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Tags: Haiti | Duvalier

Journalist: Duvalierism Didn't Die With Haiti's 'Baby Doc'

John Gizzi By Monday, 06 October 2014 11:34 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

News reports Saturday of the death of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier at age 63 focused almost exclusively on how he succeeded to the presidency of the poverty-wracked Caribbean nation feared father Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and proceeded to run a corrupt regime until he was finally overthrown in 1986.

But there was much not told in the saga of “Baby Doc,” according to one of the few journalists who interviewed him at length during his years of exile in Paris before returning to Port-au-Prince Haiti in 2011. 

In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, Riccardo Orizio, former foreign correspondent for the Italian newspapers Corriere della Serra and La Repubblica and for CNN, noted that while Duvalier had no real chance of a return to power that his followers talked of, the former strongman’s son Francois Nicola “Nico” Duvalier could well have a political career in the near future.

“Duvalier” as an ideology – or a mix of political, religious and commercial power – is probably not entirely dead,” said Orizio, whose acclaimed and widely-translated 2002 book “Talk With the Devil” included interviews with such deposed dictators as Uganda’s Idi Amin, Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic, Ethiopia’s Mengistu, and Haiti’s Duvalier.

“I'm sure that inside the Duvalierist camp many think that a different Duvalier, a better Duvalier, a smarter Duvalier could return the ‘ideology’ of Duvalierism back to power,” Orizio said. “Nico also has the unusual advantage of being able to appeal to the black ‘masses’ of the ancient Duvalier camp for whom Duvalier is not a politician but a god of the voodoo firmament and, because of who his mother is, to the mulatto elite.”

The journalist was referring to “Baby Doc’s” first wife and Nico’s mother, Michele Bennett, the daughter of a wealthy coffee baron who married the-then-Haitian president in a 1980 wedding that reportedly cost the country $15 million. Michele and their children joined the deposed president in exile in 1986 and the couple was divorced in 1993. 

Shortly before Duvalier’s death, his old political party announced it would run a slate of candidates in Haitian elections and it had opened a headquarters.

Social media is already filled with speculation about Nico Duvalier seeking office. One Facebook entry by a Duvalierist concludes: “…if he decides to run, instead of wasting your time to judge him based on the report card of his father, which I think is futile, because it has nothing to do with it, you'd better be ready to send someone capable and qualified to challenge him. Sinon, il sera élu, et ce sera votre pire cauchemar. Otherwise, he will be elected, and it will be your worst nightmare.”

“Papa Doc” Duvalier, a former physician, was elected president in 1957 and promptly established a grisly dictatorship backed up by a secret police known as the “Tonton Macoutes” (bogey men) and creating the image of himself as a voodoo deity. Duvalier reportedly kept on his desk the head of his opponent in the last free elections in Haiti and the school day began with a version of the Lord’s Prayer that began “Our Doc, who art in the National Palace now and forever, hallowed be thy name.” 

Human rights groups estimate that more than 30,000 people were executed under the reigns of both Duvaliers.

“Baby Doc told me that he had begged his father to appoint his sister or somebody also in the family, but Papa Doc has insisted that it had to be him,” Orizio told us, “He was 19, inexperienced, not particularly brilliant, not particularly street-wise, didn't have the physique for the  role, probably had never read a book, never really traveled, never really been part of his father’s circle. So he was the ‘victim’ not only of his own historical times, but of his own lack of skills and lack of vision.”

As for reports that the younger Duvalier made reforms and eased the strong-arm tactics of the Tonton, Orizio said: “Baby Doc did apply some impressive reforms to Haiti, but was a totally inefficient administrator and was a man ruled by his mother and his wife and the wife's family. So he understood that he had a chance to be the force of progress, but these intentions remained too often un-applied.

“Could it have been different? Would it have been realistic, at the death of Papa Doc, to have had a progressive, democratic, efficient, well balanced, well meaning, enlightened leader or at the least an enlightened dictator? No, because there was no  Paul Kagame in Haiti [a reference to Rwanda’s strongman president, who is considered something of a reformer].”

Many human rights advocates were disappointed that, upon returning to Haiti in 2011, its former dictator was never put on trial for the deaths and disappearances of family members or for the looting of the state treasury for his personal needs. Duvalier himself was frequently seen dining with friends at restaurants and was often at state events with current President Michel Martelly, who employs many Duvalierists and relatives of “Baby Doc” in his administration. 

As the New York Times noted, “Still, a majority of the population now was born after his departure, perhaps dampening passions for or against him.”

In recalling “Baby Doc” after his death, several who knew him mentioned the woman who was his constant companion after his divorce, Veronique Roy. Former Rep. Bob Barr (R.-GA), who was briefly Duvalier’s attorney during his move back to Haiti, told us: “She was a beautiful woman and, unfortunately for him, smarter than he was.”

“He never married her, as far as I know, and, yes, she is an Angelina Jolie lookalike,” recalled Orizio, “She rescued a lonely, single, penniless Baby Doc from the streets of Paris and she is adored by the Duvalier faithful in Florida, in New York and in Haiti.”

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News reports Saturday of the death of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier at age 63 focused almost exclusively on how he succeeded to the presidency of the poverty-wracked Caribbean nation.
Haiti, Duvalier
Monday, 06 October 2014 11:34 AM
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