For his supporters the shock homecoming of ‘Baby Doc’ is the return of the king. Many Haitians, however, hoped never to see him set foot in their country again. It remains a mystery why the former leader has come back now, 25 years after his brutal dictatorship was toppled. He says he wants to help Haiti, but his desire to return is not new.
Speaking in 1998 Jean-Claude Duvalier said: ‘‘I think I’ll return to my country. It’s a dream close to my heart.’‘
Succeeding his father in 1971 at the age of 19, ‘Baby Doc’ became one of the youngest head’s of state in the world, inheriting the title of ‘president-for-life’. His father Francois, ‘Papa Doc’, Duvalier died in April of that year, having governed the Caribbean nation with an iron fist from 1957.
Jean Claude Duvalier was only 7 year’s old when his father took power. Together father and son would rule Haiti for a total of 28 years, both accused of using a sinister secret police force known as the Tonton Macoutes that would control through violence and intimidation.
While his son would be seen more as a playboy, Francois Duvalier was also said to have used fear through the country’s voodoo religion to reinforce his power. For Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, the ends arguably justified the means. Speaking in 1964 he said: ‘‘You should have a strong man in every country. Not a dictator, but a strong man.”
Like his father, critics accuse ‘Baby Doc’ of massive corruption, repression and doing little to alleviate Haiti’s extreme poverty. Initially, during his 15 years in power, small attempts appear to have been made at granting greater liberty, however these efforts waned, especially after his marriage to rich heiress Michele Bennett.
Overthrown by a popular revolt in 1986, Duvalier quit the presidency after pressure from the US, but not before more than 100,000 Haitians fled the country under his regime. For, Duvalier and his wife it would be a different kind of escape, both left for France, living a life of luxury on the Cote d’Azur.