| Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier
Jean-Claude Duvalier (nicknamed “Bébé Doc” or “Baby Doc”) (3 July 1951 - 4 October 2014) was the ruler of Haiti from 1971 until his overthrow by a popular uprising in 1986. He had called himself "president-for-life" and ruled with an iron fist, aided by a brutal private militia known as the Tontons Macoutes. He succeeded his father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier as the ruler of Haiti upon his father’s death in 1971.
Early life and education
He was born on 3 July 1951 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and was raised in an isolated environment. His father was Francois Duvalier, President of Haiti and his mother was Simone (Ovide) Duvalier.
He attended College Bird and Saint-Louis de Gonzague. Later, under the direction of several professors, including Maitre Gerard Gourgue, at the University of Haiti, he studied law. During April 1971, he assumed the presidency of Haiti at the age of 19 upon the death of his father, François Duvalier (nicknamed “Papa Doc”), becoming the world’s youngest president. Initially, Jean-Claude Duvalier resisted the dynastic arrangement that had made him Haiti’s leader, having preferred that the presidency go to his older sister Marie-Denise Duvalier, and was content to leave substantive and administrative matters in the hands of his mother, Simone Ovide Duvalier, and a committee led by Luckner Cambronne, his father’s Interior Minister, while he attended ceremonial functions and lived as a playboy.
Political and economic factors
Duvalier was invested with near-absolute power by the constitution. He took some steps to reform the regime, by releasing some political prisoners and easing press censorship. However, there were no substantive changes to the regime’s basic character. Opposition was not tolerated, and the legislature remained a rubber stamp.
Much of the Duvaliers’ wealth came from the Régie du Tabac (Tobacco Administration). Duvalier used this “nonfiscal account”, established decades earlier, as a tobacco monopoly, but he later expanded it to include the proceeds from other government enterprises and used it as a slush fund for which no balance sheets were ever kept.
By neglecting his role in government, Duvalier squandered considerable domestic and foreign goodwill and facilitated the dominance of Haitian affairs by a clique of hardline Duvalierist cronies, the so-called “dinosaurs”. Foreign officials and observers also seemed more tolerant toward “Baby Doc” in areas such as human rights monitoring, and foreign countries were more generous to him with economic assistance. The Nixon administration restored the US aid program for Haiti in 1971.
Jean-Claude miscalculated the ramifications of his 27 May 1980 wedding to Michèle Bennett Pasquet, a mulatto divorcée with an unsavory reputation. Her first husband, Alix Pasquet, was the son of a well-known mulatto officer who had led an attempt to overthrow Papa Doc Duvalier. Although Jean-Claude himself was light-skinned, his father’s legacy of support for the black middle class and antipathy toward the mulatto elite had enhanced the appeal of Duvalierism among the black majority of the population. With his marriage, Jean-Claude appeared to be abandoning the informal bond that his father had labored to establish.
The extravagance of the couple’s wedding, which cost an estimated $3 million, further alienated the people. Discontent among the business community and elite intensified in response to increased corruption among the Duvaliers and the Bennetts, as well as the repulsive nature of the Bennetts’ dealings, which included selling Haitian cadavers to foreign medical schools and trafficking in narcotics. Increased political repression added to the volatility of the situation.
The marriage also estranged the old-line Duvalierists in the government from the younger technocrats whom Jean-Claude had appointed, including Jean-Marie Chanoine, Fritz Merceron, Frantz-Robert Monde, and Theo Achille. The Duvalierists’ spiritual leader, Jean-Claude’s mother, Simone Ovide Duvalier, was eventually expelled from Haiti, reportedly at the request of Michèle Duvalier. With his wife Duvalier had two children, François Nicolas (born 31 January 1983) and Anya (born 1986).
In response to an outbreak of African swine fever virus on the island in 1978, U.S. agricultural authorities insisted upon total eradication of Haiti’s pig population. The Program for the Eradication of Porcine Swine Fever and for the Development of Pig Raising (PEPPADEP) caused widespread hardship among the peasant population, who bred pigs as an investment.
In addition, reports that AIDS was becoming a major problem in Haiti caused tourism to Haiti to decline dramatically in the early 1980s. By the mid-1980s, most Haitians felt hopeless, as economic conditions worsened and hunger and malnutrition spread.
Widespread discontent began in March 1983, when Pope John Paul II visited Haiti. The pontiff declared that “Something must change here.” He went on to call for a more equitable distribution of income, a more egalitarian social structure, more concern among the elite for the well-being of the masses, and increased popular participation in public life. This message revitalized both laymen and clergy, and it contributed to increased popular mobilization and to expanded political and social activism.
