (unintelligible).

CONAN: Okay. I think we can hear you, Jason, on the cell phone, at the moment, it sounds like.

BEAUBIEN: Good. (unintelligible)

CONAN: And we've heard reports that "Baby Doc" has been taken into custody.

BEAUBIEN: He was taken into custody, and we've just gotten word that he actually has been released. He was held for about three hours. Police in riot gear, basically, came into his hotel. All morning, police and defense attorneys and prosecutors were going in and out of his hotel. And finally, he was taken out. He was escorted out by a heavily armed group of Haitian National Police. They took him to the courthouse, the place where, normally, criminal suspects are brought for questioning before they're charged. He was brought down there, questioned for several hours, and now he has been released.

CONAN: Upon his arrival - so we don't know what he was questioned about, and evidently not placed under arrest.

BEAUBIEN: Well, we heard that he was questioned just about embezzlement, about money that supposedly was missing from the time that he was the president from 1971 to 1986, that millions of dollars went missing at that point in time. And that was the focus of this questioning today.

CONAN: Any idea how he how long he intends to stay in Haiti and, indeed, what he plans to do there?

BEAUBIEN: His longtime companion has said that they're (technical difficulties).

CONAN: And we've just lost the connection to Jason Beaubien, with us from Port-au-Prince in Haiti. Any chance we're going to be able to get that back, do you think? I'm just looking at the control room. Wait a minute. Do we have him on another line? No, no. Apparently, we've lost him.

And anyway, there will be details on a much better circuit and much better audio quality later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. We apologize for that. And if we can get him back - do we have him back? No. Let's let him go. We'll hear details later on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm just communicating with the control room there, so pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

In the meantime, we wanted to talk with Jose Raul Perales, who's a senior program associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, who's been kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A.

Nice to have you with us on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. JOSE RAUL PERALES (Senior Program Associate, Woodrow Wilson International Center): Same here. Good afternoon.

CONAN: And remind us, who is Jean-Claude Duvalier?

Mr. PERALES: Jean-Claude Duvalier is - or otherwise known as "Baby Doc" -Duvalier is the son of Francois Duvalier, who was - who is regarded as the most cruel dictator in Haiti's history, and who belongs to a line, actually, of strong men the Caribbean has seen through - beginning in the midst of the 20th century. He took over Haiti in 1971 as the youngest head of state of anywhere in the world, at the age of 19 after his father died, and continued the legacy of his father, if somewhat less cruel than - and less mystic than his father's rule - certainly perpetuated the reign of terror and of course the pillaging that characterized Duvalier's reign in the country. Altogether, both lasted -ruled Haiti for nearly 30 years.

CONAN: What was the deal that allowed him to leave the country and live in exile in France, where, apparently, under very comfortable circumstances?

Mr. PERALES: Well, towards the end of his tenure in power, there were serious unrests and public protests in Haiti that have been building up to an uprising. The United States has always maintained some degree of presence in Haiti in, you know, one way or the other, which is also a very conflicted aspect of Haiti's 20th century history.

And as the president was being ousted, the types of popular unrests in the streets of Port-au-Prince in 1986 were very strong, and a wave - a third wave of democratization in different parts of the world, the U.S. Air Force took Baby Doc to - with his wife - actually, he was married at the time - out of Haiti. He was taken into France in what was actually a kind of a difficult situation, because Baby Doc was not granted formal exile in France. He was confined to the south of France to a 30-mile radius. And the French never officially gave him exile status which would have allowed him certain latitudes that he didn't enjoy.

CONAN: Some people, though, might say that restricted to a 30-mile area in the south of France, there have been more serious penalties imposed on former dictators who are accused of, not only looting the treasury, but human rights abuses, including large-scale murder.

Mr. PERALES: Well, actually some people say that Aristide - I'm sorry. That's some mistake - that Duvalier actually had what many consider would be the most luxurious exile in the world.

