Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Duvalier’s Return to Haiti Reignites Préval Debate

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The unexpected arrival of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has incited another plot twist in the tragic-comedy known as Haitian politics. Duvalier’s reasons and/or ambitions for this return has elicited endless speculation from the moment his Air France flight touched down in Port-au-Prince. One of the first writers to solve this mystery was Huge Desrameaux. Writing in the Miami Herald, Desrameaux revealed that Duvalier had returned to Haiti in a quixotic attempt to reclaim what’s left of his ill-gotten fortune, which is currently being withheld by Swiss authorities. These fortunes will now be easier for the Haitian authorities to reclaim after the Duvalier Law—a Swiss law that eases the ability of a country to retrieve ill-gotten gains—went into effect today.

In spite of Duvalier’s efforts at arguing that his motives are more benevolent (he’s allegedly returned to help with earthquake relief and to donate his remaining bounty to the Red Cross) the audacity of returning to the island that he and his father plundered requires a voluminous amount of hubris. After all, did Duvalier seriously believe he could return home to Haiti and everyone would turn the other cheek?

Duvalier’s impromptu homecoming also offers another opportunity to debate the efficacy of President René Préval’s tenure in office. “Baby Doc” may be the spectacle du jour, but the real question that Haitians must address at this moment is, what is its post-Préval future?

As Préval plods along, Duvalier is holding court, and exiled President Jean Bertrande Aristide, envious of Duvalier’s reception, continues to suggest that he might also like to go on a retour. Amidst this chaos one couldn’t but help notice how Préval owes much of his political success to these two men. Many have long considered Préval’s centrist sensibilities the opposite of Aristide’s radical impulses. However, just as Préval is surely Aristide’s polar opposite, his commitment to democracy has thus far proven to be the antithesis of the iron-fisted dictatorial rule practiced by Jean Claude and his father, Francois Duvalier.

While most consider him to be laid back, Préval has distinguished himself as one of the shrewdest political actors in Haitian history, second only to the aforementioned Francois Duvalier. Not only is Préval the first Haitian president since the nineteenth century to have his term in office naturally expire, but more fascinating is that when he steps down he will have been the longest serving Haitian leader since Jean-Claude Duvalier, a feat made more incredible when one considers the tumultuous political climate that he inherited both times he was elected President. However, as Haiti continues to be engulfed in chaos, the inevitability of Préval’s transition from power is starting to come into question.

Even his detractors will concede that Préval has been invaluable in ensuring some semblance of stability in Haiti over the past 15 years, and during his 10 years in office Haiti has made some economic and human rights gains. As recently as January 11, 2010, Haiti was being touted by development wonks as being on the cusp of a transformative socioeconomic revival.

But Préval has always been the stable/safe option when others were in power. With Haiti being rattled by a pandemic outbreak, struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake, controversial elections, and the reemergence of a disposed dictator, who is the safe option when it’s time for Mr. Dependable to go?

*Ferentz Lafargue is guest blogger to AQ Online and is an assistant professor at the The New School for Liberal Arts.

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