Image: Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier
Lee Celano  /  Reuters
Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier waves from a hotel in Petionville, Haiti, on Sunday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 1/17/2011 6:12:16 AM ET 2011-01-17T11:12:16

Former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier made a surprise return from exile to Haiti 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 U.S. pressure.

His unexpected return comes at a time when Haiti, still the poorest state in the Western Hemisphere, is facing political uncertainty following Nov. 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.

Video: One year later, Haiti struggles to balance hope, hurt (on this page)

'Great joy'
Wearing a blue suit and tie and accompanied by his French wife, Veronique Roy, Duvalier arrived at Port-au-Prince airport on an Air France flight from Paris, witnesses said.

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"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 told Reuters, without spelling out his exact intentions.

"He is happy to be back in this country, back in his home," added Mona Beruaveau, a candidate for Senate in a Duvalierist party after speaking to the former dictator. "He is tired after a long trip."

Fear, corruption
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.

"I don't know much about Jean-Claude Duvalier but I've heard he did good things for the country," said 34-year-old Joel Pierre. "I hope he will do good things again."

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.

During his rule, "Baby Doc" Duvalier had tried to improve Haiti's image after the rule of terror of his despotic father.

The Duvaliers tortured and killed their political opponents, ruling in an atmosphere of fear and repression ensured by the bloody Tonton Macoute, their feared secret police force.

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.

The end of his reign was followed by a period known as deshoukaj or "uprooting" in which Haitians carried out reprisals against Macoutes and regime loyalists, tearing their houses to the ground.

Image: Juan-Claude Duvalier
Kathy Willens  /  AP
Haiti's former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier gives a news conference at his ranch on the outskirts of Port Au Prince, Haiti, in 1980.

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 has been accused of pilfering millions of dollars from public funds and spiriting them out of the country to Swiss banks, though he denies stealing from Haiti.

In the fall of 2007, President Rene Preval told reporters that Duvalier could return to Haiti but would face justice for the deaths of thousands of people and the theft of millions of dollars.

Haitians danced in the streets to celebrate the overthrow of Duvalier back in 1986, heckling the tubby, boyish tyrant as he drove to the airport and was flown into exile in France.

But a handful of loyalists have been campaigning to bring Duvalier home from exile in France, launching a foundation to improve the dictatorship's image and reviving Baby Doc's political party in the hopes that one day he can return to power democratically.

"We want him to be president because we don't trust anyone in this election. He did bad things but since he left we have not had stability. We have more people without jobs, without homes," said Haiti Belizaire, a 47-year-old Duvalier supporter in the crowd outside the airport.

Half the people in the country are younger than 21, and weren't alive during Duvalier's rule.

Video: Time stands still in quake-hit Haitian town (on this page)

Author Amy Wilentz, whose book "The Rainy Season" is a definitive account of the aftermath of Duvalier's exile, said: "This is not the right moment for such upheaval."

"Let's not forget what Duvalierism was: prison camps, torture, arbitrary arrest, extrajudicial killings, persecution of the opposition," she wrote in an e-mail to AP. And, she added, "If Haitian authorities allow Duvalier to return, can they thwart exiled President Aristide's desire to come back to the country?"

"Haitians need a steady hand to guide them through the earthquake recovery, not the ministrations of a scion of dictatorship."

Turbulent atmosphere
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 Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.

The outcome of the confused Nov. 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 protege Jude Celestin be eliminated from a second round run-off vote in favor of popular musician Michel Martelly.

Preval, accused by opponents of rigging the U.N.-backed November elections that took place amid widespread fraud allegations, had originally asked the OAS to help verify the disputed preliminary election results.

Slideshow: Haiti : One year after the earthquake (on this page)

It was not clear whether Preval would reject the OAS report's recommendation or seek to discuss his reservations further with the OAS experts. Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council is the final arbiter of elections in Haiti.

The OAS report, which cited "significant" vote tally irregularities, confirmed opposition matriarch Mirlande Manigat as the candidate who won the most votes in the first round.

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She did not gain enough votes to win outright but is in the second-round run-off. But whether this will be with Celestin or Martelly remains to be seen.

