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Baby Doc Arrested in Haiti, What now?


By Andre Michael Eggelletion

Former Haitian dictator, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, was taken into custody today after a surprise return to Haiti Sunday night from his 25 year-long exile in France. Duvalier was overthrown in a popular uprising in 1986. Why he returned is unknown at this point, but his arrest does demonstrate that the Haitian government is trying to establish order.

Political conditions in Haiti

Baby Doc’s return came at a time when the political system in Haiti is in chaos as a result of its recent unsettling presidential election. The Organization of American States has noted widespread irregularities and fraud in the electoral process. Now, the country is dealing with a delayed runoff election, wherein no one knows who the candidates are. The current President Rene Preval has been harshly criticized for his handling of the earthquake. Nonetheless, because of the flawed election, and the need to demonstrate stability to donor nations, the Haitian Parliament had to approve an extension of Preval’s term, which ends February 7th, until May.

The economic challenges for Haiti

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and now stands on the verge of complete economic, as well as political and social collapse. With civil unrest on the rise, Haiti’s political instability continues to stifle growth. Baby Doc’s arrest should help assuage donor’s concern. Order must be restored very soon or badly needed investment and aid from the rest of the world will continue to be restricted.

The most immediate need is continued humanitarian relief to feed and shelter Haitians still struggling in the aftermath of the earthquake and weather related catastrophes. Jobs, investment, and industrial and agricultural infrastructure are needed to mount long term stability.

Haiti remains isolated from the prosperity boom brought forth through globalism in developing nations. Companies based in east and central Asia have been the primary beneficiaries of globalism. Some businesses in those areas of the world would love to take advantage of the attractive Haitian labor market, but are reluctant to do so because of the instability. As a result, critically needed market based foreign capital inflows now hang in the balance, as well as $10 billion in aid pledges from rich countries.

Was Baby Doc trying to return to power?

On Sunday at the airport in Port-Au-Prince, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier told local reporters, and the remnant of his old political support, that he came to “help” his country. Duvalier is said to have wanted to run for the presidency four years ago, but Preval threatened to arrest him and make him face charges and trial if he came back.

The Chairman of the Council of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Monday criticized the return of Baby Doc to Haiti, saying that his return could further inflame the already shaky political situation in the French Speaking CARICOM country.

The history of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s rule in Haiti

During Baby Doc’s rule, political opposition was not tolerated and the legislative process was a rubber stamp. He used most of the proceeds from the country’s tobacco, and other resources, as his own personal private slush fund. Human rights abuses under Baby Doc’s regime, particularly toward his opposition, were incommensurable. Nonetheless, aid from the U.S. was restored to Haiti under the new “Baby Doc” government in 1971 by the Nixon administration. Nixon’s policy toward Haiti remained one of engagement, even as he siphoned hundreds of millions in aid from the United States. By 1980, Baby Doc had siphoned $16 out of $22 billion in IMF structural adjustment loans. Many find it had to believe that Baby Doc kept the entire $16 billion in ill-gotten gains all to himself, and believe some of that money went to others.  

The Chairman of the Council of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Monday criticized the return of Baby Doc to Haiti, saying that his return could further inflame the already shaky political situation in the French Speaking CARICOM country.

In conclusion

Whether or not Duvalier was attempting a return to the Presidency or not is unknown at this time, and after his arrest, is a moot point. I just hope that the Obama administration will have a healthier regard for human rights, as well as democracy for the Haitian people, than previous Republican American presidents have had. Nixon effectually rewarded Baby Doc and excused his thuggish behavior. Ignoring a solution from CARICOM, and cries for help from former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, former President George W. Bush refused to support the notion of democracy 600 miles away in Haiti. Instead Bush allowed the democratically elected Aristide to be overthrown in a coup, while at the same, going half-way around the world to impose democracy on the people of Iraq. Only time will tell what will happen this time. In the meantime, we hope for the long-delayed justice for Baby Doc’s victims, and a swift end to the current suffering.