Return of the Doc
The return of former dictator Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier to Haiti has prompted a wave of introspection within the blighted country, bringing back painful memories of the violence of the past and questioning the direction in which Haiti’s troubled political system is heading.
The years of the Jean-Claude Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti were characterised by the extreme oppression of individual freedoms and human rights, unparalleled government corruption and endemic poverty. Duvalier, or ‘Baby Doc’ as he was more commonly known, came to power in 1971 following the death of his father, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, and ruled until he was ousted by a popular uprising in 1986. His dictatorship was notorious for its excessive use of violence and the extremity with which he held sway over the politics and people of this small nation. It is estimated that up to 30,000 were murdered and hundreds more driven into exile by Baby Doc.
His surprise return to Haiti from exile in France came in the wake of the 2010 earthquake which ravaged the country. It prompted an unwelcome return to the past on the part of many Haitians, who were forced to dredge up memories of violence and disorder from Doc’s reign. Some hardliners, however, welcomed the return of Duvalier, suggesting that he would be the answer to the various tragedies that have blighted Haiti in recent years. Duvalier’s return came during a power vacuum in Haiti, before the election of current President Michel Martelly. This uncertainty led to many questioning what Duvalier’s motives for returning were and whether he would be able to take advantage of the political uncertainty in the country. However he was arrested several days after his return to Haiti and he now faces trial for various counts of corruption and human rights.
Duvalier’s arrest gave ordinary Haitians hope that some sort of justice would finally be wrought from the chaos of the past; however Duvalier’s trial has stalled whilst he apparently lives in luxury in Port-au-Prince. This is down to the chronic lack of funding in the Haitian judicial system and there are fears that the immensity of the case against Duvalier may mean that it will take years before any semblance of justice can be established. The current impasse in the Haitian political and judicial system is the result of decades of corrupt governance and the pervasive poverty which continues to blight the nation. This is what Erica James discusses in her book Democratic Insecurities, which questions how to establish accountable institutions in a country such as Haiti. As James suggests, the pernicious legacy of the Doc years lives on in Haiti; paradoxically it is this legacy which is stalling the Baby Doc trial and prohibiting Haitians from finally putting the past behind them.
By Thomas Storey