PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned Sunday to Haiti after nearly 25 years in exile, a surprise and perplexing move that comes as his country struggles with a political crisis and the stalled effort to recover from last year’s devastating earthquake.
Duvalier, wearing a dark suit and tie, arrived on an Air France jet to hugs from supporters at the Port-au-Prince airport. He was calm as he was led into the immigration office and did not immediately make a statement to a waiting crowd of journalists.
“He is happy to be back in this country, back in his home,” said Mona Beruaveau, a candidate for Senate in a Duvalierist party who spoke to the former dictator inside the immigration office. “He is tired after a long trip.”
Beruaveau said he would give a news conference on Monday.
Haitians danced in the streets to celebrate the overthrow of Duvalier back in 1986, heckling the tubby, boyish tyrant as he was driven to the airport in a black limousine and flown into exile in France. Most Haitians hoped the rapacious strongman known as “Baby Doc” had left for good, closing a dark chapter of terror and repression that began under his late father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier.
But a handful of loyalists have been campaigning to bring Duvalier home from exile in France, launching a foundation to improve the dictatorship’s image and reviving Duvalier’s political party in the hopes that one day he can return to power democratically.
The Duvaliers tortured and killed their political opponents, ruling in an atmosphere of fear and repression ensured by the bloody Tonton Macoute secret police.
The end of his reign was followed by a period known as deshoukaj or “uprooting” in which Haitians carried out reprisals against Macoutes and regime loyalists, tearing their houses to the ground.
In the fall of 2007, President Rene Preval told reporters that Duvalier could return to Haiti but would face justice for the deaths of thousands of people and the theft of millions of dollars.
His return Sunday comes as the country struggles to work through a dire political crisis following the problematic Nov. 28 first-round presidential election.
Three candidates want to go onto a second round. The Organization of American States sent in a team of experts to resolve the deadlock, recommending that Preval’s candidate be excluded. Preval was reportedly not pleased with the report. OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza was scheduled to be in Port-au-Prince to meet with Preval on Monday.