The Scoop, The Henry Jackson Society, January 19, 2011

As if Haiti did not have enough problems to deal with already, here comes one more burden...

Former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, aka ‘Baby Doc’, has returned to Haiti amidst political instability, chronic economic problems, and spreading disease. In spite of a massive international support effort, the small Caribbean island is still struggling to recover from the devastating earthquake that hit last year, killing more than 316,000 people and flattening the capital, Port-au-Prince.

After spending nearly 25 years in exile, Baby Doc says he is back to help. Given the Haitian former-dictator’s abysmal track record, not to mention the ignominious manner in which he left the country (he was forced out in 1986 by popular unrest and a revolt) that this is Duvalier’s true intention seems unlikely indeed. Much more probable is that he is back to take advantage of the political situation.

Duvalier was arrested and questioned by the authorities, charged with embezzlement and misappropriation of funds whilst in power. His case is now pending and a judge will decide whether there is enough evidence to prosecute. It looks likely that he will also be charged with human rights violations, with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch potentially providing multiple reports detailing the tens of thousands Haitians who were killed by the sinister security forces, ‘Tonton Macoute’, that Duvalier used to control the country during his rule.

Haiti struggled for years to establish democratic institutions after the former ‘President-for-Life’ left the country, and clearly, a return of a dictator cannot do much to strengthen these procedures. Duvalier’s 15-year leadership was despotic, so how is anyone expected to trust him to promote democracy now? But the political vacuum created in November has whetted his appetite for power. Additionally, let us not forget that Duvalier had to be economically supported by his followers during his time living in France due to the fact he lost a large part of his fortune in a costly divorce settlement and his Swiss account has been frozen since 1986. However poor Haiti is, a corrupt leader may still benefit in economic terms.

The US State Department said that Duvalier’s fate is a matter for Haiti to decide. However, Western democracies have a moral duty to support the democratic institutions of the country and should endeavour to help the judicial system to practice unbiased conduct in the case against the notorious ex-dictator as much as possible. A suffering country with no history of convicting corrupt leaders and a poor collective memory, with most of the population too young to remember, can use all the help and support it can get.