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Monday, January 17, 2011

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

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.

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, see: 

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.

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.

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. 

News coverage of Duvalier’s return has also called his return “inexplicable”, but many Haitians are speculating about three likely scenarios:

1.     Preval is using Duvalier’s return to create political confusion and a distraction for the international community.  Preval received the OAS’s report of recommendations on how to resolve the fraudulent elections last Thursday.  On Monday, the OAS Secretary General will visit Haiti to get Preval’s official response to the report findings. 

The report recommends a run off elections between the top two candidates:  Martelly and Manigat.  International officials have stated that the report “makes sense” and the methodology is “flawless” and the credentials of the report team are “impeccable”.  Haitians are questioning what methodology would actually account for the thousands of ballots littering the streets, uncounted after the elections.  Apparently the recount process was carried out by using a small percentage of the tally sheets from the voting precincts.  It was widely reported and observed that tally sheets were manipulated before they even arrived at the tabulation center. 

In this scenario, Duvalier’s return creates an enormous distraction, serious confusion and has the added benefit of rallying his base against Duvalier.  Essentially, Duvalier is a pawn in Preval’s transparent and desperate attempts to maintain power.

2.     People believe that Dr. Paul Farmer, head of Partners in Health and Mr. Clinton’s deputy UN special envoy to Haiti, is has orchestrated Duvalier’s return behind the scenes.  Farmer is an ardent Aristide supporter and Duvalier’s return opens a window for Aristide’s return.  If Duvalier can return, why not Aristide?  Aristide has an equally despotic track record in Haiti stealing elections, trafficking drugs and overseeing political persecution, violence and murder.  His return would be disastrous for Haitians.  Ever since the earthquake, however, there has been speculation about Aristide’s return.  He has tested the waters as have his political supporters, so people believe this is their political play to get him back in country. 

3.     Duvalier’s return creates a level of political chaos that will be impossible to resolve without foreign political occupation – and someone, somewhere benefits from that with billions of aid money on the line.  The Haitian people will resolutely reject foreign occupation, however. 

Whoever is pulling the strings (Preval or Farmer/Aristide backers), it is clear that they do not want to see a run-off between Martelly and Manigat and the annulment of the legislative elections.  Duvalier is a pawn and a distraction.  And, no matter who is using Duvalier as a pawn, knows there are the only two scenarios facing Duvalier:  jail or execution. 

One thing is certain:  whoever is behind this move wants to ensure and maintain the status quo of corruption in Haiti.  Ultimately whether or not the underlying motive is billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts that are in play or newly discovered resources (it is widely speculated that the earthquake revealed an oil deposit off the coast of Haiti) that some are trying to put their hands on, Haitian reformers in Haiti and the Diaspora need to come together via an emergency political summit to put an end to this madness. The Haitian democrats in country and in the Diaspora that are trying to change the culture of corruption are caught in a nexus of power that inhibits or completely thwarts their efforts.  On the one side is the corrupt politics of Duvalier, Aristide and Preval and the Groupe de Bourdon, Haiti’s business cartel controlling more than 90% of the economy and paying only 4% of the taxes, which is basically the status quo.  And on the other side is the network of supporters in Washington, DC and other big capitals of the world.  This group is comprised of lawyer searching for large retainers, ideological academics and foreign profiteers.  In their fight for democracy and the modernization of Haiti’s economic system, they never find a support base, and worse, those members of the wealthy sector use their resource to publicly assassinate their characters and isolate them. For all Haitians, a foreign occupation will never be an option and the political instability must end.  We need to focus on rebuilding the country.  Now.