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A SPECIAL SECTION: Haiti, Since the January 12, 2010 Fierce Earthquake

Posted Monday, January 17, 2011  

Duvalier Meets With Advisers as Haiti Holds Its Breath




Jean-Claude Duvalier, the former leader known as 'Baby Doc', at the Karibe Hotel in Port-au-Prince on Sunday night.

MEXICO CITY — Haiti’s former dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, huddled with his advisers at a Port-au-Prince hotel on Monday, a day after his stunning return to the country he ruled with brutality and corruption for almost 15 years.


Mr. Duvalier, who is known as Baby Doc, had been expected to speak publicly on Monday, and reporters and Haitians clustered around his hotel, the luxurious Karibe. But the plans were abruptly canceled. A Duvalier aide, Henry Robert Sterlin, said the hotel could not accommodate the crowds and no suitable replacement location could be found.

The sudden arrival of Mr. Duvalier, who ruled Haiti from the time he was 19 until he was forced to flee by mass protests in 1986, threatened to further convulse a country that is struggling to recover from the earthquake, a lingering cholera epidemic, the political uncertainty stemming from last year’s contested presidential election and an epidemic of violent crime.

Mr. Sterlin said he did not know how long Mr. Duvalier, who has been living in exile near Paris, planned to stay in Haiti, or if he planned to meet with Haiti’s president, René Préval. An aide said Mr. Préval was among those surprised by Mr. Duvalier’s arrival.

A friend said that Mr. Duvalier would stay for three or four days, but that he would eventually like to resettle in Haiti. The friend spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not Mr. Duvalier’s official representative.

The capital was calm on Monday. On his arrival in Port-au-Prince the day before, Mr. Duvalier was treated by some like a visiting dignitary, according to the Web site of the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste. “I came to put myself at the service of my country,” he was quoted as saying as he left the plane.

Crowds lined his route from the airport and, referring to the nation’s dismal conditions, chanted, “If Jean-Claude had been here, we would never be like this,” the newspaper said.

Mr. Duvalier and his girlfriend, Véronique Roy, were chauffeured to the Karibe Hotel in a four-wheel-drive vehicle that was escorted by members of the Haitian national police and followed by a “procession,” the newspaper said.

Some analysts noted a lack of protests against an international pariah who had been chased from his country by angry demonstrators. In the raucous celebration that followed his fall from power, several people, many of them members of his security force, were killed and demonstrators broke into the mausoleum of his father, Francois Duvalier, another brutal dictator who ruled in the 1950s and 60s.

Elizabeth Abbott, a senior research associate at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College and the author of “Haiti: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy,” said Mr. Duvalier had many loyalists inside Haiti. Graffiti that read “Welcome home, Duvalier” began appearing weeks ago in the capital, and rumors persisted that he would arrive soon.

For some Haitians born after he was deposed, she said, Mr. Duvalier may be a symbol of a time when the streets were safer.

“He is a figurehead,” said Ms. Abbott, who is a sister-in-law of the general who deposed Mr. Duvalier. “There is an awful lot of nostalgia there now. But it is a nostalgia for a tiny aspect of what life was like then.”

On Monday, Duvalier opponents began calling in to Haitian radio stations, to remind Haitians not old enough to remember his rule of the brutality and economic hardship that led him to be deposed. And Amnesty International urged the Haitian authorities to arrest Mr. Duvalier for human rights abuses committed during his rule in 1970s and ’80s.

“The widespread and systematic human rights violations committed in Haiti during Duvalier’s rule amount to crimes against humanity,” said Javier Zuniga, a special adviser to the human rights group. “Haiti is under the obligation to prosecute him and anyone else responsible for such crimes.”

There were conflicting reports about how Mr. Duvalier was allowed to enter the country. Haitian officials said it appeared he made his way to Port-au-Prince on an expired diplomatic passport. But the Le Nouvelliste article said he had a Haitian diplomatic passport that was issued to him by the transitional government of 2004 to 2006.

A senior aide to Mr. Préval said the French Embassy in Port-au-Prince told Haitian officials that Mr. Duvalier’s arrival only became clear after the Air France flight on which he was traveling took off for the Haitian capital from the Caribbean island of Guadaloupe. A senior French government official in Paris said, however, that Mr. Duvalier had told the French authorities of his planned return to Haiti without specifying when he would arrive. The official declined to be identified, in keeping with protocol.

The French Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bernard Valero, said Mr. Duvalier’s Haitian passport was valid and he was “free to move around.”

Mr. Préval had said in 2007 that Mr. Duvalier could return but would face justice for the money the government said he had looted from the Treasury, as well as for the deaths and torture of political opponents at the hands of the secret police.

It was unclear if Mr. Duvalier would be arrested. The Haitian police chief, Mario Andresol, told The Miami Herald that he was not aware that any arrest warrant had been issued.

Mr. Duvalier has long flirted with returning, telling reporters over the years that he would like to go home. His nickname derives from his being the son of François Duvalier, known as Papa Doc, a much feared dictator in the 1950s and ’60s. Jean-Claude Duvalier succeeded his father when he was just 19.

His departure from Haiti 25 years ago, which was arranged with the assistance of the United States, ushered in a period of halting democracy that has continued with tumultuous elections.

On Sunday, the United States ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth H. Merten, embraced an international report that rejected the results of the presidential election in November, adding pressure on Haitian officials to reconsider the outcome. He urged Haitian officials to accept its findings, including the conclusion that one candidate might have been denied a rightful spot in a runoff.

The report, delivered on Thursday to Mr. Préval and prepared by a multinational team of experts convened by the Organization of American States, confirmed Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady, as the leader in the first round of voting in November. She did not win enough votes to avoid a runoff.

But the report said, based on a statistical analysis of ballot sheets, that Mr. Préval’s choice as his successor, Jude Célestin, had placed third, not second, as announced when the initial results were released in early December. Instead, the panel said, Michel Martelly, a popular singer, had won second place and qualified to face Ms. Manigat in the second round of balloting.

Mr. Préval has not commented on the report, but his aides have been privately telling reporters that he is dissatisfied and questions its methodology.

With the leadership of the country and billions of dollars of disaster relief in the balance, José Miguel Insulza, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, plans to visit Haiti on Monday to consult with officials. His trip was announced before news of Mr. Duvalier’s arrival.

After leaving Haiti in February 1986, Mr. Duvalier was denied asylum in several countries, including Switzerland and Gabon, before France agreed to take him and his wife, Michele Bennett. They initially lived near the Swiss border and on the Cote d’Azur with their two children.

His marriage to Ms. Bennett, herself a magnet for criticism for spending millions on luxury goods, ended in 1993. Mr. Duvalier then moved to the Paris area with his companion and longtime public relations officer, Ms. Roy, herself the granddaughter of a former Haitian president.

Press reports have suggested that Mr. Duvalier lost much of his wealth in his divorce settlement with Ms. Bennett, but in February a Swiss court unblocked some $4 million after a drawn-out court case to determine whether the money was legitimately his.

Katrin Bennhold contributed reporting from Paris; Alice Speri from Port-au-Prince, Haiti; and Deborah Sontag from New York.

Copyright 2011 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, International, of Monday, January 17, 2011.

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