Posts Tagged ‘Duvalier’


Duvalier’s lawyers decided to call a press conference yesterday to discuss the case against their client, and here’s a quick synopsis of what they said:

1. Duvalier is innocent!
2. The statute of limitations has run out for him to be charged!!!
3. The courts have messed up, so he can no longer be charged!!!!!
(the number of exclamation points indicate how emphatically the statement was made)

That’s pretty much it, nothing we haven’t heard over and over again before.  Because of that, I’m going to leave to leave it at that, and just make this a “Picture of the Day”.


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The Haitian courts summoned Duvalier today for questioning, as the three-month investigation period into his crimes involving corruption and embezzling Haitian funds is still underway.  No charges have been filed, and during this period, the court can summon him as many times as they like in an effort to gather evidence to build a case against him.  Outside the gates to the court, a throng of Duvalier supporters crowded the entrance cheering about the return of the ex-dictator, and calling for the end of the Preval presidency.


A large red pick-up truck pulled up to the gate and the crowd went wild.  Dozens of journalists and supporters crowded around the car expecting to see Duvalier in the passenger seat, but to everyone’s disappointment it was simply his lawyer, Reynold Georges, coming with a message for the court.



Duvalier had employed the oldest trick in the book, one we all have used to get the chance to stay home from school when we’re not feeling up to going: He got a doctor’s note saying he was sick.  According to his lawyer, Duvalier had a bout of high blood pressure and was feeling light-headed.  He was brought to the hospital and a doctor made the assessment that he needed to rest.  The doctor’s note asked the judge for permission to allow him to rest for 15 days, so he could study some more for his final exam so he could get back in good health and then return to the court for questioning.  The judge granted his wish, so the questioning will have to wait for another two weeks.

The lawyer walked out, all while joking with reporters (“No, he does not have Cholera! Haha!”), and then met with the group of Duvalier supporters who were still chanting outside.  They posed for another round of pictures with the press corp who now, after Duvalier was a no-show, had nothing to show for their trip to the court, and then left.  For now, we can rest knowing that Duvalier is safely holed up in his home, hopefully getting the necessary treatments he needs for his newly diagnosed hypertension, and in 15 days, we’ll do this all over again.

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When Duvalier moves, the only way to keep up is by motorcycle.  That’s why our trusty chariot, Pinotage, has been working overtime to make sure that we get the best images to cover the story.  The photo above was taken by photographer Andrés Martínez Casares while we were traveling with Duvalier’s motorcade from the courthouse back to the hotel where he was staying. That’s Duvalier’s car right behind my head, and what you can’t see is that there are about 25 motorcycles all weaving in and out of the motorcade taking pictures and shooting video.  What you can see in the photo is some perfect motorcycle-driving-form, and the use of the proper safety equipment.  Bottom line, the photo is awesome.

You can see more of Andres’ work at his website here: www.martinezcasares.com

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In a dimly lit room at a guest house in the mountains above Port-au-Prince, the press anxiously awaited something that had been promised to them every day over the past week, but never delivered.  Since Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier had mysteriously returned to Haiti on an Air France flight on the evening of January 16th he had not spoken to the press, not even uttering a word to any of the hundreds of journalist covering his homecoming.

Behind a over-sized wooden table in the dimly lit room stood a short older Haitian man in an olive colored suit, his hands on back of a large wooden chair embroidered with red fabric.  He looked down nervously as dozens of cameramen and photographers jockeyed for position in anticipation of what was to come.  The man in the olive suit looked to the side, saw someone approaching, pulled back the chair, and then stepped away.  From a hallway attached to the room walked Duvalier, he sat down on the chair and a paper statement was dropped in front of him.  This was it, this is what we were waiting for…

Duvalier Speaks

“Dear friends of the press,” he read in French as flash bulbs filled the room with light, “Thank you for having responded to my invitation today.  I take this opportunity to speak to my fellow citizens.”  His voice seemed strained, like he had a mouth full of cotton balls, but his delivery was better than expected.  Since returning to Haiti, he seemed to be unaware of his surroundings, and some even thought he had the look of someone with Parkinson’s, but when he began talking it made it appear that it was all an act.

The question on everyone’s mind since the bizarre return of the exiled dictator was why he had returned.  In his statement he inadequately answered that question: “I wanted to pay homage to the victims of the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010,” he explained while reading from his paper statement, “which caused, according to official estimates, the death of 316,000 people. Unfortunately, I did not arrive in time for the anniversary.”

Duvalier Fist Bump

For the past week Haitians, journalists and the international community has been speculating as to what the real intentions of this unexpected homecoming was.  This speculation was broken down into five educated guesses:

1) He missed Haiti, and wanting to see his buddies (according to his lawyers)
2) He was sick, and wanted to die in his mother-land (rumors were flying that he had pancreatic cancer)
3) He had returned to help Haiti, even though it was completely unclear how he would actually do that…
4) He wanted to be President again (but because he was named President-for-life before, technically he never stopped being President, right?)
5) He was broke, and he needed money…

In the end it turned out that number five, that he needed money, was the most likely reason.  Duvalier has returned to Haiti in an effort to unlock six million dollars in frozen funds in a Swiss bank account.  According to a new law in Switzerland, if he returns to Haiti without being prosecuted for crimes related to the money, his chances of getting it back into his own pockets becomes much better.

In addition, reports have said that he has until the end of January to do so, making this trip more strategic then heartfelt.  While I’m sure Duvalier would love to help this struggling nation get back on its feet after the earthquake, I’m not exactly sure how him getting that money, instead of returning it to the people who he stole it from, actually helps anyone other than himself.

