The phones at Radio Soleil d’Haiti in Brooklyn have been ringing incessantly since the brutal dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier abruptly returned to Haiti on Sunday after a 24-year exile in France.
“People want to know: Why did he come back? Who engineered this? What was the role of the French and Haitian governments?” said station manager Ricot Dupuy.
Right now, there are few answers, and little consensus on what should happen to Baby Doc, who, with his father, was responsible for atrocious human rights abuses, epic looting of the country’s coffers, and the death of at least 60,000 Haitians.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called on the Haitian government to arrest Duvalier, and put him on trial.
Eighty percent of all Haitian expats agree that the regimes of both Duvaliers (his father, Francois, or “Papa Doc” preceded him in office) were a dark era in Haitian history, said Dupuy. But even people who detest the Duvaliers are now wondering if some kind of reconciliation might not be in order, a la the “start fresh” initiatives in South Africa and Rwanda.
Last year’s earthquake, which demolished the nation’s infrastructure and left it unable to repel a raging cholera epidemic, has left the country with more important priorities than retribution, explained William Michel, 49, an accountant in Flatbush.
Incessant cycles of violence and coups d’etat have left some Haitians “wondering if we can bury the past because we’ve tried every other way,” added Dupuy. Yesterday, Duvalier postponed a new conference that might have shed light on his intentions. There were reports he timed his visit to the earthquake anniversary, and that he planned to leave in a few days but eventually return for good.
But the Rev. Leslie Thomas, the owner of the Krik Krak restaurant on the Upper West Side and a Pentecostal minister, says that not forcing Duvalier to stand trial sets a terrible international precedent. “Of course he should be arrested!” exclaimed Thomas. The restaurateur would like to know if Duvalier plans to give back any of the $100 million he took with him out of the country to help rebuild the crippled nation.
“Probably not. He’s always complaining about being broke,” said Dupuy.