Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, in his first public comments after returning to Haiti following 25 years of exile in France, said his return should be taken as a sign of solidarity with the Haitian people.
“No matter the price to be paid, the essential thing was to be with you,” Duvalier told reporters on Jan. 21. He added that he had come back to “show my solidarity in this very difficult period.”
Duvalier arrived in Haiti on Jan. 16. Duvalier ruled over the island nation from the death of his father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, in 1971 until he was ousted by a popular uprising in 1986.
Two days after arriving he was detained by police, taken to court, charged with corruption and arraigned. A judge is investigating the charges but the former dictator is not in jail.
As president, both Duvaliers were claimed to be notorious offenders of human rights, allegedly ordering the death and torture of an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Haitians while maintaining a lavish lifestyle for themselves and growing rich off the drug trade.
“Duvalier’s return to Haiti should be for one purpose only: to face justice,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch said in a statement. “His time to be held accountable is long overdue.”
Peter Bouckaert, a Swiss-based lawyer and emergencies director for Human Rights Watch, told Reuters that there are several million dollars at stake in Duvalier’s return. The group believes he returned to the country only to smooth the transition of money in Haiti to an off-shore account in Switzerland.
“Rather than having the interest of the people of Haiti at heart, it seems like he was thinking about his wallet,” said Bouckaert.
Bouckaert added that Duvalier is broke after losing money in a costly divorce and would attempt desperate measures, including risking an arrest, to acquire millions of dollars.
“It was kind of a Hail Mary attempt … but if you’re broke and there’s still $6 million dollars in the bank you’re trying to get hold of, you’re willing to go to desperate means,” Bouckaert said.
Despite this, human rights groups urged international focus to remain on the people of Haiti who are still suffering from poverty, cholera and a slow recovery from a devastating earthquake last year. Eric Walcott, executive director of the D.C. based National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians told the AFRO that the recovery efforts “should be the focus, not the diversion created by Baby Doc.”