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Duvalier Returns to Haiti; Merely a Pawn in the Political Chaos

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Former Dictator Jean Claude Duvalier
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Three former strongmen of Haiti have been living in exile since being forced to leave the country: Jean Claude Duvalier, better remembered as "Baby Doc", exiled in France; General Henri Namphy in the Dominican Republic; and Jean Bertrand Aristide in South Africa. Duvalier's return opens the door to the return of other former corrupt leaders the Haitian people ousted and sends a message to current leaders that there are no consequences to corruption. It is important at this time to look back at these three leaders to better frame what Duvalier's return actually means for the Haitian people.

After a popular uprising against his regime, Jean Claude Duvalier, self-appointed President for Life, left Haiti on February 7, 1986 after 14 years in power. Henri Namphy, General President, who headed the transition after Duvalier's departure left the country on June 20, 1988 after a military coup. And, Jean Bertrand Aristide left on February 29, 2004 after a popular uprising and an armed rebellion led by his former allies.

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Aristide and Duvalier's Ouster

Aristide and Duvalier have extensive human rights violations and track records of corruption. They brutalized the Haitian people and enriched themselves. Duvalier persecuted and killed many political opponents, see: . During his regime thousands of political opponents had to flee the country. Freedom of expression and civil liberties were non-existent under his rule. Journalists were persecuted as well and political parties were outlawed under Haiti's one party system. After his departure an administrative commission, led by former Minister of Finance Leslie Delatour, concluded Duvalier had stolen more than US$600 million from Haiti's coffers.

Jean Bertrand Aristide was democratically elected in December 1990. The people of Haiti were hopeful that this humble, poor priest meant a new era for Haiti. But Aristide ruled as a strongman -" not as a man of God. Aristide lost credibility among the Haitian democrats when he recruited some of the FRAPH killers, a paramilitary group responsible for the killing hundreds of Haitians after the 1991 coup d'etat. Aristide used those killers to assassinate a popular catholic priest that stood up against his corruption and violence, Father Ti Jean. When the Secretary General of Haiti Human Rights Platform, Chenet Jean Baptiste, denounced the killing, he had to flee the country to save his life. Aristide recuperated several Duvalierists that were members of the military and the now defunct Tonton Macoutes, a paramilitary group under Duvalier, during his second term in office. The most well known was Sainvoyis Pascal, who Aristide made Speaker of the House in 2001 as the head of the Lavalas caucus in the House of Deputies. Aristide persecuted and killed his political opponents. Journalists, women and youth activists, political parties and human rights activists, peasants and others that opposed his views were beaten, illegally jailed or killed, see: and . After Aristide resigned in 2004, Haiti's General Accounting Office and an administrative commission led by the current Minister of Justice Paul Denis found that he had stolen more than US$350 million from Haiti's coffers over nine years.

Both Aristide and Duvaliers have maintained with the stolen funds a base of support in-country while residing in exile. But Aristide went a step further and has maintained a network of contacts in the U.S. comprised of his former lobbyists see: and people who made money with him during his rule via telecommunications and other business dealings. He also has a network of academics and ideologues like Robert Maguire at the US Institute of Peace, Dr. Paul Farmer, a prominent AIDS expert and Deputy UN Special Envoy to Haiti, who actively promoted Aristide's return under the false premise that he was "kidnapped" by the US Government in 2004 rather than having resigned in disgrace and requested evacuation. Aristide's own Prime Minister has denied the kidnapping claim and stated officially and publicly that the kidnapping charge was fabricated for political purposes.

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Duvalier and Aristide's Relationship with the Preval Government

Rene Preval and Jean Bertrand Aristide were political twins when they were seeking power in the 1990s. When Aristide became President in 1991 he ditched the coalition (FNCD) that allowed him to win the presidency and a parliamentary majority. He handpicked Rene Preval as his Prime Minister in February 1991, in violation of the Haitian constitution, which requires that the Prime Minister be selected from the party that has the majority in both chamber of parliament.

On August 13, 1991, the FNCD caucus in parliament sought to fire Preval as Prime Minister on the grounds of incompetency. Both men, Aristide and Preval, sent a group of thugs to burn some of the members with a common tactic of their regime "necklacing" burning tires around their necks. Without police intervention many members of the House of Deputies could have died that day, among them the current Haiti's ambassador at the OAS Dully Brutus, former Speaker of the House of Deputies. This act led to a political crisis and later an illegal military coup in September 1991. Both Aristide and Preval went into exile.

