Jean-Claude Duvalier is dead but Duvalierism in Haiti lives on in the Martelly regime

By Thomas Peralte, Haiti Liberte, Oct 7, 2014

On Sat., Oct. 4, 2014, at about 10 am, word of the death of Haiti's former tyrant, Jean-Claude Duvalier, circulated through the streets of Port-au-Prince. A short time later, one of Duvalier's lawyers, Reynold Georges, confirmed the news on several radio stations in the capital. There was no display of sadness among people in the streets of Haiti.

Jean-Claude Duvalier, 63, died of a heart attack at the home of one his close friends, former Col. Joseph Baguidy, former head of the neo-Duvalierist National Intelligence Service (SIN), the Haitian CIA.

Jean-Claude's father, "President-for-Life" François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, had anointed "Baby Doc" as his successor, Haiti's 41st president, in January 1971. Jean-Claude, then 19, assumed the presidency just three months later, on Apr. 21, 1971, the day his father died. He was also supposed to rule for life, but a popular uprising, combined with dissatisfaction with him from his former allies in Washington, resulted in the fall of his regime and his flight from the country to a golden exile in France on Feb. 7, 1986. He spent 14 years, 9 months, and 16 days in power.

The difference between the regimes of Papa Doc and Baby Doc is encapsulated in two national votes. The first referendum, held on Jan. 30, 1971, asked Haitians if they agreed to have the elder Duvalier appoint his son as President-for-Life. The result: 2,391,916 votes yes, with none opposed. In other words, 100% of the vote.

Baby Doc held a similar referendum 14 years later, on Jul. 22, 1985, asking Haitians if they agreed for him to continue as President-for-Life. The result: 2,375,011 votes for, and 448 against. That is 99.98% of the vote.

That difference of .02% illustrates the extent of "liberalization" of the Duvalier regime under Jean-Claude.

Baby Doc ran the country with a handful of notorious, often-feuding Duvalierists and legions of Tonton Macoutes (paramilitary thugs). During his reign, thousands of Haitians were killed, disappeared, tortured, imprisoned, and massacred. Many passed through or disappeared into Haiti's so-called Triangle of Death: Fort Dimanche, the Dessalines Barracks, and Anti-gang, as police headquarters was called. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians were forced to flee the country, often on flimsy sailboats. Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Duvalier enjoyed a lavish lifestyle with his friends and family, surrounded by women, sports cars, and motorcycles. He and his cronies made millions of dollars in drug trafficking, organ trafficking, trafficking of Haitian workers to the Dominican Republic, and the looting of Haiti's treasury. He stashed hundreds of millions of dollars in bank accounts and property overseas, which he lived off during his 25 years in exile in the south of France. Switzerland held $6.2 million of this stolen fortune until returning it to Haiti in February 2011. Duvalier married a bourgeois princess, Michele Bennett, on May 27, 1980 in a lavish wedding that cost impoverished Haiti a reported $3 million.

In addition to looting Haiti's financial resources, Jean-Claude Duvalier wrecked the Haitian economy in 1983 by ordering the slaughter of millions of Haiti's indigenous Creole pigs, in cahoots with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and implementing neoliberal policies in the early 1980s. The Creole pigs' decimation caused staggering financial losses to Haiti's peasantry for whom the valuable pigs were considered a bank. The neoliberal policies caused Haiti's currency to drastically lose its long-fixed value of five gourdes per dollar. The exchange rate is now 46 gourdes to a dollar.

Popular discontent, long brewing in the terrorized, silenced population, began surfacing in March 1983 when Pope John Paul II visited Haiti. "Something must change in this country," he famously said, emboldening Haiti's burgeoning liberation theology movement. The Pope called for wealth redistribution, more equality, and for the elite to be more concerned with the welfare of the poor masses. Two years later, in November 1985, rebellion broke out in Gonaïves and flared nationwide when three young schoolchildren were shot dead by Duvalier's police trying to quash a student demonstration.

