Haiti Looking To Try ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier

Haitian authorities are considering charging former dictator, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier with corruption and embezzlement. Duvalier returned to Haiti on Sunday, after 25 years in exile. He was taken into custody yesterday but released after being questioned by a judge. Host Michel Martin speaks with Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles about Duvalier’s return and whether he will be charged with crimes committed during his 15-year reign.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

With the start of the Australian Tennis Open this week, we turn to the groundbreaking player of decades past, Zina Garrison. She started on the playgrounds of Houston and made the finals of Wimbledon. We'll speak with Zina Garrison about tennis, her charitable work and her years of struggle with an eating disorder. That's just ahead.

But, first, we wanted to learn more about the sudden return to Haiti by a man regarded by much of the world as a dictator. Jean Claude Duvalier, known as Baby Doc, returned to Haiti on Sunday after 25 years in exile.

Yesterday, Haitian officials escorted him to a courthouse where he was questioned by a judge about charges of corruption and embezzlement and returned to his hotel. Human rights groups say Baby Doc should be charged with overseeing the torture and killings of tens of thousands of Haitians by his personal paramilitary force.

We wanted to know more about why the 59-year-old Duvalier may have come back to Haiti and what Haitians think about his surprise visit, so we've called upon Jacqueline Charles, the Caribbean correspondent for the Miami Herald and she's with us by phone from Port-au-Prince. Jacqueline, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. JACQUELINE CHARLES (Caribbean Correspondent, Miami Herald): Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So, Jacqueline, first of all, what is Duvalier's status? We know he was taken in for questioning, but was he charged with anything?

Ms. CHARLES: Yes. We have been told that formal charges have been brought against him by the country's prosecutor and they include corruption charges, as well as conspiracy, criminal conspiracy, as well as embezzlement. What is unclear right now is whether those charges also include human rights abuses. But I did speak to two individuals last night that told me that they plan to file human rights abuse charges against him within the coming days.

MARTIN: And is he detained? One of the things that's been noted is that he seems free to come and go. He was not in handcuffs. He's not in any facility, he's in a hotel.

Ms. CHARLES: From my sources, what I understand is that there was a lot of discussions within the government about how do you handle the situation. It's a very delicate situation. As you know, after the earthquake, a number of institutions were basically destroyed. And so at one point they were trying to find a house where they could put him in so that they could literally put him under house arrest and to monitor his whereabouts. He was allowed to go to the courthouse in a private vehicle. But that vehicle was escorted by heavily armed Haitian riot police, SWATs. So it wasn't that he was freely allowed to move about.

Last night, when I left the hotel where he is living at, there are also a number of police officers that were there standing guard around the hotel, and Haitian authorities do have his passport in their possession.

MARTIN: And to that point, whose passport is he carrying? Was there any advance word to the government that he was coming? And why is he there?

Ms. CHARLES: The passport that he's carrying is his own passport. It is a diplomatic passport that was issued in June 2005 by the then U.S.-backed internal government that was led by Gerard Latortue, the prime minister at the time. They issued this passport to him. The passport expired last year. This is how he came into the country.

Also, in terms of why he is here, that is something that remains very much unclear. He has not spoken, nor has his wife, long-time companion, Veronique Roy. She has not said exactly why he's here. Is he in failing health and he wanted to see his country for one last time? Is he here because he wanted to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the earthquake?

My understanding is that he was supposed to actually come into the country on the 12th, which would've been the one-year anniversary. But that did not happen. So right now, everyone is saying that they had no idea that a former dictator who had been expelled from this country 25 years ago, flown out with the assistance of the United States, was on his way back to Haiti, and so, you know, there's still a lot of questions about that.

MARTIN: This is Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald reporter. We're talking about the latest development in Haitian politics, which has already seen so much. Former dictator, Jean Claude Duvalier, known as Baby Doc, has returned from a 25-year exile.

So, Jacqueline, tell us if you would, just remind people about why Jean Claude is seen in the light that he is seen by the international community. Just reminding people he ruled for 15 years, beginning in 1971, taking over from the death of his father, Francois, who was known as Papa Doc. He was 19 at the time. Pick up the story from there.

Ms. CHARLES: Well, yes, I mean, this is a 29-year regime where Haiti was under a dictatorship and you had a situation where a number of people were killed. You had a secret police that kept law and order in this country. Democracy did not exist. You could not speak freely. There was no freedom of the press. And so what you have today as a result of his return, you have a number of people who are victims of this regime, who were either tortured or lost family members as a result. They are now reliving this horror because there has been no real psychological reckoning in Haiti of this.

MARTIN: Jacqueline, let me just interrupt you just for one second. I'm going to ask you to sort of pick up the story, that there are a lot of people who are kind of traumatized by his return because there's never really been any reckoning for his behavior. I just want to play a short clip from an interview that NPR's Jason Beaubien did with a journalist named Evans Paul. And here it is.

Mr. EVANS PAUL (Journalist): (Through translator) What was hard is not just because they were there and they had beaten me, they asked me to count every time I got beat. I counted about 80 hits.

MARTIN: And so, Jacqueline, it's generally - what's the word I'm looking for, sort of understood that this regime is partly what led to the Haitian diaspora that, you know, intellectuals, anybody who was perceived as a threat to the government, you know, fled the country. You know, so, to that end, what's the reception now? How is being received upon his return?

Ms. CHARLES: There's confusion. I mean, again, it's like you look at this country of 10 million people and you have people like Evans Paul, a former mayor of Port-au-Prince, a political figure, a fighter, you know, in the democracy of this country and he's reliving the horrors. He's reliving, you know, the torture, remembering coming very close to death because it was that if you were sent to one jail on the grounds of the presidential palace, you know, that the rooms were so tiny, even smaller than closets, that you said, okay, I have a chance. But if you were sent to Fort Dimanche, you knew that it was a death sentence. So now you're reliving that.

But at the same time, you have young people that are not that much younger than me who are being told the stories about when the streets were so clean in a city like Cap-Haitien that you could eat off the streets. And so you have a generational issue. You have a collision of history. This is a country where we as Haitians like to say it has no memory. It forgets the memory. And so you have a young generation - I mean, to them, it's like the Duvalier years were the best years.

You know, how one feels is what has been their experience in respect to this regime. Did they lose family members? Were they themselves a victim of this regime or was this something that they have no recollection of, but they only know of a Haiti in a different time when we made American baseballs? And so this is what's going on today and this is what adds to the uncertainty in terms of how this is going to affect the political climate, how this is going to play out.

MARTIN: Jacqueline Charles is the Caribbean correspondent for the Miami Herald. She's been reporting on Haiti and most recently on the return of Haiti's former dictator, Jean Claude Duvalier. And she joined us by phone from Port-au-Prince. Jacqueline, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. CHARLES: Thank you.

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