Clear68° WeatherClear68° Weather

Duvalier's arrival deepens drama in Haiti

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, center, waves to supporters from a hotel balcony after his arrival Sunday in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Duvalier’s return after nearly 25 years in exile is seen as a surprising and perplexing move.

Associated Press

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, center, waves to supporters from a hotel balcony after his arrival Sunday in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Duvalier’s return after nearly 25 years in exile is seen as a surprising and perplexing move.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier ensconced himself Monday in a high-end hotel after his surprise return to a country deep in crisis, leaving many to wonder if the once-feared strongman will prompt renewed conflict.

Duvalier met with allies inside the hotel in the hills above downtown Port-au-Prince and spoke publicly only through emissaries, who gave vague explanations for his sudden appearance — nearly 25 years after he was forced into exile by a popular uprising against his brutal regime.

Henry Robert Sterlin, a former ambassador who said he was speaking on behalf of Duvalier, portrayed the 59-year-old former "president for life" as merely a concerned elder statesmen who wanted to see the effects of last year's devastating earthquake on his homeland. "He was deeply hurt in his soul after the earthquake," Sterlin said.

Known as Baby Doc, Duvalier had been expected to speak publicly Monday, but Sterlin said the hotel could not accommodate the crowds and no suitable replacement location could be found.

Sterlin said he didn't know how long Duvalier, who has been living in exile near Paris, planned to stay in Haiti.

Duvalier, who assumed power in 1971 at age 19 after the death of his father, dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, still has some support in Haiti despite being out of the country since 1986.

Though millions are too young to remember life under his dictatorship, his abrupt return Sunday still sent shock waves through the country, with some fearing that his presence will bring back the extreme polarization, and political violence, of the past.

"Part of what he does by getting back into Haiti is bring back the old battle lines," said Jocelyn McCalla, a political analyst and former director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights.

"People are going to start talking about being pro- or anti-Duvalier. … It intensifies the instability."

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a Twitter post that the United States was surprised by the timing of Duvalier's visit.

The department urged "all political actors and their supporters to remain calm and to work peacefully toward a prosperous future for Haiti."

President René Préval, a former anti-Duvalier activist, made no immediate public statements.

Human rights groups urged Haiti to prosecute Duvalier for widespread abuses, while the government of France said it had no advance notice of the trip.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

Return affects talks on presidential vote

Jean-Claude Duvalier's return to Haiti comes as the nation struggles to work through a political crisis following the Nov. 28 first-round presidential election. Three candidates want to go on to a second round meant for two. The Organization of American States sent in a team of experts to resolve the deadlock, recommending that outgoing President René Préval's candidate be excluded. The arrival of Duvalier has at least briefly overshadowed speculation about how the government might respond. OAS Assistant Secretary-General Albert Ramdin said Monday that the organization has "noted with interest the return of Mr. Duvalier to Haiti — and the timing."

Associated Press

Duvalier's arrival deepens drama in Haiti 01/17/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:56pm]

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...