Up through January 1986, the revolt spread throughout the Republic, and although he boasted on Jan. 31, 1986 that he was still as "strong as a monkey's tail," Duvalier and his wife were forced by street demonstrations, and finally the U.S. Embassy, to board, with his cars and her furs, a waiting U.S. C-130 jet, on which they were flown to France. They took with them, or rather followed, an estimated $800 million which had been siphoned from the coffers of the Haitian state, an amount higher than Haiti's external debt at the time.

After 25 years of exile, Duvalier flew back to Haiti unannounced on Jan. 16, 2011. The U.S. government surely gave him a "green light" to return. The government of then President René Préval, once an anti-Duvalierist fighter, immediately began to prepare a prosecution of Duvalier for crimes against humanity and for financial crimes like embezzlement and corruption. But the pursuit of justice ground to a halt when President Michel Martelly, once a card-carrying Tonton Macoute by his own admission, came to power on May 11, 2011. An investigating judge in January 2012 then dismissed the human rights charges against Duvalier but recommended prosecution for financial crimes, which carry a penalty of only five years in prison.

Duvalier's victims cried foul, however, and the Haitian Appeals Court ruled in February 2014 that Duvalier should be tried for crimes against humanity.

Despite Duvalier's grisly record, President Martelly issued the following statement: "On behalf of the entire Government and people of Haiti, I take this sad occasion to extend my sincere sympathies to his family, his relatives, and his supporters across the country." The President's office says that the Haitian government intends to hold a state funeral for Duvalier, an announcement which has caused outrage among those who were imprisoned, tortured, or lost family members under his regime.

"All we are asking the current regime is not to treat his remains and death as those of a hero, as a man of great virtue," explained writer Lyonel Trouillot immediately after Duvalier's death. "It will be better for all the dead. For him, we will not have to denounce every cheer, but only to make the call to remember. For the Gasner Raymonds, the Augustus Thénors, ... the Gonaïves schoolchildren... and so many unburied dead."

In a joint press release dated Oct. 5, 2014, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organizations in Haiti, the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH) and Ecumenical Center for Human Rights (ECHR) called for prosecution of Duvalier-era criminals to continue.

"The death of Jean-Claude Duvalier did not end the prosecutions in court against his regime," said Pierre Espérance, executive director of RNDDH and Secretary General of FIDH. "Victims of the Duvalier regime have also filed complaints against the henchmen of the former dictator."

"Although Duvalier died without being judged at the time of his death, he was still charged with ordering disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture," said Karim Lahidji, FIDH's President. "Although he escaped conviction, he did not escape justice nor having his crimes forgotten."

Michaëlle Jean, the former governor-general of Canada, had her family forced into exile to Canada by Duvalier's repression. "As I learn of Jean-Claude Duvalier's death on this Oct. 4, I can only regret that justice has not completed its course and that he has not been held accountable for the systematic corruption and serious crimes committed during his rule," she said. "I have always believed that true national reconciliation and concord can only come from demanding the truth. On this day, I think first of the many victims of abuse and of the country of Haiti, as a whole, which terribly suffered from years of unhappiness, and serious assaults against rights, freedom, and democracy. We must all draw clear lessons from this dark chapter in history."

Even Sandra Honoré, the representative of the United Nations force occupying Haiti, MINUSTAH, felt obliged to mildly critique the former dictator, although her soldiers enforce a regime of impunity in Haiti. "The return of the former president to Haiti in 2011 presented an opportunity for the country to comprehensively address the painful memories of its recent past through the required processes of accountability and of reconciliation, the pursuit of which should continue," she said.

The thousands of victims of three decades of Duvalierist dictatorship continue to demand justice and reparations. Justice must continue as many of Duvalier's henchmen and supporters are still alive. Some are even in the Martelly government as officials or advisors. Judging by the Martelly regime's policies over the past three years, they are paving the way for a return to complete dictatorship.

In short, Duvalier may be dead, but Duvalierism and Macoutism lives on in the Martelly regime, which is not ashamed to admit it. One has only to read President Martelly's tweets on learning of the infamous former dictator's death: "I address my sincere sympathies to the [Duvalier] family and the entire nation on this sad occasion" and "salute the departure of a true son of Haiti."

(PLEASE consider subscribing or making a contribution to Haiti Liberte on its website at . Affordable monthly installments can now be automatically deducted. Support independent progressive Haitian journalism!)