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Haiti's former dictator, Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier, is the talk of that country after returning from 25 years in exile. Some Haitians cautiously welcomed him home, others sharply criticized his brutal regime.
In a move that surprised many observers of the country and many Haitians themselves, Duvalier flew in last evening carrying a government-issued Haitian diplomatic passport.
NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Port-au-Prince.
JASON BEAUBIEN: Pierre Ralon(ph) shines shoes on a busy street in Port-au-Prince. Ralon has a very laissez-faire attitude to the return of one of Haiti's most brutal dictators.
Mr. PIERRE RALON: (Through Translator) The fact that Baby Doc is back, I don't feel any different. To me, I think it's a good thing that he's back. And if every other Haitian that's living out of the country comes back and participate in the reconstruction of the country, that will good.
Unidentified Group: Jean-Claude Duvalier, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Jean-Claude Duvalier.
BEAUBIEN: Hundreds of people mobbed the gates to the airport last night chanting Jean-Claude Duvalier to welcome the former president for life home after 25 years in exile.
Haitian police escorted his motorcade to a luxury hotel in a leafy(ph) section of the capital. His people originally said he'd hold a press conference today at the hotel, but Henry Robert Sterling, an aide to Duvalier, announced that there wasn't a room big enough to accommodate such an event, and thus, Duvalier will address the media tomorrow.
Mr. HENRY ROBERT STERLING (Spokesman of Jean-Claude Duvalier): (Through Translator) Jean-Claude Duvalier does not have political role, as far as I know. He came back to his country as a citizen to visit his country after the earthquake. He is not involved in politics.
BEAUBIEN: Sterling says Duvalier has returned from Paris as a private citizen to visit friends, and it's unclear how long he'll be in the country.
Michel Soukar, political analyst at Signal FM, a popular local radio station, says Duvalier is back to stay. Soukar, who was forced into exile by Baby Doc in the 1980s, says the end of Duvalier's exile came out of the blue.
Mr. MICHEL SOUKAR (Political Analyst, Signal FM): (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: This was a surprise to everyone, Soukar says, except those who were preparing in secret for his return. And Soukar says it's clear to him that Haitian President Rene Preval and the highest levels of the French government must have approved Duvalier flying back in. Haiti is in the midst of a major political crisis with the November presidential elections still undecided. Soukar says Duvalier's arrival benefits current President Preval.
Mr. SOUKAR: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: This is going to create a diversion in Preval's favor, Soukar says. Others, however, view Duvalier's presence as more than just a diversion. Amnesty International today issued a call for Baby Doc to be arrested and charged with human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.
Patrick Elie, a former defense minister in President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's first government, says he doesn't want Duvalier arrested, but he says the former dictator owes the Haitian people an explanation.
Mr. PATRICK ELIE (Former Haitian Defense Minister): How did I live all my life in terror?
BEAUBIEN: He says Baby Doc and his father, Francois Papa Doc Duvalier, brutally repressed anyone who spoke out against their regimes.
Mr. ELIE: Tell us, how families got killed? How torture was practiced in this country? How so many Haitians were forced into exile? We want to know. That's it.
BEAUBIEN: Elie says Duvalier's return doesn't benefit the Haitian people, but he says it does have the potential to cause chaos in a country already dealing with an earthquake, a cholera epidemic and charges of massive fraud in November's presidential elections.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.
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