After Aristide requested a US military intervention for his return in 1994 and attempt to illegally stay in power after his term was over, he was forced to relinquish power and Preval became his successor. Aristide wanted Preval to be his puppet during Preval's first term in office as president. When Preval started to become more independent, Aristide -- as a warning -- sent some of his thugs to kill the dogs Preval's sister, who was serving as his Executive Assistance. Despite the warning Preval, continued to move away from Aristide. As a second warning, Preval's sister was shot and wounded by Aristide's gunmen. Preval backed down and ceded to Aristide's pressure following his instruction to the letter.

At the end of his first term under Aristide's control, Preval rigged both the legislative and presidential elections in May and November 2000. The President of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) Leon Manus resisted and in a public letter denounced the fraud threatened by Aristide and Preval and had to flee the country for political exile in the United States. Despite a letter written to the OAS by Manus detailing the situation, the OAS did nothing. Aristide forced his majority in parliament and stole the presidency. The people of Haiti stood up and said "no", and contested the legitimacy of both parliament and Aristide as president. On February 7, 2001, two presidents were sworn in: Aristide who stole the elections, and Gerard Gourgue a provisional president representing the opposition. Preval went quietly back to his hometown Marmelade. The following three years Aristide in power tried to frame and eliminate Preval. One of the key players protecting Preval against Aristide a that time was Jude Celestin who got a stock of heavy weapons from Preval before the end of his first term. From 2001 to 2004, Aristide used violence and corruption to suppress dissent among the population -- students, women, political parties, peasants, press, humans right activists, and civil society. His brutality failed. The Haitian people would not stand for it. In February 2004, a popular uprising was highjacked at the last minute by a group of gunmen, who used to serve as Aristide henchmen and allies, provoked his resignation. He fled into exile with the assistance of the US military at his request. Aristide's Prime Minister Yvon Neptune invoked Article 149 of the constitution and allowed a member of the Haitian Supreme Court to become provisional president.

The provisional government organized general elections in 2006 allowing every political party to run, but they prevented any members of the provisional government to run for office unless they resigned six months prior to the elections. Preval became president and Aristide's Lavalas party won six of the 99 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and three of the 30 seats in the Senate. It was clear that the Lavalas party had no political support among the people. Preval distanced himself from Aristide and captured most of his supporters and gave them government positions in his office, the cabinet and the civil service. Preval closed all the loopholes that allowed Aristide to siphon money from the State. Since then, Aristide has been maneuvering with his former lobbyists and allies to use Haiti's telecommunications company to weaken Preval and promote their fabricated line that he was kidnapped all in an effort to return him to Haiti. Aristide promised to make everyone rich -" or richer as several of them have already enriched themselves with Aristide

Preval's relationship with Duvalier began in the 1980's through Michele Pierre Louis, Haiti's former Prime Minister. At that time, Pierre Louis was Deputy Director General of the airport. They negotiated Preval's return to Haiti (he had fled into exile in the 1960s) and gave him a job as a civil servant. Preval knew key players at the Minister level since he grew up with several of them, attended the same schools and lived in the same neighborhood. When as a young man he had to flee Haiti into exile in Belgium, two of Preval's friends under the Duvalier regime went to the Dominican Embassy where Preval was seeking asylum to give him a packet of cigarettes and US$100. One of them, a Duvalierist, is living in Long Island today and is Preval's top political advisor and most trusted political ally.

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This the context in which Jean Claude Duvalier returned to Haiti. His return is inextricably linked with Aristide and Preval's agendas, and most observers believe he is merely a pawn in or distraction from a larger political dynamic underway.

Duvalier's "Inexplicable" and "Surprise" Return

Duvalier landed in Haiti on January 17, 2011 after 24 years in political exile in France. His return is being labeled a "surprise" in press reports, but it could not have happened without international diplomatic support and Preval's approval. He could not have boarded a plane in France to Haiti without the approval of the French and Haitian governments. Further, his supporters did not seem to be surprised by his return as they turned out to great him at the airport.

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Stanley Lucas is a specialist in political development projects. He has worked as a Senior Program Officer in Afghanistan and the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Lucas is currently the Executive Director for for the Washington Democracy (more...)

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