Duvalier at Court

But Duvalier had a snag in his plan, and was asked to come to the Parquet (or courthouse) to be questioned.  There a judge opened an investigation into charges that he embezzled funds, took part in corruption, and other dastardly things before being released while the investigation continues.  In Haiti, charges are proposed and then investigated by a judge who decides whether those charges should be brought to court.  That investigation could take up to three months, after which a proper trial would begin.

The problem is that the statute of limitations in Haiti is between 10 and 20 years, and because he’s been gone for 25, it may be impossible to hold him accountable for many of the crimes he committed during his dictatorship.  Amnesty International thinks differently.  “There is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity,” explained Gerardo Ducos at a news conference on Friday, “Duvalier needs to be held accountable for his crimes now so that others don’t think they can get away with this in the future.”  He’s right, but unfortunately for him there appears to be a major disconnect between how the Haitian people perceive Duvalier’s return, and how the international community perceives it.


“I think it’s a great thing,” explained one resident of the Petionville golf course tent camp speaking about the former-dictator’s return to Haiti, “When he was here there were jobs, the streets were clean, and there was no crime.  The country was good back then.”   And while there is no doubt that Duvalier was a tyrannical leader, killing anyone who objected to his way of ruling, the people here see those times as better than it is now.  “Preval has ruined this country,” he explained, “we should have Duvalier as our president now, he could bring change.”

And this message is echoed throughout the city.  Even our landlady, whose father was killed by the Duvalier regime, considers his return as insignificant.  “It’s just a distraction,” she explained, “We have so many other bigger problems to deal with, why would he come now and make things complicated?”  And she’s right.  The reality is that this story has distracted the country, and the world, from the more pressing issues that this country is facing right now.

Two weeks ago the Organizations of American States (OAS) concluded a review of the presidential election results saying that the Preval-backed candidate, Jude Celestin, should be excluded from the second-round run-off, and that Michel Martelly should be inserted in his place.  Since that announcement, Preval has come out and said that the review is just a suggestion, and it doesn’t need to be followed, and now the country is still waiting for the Provisional Electoral Committee (CEP) to announce who will actually be going on to the next round.  According to the UN, the final election results will be announced on January 31st, and Martelly said in a new conference on Friday that if the CEP doesn’t go with the OAS’s recommendation, then his people will be back on the streets fighting for their vote. (We all remember how awesome that was…)


All of this coupled with the United States ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, coming out and saying that if the OAS review is not implemented then both US funding, and possibly funding from the UN, for future aid projects could be withdrawn means that this country is on the verge of another collapse.  Add the ongoing cholera epidemic and the continuous need to help those left homeless from the earthquake, and this whole Duvalier thing seems more and more ridiculous.

So after 6 minutes of talking, Duvalier finished his statement, stood up, and walked away.  The moment we had been waiting for had come, and was now gone.  As he finished his statement, about two dozen Haitians erupted in applause behind us, having snuck in while we were focused on the former dictator’s first speech in Haiti in over 25 years.  Later they told reporters that they had been paid to show up and show their support for Duvalier, and that his people had let them in so they could cheer for the cameras.

Duvalier at Hotel

What this whole debacle has taught me is to keep my logic at the door when operating in Haiti, as nothing seems to make sense in any way that you would typically expect it to.  If you would have told me two weeks ago that Duvalier would be here now, I would have laughed and called you an idiot (in a nice way…of course).  If you would have told me that Preval would shrug off a review of the election results (that he asked to be conducted, BTW) and said they were simply a suggestion, I would have scoffed and said that would be stupid.  But now I’m forced to prepare for the illogical in a place that could really use some logic.  Now there are rumors that Aristide may return, which seems TOTALLY ridiculous, but now, not so unbelievable.  God forbid there was some structure here, god forbid there was some order.

According to Duvalier’s people, he will be staying in Haiti until the investigation into his past offenses are complete.  “Everything that has a beginning,” explained one of his advisers, “must have an end.”  But for Haiti, this is just another speed-bump on the road to recovery, and a soap-opera that is diverting the world’s attention when it’s needed elsewhere.  Hopefully the “end” will come sooner rather than later, so that we can focus on what’s important, and not on what’s not.  Holding Duvalier accountable for his crimes is a necessary step, but it shouldn’t take precedent to the recover effort, because the past is the past, and the future here is grim.

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After almost 25 years of living in exile in France, former Haitian Dictator Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned to Haiti today on an Air France flight that must have forgotten to check for IDs.  Ousted from power in 1986, Duvalier was notorious for ruling Haiti with terror and violence, torturing and killing political opponents with gangs known as the Tonton Macoute.

We were watching the Patriots-Jets game debacle at the hotel La Reserve when press started flocking the restaurant, as rumors were swirling that he would be making a stop there.  Not really sure what he looked like, every time an older Haitian man walked into the lobby everyone looked at each other and enthusiastically asked, “Is that him?! Go take a picture!!!”  Bottom line, he never showed, and we went home.

No one is really sure why he decided to do a reunion tour of Haiti at this particular moment, and there are rumors that he may hold a press conference tomorrow to flesh out the details.  I mean, with the earthquake, cholera, and a fraudulent election creating a political vacuum in Haiti, why not come back now?  The AP article that’s linked below did make a good point though: with over half of the population in Haiti under the age of 21, most of the people here weren’t even alive when Baby Doc was killing his opponents and ruling the country with terror.  Now, if we could only get Aristide back here too, then we could have a party.

Interested in reading more?  Click here.

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