Election observers say that even if the CEP heeds the OAS experts' findings, it still has to complete a disputes settlement procedure before it can formally announce final revised results from the first round vote.

This means Haiti will not be able to hold a presidential election second round run-off before February, at the earliest.

Last month's protests and violence triggered by the Dec. 7 announcement of the results killed at least four people and increased fears that instability could delay the hand-over of billions of dollars of reconstruction funds for Haiti from foreign donors.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: A year after quake, Haiti still rebuilding

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  1. A Haitian woman prays with a Bible in her hand during ceremonies to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2011.The quake flattened much of the capital Port-au-Prince. (Kena Betancur / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Haitians hold hands during a ceremony at St. Christophe, where thousands of victims of the 2010 earthquake are buried, in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 11. Haiti began two days of remembrance ceremonies in honor of the nearly quarter million people who died in an earthquake. (Hector Retamal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Haiti President Rene Preval holds a wreath of flowers at a mass grave site at Titanyen, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, on Jan. 11. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Haitian workers celebrate after the inauguration of the reconstructed Hyppolite Iron Market in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 11. The historic trading center was originally constructed in the 1890s and has been rebuilt this year after a fire leveled it shortly after the earthquake. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A woman walks past an earthquake-damaged building on Jan. 11 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on the eve of the first anniversary of the earthquake. (Paul Chiasson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Martina Raymond, 5, center, stands in front of her family tent with neighbors Revdania Henry, 4, left, and Henderson Henry, 2, in a makeshift camp at the Petionville golf club on Jan. 11 in Port-au-Prince. According to UNICEF, more than half of the 4 million children in Haiti still do not attend school. In addition to educational difficulties, Haiti's children also suffer from poor access to basic water, health care and sanitation. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. An aerial view of a tent city in a Port-au-Prince on Jan. 10. (Thony Belizaire / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A woman walks at a mass grave site at Tituyan, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 11. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Residents stand near an abandoned airplane in the middle of La Piste camp on January 11 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The camp is located on a former military airport and houses approximately 50,000 Haitians displaced by the earthquake. The one-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people will be marked on January 12. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Soccer players from Haiti's Zaryen team (in blue) and the national amputee team fight for the ball during a friendly match at the national stadium in Port-au-Prince on Jan.10. Sprinting on their crutches at breakneck speed, the young soccer players who lost legs in Haiti's earthquake last year project a symbol of hope and resilience in a land where so much is broken. (Kena Betancur / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Presidential candidate Jude Celestin, center, gestures to supporters during a campaign rally in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, Jan 10. An Organization of American States international monitoring team will recommend on Monday to President Rene Preval that Haiti's government-backed candidate Jude Celestin be eliminated from a presidential runoff election in favor of Michel Martelly, a popular musician who finished a close third in the contested official results, according to a copy of a report obtained by the Associated Press. (Ramon Espinosa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Students practice a lesson at L'ecole Nationale Filles de Marie (Daughters of Mary National School) near the end of the school day on Jan. 10, 2011 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Catholic school collapsed during the earthquake in 2010, killing 16 nuns, but no students died because they had left for the day. The school has been partially rebuilt and houses 600 students. According to UNICEF, more than half of four million Haitian children still do not attend school. Approximately 5,000 schools were damaged by the earthquake and rebuilding has been crippled by the clearing of rubble and land issues. In addition to educational difficulties, Haiti's children also suffer from inequitable access to basic water, health care and sanitation. Jan. 12 is the one-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A Haitian evangelical parishioner looks up during a mass to remember earthquake victims at national stadium in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 9. Haiti will this week mark the first anniversary of the earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and destroyed much of capital Port-au-Prince. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Achebelle Debora St. Til, 6, dances at the Festival of Hope, a rally led by Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, at a soccer stadium in downtown Port-au-Prince on Jan. 9. (Allison Shelley / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A boy plays in a refuse-clogged canal in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 9. When the ground shook Haiti a year ago, toppling homes like cards and killing some 200,000 people, world leaders promised quick action to ease the human tragedy and rebuild the country. A year on, the Western Hemisphere's poorest country is still reeling from the earthquake, and the international community's capacity to deliver and sustain aid effectively is being sorely tested. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Haitians stay in a tent erected in a destroyed house in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 9. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Orich Florestal, 24, left, and Rosemond Altidon, 22, stand on the edge of their partially destroyed apartment on Jan. 9. (Allison Shelley / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A woman prays during services in front of the destroyed Port-au-Prince Cathedral on Jan. 9. Haitians gather for services outside the destroyed cathedral every Sunday. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. People walk on a street in downtown Port-au-Prince on Jan. 9. (Jorge Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. People displaced by the massive 2010 earthquake live in temporary shelters put up by Samaritan's Purse, a charity, on Jan. 8 in Cabaret, Haiti. Hundreds of thousands of people still live in temporary shelters. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. The Presidential Palace is still in ruins as displaced people live in tents in a park across the street almost one year after the massive earthquake on Jan. 8 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Haitians wash clothes and hang them to dry on rebar remnants of a building destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. (Mario Tama / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Parishioners from St. Louis King of France Catholic Church dedicate a cross and a memorial put up in memory of the tens of thousands of people killed in the massive earthquake and buried in the mass grave at Titanyen, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Velune Noel, 24, lies with her cholera-infected 12-month-old son Peterson Sharmont, on a cot at a Samaritan's Purse cholera treatment center in the Cite Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 8. (Allison Shelley / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A Haitian man builds a wooden house Jan. 8 next to houses destroyed by the January 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince. Reconstruction has barely begun in Haiti a year after its catastrophic earthquake, a leading international charity said on Wednesday in a report sharply critical of a recovery commission led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. People play soccer at the site of earthquake-damaged houses in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 7. (Ramon Espinosa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Haitians work on rebuilding an iron market building destroyed by the January 2010 earthquake in downtown Port-au-Prince. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A man removes debris from the January 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 6, 2011. (Kena Betancur / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: ‘No time for sadness,’ says Haiti quake survivor

