We speak to journalist Kim Ives, editor of Haiti Liberté, about former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s return to Haiti. Ives argues Duvalier’s presence will allow the United States and France to install their preferred candidate in a run-off election set for February against the wishes of President René Préval. The international community has threatened Préval with exile if he does not comply with their interpretation of the disputed results of last November’s election. “Préval, after bowing to U.S. and French and Canadian dictates over the past decade of his presidencies, is now finding out that once he begins to resist a little bit or try to do something his way, that he’s going to be quickly dispensed with,” Ives says. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Twenty-five years after he fled Haiti, former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier is back. Duvalier left Haiti amidst protests in 1986 after a 15-year regime marked by corruption and torture and killing of his political opponents. On Monday, he returned to the earthquake-devastated country on a diplomatic passport and announced he was, quote, “here to see how I can help my country.”
In a chaotic scene Tuesday, Haitian police detained Duvalier at the luxury hotel he was staying in and took him to the prosecutor’s office in Port-au-Prince for questioning. Now Duvalier has been charged with corruption, theft and misappropriation of funds. Some estimates put the amount he embezzled at close to a billion dollars.
Duvalier’s return to Haiti comes just weeks before a run-off election is scheduled to take place. Haiti’s largest political party, Lavalas, was excluded from the election. Lavalas is the party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who remains in exile in South Africa.
To discuss these latest developments, we’re joined by journalist Kim Ives. He is editor of Haiti Liberté.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Kim. Talk about the record of Baby Doc Duvalier, for people who don’t know the history of Haiti.
KIM IVES: Baby Doc came to power in 1991 after his father, who had been elected in 1957, died. His father had himself declared president for life in 1964, in a vote of about three million to 3,000, and passed that title on to Jean-Claude. The regime was extremely repressive and extremely corrupt. And Baby Doc became some kind of a playboy dictator, who would drive around in fast cars, throwing coins out to starving peasants on the side of the road. Disgust with his regime grew in Haiti.
And impatience with the U.S. — the U.S. also grew impatient, because the millions of dollars the U.S. was funneling into the country to build an infrastructure for U.S. business to build cheap labor factories was being salted away in Swiss bank accounts by Jean-Claude. And so, in 1986, they pushed him out, as they were doing other dictators around the world and replacing them with façade election chosen puppets. However, in Haiti it didn’t work so well, and instead of the U.S.-designated candidate, Marc Bazin, winning the election, it was Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990.
AMY GOODMAN: Under François Duvalier, “Papa Doc,” and then Baby Doc, who returned this week, how many Haitians were killed?
KIM IVES: There are many estimates. In 1986, there was an estimate of about 10,000 killed under the regime, of both regimes. But it could go as high as 50,000, according to some estimates.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did he return, and how did he get back to Haiti?
KIM IVES: Well, we think that it had something to do with the present situation of the electoral standoff. The Organization of American States is ordering Préval to change the results of the election held on November 28th, which was a completely ridiculous election marred by terrible irregularities. Préval’s Provisional Electoral Council said that his official party candidate, Jude Célestin, came in second after Mirlande Manigat, a right-wing neo-Duvalierist, and that they would go —
AMY GOODMAN: She was the widow of another president of Haiti.
KIM IVES: Yeah, well, she’s the wife of a president — he hasn’t yet died, but Leslie Manigat, who was basically installed by the military in 1988 after an electoral bloodbath in 1987. So, the OAS came in and said, “No, no, no. That’s not the right result. The right result should be that Michel Martelly, known as “Sweet Micky,” a pro-coup kompas musician, who came in a very close third, should be in the runoff. Préval is resisting this and has not responded to the OAS report and seems to question its methodology. So, we think that Duvalier’s arrival there is really an effort to pressure Préval and show him — in a way, rally the Duvalierist base, because he really is the symbol of that old guard that left power 25 years ago.
AMY GOODMAN: A lot of reports are saying that the international community has threatened Préval with exile himself if he doesn’t bow to the new results.
KIM IVES: Right. There apparently was even a meeting that the former OAS ambassador to Haiti, a fellow called Seitenfus, who has since been dismissed because of his frankness, made a — was in a meeting where they were actually discussing how to get a plane to ship Préval out. So, Préval, after bowing to U.S. and French and Canadian dictates over the past decade of his presidencies, is now finding out that once he begins to resist a little bit or try to do something his way, that he’s going to be quickly dispensed with.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Baby Doc Duvalier comes into the country, and then he’s arrested — or kind of — yesterday.
KIM IVES: Well, kind of arrested, yeah. In fact, what happened was they questioned him. The judicial system, of course, is different in Haiti. You have what’s called a juge d’instruction, a sort of investigating magistrate, who looks at all the evidence and decides — he has up to three months to decide now — whether in fact he’s going to take Jean-Claude to trial or not. So he’s, you could say, semi-charged. They’re investigating, but he’s not actually going to be brought to trial here.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, Aristide, who has been trying to, wants to return to his country, the most popular political figure in Haiti, cannot return.
KIM IVES: Correct. He is still in exile in South Africa, there since the coup d’état which overthrew him on February 29th, 2004, when the U.S. Navy SEAL team kidnapped him from his home in Tabarre and took him to Africa.
AMY GOODMAN: We have less than two minutes. This is all taking place against the backdrop of a devastated country. We traveled with you to Haiti right after the earthquake and then six months after the earthquake. What about Haiti today? And how does this all fit into the lack of any kind of reconstruction in Haiti?
KIM IVES: Well, Haiti remains the only militarily occupied nation in the Western hemisphere. It is suffering under the results of the earthquake, 1.3 million people still living under tents and tarps. Cholera has killed closing on 4,000 people, and no end in sight. You have a tremendous level of poverty and misery in the country. So, the U.S.'s main concern is not all of this, but simply how to put a façade on this occupation of the country, how to basically put their people in. And for the first time in 20 years, since Aristide's election — first election in 1990, they have two neo-Duvalierist candidates who are positioned to take power through this completely bogus election. And the people are clamoring for a new election, to annul the election, but they’re having none of it.
AMY GOODMAN: And the newest WikiLeaks documents showing the U.S. pressuring Brazil to also prevent Aristide from returning home?
KIM IVES: Exactly. They’ve been pressuring Brazil. And there’s another interesting WikiLeak that came out today, that the Brazilian general in 2006 who supposedly committed suicide in his hotel room —
AMY GOODMAN: Under MINUSTAH, the U.N. forces.
KIM IVES: Of the U.N. forces, MINUSTAH — was that he may in fact have been assassinated. I always felt that was the case, because the picture of his body showed that he had been reading a book, and it’s very rare, to me, that you’d decide to commit suicide while you’re reading a book.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will, of course, continue to follow Haiti. Kim Ives, thanks so much for being with us, journalist with Haiti Liberté.