Death of U.S.-Backed Ex-Dictator
Death of U.S.-Backed Ex-Dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier Won’t End Haitian Victims’ Quest for Justice
The former U.S.-backed dictator of Haiti, Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as “Baby Doc,” has died at 63. Duvalier ruled Haiti from 1971 to 1986, taking power after the death of his father who had ruled since 1957. Baby Doc’s death came just months after a Haitian court ruled that he could be charged with crimes against humanity under international law, and that he could also be held responsible for abuses by the army and paramilitary forces under his rule. Under his regime, hundreds of political prisoners held in a network of prisons died from their extraordinarily cruel treatment. Baby Doc’s government repeatedly closed independent newspapers and radio stations. Journalists were beaten, in some cases tortured, jailed and forced to leave the country. Despite his human rights record, Baby Doc was a close ally of the United States. After years of exile in France, he returned to Haiti in 2011 and became an ally of Haiti’s current president Michel Martelly. We are joined by Haitian activist and writer Jean Saint-Vil and journalist Amy Wilentz, author of “The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier has died at the age of 63. Known as Baby Doc, Duvalier ruled Haiti from 1971 to 1986. He took power after the death of his father, who had ruled since 1957. His death came just months after a Haitian court ruled that he could be charged with crimes against humanity under international law and that he could also be held responsible for abuses by the army and paramilitary forces under his rule. According to Human Rights Watch, Baby Doc’s rule was marked by systematic human rights violations. Hundreds of political prisoners, held in a network of jails, died from their extraordinarily cruel treatment. Duvalier’s government repeatedly closed independent newspapers and radio stations. Journalists were beaten; in some cases, tortured, jailed and forced to leave the country. One of his most vocal critics in the 1980s was a priest named Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who would later become Haiti’s first democratically elected president.
AMY GOODMAN: Despite his human rights record, Jean-Claude Duvalier was a close ally of the United States. After years of exile in France, Baby Doc returned to Haiti in 2011 and became an ally of Haiti’s current president, Michel Martelly. In messages posted on Twitter Sunday, Martelly called Baby Doc, quote, “an authentic son of Haiti.” There is now talk about a possible state funeral for Duvalier. Many victims of his regime have spoken out against the idea. Robert Duval was a political prisoner who was jailed for 17 months during Duvalier’s rule.
ROBERT DUVAL: You know it is a crime against humanity. It’s like the—you’re talking about torture. You’re talking about disappearances. You’re talking about summary executions. You’re talking about starving people in jail. You’re talking about genocide. You know, whole families have gone, even to the point of having children two years old be thrown in the air and come down in bayonet. This is the type of crime that his regime has committed. And he was the head of it for 15 years, under the regime of Duvalier. It’s very well known and very well documented. More than 50,000 to 60,000 people have perished under those conditions I told you about. So, to give this man a national funeral, that would be a slap to all of the victims and to the nation in general.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Duval. To talk more about Baby Doc’s legacy, we’re joined now by two guests. Jean Saint-Vil is an Ottawa-based Haitian writer, radio host and activist. His website is GodIsNotWhite.com. He’s joining us from Ottawa. Amy Wilentz is also with us, an award-winning writer and journalist. She’s the author of several books on Haiti, including Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti, which was published last year and received the National Book [Critics Circle] Award. She’s also the author of The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier. She teaches in the literary journalism program at the University of California, Irvine, joining us from Los Angeles.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s start with Jean Saint-Vil. Your response to the death of Jean-Claude Duvalier and his significance in Haitian history?