In 1984 Ernest Preeg, U.S. ambassador to Haiti (1981–1983) wrote a monograph on Haiti’s part in the Reagan Caribbean Basin Initiative. One paragraph stated…”It can honestly be said that the Jean-Claude Duvalier presidency is the longest period of violence-free stability in the nation’s history.”
A revolt began in the provinces in 1985. The city of Gonaïves was the first to have street demonstrations and raids on food-distribution warehouses. From October 1985 to January 1986, the protests spread to six other cities, including Cap Haïtien. By the end of that month, Haitians in the south had revolted. The most significant rioting there broke out in Les Cayes.
Jean-Claude responded with a 10 percent cut in staple food prices, the closing of independent radio stations, a cabinet reshuffle, and a crackdown by police and army units, but these moves failed to dampen the momentum of the popular uprising against the dynastic dictatorship. Jean-Claude’s wife and advisers, intent on maintaining their grip on power, urged him to put down the rebellion and remain in office.
In January 1986, the Reagan administration began to pressure Duvalier to renounce his rule and to leave Haiti. Representatives appointed by Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga served as intermediaries who carried out the negotiations. At this point a number of Duvalierists, and business leaders, met with the Duvaliers and pressed for their departure. The United States rejected a request to provide asylum for Duvalier, but offered to assist with the Duvaliers’ departure. Duvalier had initially accepted on 30 January 1986 and President Reagan actually announced his departure, based on a report from the Haitian CIA Station Chief who saw Duvalier’s car head for the airport. En route, there was gunfire and Duvalier’s party returned to the palace unnoticed by the U.S. intelligence team. Duvalier declared “we are as firm as a monkey tail.” He departed on 7 February 1986, flying to France in an U.S. Air Force aircraft.
The Duvaliers settled in France. For a time they lived a luxurious life. Although he formally applied for political asylum, his request was denied by French authorities. Jean-Claude lost most of his wealth with his 1993 divorce from Michèle. While apparently living modestly in exile, Duvalier does have supporters, who founded the Francois Duvalier Foundation in 2006 to promote positive aspects of the Duvalier presidency, including the creation of most of Haiti’s state institutions and improved access to education for the country’s black majority.
A private citizen, Jacques Samyn, unsuccessfully sued to expel Duvalier as an illegal immigrant (the Duvaliers were never officially granted asylum in France). Then, in 1998, a Haitian-born photographer, Gerard Bloncourt, formed a committee in Paris to bring Duvalier to trial. At the time, the French Ministry of the Interior said that it could not verify whether Duvalier still remained in the country due to the recently enacted Schengen Agreement which had abolished systematic border controls between the participating countries. However, Duvalier’s lawyer Sauveur Vaisse said that his client was still in France and denied that the exiled leader had fallen on hard times.
Following the ousting of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004, Duvalier announced his intention to return to Haiti. In 2004, he announced his intentions to run for president of Haiti in the 2006 elections for the Party of National Unity; however, he did not become a candidate.
On 22 - 23 September 2007, an address by Duvalier to Haitians was broadcast by radio. Although he said exile had “broken” him, he also said that what he described as the improving fortunes of the National Unity Party had “reinvigorated” him, and he urged readiness among his supporters, without saying whether he intended to return to Haiti.President René Préval rejected Duvalier’s apology and, on September 28, he said that while Duvalier was constitutionally free to return to Haiti, he would face trial if he did so.
Return to Haiti
On 16 January 2011, a quarter-century after he fled Haiti as a deposed dictator, Duvalier did make a surprise return. His passport had expired so he travelled to Haiti using temporary documentation issued by Haiti's Consulate General in Paris.
The frail-looking Baby Doc said that he was not there for politics, but because he wanted to “help.” Banking experts, however, suspected that he had arrived to circumvent new Swiss regulations preventing exiled leaders from obtaining money stolen from their countries.
He was promptly arrested and charged with embezzlement and other crimes, but remained living in a high-end hotel in the mountains of Port-au-Prince.
A Haitian court ruled in February 2014 that Duvalier could be charged with crimes against humanity under international law, and that he could also be held responsible for abuses committed by the army and paramilitary forces under his rule. Duvlier consistently denied any responsibility for abuses committed while he was in office.
Jean-Claude Duvalier died in his home of a heart attack on Saturday, 4 October 2014. He was 63.