Jean-Claude Duvalier is a former president of Haiti and was forced to leave the country in 1986. There are many different stories about him. Some people say he encouraged corruption and human rights violations, while others say he improved Haitians’ education and healthcare.
It is often hard to discover the entire story of what went down in a country and regime, especially when we are getting involved with a dictatorship that didn’t even start with the person we are covering today.
However, one thing is for sure: Good things aren’t usually true, nor do they cover the bad ones so far.
Jean-Claude Duvalier, often known by the nickname “Baby Doc,” is a person that brought bloody years to Haiti, and despite him not being alive anymore, he left a huge and black mark in the country’s history.
To understand why he is someone you need to remember during universal history, we need to ensure you know the very beginnings.
Who Is Jean-Claude Duvalier?
As we mentioned before, his regime and story aren’t exactly new in terms of him being the mastermind of the regime he established. Instead, we need to go back to his father for a bit.
But first, Jean-Claude Duvalier was born in Port-au-Prince on July 3, 1951. He was raised in an isolated setting and was educated at Nouveau College Bird and Institution Saint-Louis de Gonzalez. Later, he studied law at the University of Haiti, where Maitre Gerard Gourgue supervised him.
There isn’t much information about his childhood. For his early years, you will discover he came to become the youngest president of Haiti in April 1971 at the age of 19 after the death of Francois Duvalier, his father.
He was the former president elected in September 1957 who consolidated his power and reduced the army’s size.
However, in 1964, he established an absolute regime as he claimed himself as president for life and promoted a cult of his person. His regime was known for being full of terror, and when “Papa Doc” died, we are back to our main story about “Baby Doc.”
After Jean-Claude Duvalier was announced as the new president, Haitians were still without political freedom, and since the beginning, he watched as others were killed and robbed in his name.
Slowly, things started to change. The economy was “stabilized” after a while as thousands of factory jobs were created “offshore.” The first time that provincial roads were paved was paid for mostly by the U.S.
They still wanted to use the ramshackle government as a buffer against communist Cuban next door. The U.S. was prompted by the influx of “boat people,” economic refugees, to the U.S. to seek prosperity in the mid-1970s.
With the help of power struggles within the regime, opposition voices were heard and tolerated.
Overall, Duvalier took steps to reform the regime by releasing political prisoners and relaxing press censorship. However, there were no substantive changes to the regime’s basic character.
In all this history, the Regie du Tabac (Tobacco Administration) was a major source of wealth for the Duvaliers. The former president used this “nonfiscal account” established decades before as a tobacco monopoly.
However, he later expanded it by including proceeds from other government entities and used it as a slush fund, for which there were never any balance sheets.
Duvalier, by neglecting his government role, squandered significant domestic and international goodwill. He also helped the dominance over Haitian affairs by a group of Duvalierist cronies known as the “dinosaurs.”
In areas like human rights monitoring, foreign officials and observers were also more tolerant towards “Baby Doc.” Likewise, aid from other countries was more generous to him than they were to his father. In 1971, the United States restored its aid program to Haiti under the Nixon administration.
Moving to Marriage: New Addition
Duvalier married Michele Bennett, a divorcee, on May 27, 1980. Most of the time, no one would find a problem in a simple marriage. However, the situation was volatile as a result of increased corruption in the Duvaliers’ and Bennett families’ dealings.
These included selling Haitian cadavers abroad to medical schools and drug trafficking, plus the political repression during these years.
Besides, the wedding cost over $2 million, which made Haitians disagree exponentially considering the country’s economic situation.
On another note, the marriage also separated the older-line Duvalierists from the government and the younger technocrats, Jean-Marie Chanoine and Frantz-Robert Estime, whom Duvalier had appointed.
Simone Ovide Duvalier was the spiritual leader of the Duvalierists. He was reportedly expelled from Haiti at Michele’s request.
With her influence and known for being much smarter than her husband, Michele grew to be a powerful woman without relying on the actual power or presence of “Baby Doc.”
She took part in several cabinet meetings and was much more competent than Duvalier.
When Destabilization Started
After an African swine flu epidemic hit Haiti in 1978, the U.S. government demanded that all pigs be eradicated from the country.
Additionally, reports that HIV/AIDS was a growing problem in Haiti led to a dramatic decline in tourism in the 1980s. The problem with most of these issues is that they weren’t being addressed properly due to the negligence of the president and the people who influenced the decisions.
In March 1983, widespread discontent began to manifest in Haiti. Pope John Paul II visited Haiti in this period. The pontiff stated that “things had to change in Haiti” and called on all those with power, wealth, and culture to understand the urgent need to help their fellow citizens.
He demanded a more equitable distribution and more equal social structures and increased participation in public life. This message energized laypeople as well as clergy and led to greater political mobilization.
In 1985, a revolt broke out in the provinces. The first city to see street demonstrations and raids of food distribution warehouses was Gonaives.
The protests spread from October 1985 to January 1986 to six additional cities, including Cap-Haitien. The revolt of the Haitians in the South had already ended by the end of that month, and the largest rioting took place in Les Cayes.
Duvalier responded to this uprising by cutting 10% in staple food prices and closing independent radio stations. He also reshuffled the cabinet and cracked down on army and police units.
