Haitian police escorted former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier from his Port-au-Prince hotel room today, although it’s not clear if they were arresting him. It’s possible his hotel just has really efficient express check-out services.
The Associated Press reports some in the crowd cheered for the brutal dictator as he was led away, which is very bad news for a nation that receives it on a daily basis.
Baby Doc’s visit to Haiti has been a murky affair, in which no one is certain why he returned from exile in France, or what the current government might be willing to do about it. There’s a lot of money pouring into Haiti through international aid, and Baby Doc was an expert at vacuuming cash out of his national treasury. On the other hand, CNN quotes a “Duvalier associate” named Henry Robert Sterlin, who says the old monster was “deeply moved in his soul after the earthquake” that kicked off the latest round of Haitian misery. Being a “Duvalier associate” must be fun. Movie nights at Baby Doc’s place in Paris have got to be a scream.
International human-rights groups have been calling for his arrest and prosecution on crimes committed during his reign. It would take a long time just to read those charges. It would be easier to zip through the penal code and rattle off the offenses he isn’t guilty of. For example, there is no clear evidence that he removed the tags from pillows, or tampered with the smoke detectors on airplanes.
Prosecuting Duvalier would not be easy. The AP quotes a U.N. spokesman who warns that “Haiti’s fragile judicial system may be in no position to mount a case.” Politics are always turbulent there, but things are especially dicey at the moment because local bosses have been whipping up support by blaming the U.N. for the recent cholera outbreak. To make matters worse, they might be responsible for the recent cholera outbreak. Some health authorities believe it originated with faulty sewage equipment used by Nepalese peacekeepers.
A high-profile trial of a dictator who apparently retains a sizable following, by a shaky government which has presided over a humanitarian disaster, could be the worst possible spin in the hellish “Twister” game of Haitian politics. On the other hand, the government can’t afford to look weak to both domestic and international observers by letting Baby Doc cruise around the island like an aging rock star mulling over a reunion tour. A bitter election just ended in a cloud of vote-fraud allegations, which saw the preferred candidate of the current president knocked into third place by international observers. The stability of dictatorship gains a dangerous allure under such circumstances.
I suspect the cops brought Duvalier in for some long conversations with the current government, which probably wants to know what it must do to get rid of him. He should face trial for the evils of his dictatorship… but that will likely happen only if negotiations fall through.
Update: Looks like negotiations fell through! In the very moment I posted this article, Reuters reported that prosecutors in Haiti have filed charges of “corruption, theft, and misappropriate of funds” against Jean-Claude Duvalier. Considering what they could charge him with, that’s a bit like getting Al Capone for tax evasion, but it’s a start.