The Day the Dying Duvalier <br>Tried His Best To Flatter <br>His Most Intrepid Accuser
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The death of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, at 63 years, caught many by surprise. I expected it. I was with a group of friends in Washington, when the news broke on January 16, 2011 that Jean-Claude Duvalier had landed in Port-au-Prince. “He’s come home to die,” I said. One responded, “To claim back his lost power!” Protesting, another said, “Not before he’s tried and paid for the harm he’s caused that country!”
I knew that Baby Doc, was sick with complications from diabetes. His published pictures were telling. Three months later, I bumped into him at a funeral at the “Parc du Souvenir,” a cemetery near Pétionville. His companion, Véronique Roy, introduced me to him. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Mr. Joseph,” he said. “Good things,” he added. “Thanks,” I responded, shaking his hand and quickly disappearing.
This was the first time I was meeting the man whose father had condemned me to death in absentia and whose regime I fought for many years. Jean-Claude was unsteady on his feet. Seeing him up close, I was the more convinced that he was a dying man. I reflected, “Will he die without accounting for his evil deeds?”
Beginning in 1957, the 14-year reign of his father François “Papa Doc” Duvalier was like hell on earth. Reportedly, more than 30,000 perished under the iron grip of the Tontons-Macoute, the paramilitary bogeymen that were the backbone of the regime. More than 400,000 fled the country, among them intellectuals and professionals, including myself. That caused a brain drain that negatively affects the country up to today.
In January 1971, sensing death, Papa Doc anointed his then 19-year-old son to be his successor. Three months later, on April 22, the Palace announced the death of the leader. At 64 years old, Papa Doc had succumbed to health complications due to diabetes.
Named President-for-life, as his father, Jean-Claude would later say his father did “the political revolution” and he would do “the economic revolution.” But the inexperienced playboy and lover of fast cars depended on the Old Guard, including his mother Simone, to continue his father’s bloody legacy.
During his 15-year rule, Jean-Claude led a life of leisure in a country reputed to be the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. He opened up Haiti to foreign investment, especially to assembly industries and textile manufacturing, which took advantage of cheap Haitian labor. Through the “economic revolution” he amassed a fortune estimated at $500 million.
When he married the divorcée Michèle Bennett in 1980, the extravagant lifestyle of his wife angered many. The visit of Pope John Paul II to Haiti in March 1983 had set the stage for resistance to the regime. “Things must change here,” the Pope said. That emboldened the opposition. A simmering revolt finally exploded, and on February 7, 1986, the Duvalier family fled to France.
In 1993, Baby Doc’s wife left him for a French notary public. Reportedly, she also left with a big chunk of the fortune. The couple’s 30ish son, François Nicolas “Nico” Duvalier, is now an adviser to current president, Michel Joseph Martelly. In April 2013, the Haitian daily Le Nouvelliste published a story by Nico in memory of his grandfather. “[He] used his sharp mind to defend the values and interest of the Republic of Haiti,” he wrote. “Dr. François Duvalier throughout his life defended the republican values that were his: integrity and steadfastness. [He was] a Haitian of conviction, a great nationalist.”
What an insult to the victims of the dictatorship.
It’s a tragedy that Jean-Claude Duvalier has departed without ever apologizing, far less paying his dues, to the thousands of victims of the brutal regime. Posthumously, he should be made to pay by depriving his heirs of the ill-gotten properties he had amassed. It is disconcerting that a quarter century after the overthrow of Duvalierism, we’re being revisited by its remnants intent on turning the clock back.
Ambassador Joseph is a contributing editor of The New York Sun.