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10 December 2023

US Haitians outraged by return of 'Baby Doc'


Haitian-Americans on Monday expressed outrage at the return of ex-dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, accusing his regime of widespread killings and human rights abuses in the 1970s and 80s.

The 59-year-old made a surprise return to Haiti late Sunday after 25 years in exile following his 1986 ouster by popular protests, stoking intense speculation about his possible motives.

The former strongman received a cautious welcome in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, where many remember his regime as a time of greater stability, but his return stoked fury among the large Haitian community in the United States, many of whom fled during his reign.

"At first I could not believe the announcement that Jean-Claude Duvalier was in Haiti. I thought it was a bad joke," said Marleine Bastien, director of the group Haitian Women of Miami.

She demanded that Duvalier be held accountable "for all the human rights abuses and violations, all the murders that he committed."

"My own family was victimized. I lost 19 members of my family during that regime," she said, referring to the successive reigns of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, who assumed the presidency in 1957, and his son Baby Doc.

Daniel Geffrard, a 79-year-old refugee who fled Haiti in the 1970s, said he was "very angry with this news."

"(Duvalier) committed many crimes. I came to Miami in 1976 after I saw how his police, the Tonton Macoutes, were killing people," he said.

The dreaded Tonton Macoutes, a secret police force loyal to the Duvalier family, have been accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing up to 30,000 suspected opponents during the 1960s and 1970s.

"Haitians are in a state of shock knowing that after 25 years Baby Doc Duvalier, like a ghost, has come back to Haiti," said Jean-Robert Fortune, chairman of Miami's Haitian American Grassroots Coalition.

"We still remember those nights. We still remember those shootings. We still remember those friends and family members killed."

He said the fear is heightened by the fact that Duvalier has returned at a time of crisis, with the country's politics in disarray following widely criticized November elections to replace President Rene Preval.

Fortune said he fears the two men "may be planning something very bad."

The uncertainty about Duvalier's return permeates Little Haiti, the focal point of Miami's 80,000-strong Haitian population, the largest in the United States.

"There are so many questions with no answer," North Miami city councilman Jean Marcellus said.

"No one knows how he got there and what's the purpose of his trip, but what we know is that the right thing to do now is bring him to justice."