Haitians react to arrest of ex-dictator Duvalier
(Photos by Susan Phillips)
Baby Doc may no longer be the newly minted 19-year-old dictator, but he's still got a pudgy face and dull demeanor. Less than 48 hours after the exiled President returned to Haiti after 25 years in Paris, Jean-Claude Duvalier ended up in a police van on his way to a detention center in Port-au-Prince.
Early Tuesday morning talk began to spread about how the police were on their way to arrest the so-called "President for life." By late morning, journalists, police and Duvalier supporters crowded the streets surrounding the Karibe Hotel.
UN soldiers provided a decoy, while police in riot gear stood ready with tear gas guns.
Duvalier supporter, and former ambassador to France, Henry Robert Sterlin stood at the center of a massive press scrum and declared that history was being made. Then he tried to leave, but Haitian journalists hounded him demanding more information.
Sterlin lost the controlled but dramatic declarations of the past few days and began to unravel. He screamed that he had nothing to say, then started to turn in all different directions. But wherever he went, there was a microphone and he finally tripped and fell into a landscaped island.
After Duvalier was loaded into a police vehicle and driven away, supporters and journalists chased after the cars. At Parquet -- the Port au Prince justice center -- Baby Doc supporters protested his detention. They held pictures of him from before he went into exile -- well worn pieces of paper that somehow survived the earthquake.
One angry man came close to my face and screamed in Creole "F**k Duvalier!" But most were there to support him. Yves Chery told me that Duvalier can help the country because he has rich friends who will donate money. Others said he was just a kid when he inherited his position from his father, and had no hand in the brutality perpetrated by paramilitary organizations.
Human Rights Watch says that during the 15 years of his rule, thousands were killed and tortured while hundreds of thousands fled the country. Amnesty International says under Jean-Claude Duvalier, executions without trial and torture were commonplace.
But Baby Doc's fate is still unclear. Camille LaBlanc, who served as justice minister under former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, told me that it was a mistake to take Duvalier into custody, and illegal.
Aristide himself now lives in exile in South Africa. The former Catholic priest became involved in the pro-democracy movement while Jean-Claude Duvalier was in charge. Some speculate that Tuesday's dramatic move to question Duvalier and begin an investigation was a way to make sure Aristide didn't return to face the same treatment.
Also hanging out in the courtyard of the Parquet was Louis Jodel Chamblain. Amnesty International has also accused Chamblain of war crimes. Chamblain allegedly supervised death squads and ordered the assasinations of Aristide supporters.
Chamblain also told me it was an illegal move to arrest Duvalier, and that authorities could do nothing but question him. Chamblain then wondered aloud whether Duvalier would want to stay in Haiti, now that he had been treated in such a way.
By early evening, authorities did release the pudgy faced Baby Doc and he returned to his bed at the plush Karibe Hotel.