Rory Carroll, Guardian (London), January 18, 2011
Haitian police escorted Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier from his Port-au-Prince hotel to court today to face possible criminal charges related to looting of state coffers during his brutal dictatorship.
Dozens of officers, including some in riot gear, whisked him past a jeering and cheering crowd and into a 4X4 with tinted windows–a scene which his regime’s victims had long dreamed of. The 59-year-old, who was not handcuffed, appeared calm and did not say anything. He had been due to give a press conference to explain his return from 25 years in exile.
“Mr Duvalier is under the control of the judicial system. He’s not free, he’s going to my office,” the chief prosecutor, Aristidas Auguste, told Reuters. Crowds immediately thronged the courthouse in expectation of a historic hearing.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others, have urged the authorities to prosecute the former dictator for jailing, torturing and murdering thousands of people during his 15-year rule.
But a senior government official, who wanted to remain anonymous, said Duvalier would face questions about embezzlement of state funds instead. His longtime companion, Veronique Roy, when asked whether Duvalier was being arrested, laughed and said nothing.
The scene evoked memories of 7 February 1986 when crowds danced in the streets after widespread revolts and international pressure led to his departure.
His Swiss banked fortune long used up in divorce and tax disputes, Duvalier returned to Haiti without warning on Sunday on a flight from Paris, saying he wanted to help. “I’m not here for politics. I’m here for the reconstruction of Haiti.”
By mid-morning today it became clear he would need help himself. Police staked out the Karibe hotel, which he had used as a base to meet supporters, while Auguste and a judge, Gabriel Amboisse, questioned him in private.
By the time he emerged there was a crowd, split, like much of Haiti, over a man who terrorised with the Tonton Macoute militia but also symbolised a time when the economy at least partly functioned. Some jeered, others shouted “Free Duvalier! Free Duvalier!” and chased the 4X4 which evaded an attempt to block it with burning tyres.
A spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights said it should be easier to prosecute Duvalier in Haiti because it was where atrocities took place but that the judicial system was fragile.
It remained unclear why he returned and what impact it would have on the year-long post-quake crisis which has left a leadership vacuum and a country in ferment, with near daily street demonstrations by rival factions.