He lived in the villa of - in the - I think it was the son or the grandson of Hamad Algosaibi, a very famous Saudi Arabian billionaire. Duvalier had a passion for automobiles. He drove around in a red Ferrari. So it wasn't entirely a bad stay, altogether.

One should also remember that one of the most controversial things about Duvalier's reign in Haiti - and actually, this is why he was questioned, based on the report we just heard - is that - this confirmed both by Haitians, by international authorities - that Duvalier may have embezzled anywhere between 300 and $900 million in Haiti. So this was also a very - and money that he kept in Switzerland or in New York, a very wealthy man, indeed.

CONAN: Any statute of limitations on looting the treasury?

Mr. PERALES: Actually, that is the one issue for which - that offers some ray of hope in the sense that there is no statute of limitations for appropriating public funds in Haiti. So, whatever crimes he may have committed at that time that can be proven, actually make him liable to stand trial.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation. 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. And Kristen(ph) is on the line from Cincinnati.

KRISTEN (Caller): Hi, there.

CONAN: Hi, Kristen.

KRISTEN: I - hi. I'd like to ask your guest what his opinion is on whether or not he thinks that the return of Duvalier is because he's banking on almost all of the population not knowing its history, since 50 percent of the population is under 30.

CONAN: And...

KRISTEN: They have to be educated as to what had happened in Haiti. So I'm just wondering if he's banking in all of the chaos, if he's going to fly back in there with nobody really taking notice.

Mr. PERALES: That's a very good question. Thank you very much. Indeed, it's one of the concerns that many observers have is that - in fact the number is higher. Some people would say that it's even 65 percent of the population in Haiti is younger than 30, so they don't have a memory of the cruelty and the abuses committed during Duvalier's reign.

It might be a matter - indeed, it might be a matter to consider. The problem is that Haiti is such a polarized country, that even the memory of the cruelty of the Duvalier dictatorship isn't enough to provide a firm ground for rejecting his presence in the country. I mean it is a deeply divided country. It has always been very poor. And, in fact, under Duvalier, was as poor as it is today. Perhaps, at that time, with the slight assumption, perhaps, that you had a strong man in power that gave the impression that the state functioned one way or the other, whether it was for looting or for personal enrichment, that's a different story.

But that, perhaps, is what some people are actually using, especially old generation that are still supporting him, using him as public statement about why he should be in Haiti.

CONAN: Kristen, thanks very much. We saw that there were some people there, upon his arrival, ready to cheer for him. You mentioned his supporters. Who are they? How many? And do the - does Tonton Macoutes still exist?

Mr. PERALES: Well, Haiti has a very entrenched small elite that has been in the county, of course, for many, many years. And this has traditionally been a source of tension in the country. Its an elite that tends to be mulatto, lighter-skinned. And some of which also benefitted from the structure of power and the pillaging or plundering of the Duvalier regime.

And so, this is an old elite. This is - these are older citizens, who have a memory or some type of recollection of the place, feeling, at least, a matter of order. We have to remember that Haiti has been thrown into political turmoil now, but it has been under extreme duress and pressure, not just because of the earthquake, but even before with - after the departure of Aristide and the transitional period, and then after the elections where Preval was elected, polarization and disorder and questions of the capability of the Haitian state to function have persisted in the country for a long while. So it's really the perception that things were "better," quote, unquote, under Duvalier, can come up in a situation like we live now.

CONAN: And do the Tonton Macoutes still exist?

Mr. PERALES: As an organized force, I would not say that they exist as such. In fact, when Duvalier was expelled, there was a brutal slaughtering of many of the Tonton Macoutes. That was one of the most vicious and cruel and bloody fights the country had seen in a very long time. I wouldnt - as an organized force, they don't exist. Whether they are elements - social elements that will be willing to mobilize and to use force and terror to impose some type of political order, one cant discount that.

CONAN: Our guest is Jose Raul Perales. He's senior program associate at the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's go next to Towson(ph). Towson with us from San Francisco.

