Image: Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier
Dieu Nalio Chery  /  AP
Haiti's former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, center, waves to supporters from a hotel balcony after his arrival in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Sunday. Duvalier returned Sunday to Haiti after nearly 25 years in exile, a surprising and perplexing move that comes as his country struggles with a political crisis and the stalled effort to recover from last year's devastating earthquake.
By
updated 1/17/2011 4:56:33 PM ET 2011-01-17T21:56:33

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier ensconced himself Monday in a high-end hotel following his surprise return to a country deep in crisis, leaving many to wonder if the once-feared strongman will complicate a political stalemate or prompt renewed conflict.

Duvalier met with allies inside the hotel in the hills above downtown Port-au-Prince and spoke publicly only through emissaries, who gave vague explanations for his sudden and mysterious appearance — nearly 25 years after he was forced into exile by a popular uprising against his brutal regime.

    1. Castaway's parents thought they would never see him again

      The father of Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga said he was told his long-lost son vanished on a fishing trip but he didn’t have the heart to break the news to his ailing wife.

    2. Scotland legalizes same-sex marriage
    3. Weapons deal strengthened Assad: US intel chief
    4. Outcry over the fate of Sochi's stray dogs
    5. Olympic construction leaves Sochi residents in the cold

Henry Robert Sterling, a former ambassador who said he was speaking on behalf of Duvalier, portrayed the 59-year-old former "president for life," as merely a concerned elder statesmen who wanted to see the effects of the devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake on his homeland.

"He was deeply hurt in his soul after the earthquake," Sterling said. "He wanted to come back to see how is the actual Haitian situation of the people and the country."

Duvalier — who assumed power in 1971 at age 19 following the death of his father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier — still has some support in Haiti and millions are too young to remember life under his dictatorship. But his abrupt return Sunday still sent shock waves through the country, with some fearing that his presence will bring back the extreme polarization, and political violence, of the past.

Video: After 25 years in exile, 'Baby Doc' back in Haiti (on this page)

"Part of what he does by getting back into Haiti is bring back the old battle lines," said Jocelyn McCalla, a political analyst and former director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights. "People are going to start talking about being pro- or anti-Duvalier ... It intensifies the instability."

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a Twitter post that the U.S. was surprised by the timing of Duvalier's visit. "It adds unpredictability at an uncertain time in Haiti's election process."

President Rene Preval, a former anti-Duvalier activist, made no immediate public statements on the former dictator's re-emergence, though he told reporters in 2007 that Duvalier would face justice for the deaths of thousands of people and the theft of millions of dollars if he returned.

Duvalier, however, apparently faces no charges in Haiti and there were no attempts to arrest him. National Police for a time guarded him at the upscale Hotel Karibe before withdrawing, leaving security to hotel guards and a few U.N. peacekeepers stationed outside.

The government of France, where Duvalier has spent most of his exile, said it had no advance notice of the trip.

"We were never informed" of his departure, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told The Associated Press.

Bobby Duval, a former soccer star who was starved and tortured during the 17 months he was held without charge by Duvalier in the notorious Fort Dimanche, was outraged that Haitian authorities didn't immediately arrest the former dictator. He recalls seeing people beaten, tortured and executed by being clubbed in the back of the neck.

  1. Most popular

"He is a murderer and a thief," said Duval, who now runs an athletic training school for children. "A country that has no memory will repeat its same mistakes. I thought we were past that but I guess not since he hasn't been arrested yet."

Duvalier formed part of a father-and-son dynasty that presided over one of the darkest chapters in Haitian history, a period when thuggish government secret police force known as the Tonton Macoute stifled any dissent, torturing and killing opponents.

He came back on an Air France jet in a jacket and tie to hugs from supporters, waving to a crowd of about 200 as he climbed in an SUV and headed to a hotel with Veronique Roy, his longtime companion.

Later, Duvalier appeared on a balcony of the Karibe Hotel and waved to supporters and journalists outside. Roy told reporters at one point that "Baby Doc" would stay only three days in Haiti and was asked why he had returned now. "Why not?" she replied.

Once a teenage ruler, Duvalier is now a large, stocky man with graying hair. He sometimes seemed disoriented as he faced the crowd, as if he were struggling to keep his eyes open.

His return comes as the country struggles to work through a dire political crisis following the problematic Nov. 28 first-round presidential election.

Three candidates want to go on to a second round meant for two. The Organization of American States sent in a team of experts to resolve the deadlock, recommending that Preval's candidate be excluded — and the arrival of Duvalier has at least briefly overshadowed speculation about how the government might respond. OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza was scheduled to be in Port-au-Prince to meet with Preval on Monday.

The country meanwhile is dealing with a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 3,500 people since October and more than 1 million people are living in crowded, squalid tent encampments after their homes were destroyed from the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake.

At one of those camps, there was some enthusiasm for Duvalier's return.

"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."

But the human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued statements urging Haiti to hold Duvalier accountable for the torture and killing of civilians during his 15-year rule.

"The Haitian authorities must break the cycle of impunity that prevailed for decades in Haiti," said Javier Zuniga, a special adviser at Amnesty International. "Failing to bring to justice those responsible will only lead to further human rights abuses."

Brian Concannon, director of the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, said Duvalier's return certainly has the potential to further disrupt the country amid an electoral crisis and the stalled quake reconstruction.

"It will energize his supporters, many of whom have histories of substantial political violence. The failure to arrest him will be even more disruptive, as it will send a signal of impunity for political violence," said Concannon, a former lawyer for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted in 2004 in a violent rebellion.

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. Most Haitians hoped the rapacious strongman had left for good, closing a dark chapter of terror and repression that began under his late father in 1957.

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. To their advantage is the fact that half the people in the country are younger than 21 — and weren't alive during Duvalier's rule.

  1. Only on NBCNews.com
    1. OWN via Getty Images
      From belief to betrayal: How America fell for Armstrong
    2. pool via Reuters file
      US to Syria neighbors: Be ready to act on WMDs
    3. China: One-child policy is here to stay
    4. NRA: Practice Range
      New 'Practice Range' shooter game says it’s from NRA
    5. 'Gifted' priest indicted in crystal meth case
    6. AFP - Getty Images
      China's state media admits to air pollution crisis
    7. AFP - Getty Images
      French to send 1,000 more troops to Mali

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

But there have been repeated suggestions Duvalier faces money problems. Swiss lawmakers in September approved a bill that would make it easier for the country to seize cash stashed by deposed dictators. The SDA news agency reported that Haiti would receive about $7 million seized from Duvalier.

The return baffled Haiti experts and has thrown the country's entire political situation into question.

Immediately speculation began about whether exiled former President Aristide also might return.

Aristide's attorney in Miami, Ira Kurzban, said the ousted former president, who remains popular in Haiti, wants to come back to his homeland.

"His position is that he's always had a right to his return," he said.

Crowley — the State Department spokesman — said in a Twitter post that "We are not aware of any plans for former President Aristide to travel to Haiti."

_______

Associated Press writer David McFadden in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Laura Wides-Munos in Miami contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: A year after quake, Haiti still rebuilding

loading photos...
  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
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Video: After 25 years in exile, 'Baby Doc' back in Haiti

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments