Monday, January 17, 2011

Baby Doc is Back in Town

Unfortunately, the rumors are true. The dictator dynasty heir, Jean Claude Duvalier - the same man who was thrown out of Haiti 25 years ago for having stolen millions and killed thousands - just landed in country. Last night, as I sat next to my colleague and friend, Marie, in a thankfully still quiet neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, we kept saying the same thing over and over: this is crazy.

Jean Claude Duvalier, back from exile
Everyone agrees that it doesn't make any sense for Duvalier, nicknamed "Baby Doc," to have returned. Perhaps  as bad as his notorious father Papa Doc, who initiated a 30 year era of intimidation and fear through his dreaded gang of "Tons tons Machoutes," Jean Claude is an unwelcome sight. This country just got done mourning one of the worst disasters it has ever experienced. And now, they have to deal with this.

All around the streets of Port-au-Prince, people are asking "what does it all mean." Duvalier says that he has simply come back to help his country in this time of great struggle. No one is buying that, though. An old Kreyol phrase comes to mind: “tout sa ou we, se pa sa,” which basically means, “All that you see right now, it’s not really as it seems.”

Some say that the French let him back into the country in order to have a one-up on the US. Others say that the US masterminded it in order to initiate enough political upheaval to help oust Preval, put in their own hand-picked interim government and avoid having the leading Presidential candidate, Mirlande Manigat, come to power. Still others theorize that Preval is actually behind the surprise arrival, that he is trying to instigate some political upheaval himself in order to help keep himself in power until May. Still others say that Duvalier is sick, now an old man, and has come back to his home country to die. Who knows what to believe, though.

One thing is clear from last night's events: Haiti deserves justice. It deserves the millions of dollars back that it had stolen by the Duvalier family, other corrupt leaders and multiple bad trade and aid policies throughout the years. It deserves a solid reconstruction plan that is inclusive of the actual Haitian people, and built on the needs of the poor rather than the pay rolls of foreign companies. It deserves a robust and stable government that listens to its people, builds sturdy, sustainable infrastructure, and holds fair and democratic elections. And it deserves markets: fair global trade markets and actual physical markets in which to sell goods.

I saw one such market yesterday morning. The cell phone company, Digicel, has invested money in rebuilding the Hyppolite Market in downtown Port-au-Prince. The new market is definitely beautiful, and at least appears to be an example that rebuilding is happening. Yet, the question still remains: is this what people need most right now? What about the 1.5 million still living in deplorable camp conditions? In fact, Haiti needs much more: reconstruction that lifts the people up, creates proper interim and longer-term housing, implements an inclusive agriculture and food security plan and creates sustainable business and income generation.

The new, Digicel-funded Hyppolite Market in Port-au-Prince
One thing that Haiti does not need right now is a resurfacing ghost of the past who will only cause more problems. The country is poised now for the next big surprise. Does Duvalier’s return open the door for the return of Aristide? Can Duvalier actually be tried for his crimes against the Haitian people as Preval has promised? Hopefully history will not repeat itself and a peaceful solution can surface. 


  1. I love your postings. Are you available for coffee? I would love to meet you.

  2. That could be arranged. Please have your office call my office:)