Former Haitian Dictator Jean- Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s Return to Haiti

Jean – Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has returned to Haiti after being in exile for almost 25 years. His return has caused many to feel concerned and uncertain about Haiti’s current political situation. There are current efforts in Haiti to elect a new president after last year’s earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people. It is clear that Haiti is currently in a very fragile social and political state.

According to Human Rights watch, thousands were tortured and killed during Duvalier’s tenure as president. Michele Montas, a Haitian journalist and spokeswoman for the U.N. Secretary – General, announced that she plans to file a criminal complaint against Duvalier. Montas believes there are enough people who can testify against Duvalier.

The Duvalier family controlled Haiti for three decades beginning in 1957 when Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier was elected president. During Papa Doc’s presidency he declared himself “president for life.” When he died, his son, Jean – Claude Duvalier, succeeded him. Jean – Claude controlled Haiti for fifteen years before an uprising forced him to leave the country. The younger Duvalier has been living in France since fleeing Haiti.

A Duvalier associate, Robert Sterlin, stated that Duvalier returned because, “He’s deeply hurt in his soul after the earthquake. He wanted to come back to see how is the actual Haitian situation — of the people and of the country.”

According to CNN, Duvalier still has some political supporters in Haiti. Some of these supporters gathered at the offices of the National Unity Party to hear news reports about Duvalier’s return.

Amnesty International has declared that Duvalier “should be brought to justice.” Javier Zuniga, a special advisor at Amnesty International, stated that, “The widespread and systematic human rights violations committed in Haiti during Duvalier’s rule amount to crimes against humanity.” He also stated that, “Haiti is under the obligation to prosecute him and anyone else responsible for such crimes.”

Should Haiti pursue criminal charges against Duvalier? What could possibly be the effect of a past dictator returning to Haiti during this tumultuous time?


  1. Haiti should absolutely pursue criminal charges against Duvalier, and clearly that process has started as he was formally charged last week with corruption and embezzlement during his years in power. Some of Haiti’s younger generation support Duvalier, believing that much of the nation’s economic growth before Duvalier’s exile was due to his investment in infrastructure. Others, however, remember Duvalier for killing and torturing thousands of people and for embezzling $300 million from Haiti. It seems clear to me that Duvalier’s violations of human rights and the fact that he embezzled money from his own government are much more important than any investment he made in Haiti’s infrastructure, and that he should therefore be held liable.

    Source: Andrew Jack & Benedict Mander, Duvalier Return Complicates Haiti Succession, FINANCIAL TIMES, Jan. 17, 2011,

  2. I agree, allowing Duvalier to go unpunished for his previous actions would send the message that what he did was okay. There still seems to be some speculation on the exact reason for his return, but important thing is that he is back and able to face the charges against him. Depending on the outcome of his charges, his return could either be good or bad for Haiti. If he does not receive a fair sentence, then Haiti may continue to struggle. However, a strict sentence for Duvalier could perhaps provide for some sense of justice for Haitians and help their country continue moving forward.

  3. Haiti should 100% bring criminal charges against Duvalier. Not prosecuting Duvalier for his actions sets a bad precedent not only for Haiti, but for the world. Tyrannical, violent, and inhumane presidents and dictators should no longer be tolerated. This issue reminds me of a previous blog posting regarding former Nazi officers that were given asylum in the United States. Haiti should follow the United States’ example and not allow Duvalier back into Haiti and he should be prosecuted. Haiti is in an extremely vulnerable place at this time and allowing a former dictator, who still has some political support back into the country could be extremely dangerous and detrimental to Haiti’s growth, development, and recovery post-earthquake.

  4. The imminent struggle in the nation is that Duvalier represents a time of prosperity in Haiti to many people. Human rights violations aside, a dictator brings stability to a nation, which Haiti is yearning for now after the earthquake and elections. To many people, the Duvaliers represent that stability and champion of the lower classes in Haiti. While the human rights violations are appalling, it is troublesome that he returned during such a tumultuous time in Haiti’s history. The fraud and embezzlement charges are a start to bring this country justice, but not nearly enough focus on the real justice that needs to occur for the country to heal and justice for Duvalier.

  5. I have to agree with the other posters that Duvalier should have the criminal charges brought against him. To make his return into the ravaged country even more egregious, there are reports that the timing of his return was a calculated ploy to gain access to at least $4.6 million currently held in Switzerland.

    Last year, just prior to the earthquake, Switzerland’s top court ruled that Duvalier should regain access to this money, which prompted an outcry. Swiss officials responded by passing a new law to prevent dictators from depositing and then re-accessing illegally gotten money. This law is slated to go into effect on Feb 1. Duvalier’s return to Haiti, intended to last for only a few days, was suspiciously just weeks before this law is to be implemented. Fortunately, Haiti took the steps necessary to rapidly arrest him with the intentions of bringing him to justice.

    Source: Ginger Thompson, Some See a Cash Motive in Duvalier’s Return, NEW YORK TIMES, Jan. 20, 2011,

  6. In an interesting twist, just a few days ago (Jan. 27, 2012), Haiti’s President suggested that he might pardon Duvalier. Set against the backdrop of political turmoil and the devastating earthquake of 2010, President Martelly told the Associated Press that reconciliation in Haiti is of the utmost importance. “My way of thinking is to create a situation where we rally everyone together and create peace and pardon people, to not forget about the past — because we need to learn from it — but to mainly think about the future,” he said, adding: “You cannot forget those who suffered in that time, but I do believe that we need that reconciliation in Haiti.”

    One day later, in an interview with Ireland’s Newstalk FM, President Martelly back peddled his statements- saying that the Associated Press misunderstood him. “When I mentioned reconciliation it has nothing to do with Duvalier…The problem is the Haitian people fighting among themselves. So I mentioned my will to reconcile the Haitian people, not pardon Duvalier.”

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