Recalling the Day the US Promised ‘Baby Doc’ Would Never Return

Andrew Schneider, AOL News, January 17, 2011

Shortly before 4 a.m. on Feb. 7, 1986, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, his gorgeous and glitzy wife Michele Bennet, their two young children, at least one mistress and about 20 close friends and servants got aboard a huge U.S. Air Force jet and headed for France.

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Baby Doc and his father before him had plundered and terrorized the island nation for decades. Now the Haitian people were robbed again by their last “president for life.” They awoke to music and taped messages from Duvalier on radio stations in Port-au-Prince, saying he had left for the good of the country.

By mid-morning, some at the U.S. Embassy were failing to conceal their anger at their country’s involvement in facilitating the departure, {snip}.

The rationale quietly shared with the few foreign reporters who remained in the country was that “he promised to never come back. Never.” And “Haiti will be better off without any Duvaliers.”

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Duvalier was appointed president at age 19 under a provision in the Haitian constitution that allowed his father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, to name Baby Doc the next president for life. The ruthless senior dictator died in 1971.

The brutal oppression inflicted on his subjects by Jean-Claude’s secret police, the pilfering of the treasury as tens of thousands starved and the anticipated international charges of human rights violations led to rare popular protests and prompted him to plan his departure, U.S. Embassy officials said at the time.

As word of his escape spread, emotions in the capital exploded. In Cite Soleil, a seaside, tin-roofed, shantytown of open sewers, and Warf Jeremie and other packed slums, the impoverished raced through the streets cursing the Duvaliers, who had killed and imprisoned so many.

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Papa Doc’s crypt in the city’s central cemetery–above ground like the others because of the high water table–was destroyed bit by bit, by scores of sweating men and women hammering away with hand tools, until the marble and granite shattered and the bones within were removed.

The Tonton Macoute–the Duvalier family’s 5,000-man militia, enforcers, collector of bribes and kickbacks, torturers, assassins and stiflers of all dissent–were prize targets if they could be found. Throughout the city, pieces of their uniforms and their iconic, fear-inducing, silver-mirrored sunglasses could be found tossed in alleys and trashcans.

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Two days after Duvalier fled, on a road about 22 miles from Port-au-Prince, a taxi carrying a foreign journalist was surrounded by 40 or 50 people, laughing, cheering and screaming, banging on the vehicle, urging the American to follow them up the hill.

Ten or 15 feet below the top of the small knoll, a rivulet of red flowed downward through the dust. At the top, a frail-looking, gray-haired woman held a bloodied machete in one hand and the head of a man in the other.

A young man wearing a Tulane University T-shirt told the reporter not to “think harshly” of the woman. He explained that the man whose head she held–the local Tonton Macoute–had raped both her daughter and granddaughter and killed one of her grandsons.

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In the hilltop enclaves overlooking the capital, hunkered down within the high-walled, bougainvillea-covered estates and hidden from view behind their private guard forces, the wealthy in Petionville and Juvenat worried about their future without a Duvalier.

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Pry bars were used to force open huge freezers and pantries. Chicken, lobster, shrimp, sausages, beef, pork, mushrooms, exotic vegetables and spices–all flown in from the U.S. or Europe–were tossed into more than a dozen 20-gallon cook pots set atop portable gas burners. Rice and beans boiled away in other pots. Chefs who normally competed for elite clientele worked side by side outside the mansion to concoct a stew of the kind the slum dwellers had never eaten.

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Now, almost a quarter of a century later, Duvalier is back, at least for a few days, and the journalists are again rushing to the island.

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