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Will Jean-Claude Duvalier Return to Haiti? 

Former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier will soon be returning to Haiti and will be posing his candidacy in upcoming presidential elections, according to several people at a meeting of Duvalierists held in Brooklyn on Sep. 10. If he doesn't take power through elections, he will take it by other means, some participants said.

About 100 partisans of the former "President for Life" gathered at the Tropical Reflections night club at 4501 Glenwood Road, where they heard a panel of speakers extol the glories, both political and economic, of the Duvalier years and the evils of the Lavalas and former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier succeeded his father François (or "Papa Doc") as "President for Life" of Haiti in 1971. Both regimes jailed and killed opposition figures, muzzled the press, and terrorized the Haitian people through the infamous "Tonton Macoutes," a nationwide network of thugs and killers. Jean-Claude and his cronies also financed lavish lifestyles of sports cars, motorcycles, and villas by milking bribes from visiting and resident businessmen and skimming millions from incoming foreign aid packages, a practice which finally alienated Washington, the regime's long-term ally. With U.S. acquiescence and Vatican direction, a popular uprising in Feb. 1986 toppled Jean-Claude, who was trundled off to Paris in a U.S. C-130 military transport packed to the gills with all the loot that "Baby Doc" and his trophy wife Michelle Bennett could lay their hands on in the regime's final hectic days. The phlegmatic ex-dictator has lived in France ever since, making periodic telephone statements to meetings of his nostalgic supporters scattered in all corners of the Haitian diaspora.

A certain Haitian Center for Economic and Social Development (CHADES) was the nominal organizer of the event, which had been publicized, at least in part, by the placing of flyers on the windshields of cars around Brooklyn.

Outside the club, the streets were lined with many Mercedes, BMWs, and fancy sport utility vehicles. The crowd inside was mostly older and male, with protruding abdomens and lots of gold.

"This is a meeting for the return of President Duvalier to Haiti," declared Lionel Sterling, the ambassador to New York of the death-squad known as the Revolutionary Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH). "We cannot say when he will be going back but it will be soon." Sterling was one of the event's nine panelists. His presentation was optimistically entitled: "The call for the return of Duvalier by the people."

Other panelists included Joseph Mervil ("Consciousness-raising"), Raoul Dupervil ("Call to the national conscience"), Jocelyne Dorcé Mont Clermont ("Emancipation of Haitian women in politics"), and Rodrigue Altenor ("The new man") who said in his presentation: "If Duvalier doesn't sit in the Presidential chair, we will make Haiti's ground tremble."

Frantz Bataille, a former radio host in Montreal, was, according to those in the room, the principal organizer of the affair. He presented what was essentially the keynote address of the evening entitled "The social revolution of Dr. François Duvalier." In it, he outlined a Duvalierist version of history, highlighting the "wisdom" of "Papa Doc" and the "conspiracy of the Haitian left" which, for him, justified the bloody massacres of dozens of regime opponents in 1969.

"We consider ourselves as the generation which grew up under Duvalier and we should be proud ," Bataille declared. "It's that pride which we have lost and which we are recovering now."

"Duvalier or death!" bellowed Mirabeau Petit-Homme, one of the many "heavy macoutes" who was in the room for the occasion. He was the right hand man of Roger Lafontant, the former head of the Tonton Macoutes, with whom he attempted a coup d'état in Jan. 1991 and was jailed. Petit-Homme escaped from prison during the Sep. 1991 coup and is now living, with impunity, in Brooklyn.

Bataille was followed by "economist" Parnell Duverger who outlined the "economic and political mess in the country since 1986." The reign of Jean-Claude Duvalier brought Haiti "robust growth," Duverger argued. He neglected to say that the people were not only bloodily repressed but sinking deeper into poverty every year.

Finally came the climax of the evening: the address to the room by Duvalier himself, speaking by telephone direct from France. With his trademark nasal French, Duvalier solemnly delivered what he called a "message of hope" in "this moment of exceptional gravity" where "the [Lavalas] regime has betrayed the national conscience" and was guilty of "megalomania." The speech was regularly punctuated by cries of "Long Live Duvalier!"

Unfortunately for the organizers, the speech was interrupted by a scuffle as the "President for Life" droned on. The "economist" Duverger was apparently vexed that a reporter from Haïti Progrès had earlier taken his photograph on the stage. He angrily confronted the journalist, demanding that he immediately hand over the roll of film or else have it forcibly removed from him. The journalist refused, asking "Is this a secret meeting?"

The sarcasm was apparently too much for Mr. Duverger, who had to be physically restrained by those who had gathered around the face-off. Now trying to play the role of good democrats, most in the room realized that roughing up the Haïti Progrès reporter would not produce the best publicity for Duvalierism's new make-over, and told the journalist that he had a right to be there. A pity that such reasonableness didn't apply to other journalists like Gasner Raymond, who was assassinated by the regime in 1976 during Baby Doc's "golden years," or radio host Jackie Caraïbes, "disappeared" during the 1991 coup d'état.

Nonetheless, Frantz Bataille again approached the reporter as he left the affair, asking that he turn over the negatives, a demand which was again refused.

Some Duvalierists came up to the reporter in the melee that followed the confrontation asking to have their picture taken, saying that, apparently unlike M. Duverger, they were not ashamed of their political affiliation. "We have a lot of Duvalierists here in New York, and we must be able to make a political meeting at any time," said Willy Bourdeau, a former Duvalierist deputy under Papa Doc, who met with Duvalier in France three years ago. He strove to present an image of a reformed and conciliatory Duvalierism "In a democracy, every political party must be able to organize peacefully. Democracy means I respect you, and you respect me," he said.

But before he could finish, he was interrupted by a colleague with no such tolerance. "Aristide must go!" interjected panelist Jocelyn Dorcé Mont Clermont. "The people of the diaspora demand the immediate departure of Aristide from the country. He has destroyed the country!"

The return of one of Haiti's most reviled presidents, and the exile of one of the most popular: it doesn't sound like a platform that will get very far by democratic means.

The question remains: would Duvalier dare return to Haiti after stealing so much money and torturing and killing so many people? "There is an ongoing criminal case against Jean Claude, in which he is charged with corruption and stealing from the state," said Brian Concanon, a lawyer for the Haitian government. "Another case, for murder, is prepared but has not been filed. I can't believe that he would not be arrested on sight."

"If he goes back, he'll be arrested," said Ira Kurzban, the Haitian government's lead lawyer.

In any event, as Washington's pressure on the Haitian government mounts in the weeks to come, it is likely that the Duvalierists and FRAPHists will clamor in the diaspora. Do they really want to participate in presidential elections? By their conduct and their declarations, the answer is clearly no. Their results would surely be as dismal as that of their brethren in the neo-Duvalierist front called the Patriotic Movement to Save the Nation (MPSN) in last May's election.

Their real goal seems rather to capitalize on the destabilization campaign now being deployed against Haiti so as to seize the opportunity to have Duvalier or a Duvalierist "sitting in the presidential chair," even if by other than democratic means.




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