So what to make of Duvalier, one week and no coup d'etat later? I don't think they weren't planning to stay for very long, I mean, his girlfriend Veronique Roy has been wearing the same outfit for days. The guy shuffles around his hotels, a face drooping with fear and weariness. What a wasted life: a terrible presidency which ended in exile; abandonment by his wife who took their stolen fortune with her; years spend puttering around France, not paying his debts and living off of hand outs from his few remaining supporters. He comes back to Haiti at a moment when a political vacuum is about to engulf the country, why?
I don't believe Duvalier is trying to make a vie for power. If so, he has done all the wrong things. Of course, he was never a brilliant politician. By waiting several days to make a statement he lost the element of surprise, and left too many people wondering for too many days. And then, when he did finally say something, he left it up to two American consultants (Ed Marger and former Georgia congressman and presidential hopeful Bob Barr; the two of them are partners in a firm that seems to specialize in rehabilitating dictators) alongside his Haitian lawyer, Reynold Georges. These men took questions in English rather than Kreyol, which instantly alienated most of the local press. I believe Haitians would be unlikely to accept as a leader someone so obviously dependent on Americans for support. The press conference, which took place Friday, was a strange affair. Nowhere want to risk supporting him, so his people were kicked out of two venues before they decided to hold the conference in the tiny lobby of the guest house where the ex-dictator is renting a room. When Duvalier finally came out of speak, he spoke in a barely audible murmur, slurring his words as his read carefully from typed out statement. In the speech he claimed that the reason for his visit was to show solidarity with his homeland on the anniversary of the earthquake, which he missed by a couple of days, supposedly for health reasons. He expressed sympathy for his supporters, many of whom who were killed in the dechokaj (uprooting) that followed his flight into exile. He also offered a brief apology for those "to my compatriots who recognize, rightly, to have been victims of my government."
Duvalier has come to terms with the repressive force he required to bolster his regime. It is unclear whether or not Haiti, too, has come to terms. Memory, for better and for worse, is short. There are many people, young and old, who hope Duvalier will take charge of the country and lead it in collective time-travel, back to the 1980's, and era remembered by affordable food, factories, and clean streets. There are others whose memories are less rosy, for whom the memory of oppression and state-sanctioned violence as not been erased by even-more-terrible things. Political activists like Boby Duval and Michelle Montas (both of whom were imprisoned, and in Duval's case, tortured under JCD) are filing complaints against the ex-dictator, which is the first step towards prosecuting him. I think there would be much more vocal opposition to Duvalier in Haiti had not most of his opponents and his victims' families fled to live in the diaspora. However, apparently prosecuting a former leader for crimes against humanity is not the easiest thing in the world to do. It is costly, takes many years, and requires experts from around the world. According to a friend of mine with UN connections, international community might not find it worthwhile if its just to take down one man and not the whole political cadre who perpetrated torture and assassination. And that would probably not be acceptable to Haitian social and economic elites, considering how many Duvalierists and Tonton maucoute have crafted new lives and identities for themselves. Some have even been active in the Lavalas movement.
Nevertheless, the most immediate question is the statue of limitations in Haitian law. You can't try people from crimes committed more than 20 years ago. Duvalier fled the country 25 years ago. Does that mean that the people who suffered under his rule have no legal recourse? Duvalier's lawyers certainly seem to think so. I suspect they will be able to find a way around it though, if the other pieces fall into place.
In addition to the question of limitations, the matter of "proving it" is tricky. At the press conference on Friday, Duvalier's lawyer Georges boasted that "there is truth, and then there is judicial truth." Basically, he said "we all know Duvalier committed crimes, but since you can't formally prove it, it doesn't count." His lawyers also claimed (i imagine they bragged) that the case file that the Haitian government had against JCD was lost in the earthquake. That is entirely possible, and very unfortunate if it is true. But that doesn't mean evidence can't be procured. Amnesty International has handed over to the Haitian prosecutors their entire dossier on the ex-dictator, which will probably furnish some damning evidence. Also, I have heard that activists have asked the United States to expedite the de-classification of State Department documents from the time of Duvalier. Supposedly diplomats and state department officials do a rigorous job of recording human rights abuses. There is a precedent of this kind of evidence being used against human rights criminals in other Latin American countries, and it could be very important in bring Baby Doc to justice. The opening stages of a three-month investigation have begun.
The question everyone really wants to know about is the money. Money is something everyone relates to and understands, and JCD's return would make a great deal of sense if we would just write it off to greed. He has several million, the last drops the massive fortune he stole from Haiti's coffers, stored in a Swiss bank account which has been frozen for the past year or so. People speculate that Swiss law required Duvalier visit Haiti and prove that he was not under persecution in order to reclaim the money. If that was their plan, they really blew it. This sounds absurd to me, but I am no specialist in Swiss law. Maybe he has to establish residency in Haiti. Doubtless the money is a factor in the equation, since the American consultants he brought it to represent him stated that it was their goal to retrieve it. But they claim Duvalier would like to donate the money to reconstruction, and become a leader in the reconstruction movement. Now that's hilarious. Bob Barr himself declares that he has come to help spread Duvalier's message of hope throughout the world. Their cynicism astounds me. I don't believe I have seen someone so clearly full of regret and sadness than Jean Claude Duvalier.