  1. Closed captioning of: ‘No time for sadness,’ says Haiti quake survivor

    >>> as we continue tonight, one year later scenes from haiti where parts of the country look as though the devastating earthquake hit just yesterday. tonight we have a follow-up on a remarkable story we told you about a year ago. it happened in haiti . it's the simple and powerful bond of love. we went to port-au-prince and have the report tonight.

    >> reporter: as they comb through a mountain of rubble almost a week after haiti 's devastating earthquake, rescuers from los angeles doubted they would find anyone alive. the collapsed building has been a bank, and the last place the manager was seen alive. even as the days ticked away, her husband, roger, never lost hope.

    >> i knew that she was there.

    >> reporter: for six straight days roger stood vigil. he spent every day of the last 15 years with his wichlt he wasn't about to leave her now.

    >> i called for her. she didn't answer me.

    >> reporter: or so he thought. under 30 feet of broken concrete in total darkness, she called out for roger just as he did for her. did you hear your husband?

    >> yeah, every time i heard him. and i said i'm still alive. i'm alive. i'm alive. please help me. i'm alive.

    >> reporter: though he couldn't hear her pleas, he moeshlized help convincing an excavator to clear piles of rubble. after six days came the moment he was waiting for. the rescuers moved in climbing into the hole where she was trapped shooting this video with their cell phones. after working for hours fearing another collapse, they finally managed to free her pinned hand.

    >> okay. hon, you're out of here.

    >> reporter: they carried her out, and it was then that she started to sing.

    >> it's probably the most moving moment for any rescue i'll ever have.

    >> reporter: months later in a satellite interview, she finally got a chance to say thank you.

    >> i love you. god bless you.

    >> reporter: she's now back at her old job at port-au-prince but not in the same building. it's still in ruins. despite her ordeal and losing four fingers, she says she hasn't had a single day of depression.

    >> i'm very happy to be alive. i admit i feel sadness.

    >> reporter: just moments of happiness with her husband.

    >> i look at her, and i admire her.

    >> every day.

    >> every time.

    >> reporter: a new life filled with joy and a familiar song. don't be afraid, she sings, god is here. words that coarried one woman through the darkness back into the light . nbc news, port-au-prince.

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