18 Jan 2011

Haiti police move in on Baby Doc

Chief Correspondent

Our Chief Correspondent, Alex Thomson, reports on the latest bizarre developments in the return of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier to Haiti.

The mystery surrounding the return of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier to Haiti deepens today. The police arrived up at the plush hotel in Petionville, where the rich live on the cooler hillsides, looking down in all senses on the world below – on the appalling slums and tented cities of Port au Prince. The tents, a visible sign that this place has far from recovered from last year’s terrible earthquake.

Police arrive outside Haiti's Hotel KaribEye-witnesses say the police came carefully and in organised fashion at first, cordoning off the street around the hotel as they went in for the former dictator. Though, this being Haiti, things rapidly degenerated with Baby Doc and his team holed up inside the hotel and the police and their waiting vans outside.

They’d brought a judge along for this potentially historic moment.

The authorities have clearly done what Europe generally and France particularly, so massively failed to do: simply run this man in for some questions.

Questions abound. At the news of his reappearance Amnesty this side of the Atlantic and Human Rights Watch in the US demanded his apprehension.

All the officials in Port au Prince will say just now is that he is being held on suspicion of embezzling the treasury. The accepted figure is that he allegedly stole up to $80 million from Haiti’s coffers when he fled to France in the dead of night back in February 1985 – a quarter-century ago.

Since then a seriously-expensive divorce and years of playboy “vie francaise” have – astonishingly – brought him close to penury. At 59 he’s recently undergone surgery and decided to head back on his diplmoatic passport which he’s held for some time.

But why? Nobody really knows. His people say he simply wants to help rebuild the country he did so much to wreck. His people promised a press conference today. He’s here with delayed and chaotic elections scheduled for Sunday – so the timing’s hardly coincidental and appears to be the very last thing Haitians either want or need.

All the officials will say so far is: “He will be questioned and he will remain at the disposal of the judicial system.”
Human rights groups and critics are demanding that the Haitian government arrest and prosecute Duvalier for the killing and torture of thousands of opponents they say occurred during his 15-year rule in the poor Caribbean state starting in 1971.

So it could be that the rap over alleged embezzlement is merely a way for hooking their fish. Rather like Al Capone being run in for tax fraud. Except that – in this case – worldwide, many Haitians stand ready and willing to testify against the former dictator and provide evidence for the allegations of fraud on a grand scale – but violence too against anyone who stood in the way of the Duvalierist kleptocrats.

Word is, his first class Air France ticket demands he leave in a couple of days. It now appears the men from (what passes for) the judicial system in this broken place, might want to speak to Baby Doc for a good deal longer.