TOWSON (Caller): Oh, I'd like to inquire as to why the prosecutor of ICC hasn't brought charges against this individual, Baby Doc. Another question is, he was pursuing...

CONAN: Why dont we do one question at a time, Towson, the...

TOWSON: Yes, yes, it's the same question. It's the same question.

CONAN: Okay.

TOWSON: Hes been pursuing the president of Sudan very aggressively, but this individual, he has been deafeningly silent. Now, why is that?

CONAN: ICC, Ill just explain, the International Criminal Court, established, well, many years after the reign of "Baby Doc" Duvalier.

Mr. PERALES: But that's a very good question. And at this moment, I am not entirely sure and I would - this is something that I certainly would like to find out after this question, whether Haiti is a signatory to the ICC. That is one fundamental aspect of a decision as to whether the ICC has - even has the possibility, the capability to pursue him...

CONAN: It might not have jurisdiction over acts committed before the court was established.

Mr. PERALES: Exactly. Or it might not even have a jurisdiction because Haiti is not a signatory to the treaty itself. So in order for - in order to gather the data that is required to present a case in the court, the Haitian government might not be - grant him some access to do that. Now, the question remains, of course, which some observers do have is why France has not pursued a case against him. The United States certainly has a standing case against him for precisely those 300 to $500 million that he embezzled, and was one of the reasons why the United States may have, very early, upon knowing of his return. And of course, after knowing or after stating that the U.S. have no knowledge that Duvalier was returning to Haiti, he - the United States actually made a statement saying that he should be brought to justice.

CONAN: There is another exiled Haitian president, Jean-Claude Aristide, and is he talking about coming back too?

Mr. PERALES: That is one story that everybody is expecting, or the one issue that everybody is wondering about. The State Department spokesman, PJ Crowley, said that they had no knowledge that Aristide would be making such a statement or no - they weren't pursuing that angle of the story.

But certainly it has percolated that - or people have begun, you know, in the whole conspiracy theory type of scenario - because there is so little knowledge that we have about why Duvalier returned - that perhaps Aristide might be - if Duvalier were to be allowed in Haiti and without any type of justice or without any type of criminal prosecution, that it might be safer for Aristide to plan such a return. But nothing concrete has been said, and Aristide has not made any public statements to this regard.

CONAN: And could either of them play a positive role? Would either be accepted as sort of a savior from the past?

Mr. PERALES: I see they're very difficult. Haiti - these gentlemen, to the extent that they do represent the past and where Haiti is coming from, they also represent extremely polarizing tensions and periods of extreme ingovernability(ph) in Haiti, a country that is now trying to grapple with the results of a certain election and trying to move forward in a certain sense. It would not - it would be very difficult to see the extent to which any of these gentlemen can bring the types of institutional strengths and procedures that Haiti needs to move forward.

CONAN: We're getting a lot of questions about this - we just have a minute or so left, and I thought I'd followed it up. But, was there a deal that while he lived in France, as long as he was not involved in Haitian politics, he would no be prosecuted?

Mr. PERALES: To the extent of my knowledge, I don't think so.

CONAN: Then why didn't the French go after him?

Mr. PERALES: That is a question that many people have been asking themselves. I think it was a matter of the French simply allowing this man to stay there as long as he as you say - as long as he confined himself to a perimeter. He did not participate in public life or in public activities, so he certainly was kept out of the scene.

His current companion, is actually the daughter of a former Haitian president, so certainly ties to the community and ties to Haiti were there. But why wasn't this pursued any further is, of course, a story to be told, it's just that those elements are surfacing now.

CONAN: We shall find out more later. Stay tuned, as they say. Jose Raul Perales, thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. PERALES: A pleasure to be here.

CONAN: Jose Raul Perales is with the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, it's been a century and a half since secession, a look back at the Civil War. Noah Andre Trudeau will be with us on Robert E. Lees birthday. Join us then.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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