Latin America & Caribbean

Baby Doc Duvalier's return evokes Haiti's dark past

Former Haitian president Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier and his wife Veronique Roy depart court on 18 January 2011
Mr Duvalier has still not explained his reasons fro returning to Haiti

The re-appearance on Sunday of Jean-Claude - or "Baby Doc" - Duvalier in Haiti took many by surprise.

But developments since then suggest Mr Duvalier was badly misinformed about the kind of reception he would receive.

After being questioned for several hours by prosecutors, the former leader was charged with embezzlement and misappropriation of funds, charges he has long denied.

A judge will now decide if there is enough evidence for him to stand trial - a process likely to take months gathering evidence for alleged offences that took place more than a quarter of a century ago.

Jean-Claude Duvalier and his late father, Francois, known as Papa Doc, were accused of siphoning off up to $300m (£187m) during their time in power, although there is no accurate record of this.

The money said to have been embezzled came from state-run concerns such as the Regie du Tabac, the tobacco business, and taxes on rum exports.

But human rights groups within Haiti and internationally are pressing for Baby Doc to also stand trial for the widespread human rights abuses committed during his rule.

Once again, exact details are difficult to prove, but it has been estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 Haitians were killed by the security forces or the paramilitary Tontons Macoutes or "Bogeymen" under Papa Doc and then Baby Doc.

Amnesty International and Human Rights watch regularly reported on these abuses from the 1960s to the 1980s, and these reports could be used in any future trial.

When Mr Duvalier arrived back in Haiti, some 2,000 supporters turned out to receive him at Port-au-Prince airport.

But it appears that the current government under President Rene Preval could not allow him to try to exploit Haiti's difficult political situation.

There was no clear-cut winner in the first round of presidential elections in November, and there has been prolonged haggling between the different political groups as to who should stand in the run-off.

No date has been fixed for the second round, which is seen as vital to provide Haiti with a credible administration to lead reconstruction efforts following the devastating earthquake of January 2010.

While Mr Duvalier has not explained his reason for returning, he was apparently hoping to take advantage of the current political vacuum to rally support behind a promise to reinstate a "law and order" government.

Exodus

Born in 1951, Baby Doc ruled the country after his father's death in 1971 to 1986, when he was deposed by the armed forces following widespread popular unrest and fled to exile in France.

Mr Duvalier still has some supporters but many Haitians are too young to remember him

Haiti has struggled to create stable democratic governments after three decades of misrule by the Duvalier dynasty.

Papa Doc first came to power in 1957, when he is said to have won free and fair elections.

A popular figure at first, he became increasingly authoritarian and eccentric, keeping control of the country thanks to the sinister Tontons Macoutes who acted with impunity to silence any opposition.

In 1964 Papa Doc had himself declared president for life.

His rule became increasingly repressive, and it was in the 1960s that many educated Haitians left the country for the United States, Canada and France, the start of an exodus that means now more than a million Haitians out of a total of 11 million live abroad.

By the early 1970s, Papa Doc's health was failing and he had the National Assembly declare that his son Jean Claude should take over, also as president for life.

Handed the presidency at age 19, Mr Duvalier made some attempts to modernise and reform the Haitian state but his rule was as arbitrary and authoritarian as his father's, and he was known to be greatly influenced by his mother, Simone Ovide Duvalier.

Haiti is still struggling to rebuild a year on from the earthquake

In the end, he proved so inept at resolving Haiti's deep-seated problems of extreme poverty, lack of investment and employment opportunities that there were constant outbreaks of popular unrest.

In February 1986 the armed forces toppled him in a bloodless coup supported by the vast majority of Haitians.

Baby Doc went off to live in exile in the south of France.

He lost most of his wealth following a bitter divorce in 1993, and some $6m he held in Swiss bank accounts has been frozen since 1986.

In recent years, Mr Duvalier has depended on financial support from his followers, living in a small Paris apartment.

His presence in Haiti is likely to lead to further instability, weakening still further the prospects for constitutional rule in this troubled nation - although Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said there was no reason this would be the case.

Perhaps his presence will galvanise the squabbling politicians to unite to defend the hopes for democratic rule in Haiti against this ghost from its dark past.

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