Port-au-Prince: Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier made a surprise return from exile to his Caribbean homeland on Sunday, saying he wanted to help in the rebuilding of his earthquake-battered nation.
It was the first time that Duvalier, who is now 59 but was once the world's youngest head of state at 19, had returned to Haiti since he was forced out in 1986 by a popular uprising and US’ pressure.
His unexpected return comes at a time when Haiti, still the poorest state in the Western Hemisphere, is facing political uncertainty following November 28 Presidential and Legislative Elections whose preliminary results have triggered fraud allegations and violent street protests.
The chaotic elections went ahead during a cholera epidemic in the country, which is still recovering from a devastating earthquake a year ago that killed more than 300,000 people.
Wearing a blue suit and tie and accompanied by his current French wife, Veronique Roy, Duvalier arrived at Port-au-Prince airport on an Air France flight from Paris, witnesses said.
"I was waiting for this moment for a long time. When I first set foot on the ground, I felt great joy," Duvalier said, while hundreds of enthusiastic supporters outside the airport chanted "Long live Duvalier!".
The former ruler, who as a chubby playboy assumed power in Haiti in 1971 on the death of his father, the feared autocratic Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, said he had returned to his homeland "because I know the people are suffering".
"I wanted to show them my solidarity, to tell them that I am here, I am well disposed and determined to participate in the rebirth of Haiti," he said, without spelling out his exact intentions.
He was expected to give a news conference on Monday.
Not everyone was enthusiastic about the return of the surviving member of the father-and-son Duvalier dynasty, which marked a 28-year epoch of fear and corruption in Haitian life.
"We are waiting to see what he's doing here. But it's not a good thing. I lived under Duvalier," said one Port-au-Prince resident, Christian Joseph, 49.
Some were even afraid to talk about him. "Are you joking? He would kill me. Don't you know Duvalier?" said another person, who would not give a name.
Past accusations of corruption
During his rule, "Baby Doc" Duvalier had tried to improve Haiti's image after the rule of terror of his despotic father.
Well aware of the outside world's contempt for the Tonton Macoutes thugs with their dark sunglasses and pistols who served his "Papa Doc", Duvalier renamed them "the volunteers for national security”. However, he did not get rid of them.
He had also faced accusations of corruption, political repression and human rights abuses when he fled the country in 1986 during massive street protests and diplomatic pressure from Washington.
However, no current arrest warrants were known to exist against him, and as Haiti's existing Constitution bans the practice of exile for Haitians, there was nothing legally preventing his return.
A source close to Duvalier said he had returned under a diplomatic passport, but was required to inform Haiti's Interior Ministry of his whereabouts.
Duvalier's return adds a new intriguing figure to the turbulent atmosphere in Haiti, just days after the country commemorated the first anniversary of the massive January 12, 2010 earthquake.
The outcome of the confused November 28 elections is still up in the air after a team of Organization of American States (OAS) experts last week delivered a report to outgoing President Rene Preval challenging the preliminary official results from the vote.
Preval has said he has "reservations" about the OAS report, which recommends that government technocrat and Preval protégé Jude Celestin be eliminated from a second round run-off vote in favour of popular musician Michel Martelly.
First Published: Monday, January 17, 2011, 09:20