No Turning Point: Duvalier’s Escape
Despite his efforts in the previous actions, these failed to stop the momentum of the popular revolt against the dynastic dictatorship. Duvalier’s wife, and his advisers, pushed him to stop the rebellion and stay in power since they were the actual faces behind the worst part of the corruption.
Things didn’t go better for the Duvaliers as the Reagan administration began to press the president in January 1986 to end his rule and leave Haiti.
The negotiations were managed by intermediaries, whom Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga appointed. A number of Duvalierists, business leaders, and others met with them and demanded their departure.
In a dry situation, and although the United States refused to grant Duvalier asylum, they offered to help with their departure.
Duvalier initially accepted the offer, but President Reagan announced his departure based on a Haitian CIA Station chief report which saw Duvalier’s vehicle heading towards the airport.
Duvalier’s party fled the palace after being attacked by gunfire. On February 7, 1986, he flew to France on a U.S. Air Force plane.
Exile & Divorce: Going Downhill
After their escape to France with the assistance of the USA, the Duvaliers settled down in the country for several years.
Jacques Samyn, a private citizen, tried unsuccessfully to expel Duvalier from France as an illegal immigrant since they were never given official asylum.
As a result, a Paris-based committee was formed in 1998 by Gerald Bloncourt to bring Duvalier before a court. The French Ministry of the Interior and the French government stated at the time that they couldn’t verify that Duvalier was still in France due to the newly enacted Schengen Agreement.
In the end, Duvalier’s lawyer confirmed he was still in France but fixed a way to make the exiled leader start following the restrictions.
Before moving to the next event, the Duvaliers were together till 1990, when they decided to separate. His wife, Michele, took most of his wealth during their divorce in 1993 and left Duvalier with less than 30% of his money.
Despite this and the committee in 1998, by 2004, Duvalier was considered the sixth-most corrupt world leader in the Global Corruption Report since he reportedly stole over $600 million.
During this year and the ousting of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February, Duvalier declared his intention to go back to Haiti to run for president in the 2006 elections for the National Unity Party.
Though no one understood what he was thinking, and he never became a candidate for the seat.
Duvalier, despite living in exile and seemingly struggling, did have support. In 2006, the Francois Duvalier Foundation was established to highlight the positive aspects of Duvalier’s presidency.
In addition, a Swiss court released more than $4 million to Duvalier in February 2010. Despite the Swiss Foreign Ministry threatening to continue blocking the release of the money.
Duvalier lived with Veronique Roy in Paris, his long-time companion, until Duvalier returned to Haiti in January 2011.
Return & Death: Duvalier Back in Haiti
Something most people question is: Why would Duvalier decide to return to his country? After all, politicians and the president in the seat declared he would be received with charges even when he was constitutionally able to enter the country.
Despite this, he did make the decision to return.
To be specific, he returned during the presidential campaign on January 15, 2011, and said that he was there to rebuild Haiti.
However, politicians and the Haitian people argued he was there to claim $4 million he had frozen in his Swiss bank account. The Haitian government claimed he should not receive it, but Swiss law needed them to open a criminal investigation to set the prohibition.
As a result, Haitian authorities took Duvalier into custody at his hotel on January 18, 2011. He was charged for corruption, theft, and misappropriation of funds during his 15-year tenure as president.
He was released, but the court could recall him.
The legal proceedings against him seemed to be stalled by September 22, 2011. According to reports, he was living in poor-enforced house arrest and enjoying a luxurious life in Port-au-Prince.
A Haitian judge issued a warrant for Duvalier to appear before the court on February 28, 2013, after the former president failed three court hearings. Duvalier did this and pleaded not guilty for the first time to corruption and human rights abuse charges.
Before everything was closed, he died on October 4, 2014, due to a heart attack.
Jean-Claude Duvalier’s Crimes: What to Note
With all that information, it is hard to understand every little crime that went down.
Of course, corruption, theft, torture, human rights abuses, and more can enter the list overall. But what did he do in specific, and what were the events that settled him in history as a dictator?
To understand, you must know his father’s regime was known for being bloody as well.
Murders, kidnappings, torture, and arrests without any rational or fair charge were committed on a daily basis. “Baby Doc” didn’t fall behind with this.
Despite his early years and the pressure from the U.S. government to set new laws and lifestyles for citizens, he was known as incompetent.
After he married Michele, she handled most of the states’ affairs and was known for being a too brilliant brain for him. In fact, everyone had control over the country except for Duvalier when it came to comparisons.
His vassals and advisors were taking most of the power. Regardless, he was responsible for allowing all types of human rights abuses where hundreds were killed and tortured before meeting their deaths.
Due to the conditions, thousands of Haitians flew the country during his presidency, and he was quite known for maintaining a lavish lifestyle with great expenses.
Pretty much like every dictatorship, we have covered, deaths, torture, and all types of abuses were present during his regime.
4 Facts About Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier
- He was the world’s youngest president when he was assigned to the seat in 1971, not only in Haiti’s history.
- Extrajudicial executions, rape, and embezzlement were other charges he was accused of during his trials.
- He had two children with his ex-wife Michele Bennet. Their names are Nicolas and Anya Duvalier.
- Simone Duvalier, his mother, was known as the real First Lady of Haiti even after her husband died due to the power she also possessed during both regimes.
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